How can we be sure that we are Christians?
By the conviction we have from the Holy Spirit, through our obedience to the gospel, that we are children of God and heirs of eternal life. The genuineness of this conviction is demonstrated by right belief in Christ, righteous conduct and love for other Christians.
First, we need to be clear as to what being sure includes.
The spiritual benefits concerning which Christians are encouraged to be sure are many and include:
- Election (Psalms 4:3; 1 Thessalonians 1:4; 2 Peter 1:10);
- Salvation and redemption (Isaiah 12:2; Job 19:25; Romans 5:9; 1 Corinthians 1:30; 1 Thessalonians 5:9);
- Peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 5:1);
- Adoption into God's family (Romans 8:16; 1 John 3:1, 2, 9, 10; 4:4; 5:2, 18, 19);
- Knowing God (1 John 2:3; 5:20);
- Union with God and Christ (1 Corinthians 6:15; 2 Corinthians 13:5; Ephesians 5:30; 1 John 2:5; 3:24; 4:13);
- Membership of God's kingdom (Colossians 1:13; Hebrews 12:28);
- Inseparability from the love of God (Romans 8:38, 39);
- Deliverance from all evil (Psalms 3:6, 8; 27:3-5; 46:1-3; 2 Timothy 4:18);
- God's continuing and perfecting work in us (Philippians 1:6);
- The right to pray and the assurance of God's answer (1 John 3:21, 22; 5:14, 15);
- God's help in affliction (Psalms 73:26; 2 Corinthians 4:8-10, 16-18);
- God's sure help in death (Psalms 23:4; Acts 7:59; Philippians 1:23);
- A glorious resurrection (Job 19:26; Psalms 17:15; Philippians 3:21; 1 John 3:2);
- Eternal life (1 John 5:13).
Those who have right belief confess that Jesus is the Christ that He is the Son of God and that He came in the flesh
The grounds of our being sure that we are Christians, and all that this includes, as seen above.
Firstly, God wants us to be sure (2 Corinthians 13:5): His will is that those who believe in the name of the Son of God may know that they have eternal life (1 John 5:13).
Secondly, the basis of any assurance we have concerning being Christians is that God has spoken to us through His Son Jesus Christ (Hebrews 1:1, 2), and all that He wants us to know is contained in the Scriptures, the Word of God (2 Timothy 3:14-17; 1 John 1:1-3).
The Scriptures give us God's promises in Christ through which assurance comes (2 Corinthians 1:20, 21). (d) Understanding of God's truth brings a wealth of assurance through knowing Christ with real certainty (Colossians 2:2).
Thirdly, assurance springs from an understanding of God's character: for example, His holiness (1 John 1:5), His faithfulness and justice (1 John 1:9), and His love (1 John 4:8-10, 16, 19).
Our Christian assurance is not in ourselves, and not in the truth of God's Word alone, but in God Himself - 'I know whom I have believed' (2 Timothy 1:12).
Fourthly, assurance is particularly related to a full understanding of the gospel as being not the word of human beings, but the Word of God (1 Thessalonians 2:13; 1 John 2:20, 21).
In particular, our understanding concerns the deity of our Lord Jesus Christ and His finished work upon the Cross (1 John 1:1- 3, 7; 2:1, 22, 23; 4:2, 3, 15; 5:5, 10, 13, 20): Christ fully satisfied the law's demands for us; He is freely offered to all who hear the gospel; all who receive Him and depend upon Him will be saved (1 John 2:1, 2, 12; 3:5, 8, 16; 4:10; compare John 1:12; 3:16).
Fifthly, a further ground of assurance is the awareness that we do believe in the manner God commands (1 John 3:23; 5:13).
Assurance is the result of faith in Christ (Ephesians 3:12).
It is important to realize that the work of assurance is the Holy Spirit's: He witnesses to us, in the first place, that the gospel message is true (1 John 2:20, 27; 3:24; 4:13); He gives an inward assurance to us that our response to the gospel is genuine (1 Thessalonians 1:5).
His presence in our life is the proof that our response to the gospel has been authentic (Acts 2:38, 39; 5:32; 15:8; Romans 8:15,16; Galations 3:2; 4:6; Ephesians 1:13, 14; 4:30).
Assurance springs from the witness of the Holy Spirit within us (1 John 3:24; 5:6, 8, 9, 10): we may know that we dwell in God and He in us because of the presence of His own Spirit in our life (1 John 4:13).
The tests to be applied to our conviction that we are Christians to prove its genuineness.
It is necessary to apply these tests because a false assurance is possible; therefore, tests, such as an examination of the quality of our daily life (Titus 1:16), are to be applied.
The first test is whether we possess right belief concerning the Lord Jesus Christ (1 John 3:23; 5:13).
Those who have right belief confess that Jesus is the Christ (1 John 2:22; 5:1); that He is the Son of God (1 John 3:23; 5:5, 10), and that He came in the flesh (1 John 4:2; 2 John 7).
The second test is whether we are marked by righteous conduct: those who are born of God do what is right (1 John 2:29; 3:10).
Righteous conduct is described in different ways:
- Walking in the light (1 John 1:7);
- Obedience to God's commandments (1 John 2:3-6; 3:24);
- The desire to live as Jesus lived (1 John 2:6);
- Deliverance from the spirit, attitudes and goals of the world (1 John 2:15-17; 3:14-18; 5:5, 19);
- Self-purification (1 John 3:3);
- Ceasing to sin habitually (1 John 3:5, 6, 9; 5:18).
The third test is whether we love other Christians (1 John 3:10- 22; 4:8-12, 16, 20, 21): we know that we have passed from death to life because we love other Christians (1 John 3:14).
By loving one another we show that we know God and are living in Him, and that He lives in us (1 John 3:23, 24; 4:7).
When our life stands up to these tests we may assure our hearts before God that we are Christians and children of God, even when we are conscious of our natural sinfulness (1 John 3:19- 21).
When, however, the application of these tests does not produce a satisfactory proof of genuineness any assurance people may seem to have is unjustified (1 John 1:6; 2:4, 9-11, 23; 3:6-10; 4:8, 20; 2 John 9; 3 John 11).
The results of being sure that we are Christians.
Joy (1 Peter 1:8; 1 John 1:4).
The banishment of any unworthy fear of God (1 John 4:17-19).
The avoidance of sin (1 John 2:1).
Confidence in God and boldness before Him (1 John 3:19-22; 5:14, 15; compare Hebrews 10:19-22).