Am I really a Christian? Do I actually have saving faith? Christians in every generation have wrestled with this question. Part of this anxiety comes from our belief in justification by grace through faith, apart from works (Eph 2:4-10). We can’t look to our own participation in religious rituals or good works as the grounds of our salvation, but to our faith in Christ alone. So the question becomes “is my faith real and sufficient?” It is good to be concerned about the state of our souls. The Holy Spirit actually encourages us to do so:
“Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. “1 Peter 1:10
“Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test!”2 Corinthians 13:5
The point is not to constantly be questioning God’s work in our lives and doubt his salvation. Just the opposite. It should lead us to assurance, gratitude, and joy, if we are found to have true faith. At the same time, such self-assessment might stir genuine conversion to those who assumed they had faith and in reality did not. The first Letter of the Apostle John gives several tests of faith that we can apply. I’ve summarized four of them below.
Do you confess Christ as the Son of God who came in the flesh?
Do you confess Jesus as Savior and Lord (1 John 2:23)? Moreover, do you confess Jesus as he is presented in Scripture? It is paramount that you trust in the Christ of the Gospels and not a Christ who is modified in any way. Jesus is the Son of God (1 Jn 4:15) who took on human flesh (1 Jn 4:2, 3) and died for sins (1 Jn 2:1, 2). Those who have called upon the name of the Lord will be saved. This is the first thing to ask yourself: have I done this? Have you done so verbally (Rom 10:9-10)? Have you been baptized in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit (Matt 28:19)? These are the basics of believing in Christ, the response the gospel demands.
There is a specific application here if you are one who has grown up in church but didn’t confess Christ for many years or until recently. Perhaps you spent much of your life attending church without responding in faith, but then one day it finally became clear to you that you are a sinner in need of a Savior. You came to your senses and believed. You may have gone from death to life, from unbelief to true saving faith with little immediate outward sign of any change. Maybe you were too embarrassed to tell anyone because you think everyone assumed you already believed. While it might be easier to stay silent and carry on, don’t! Instead, confess Christ as Savior and Lord aloud. Tell your pastor, your small group, your family, or anyone who will listen, then seek baptism in the local church in obedience to Christ.
Do you pursue Obeying God and Christlike living?
It is one thing to confess you know God and it is another to be walking with him. John warns us that if we confess to know God, but we are walking in darkness and not the light–a favorite metaphor of his–then we are deceived. God is light (1:5). If you are walking with God, then you are walking in light. This means obeying his commands (2:2-5) and walking like Jesus walked (2:6). Christ saved you from darkness so that you can walk in the light. Now, you can live according to God’s commands, truth, and wisdom. You can order your life around the love of God and his will, rather than the pleasures of the flesh and the world. So if there is no discernible change in your life, you ought to question whether your conversion is real or not. The only proof of the new birth (John 3) is the new life. This starts small and is often a slow process, one which will never be perfect in this life. The gospel is planted in the soil of our heart, and like a mighty oak growing, it is a small and often imperceptible rate of growth. However it is sure and steady by God’s grace at work in us.
Do you repent of sin?
Repentance begins the Christian life, but it also continues throughout. The whole Christian life is one of repentance and faith. This kind of repentance is more than the bare acknowledgement that ‘I am a sinner’ or ‘sometimes I make bad choices’. Rather it is a daily laying our lives before the Lord, seeking his forgiveness and cleansing and strength. Christians want more than pardon; they want purity (1 John 1:8-10). Therefore, a mark of true faith is a growing hatred for the sins we used to love, evidenced by genuine repentance.
Do you love God’s people?
“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God,” (1 John 4:7-8). Lastly, do you love God’s people? Remember that Jesus suffered to bring many sons to glory (Heb 2:10), and to have a people for his own possession (Titus 2:14; 1 Pt 2:9). He loves his bride, which is his church (Eph 5:25-32). Do you say you love Jesus, and yet disdain his wife? It’s a packaged deal. Some professing Christians love to criticize the church for all her faults and delight in siding with the world in accusing the body of Christ. This is dangerous ground. The Spirit of God does not only put a love for Christ in our hearts, but also a love for his people whom we will spend eternity with. It will be a love expressed in word and deed, not empty sentiment. It will be a love expressed in joyful fellowship, service, patience, forgiveness, and commitment. A genuine love for God’s people will be demonstrated by a preference for their company over the congregation of the wicked (Ps 1). Can you say, like the Psalmist, “As for the saints in the land, they are the excellent ones, in whom is all my delight.”
If you are wrestling with assurance of salvation, wondering if you have true faith, it is good to study your soul. God calls us to it. But we must remember to ask the right questions so we are always basing our hope in Christ.