By John MacArthur
We're going to be looking at this matter of assurance...the assurance of salvation. We are sort of launching our study from 2 Peter, you might want to turn to 2 Peter chapter 1, and we're going to have just a little Bible study tonight together, really not in 2 Peter but we'll use that as a starting point anyway. In 2 Peter chapter 1 verses 10 and 11 sort of set the subject in its place: "Therefore brethren, be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you, for as long as you practice these things you'll never stumble, for in this way the entrance into the eternal Kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be abundantly supplied to you." Verse 10 says, "Be diligent then to make certain about His calling and choosing you."
The subject here then is the assurance of salvation. And we have noted that there are basically two questions to ask. Question number one, is salvation forever? Is salvation forever? Is it secure? Question number two, can I feel that security? One is a fact and the other is a personal confidence. They are inseparable. And we have noted in our study that if salvation was not eternal, if salvation was not secure, then there would be no discussion about assurance because how could you be assured of an insecure salvation? But if salvation is forever and if it is secure, then you can experience assurance.
Let's go back to question number one for a moment...is our salvation forever? In other words, once you have come to the knowledge of Jesus Christ, is that eternal? The answer, of course, is yes. And there are many places in the Word of God where that is very clearly noted for us. Listen to just a few. John 5:24, "Truly truly I say to you, he who hears My word and believes Him who sent Me has eternal life and does not come into judgment but has passed out of death into life." If you believe you have eternal life you will never come into judgment, you have passed out of death in to life. And you will notice there is no fine print.
In John chapter 6 and verse 27, and we're going back purposely to the very beginning of the gospel record, looking at the gospels themselves in the New Testament to see how this teaching is foundational, John 6:27, "Do not work for the food which perishes but for the food which endures to eternal life which the Son of Man shall give to you for on Him the Father, even God has set His seal." In other words, we're not dealing with something that comes and goes, we're dealing with something that comes and stays forever. It does not perish, it endures to eternal life, our salvation is forever.
In verse 35 of John 6 Jesus said, "I am the bread of life, he who comes to Me shall not hunger, he who believes in Me shall never thirst." In verse 51, "I am the living bread that came down out of heaven, if anyone eats of this bread he shall live forever and the bread also which I shall give for the life of the world is My flesh," you live forever, there again is no fine print. Salvation is forever...very clearly.
Backing up into that chapter, verse 37, "All that the Father gives Me shall come to Me and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not 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 of all that He has given Me I lose none but raise it up on the last day, for this is the will of My Father that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him may have eternal life and I myself will raise him up on the last day." Now we know here then from the teaching of Jesus that salvation is eternal.
Ephesians chapter 1 takes us to the teaching of Paul and verse 11 says, "We have obtained an inheritance having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will." God predestined it, He works it according to His own will and we have obtained a guaranteed inheritance, nothing can remove it.
First Peter chapter 1 verse 5, "We are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time." We have an inheritance, by the way, which is imperishable, undefiled, will not fade away, it is reserved in heaven for us and we are protected to receive that inheritance. God's protecting hand secures our salvation forever.
In Jude 24 another verse, and I'm giving you just a few selected ones, "Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy, to the only God our Savior through Jesus Christ our Lord be glory, majesty, dominion and authority before all time now and forever, amen." He is the one who is able to keep you and make you stand in His presence. He guards us, He keeps us, He secures us, He has given us an eternal inheritance which we will receive. There will be no loss. There is no condemnation, Romans 8:1, to them who are in Christ Jesus. Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ. No one can lay any charge to God's elect, says Romans chapter 8. And so we are secure in a permanent and eternal salvation.
Listen to the end of 1 Thessalonians 5 verse 23, "Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ." You say, "Well I would certainly want that." Verse 24, "Faithful is He who calls you, He also will bring it to pass." Bring what to pass? Preserving you soul and body complete without blame at the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Now these passages just remind us that our salvation is forever. So once you are saved you are saved forever. The second question and the one that we are concerned about is can I feel secure? And we acknowledged that it's possible to be secure and not feel it. It's possible to have eternal salvation and not enjoy it. But the question is, can I be assured?
