1 Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves His child as well. 2 This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out His commands. 3 This is love for God: to obey His commands. And His commands are not burdensome, 4 for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. 5 Who is it that overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.
6 This is the one who came by water and blood - Jesus Christ. He did not come by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. 7 For there are three that testify: 8 the Spirit, the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement. 9 We accept man’s testimony, but God’s testimony is greater because it is the testimony of God, which He has given about His Son. 10 Anyone who believes in the Son of God has this testimony in his heart. Anyone who does not believe God has made Him out to be a liar, because he has not believed the testimony God has given about His Son. 11 And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. 12 He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life. 13 I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.
I wrote in the bulletin this morning that every now and then you’ll hear Christians saying that they hope to go to Heaven when they die. And this sometimes from people who have been Christians for decades, and I find myself thinking, “What have you been hearing and listening to during the countless sermons on salvation for all these years?”
When Peter preached a powerful sermon on the day of Pentecost, he quoted from the prophet Joel when he said, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
Last Sunday we spent some time trying to understand the Biblical principle of hope. What we need to remember is that when God says He is going to do something, we can be sure that He will do exactly as He says He will do. Undoubtedly the greatest promise in the Bible is in the most famous verse in the Bible: “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
Holding onto the hope of our salvation is not wishful thinking. When Christians take their last breath in this life and step into the realm of eternity, we don’t do so with our fingers crossed, hoping desperately that God will let us into Heaven. He has promised us that He will, and His promise is sealed by the blood of Jesus Christ our Saviour.
The absolute assurance of our salvation is a recurring theme of the New Testament. The Bible teaches that we can know for sure that the moment we put our faith in the saving work of Jesus on the Cross of Calvary, our salvation is secure. Christians can know for sure that they are saved and Heaven-bound. You don’t have to settle for a “hope so” salvation, or a “maybe so” Christianity. You can have real assurance of your salvation, simply because God does not lie. He keeps His promises.
This assurance is what the apostle John wrote about in his first letter. He wants us to know for sure that we are saved and that because of this assurance, we’re able to live victorious lives here and now. As we well know, this does not mean that life suddenly becomes easy and trouble-free, but we can live with the firm hope of our salvation as the bedrock that holds everything together, even when and especially when life is hard. Again, as we saw last Sunday, Hebrews 6:19 gives us great encouragement: “We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.”
But, there is an issue we need to address here. There is an elephant in the room that we have to be aware of, and it has a name: Doubt. We know that the Bible promises us salvation when we believe in Jesus. We know that the hope we have in Him is absolute and secure, but doubt is a reality we all come face to face with. Whether it’s because our spiritual lives are running almost on empty or there is a habitual sin that we just cannot seem to overcome – whatever the reasons or circumstances, all Christians struggle with doubt. And then we read passages of Scripture like James 1:6-8. “He who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does.”
We read those words and the doubts seem to multiply, rather than disappear, and we’re wracked with feelings of guilt and remorse. The whole thing seems to just feed on itself and we think we’ve failed as a Christian, and my faith is nothing more than emptiness. Maybe I’ve been wrong all along. Maybe I should just eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow I die.
That’s not a good place to be. When we find ourselves questioning the goodness and faithfulness of God, those doubts can be devastating to our Christian walk. It’s not a good place to be, but it’s also a very real place, and we need to know what to do when we’re there. It’s very easy to say, “Don’t worry. Chin up. God has a plan.” Yes, He does have a plan, but sometimes glib answers just don’t help when we feel we’re in the depths of despair and we find ourselves wondering if God really does care after all. So what do we do at times like that?
Probably the most important thing to remember is this: The validity of God’s firm promises do not depend on how strong or how weak your faith is. In other words, having doubts does not mean that you are not saved.
Our faith is fickle. Because we live in a fallen world, and because our sinful nature is constantly at war with the Spirit of God within us, the depth and strength of our faith fluctuates almost daily. When life is good and we’re keenly aware of God’s presence and blessings in our lives, it’s easy for our faith to be strong. But there is another side to life that we all experience at times. The circumstances of life just seem to press in from all sides, and we wonder if we have the faith to persevere. That’s when we need to remember the faithfulness of God. Our salvation and the assurance of God’s promises are dependent on Him, not on us. He is the One we can trust.
In the words of that wonderful hymn by Thomas Chisolm, “Great is Thy faithfulness, O God my Father. There is no shadow of turning with Thee. Thou changest not, Thy compassions, they fail not. As Thou hast been, Thou forever will be.”
In his letter, John wants us to know that there are some foundational truths we can rely on that can take away the doubts we sometimes have, and replace them with assurance.
Assurance is essential to a healthy Christian life. Without it we really are “like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind,” as James writes. When we lack assurance in God, it can affect every aspect of our lives.
Assurance is important because we each have an eternal soul. There is a life beyond this one, and our souls will spend eternity in one of two places. Which one depends entirely on what you do with Jesus. And because of that, we need to be absolutely sure where we will spend our eternity.
So how can we know for certain? How can we be saved, and be certain that we are saved?
It all starts and ends with Jesus. Salvation is found through and in the person of Jesus Christ, and what He did on the cross for us. John 1:12-13 says, “To all who did receive Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God - children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.”
Belief in God is not just mental assent to the facts, but rather a total faith in what God has done for us. Remember, salvation comes not on the basis of your actions, but on the basis of your faith in Christ’s actions. Jonathan Edwards put it so succinctly when he said, “The only thing I contribute to my salvation is the sin I need salvation from.”
We are not saved because of anything we have done. Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “It is by grace you have been saved, through faith - and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God - not by works, so that no one can boast.”
