Can I be sure I am going to Heaven?
In one of my recent articles, a pastor from the 1600s offered the suffering Christian the encouragement that whatever they are suffering here on earth is “all the hell you shall ever know.” A commentator on that post asked “can a Christian lose their salvation?”
Lets make this personal:
What if I slip up and fall? What if I commit a big sin?
What if I ‘backslide’ on my faith, perhaps even renouncing it?
Can I lose my salvation?
Having once followed Jesus can we end up being cast aside?
At risk of being accused of offering a spoiler, I will quote at the outset one of my first blogging buddies, David Wayne who said:
“It is true that, if you are truly saved, you cannot lose your salvation, but it is equally true that there are many who think they are saved and who aren’t.” David Wayne
There is a vital question we must ask ourselves, therefore, before we get into this subject of losing salvation:
1. Am I really a Christian at all?
Often when we worry about whether we can lose our salvation it really reflects a concern about whether we ever had it in the first place. I wrote a piece a while back now on these dreadful words of Jesus:
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ Matthew 7:21-27
So before we turn to the backslider we need to look at ourselves. No matter how religious we seem to others. No matter how ‘good a christian’ people might think we are, only Jesus can answer the most important question we ask ourselves:
Does Jesus really KNOW me?
We must not be complacent about this. And if we feel our heart beginning to grow cold towards Jesus it should drive us to these words and to ask ourselves are we known by Jesus. I would encourage you to read the meditation I wrote on this:
Many Christians get by without much experience in their relationship with God. I would urge you not to settle for a mere intellectual belief but that Jesus would pour out more of his Holy Spirit on you in a way that you can recognise and receive.
I believe that the Bible very clearly says that there is an experience of the Holy Spirit available to us. This amounts to the love of God being poured out into our hearts as a seal acknowledging that we belong to God. Much anxiety about whether or not we are saved can be erased by this experience. This receiving of the Spirit has to be an experience for it to function as a deposit that helps us know for sure we are saved:
In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory. (Eph 1:13-14)
Without it no wonder many Christians spend their whole lives worrying about the question of whether they are really saved. I would encourage you to read my post about this:
Knowing Jesus requires obedience to him.
Jesus makes it clear, in the verse we quoted a few paragraphs ago that anyone who wants to know Jesus must do the will of God. Many Christians don’t like talking about commands. But here Jesus makes it quite clear that obeying him is vital for salvation.
This clear demand from Jesus that we obey him led to me setting myself a New Year’s resolution at the beginning of 2018. I would urge you to join me in this determination:
To look more closely at the commands of Jesus. And to learn to obey them.
I decided to go on a journey, partly guided by Piper’s book on the subject, but also seeking to create my own reflections on Jesus’ commands. I invite you to join me on this journey, and if you have missed the first steps to go back and look at them now. I aim to walk my way slowly through all the key commands of Jesus. This is not some kind of cute series. This is critical to our spiritual wellbeing, and even our salvation.
If we do not obey the commands of Jesus, we risk hearing that Jesus doesn’t know us.
We risk not losing our salvation, but never having had it in the first place.
As we have been seeing the commands of Jesus are very different to the Ten Commandments. We have been looking at them for more than half a year and have yet to move on from the commands of Jesus about our relationship with him and the other members of the Trinity. If we want to be known by Jesus and accepted by him here are some of the critical posts I have written so far:
I would urge you to look at these articles carefully, and the Scriptures they reference and ask yourself am I a Christian at all?
As you do so you will realise that Jesus is speaking to our hearts and demanding a much deeper response than simply putting up a hand at an evangelistic meeting (as much as that can often be the first step on our journey).
As we have been looking more deeply at the question of losing our salvation we can see that some backsliders may in fact never have been Christians at all.
And so I have urged us all to ask this first crucial question of ourselves. But part of our evangelism effort is to try and help others be sure of their own salvation too. If you suspect that someone who is not now walking with Jesus was actually never a Christian, what is your responsibility? To share the gospel with them and try to help them find the way back to Jesus.
But what then of the question, assuming we actually HAVE our salvation, can we ever LOSE it?
