When I taught the Wordless Book lesson to the middle school youth group at my church, the question came up, “But how can I KNOW that I am saved?” It’s a simple question that seems like it should have a simple answer, but so many times, the answer to that question drifts us into the weeds of a works-based faith.
So let me be clear from the start: Salvation comes through faith in Christ alone. Works do not gain you salvation, nor will a lack of works cause you to lose your salvation. However, you should have good works in your life if you are a Christian as an evidence of your faith. Let’s try to break this down a little further by asking some questions and answering with Scripture.
Why do I need to be saved?
Romans 3:9-12 says,
What shall we conclude then? Do we have any advantage? Not at all! For we have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under the power of sin. As it is written: “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.”
Romans 3:20 goes on to say,
Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.
The Bible says that we need to be saved because we are under the power of sin. According to God, none of us are righteous.
How, then, can I be saved?
Romans 3:21-24 gives us hope after the dire verses above:
But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.
This passage gives a clear answer for salvation: The righteousness of God is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. On our own, we are not righteous. But if we believe that Jesus redeemed us by paying the penalty for sin through his death on the cross, we will be saved.
Then you might say, “OK. I believe in Jesus. But I don’t feel saved. What if I sin again? How can I KNOW that I am saved for all eternity?”
How do I know that I am saved?
Thankfully, the Bible assures us in 1 John 5 that we CAN be sure that we are saved. John says in verses 11-13:
And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever 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.
In contrast to a lot of other religions, Christianity teaches that salvation comes through Christ alone. There’s nothing we can do to earn our salvation. Ephesians 2:8-9 clearly states:
For 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.
Salvation is purely a gift. And once we have that gift, God gives us the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit serves at least two purposes in this process: sealing us for our inheritance and testifying that we are God’s children.
Ephesians 1:13-14: And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.
Romans 8:16: The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.
Based on this, the Bible says that we are saved through faith alone. This is a gift from God, not based on works that we have done. Once we believe, we receive the Holy Spirit, who seals us in Christ.
For some people, this may seem too simple. (Yes, it really is that simple—but it isn’t easy.) Therefore, the Bible says there’s another way we can know we are saved—by testing our faith. 2 Corinthians 13:5-6 says,
Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test? And I trust that you will discover that we have not failed the test.
How can I test myself to see if I am in the faith?
We know that we have come to know him if we keep his commands. Whoever says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in that person. But if anyone obeys his word, love for God is truly made complete in them. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did.
Test #1: Are you keeping God’s commands?
Examine your heart. Have you had a change of heart so that you have put your old ways behind you and have a new desire to follow God’s commands? Or have you refused to turn from your old way of life? If you truly believe in Jesus, that will be reflected by a heart change. This heart change will be followed by a change in your actions, as discussed in 1 John 3:14-18:
We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love each other. Anyone who does not love remains in death. Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life residing in him. This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.
Test #2: Do you love other people?
Examine your actions. Do you have a love for other people that fills you with kindness and compassion? Or is your heart still filled with hate toward others? If you truly believe in Jesus, you will be filled with his love when you look at others, and that love will be reflected in your actions for all to see.
What if I still have doubts?
Even with the best of intentions, we all still fail. Romans 7:18-20 says:
For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.
As believers, our hearts can be in the right place. We want to keep God’s commands. We want to love other people. Yet sometimes we still find ourselves sinning. Does that mean we aren’t saved? No! Remember, God’s grace is what saves you, not your works. It is in these moments of sin, when we have our greatest doubts, that we can hold on to an additional promise. 1 John 3:19-20 says:
This is how we know that we belong to the truth and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence: If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.
We can have rest by remembering that God’s grace is greater than our deepest doubts. Rest in the knowledge that he has finished the work on the cross. Your sins are paid for through the death of Jesus. All you have to do is believe.
If you do this study with a group, consider discussing these questions after the main lesson. Or answer these questions on your own.
Read James 2:14-26. Ask:
What does this passage say about how faith, works, and salvation work together? (look up Ephesians 2:8-9 again if needed)
How does this passage support (or not support) this statement: Works are not the cause of salvation; they are the evidence of salvation.
How does this passage support (or not support) this statement: The person who claims to be a Christian but lives in willful disobedience to Christ has a dead faith.
Read Matthew 7:15-27. Ask:
What does this passage mean by “fruit”?
How does this compare to a person who says they are a Christian but is disobedient to Christ vs. a person who says they are a Christian and lives in obedience to Christ?
What do you think the foundation on the rock represents? What about the sand? Where do you want to build?
If you have any questions about how to be saved, please feel free to reach out to me or to another Christian that you trust to give you Biblical answers. You can comment on this post, or reply to the email.