Someone once described grace as God reaching down and saying, “I love you and I want to save you.” While faith is us reaching up and saying, “I want to be saved and I believe what you have said about Jesus and what He did on the cross for me.”
That is really how salvation comes. It is given to those who are willing to place their unreserved faith in the saving work of Jesus.
Have you trusted Jesus, and Jesus alone, for your soul’s salvation? Then you are saved.
Once we have that promise, we need to be sure of it, and we need to know how to hold onto that promise, no matter what challenges and heartaches come our way.
The book of 1 John was written to give Christians assurance of their salvation. He uses the word “know” throughout this short letter, and he does this because God wants us to know that we have been saved.
In this book John gives us 3 basic tests that we can take and apply to our lives to determine whether or not we have been born again, and we’ll look at them briefly.
The first test is the Lordship Test. Is Jesus the Lord of your life, and is He in control of you? In chapter 2:3-4 John says, “We know that we have come to know Him if we obey His commands. The man who says, ‘I know Him,’ but does not do what He commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him.” Jesus Himself said in John 14, “If you love me you will keep my commandments.”
In the heart of the Christian, there will be a desire to do the will of God. Those who couldn’t care less about what God thinks are not saved. The truly born again person will have as their deepest heart’s desire the will to obey and please God. Now this does not mean absolute perfection. We are saved, but we are saved sinners, so there will be times when we stray off course, but a disciple of Jesus will recognise the error and seek God’s help in getting back on track. It’s not about sinless perfection, but rather a life of striving for the goal. Sinners are not saved by keeping God’s commandments. We are saved by the blood of Christ, but one of the fruits or characteristics of our salvation is a desire to do the things that please the Lord. 1 John 3:24 says, “Those who obey His commands live in Him, and He in them.”
The second test that John gives us is the fellowship test. 1 John 3:14-15, “We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers. Anyone who does not love remains in death. Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life in him.” For the Christian, there will be a genuine love for God and for His children – fellow Christians. John elaborates on this principle in 4:20-21. “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother.”
In the Church, there simply has to be a genuine desire for unity, peace and fellowship. Just after Jesus washed the feet of His disciples, only hours before He was betrayed, He said to them, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35)
One of the distinctives of the Christian – one of the things that should stand out and be noticeable to all (especially to non-Christians) is true Christian love. Of course there will be times of struggle. Put a bunch of sinners like us together for a while and you’re guaranteed to have disagreements and conflict, but if we are genuinely in Christ, then we will know that we cannot allow those feelings to linger. Bitterness and anger in the Church can and does destroy Christian fellowship.
And the third test that John poses to us is the relationship test. Fellowship is how we connect to each other, while relationship is how we live our lives connected to Jesus. 1 John 5:11-13 – “This is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life. I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.”
Our salvation is secured when we turn to Jesus in faith, and it is maintained and strengthened as we keep turning to Him in faith. We often hear that Christianity is a relationship and not a religion, and that is exactly what John is writing about here.
“He who has the Son has life.” Present tense. The implication here is very clear. As John Wesley put it, “How goes it with your soul?” It is vital that we continually measure our spiritual health. We all know how easily we are distracted by worldly things that crowd into our lives, and we need to ask God to protect us against those things. Not that things like our families, careers and hobbies are bad, but we need God’s help to keep everything in the right perspective.
Is our relationship with Jesus the priority in our lives? Are we really in a living, loving relationship with Him, or are we just going through the motions? This is very similar to the Lordship test we looked at earlier – perfection for the sinner is just not possible, but are our hearts stirred to move closer to Jesus when we know that we’re further from Him than we should be?
That is how to apply the relationship test to your heart. Ask God to strengthen your relationship with Him, and ask Him to help you to guard that relationship jealously. We looked at the Ten Commandments in some detail recently, and the very first commandment speaks directly to the relationship test: “You shall have no other gods before me.”
How is your relationship with Jesus right now? Is He your constant companion and friend, or is He someone you’ve heard about, but have never really taken the trouble to build a relationship with? There are times when we all drift away from Christ, so I suppose the real question is, “When you do find yourself wandering away from Him, are you seeking His help in drawing closer to Him once more, or are you just allowing things to drift along?
If Jesus is present in your life, He will make His presence known in you, and if life and all of its pressures, struggles and circumstances have caused your relationship with Him to fade, you will find grace, mercy and healing in Him once more.
It’s an amazing thing if you think about it. God’s greatest desire for us is to accept the offer of salvation He gives us in Jesus Christ. Once we have that gift, He wants us to be absolutely sure of His promises to us, to know that we are saved and to not doubt. And when we find ourselves being blown and tossed about like a wave of the sea, He still reaches into our stormy lives as we start sinking just like Peter did, and He says the same thing to us that He said to Peter: “You of little faith. Why did you doubt?”
Homegroup Study Notes
Read 1 John 5:13-15
Being certain of our salvation is a central theme of the New Testament letters.
Why do you think it is so important for us be sure of our salvation? How does this tie in with the Biblical understanding of hope that we looked at last week?
Having times of doubt is an unfortunate reality of the Christian experience, because our faith in God will always be threatened by our sin.
How have you struggled in this area?
What has God taught you, and how has your faith grown through these times?
Discuss the 3 tests John gives us in 1 John:
- The Lordship Test (see 1 John 2:3-4 and John 14:15)
- The Fellowship Test (1 John 3:14-15 and 4:20-21)
- The Relationship Test (1 John 5:13-15)
How can we use these tests as a guide or “spiritual barometer” to deepen and strengthen our walk with God?
Close by praying that the Lord would remove the doubts and fill our hearts with the absolute assurance that our salvation is secure.