There are a series of questions we should be asking ourselves if we are concerned that we are at risk of losing our salvation. The first we have already explored, the second, which we will get to in a moment is closely related.
There is a phrase Jesus uses which at first sight would seem to be a slam dunk. He says those who “look back” are out:
“No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” – Jesus (Luke 9:62)
However it is not as simple as it first seems. As is often the case we must look carefully at the context of these words. As we do it immediately becomes clear Jesus is talking about someone at the beginning of their journey with Jesus who ‘looks back’ rather than making an initial firm decision to follow him. This verse is not the clear answer to the ‘can I lose my salvation?’ question that it initially seems:
As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.”And Jesus said to him, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Yet another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:57-62)
So the looking back is about someone who never truly decides to follow Jesus, and so should lead us to ask another question:
2. Did I ever make a proper decision to follow Jesus?
At the outset of our faith it is vital that we look carefully at the claims of Jesus, and decide if we are willing to renounce all and follow him. Some people seem to think that can accept Jesus as saviour without following him as their Lord. These words would strongly suggest that is NOT true.
The quality of our initial response to to the gospel is also explored by Jesus in the parable of the Sower. Anyone who has been a Christian for a few years will recognise that there are some who seem to make an excited response but they have no real root and their apparent faith disappears. Jesus explains that not everyone who hears the gospel and apparently responds is genuine, and that a little bit of time will reveal this:
“Hear then the parable of the sower: When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is what was sown along the path. 20 As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, 21 yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away.22 As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.” (Matthew 13:18-23)
It is so vital that we make sure our hearers truly UNDERSTAND the words of Jesus and appropriate them. Those that don’t fully grasp the nature of Jesus’ demands on us risk losing the apparent faith they might display to difficulties, the cares of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches.
Actually it is crucial that WE make sure we understand the gospel fully ourselves. The gospel is simple but we over-complicate it. This is why Tope and myself wrote a book called Hope Reborn – How to Become a Christian and live for Jesus.
Of course understanding is not merely intellectual, it is a decision of the heart based on believing the eternity altering message of the gospel.
This same idea is expressed another way by Jesus. He says ,
“Everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock” (Matt 7:24, NIV).
As we have already seen becoming a Christian is a decision to OBEY Jesus. And at the risk of sounding repetitive, if you fear you are backsliding then get back to the foundation, and determine once again that you will build you life on this sure foundation. For them when the storms come you may be shaken but you won’t be destroyed. I have written about this verse previously:
Sadly, many who turn away from Jesus never to return simply prove they never knew him at all:
They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us.” (1 John 2:19)
3. Am I experiencing a spiritual or physical malaise?
In my recent article on my journey with Leukaemia I explained how I felt I was backsliding myself even before I was officially diagnosed. My story is an example of how complicated this can be since a large part of my issue was my physical health strongly affecting my mental and spiritual health. I was experiencing spiritual malaise:
In the early days of my diagnosis my low energy, fatigue, and general feelings of apathy, together with my emotional upset at the diagnosis made me withdraw from God.
I found prayer, Bible reading, and attending Church all lost their comfort. It all became just an effort that I didn’t have the energy for. I felt like I was backsliding. And my hope began to fade, as at times I felt as if this “early” disease had already destroyed my whole life.
To be honest, my faith had not been in a good way for a few months before I became unwell. My energy and enthusiasm levels were already low for me, and although I had no way to realise it at the time, perhaps my body had actually already been struggling for a while. If I noticed at all I’d just assumed it was the fact I was commuting for the first time in years. Although I’d gradually given up most of my hobbies such as preaching and writing, I was able to work as normal.
Once I began to realise that there was a physical reason for my low energy and enthusiasm, I gradually began to find my way back to Jesus.
Now, once again, my faith is hope giving and so precious to me. Indeed God has used my sickness to draw me closer to Him than ever before. He really does turn all things around for our good.
Suffering will either drive you deeper in your relationship with God or turn you away from him. Your call which.
Sometimes it is only a physical illness that reveals we have a spiritual malaise that we have been hiding for years. When suffering comes it tests our faith, reveals its true character. And can cause us to make that journey back to Jesus and find a deeper confidence in him.
4. Am I a backslider who will find their way back to Jesus?
“keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. And have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh.” (Jude)
When dealing with a backslider they may need mercy and kindness to draw them back to God. Or they may need to be warned.
Imagine if you will two people both of whom had committed some sexual sin.
One said “I am terrified I am on my way to hell, that God can never forgive me”
I hope you would tenderly take them to the story of King David when he committed adultery and murder but was forgiven. Then you would show them Psalm 51 and show them how to express their repentance to God. When our hearts are dirty, they need to be cleaned.
I trust that you would then explain to them the very fact that their tender heart feels conviction of sin is a mark that God has not finished with them yet. And, having led them through repentance, I hope you would have confidence to declare that
“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)
Imagine however that the other backslidden Christian said something like this:
I know that God is my father. It doesn’t matter what I do with my mortal body, I can do whatever I like, he will still accept me into heaven.
I hope that instead of offering comfort you would offer strong warnings. The warnings of Hebrews are not for the tender-hearted christian who thinks they may lose their salvation, they are for the cocky over-confident pretend Christian who is clearly on the way to hell. Perhaps God will use you to arrest someone in their path to condemnation and offer them the way back to God.
Some verses that may help the casual and continuous sinner to realise they have no right to presume on God’s grace:
- No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him. (1 John 3:6)
- “We must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it . . . how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation?” (Hebrews 2:1-4)
- “Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God” (Hebrews 3:12)
- “It is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt. . .Though we speak in this way, yet in your case, beloved, we feel sure of better things—things that belong to salvation.” (Hebrews 6:4-9)
- “If we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. . .It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” (Hebrews 10:26-31)
- “Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.” (Hebrews 12:14)
You will notice that five of these warning passages come from Hebrews. You can read them all in context at Bible Gateway.
How to return to Jesus
The way back to God for any backslider is simply by going back to the Gospel and respond to it as you did in the beginning. I have found when spiritually dry that to re-read Hope Reborn, the book I wrote summarising the gospel reminds me afresh of things I’ve always believed, and draws out renewed commitment from my heart to Jesus.
I find a similar effect by listening to a playlist I’ve put together on both Spotify and Apple Music. which I’ve called “Gospel hope”. These songs are often written out of an emotional place, but for those of us with a faith gently take our hearts, and point them back to trusting again in what we believe Jesus has done for us.
Christian friends and church attendance are also part of God’s plan to encourage us and help us find strength in him.
The final thing that will help is getting more serious about prayer and Bible reading.
If you are a Christian who has backslidden, stop fighting the inevitable and return to Jesus.
5. Have I only got just enough faith to get into heaven?
Some people who appear to all intents and purposes to have lost their faith still have enough faith to enter heaven. After all the core of the gospel response is very simple:
If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. (Romans 10:9)
But why would you want to be saved but only “as through fire”. Some liken this to those who do not “inherit” the kingdom of God and hence get fewer rewards in heaven:
“For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.” (1 Corinthians 3:11-15)
Some people say but I would be glad to just scrape into heaven and I don’t need rewards. But such an answer is dangerous. How can you know just how much you need to follow Jesus to “make it”. Surely it is better to be sold out for him so we can have confidence not just of getting in by the skin of our teeth, but of a warm welcome and a “Well done good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:23)
Surely the questions is not what is the least commitment we can get away with? But rather if Jesus has done so much for us, how much can we do for him?
There are some important verses that stand firmly against the idea that a Christian can finally be lost. But to apply them we first need confidence that we really are walking as a Christian.
Why a True Christian can Never Lose their Salvation
We have seen that it can certainly look like someone has lost their salvation. But as we draw towards the end of this article, let me share some verses that prove this simply cannot be the case.
Can anything separate us from the love of God?
- Nothing will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:39).
Can a new creation be un-created?
- Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. (2 Cor 5:17)
Can anyone be un-born again?
- But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:12-13)
Could the price paid by Jesus be too little?
- ” redeemed . . . with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect” (1 Peter 1:18–19)
Can we be un-declared righteous?
- we have been justified through faith (Romans 5:1)
Can the gift of eternal life prove to be temporary?
- “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” (John 3:16)
Can the sovereign chain of salvation be broken?
- “Those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified” (Romans 8:30).
Can God break his word and be proven untrustworthy?
- I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until that day. (2 Tim 1:12, NIV)
Will God forget to finish his work of salvation?
- “May the God of peace himself sanctify you completely . . . at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.” (1 These 5:23-24)
- “I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion” (Philippians 1:6).
Will God not keep us from turning away from him?
- “I will make with them an everlasting covenant, that I will not turn away from doing good to them. And I will put the fear of me in their hearts, that they may not turn from me.” (Jer 32:40)
- “Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling.” (Jude 24)
Can the irrevocable be made revocable?
- For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. (Romans 11:28)
Will God lie for the fist time ever in your case and break all these promises?
- . . .in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began (Titus 1:2)
The way to have confidence that you are saved
Perhaps this passage in Philippians sums this issue up more than any others
“Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. (Philippians 2:12-16)
Note that this passage teaches us
- To obey
- That there is a work we are meant to do in walking with Jesus
- That we should have a healthy fear and trembling not smug complacency about our spiritual state
- That as we play our part we should be confident that actually it is GOD at work in us to save and restore us.
- If we learn not to grumble and argue and to hold fast to God’s word we will be lights in the world and be found blameless because of the gospel.
There is a need for perseverance in our faith. The writer to the Hebrews points back to a true salvation decision and says that the evidence that we were ever a Christian is that we still are at the end of our lives:
“We have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end.” (Hebrews 3:14)
But we are not dependent on ourselves alone to keep ourselves int he Faith. The one we have entrusted ourselves to will himself keep us safe. Jesus himself has promised us clearly:
All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” (John 6:37-40)
He will keep you in his hand and will never let you go.
My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. (John 10:27-28)
Paul has great confidence in Jesus’ ability to keep him saved:
I am not ashamed; for I know whom I have believed and I am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day. (2 Timothy 1:12, NASB)
This promise is similar in some ways to another found in the Old Testament which Piper says is the promise he has clung to most throughout his life as a Christian:
“Fear not, for I” — this is God talking — “I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” Isaiah 41:10:
No wonder the writer to the Hebrews encourages us strongly:
“Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.” (Hebrews 10:22-23)
The writer to the Hebrews also gives us great confidence in the following quote which I will end with, and I trust this article has prepared us for the next article in my Jesus commands series on the demand of Jesus that we both fear and trust him:
“Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.” (Hebrews 12:28-29)
I will leave you with this prayer I am praying today having read all the Scriptures that prompted this article:
Lord Jesus, many years ago I made a decision to follow you. Yet you predestined me before the foundation of the World to be prefect in you.
I have wandered from you. Yet you have never wandered from me.
I have sinned, yet you go on forgiving me.
At times I still wonder if I am even a Christian at all.
Yet, you promise that you will never leave me, never forsake me, that no one can ever snatch me from your hand.
Please pour out more of your Holy Spirit on me that I would know full assurance of salvation, and be transformed more and more into your image.
Teach me how to obey your commands.
Take my weakness and make me strong for you.
Abide with me whatever life throws my way.
Give me great confidence that I am yours.
Take my life completely and use it for your glory.
Let me walk without grumbling or arguing.
Make me a light in this world.
Help me show others the way to you.
Raise up an army of true believers who will walk with you and body declare your word.
Bring revival to my heart, and to the church in my nation and elsewhere in the world.
Let your kingdom come
Let your will be done
In my life as it is in heaven.
Please direct my path and give me a great hope and future.
Thank you for living for me, dying for me, rising again for me, pouring out your Spirit on me, and for preparing a place for me.
Images: Pixabay except the picture of a path which is my own photograph of the South Downs Way.
Don’t miss the series “Jesus Commands”
Jesus said that if you obey him your life will be established on a firm foundation when the storms come.
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Adrian Warnock is author of Raised with Christ (Crossway, 2010) and Hope Reborn (Christian Focus, 2014). He blogs at Patheos and served on the leadership team of Jubilee Church, London. Adrian is a medical doctor and was diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukemia in May 2017. He is passionate about helping Christians learn to approach suffering with hope and compassion. Adrian began a series on the commandments of Jesus in January 2018.