Now we have spent three weeks on why people who are genuinely saved feel insecure and we said that there are a number of reasons. One, strong preaching of high standards of holiness can make people feel insecure, especially if they're sinning. Another reason, some people can't accept forgiveness. Some don't properly comprehend the fullness of the gospel. Some don't remember the time of their salvation so they feel insecure. Some feel the strong pull of the flesh and wonder if they have a new nature. Some don't recognize God's hand in all their trials and so they think their trials are evidence that they're not the children of God. Some fail to walk in the Spirit and some disobey the Word of God. Those are the primary reasons why people lack security even though they are eternally saved.
Now tonight I want to turn to the positive side, if I might. Before we get in to the text of Peter's message, which we'll do in a few weeks, I want us to turn to 1 John because in 1 John we have a very positive presentation. These are objective tests to see if I'm a true Christian. And if I pass these tests, I can enjoy my eternal salvation with assurance. The Apostle John, by the way, with this epistle is concerned about the same issue, he's concerned about true salvation, he's concerned about assurance. And so in his first epistle he gives a number of tests that you can apply to your own life and you can know that you are genuinely saved. Some of them, by the way, parallel what we'll learn in 2 Peter 1, but they are distinct enough and demand our attention as a substantial background for understanding the text of Peter's letter. So let's look then at 1 John and the tests of assurance.
I'm going to turn them in to a series of questions, all right? And I'll give you, if time permits, and we'll go very fast, eleven of them...a series of questions that plunge us in to the rich book and lead us to the joy of assurance based on the reality that we are saved. Or, it may convince us that we are not saved. In either case it has done its God-ordained purpose.
Question number one, and these are, I believe, what is in the heart of John as he writes...question number one to ask yourself if you want to get in touch with the reality of your spiritual condition...have you enjoyed fellowship with Christ and the Father? Have you enjoyed fellowship with Christ and the Father? That is an essential element in true salvation. Look with me at chapter 1 verse 2, John here writing about the word of life, God's revelation, says, "And the life was manifested and we have seen and bear witness and proclaim to you the eternal life...and there he means Christ...which was with the Father and was manifested to us what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also that you also may have fellowship with us and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ." Now obviously he's going beyond just the earthly acquaintance he had with Jesus because he had no such earthly acquaintance with the Father. So at the end of verse 3 when he says our fellowship is not was, is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ, he is saying I am presently, currently enjoying communion with the living Christ and the living God. That is an element in the experience of the truly saved.
Chapter 5 verse 1 points out to us another reference that speaks to the same issue. It says in verse 1, "Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God and whoever loves the Father loves the child born of Him." Here John is saying it is characteristic of a believer to love God and to love Christ. That again speaks of relationship. We have fellowship with Christ. We have fellowship with God. We love God. We love Christ. Down in verse 4, "For whatever is born of God," that is regenerated, born again, redeemed, saved, "overcomes the world and this is the victory that has overcome the world, our faith and who is the one who overcomes the world but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God." When you believe that Jesus is the Son of God, you place your faith in Him, your faith in God. You overcome the world in the sense that you enter in to a new level of communion, you no longer commune as your priority point of fellowship with the world but you commune with the living God in a relationship of love. And I really believe that John here is pointing out to us that it is characteristic typically of true believers to have an on-going loving fellowship with Christ and God. That is essential. That is foundational. That is basic to salvation.
In fact, in 1 Corinthians 1:9 Paul writes, "God is faithful through whom you were called in to fellowship with His Son Jesus Christ our Lord." And Galatians 2:20 says that Christ lives in me in a very intimate union of common life.
Now the thought here is that if you're a Christian you share life with Christ, you share life with God. You commune with them. You have a relationship with them. But there's something very experiential about this, it's not just a fact that we have divine life living in us, there is an experience to be had here. Let me remind you of a verse. You remember John 10:10 where Jesus said, "I am come that you might have life and have it...what?...more abundantly," what did He mean by that? If He had just said, "I am come that you might have life," we could say, "Well He's put His eternal life in us." In other words, there's a new creation, a new nature, we possess the life of God in the soul of man and that is a fact. But when He added, "And that you might have it more abundantly," He began to talk about a super abounding kind of life and I think He moved into the dimension of experience...a rich life, a life that causes us to experience joy and peace and love and purpose. Every time you hear somebody in the baptismal waters testify about coming to the knowledge of Jesus Christ, they don't stop short and say..."Well, the fact is, folk, I'm saved, and I'm just here to announce the fact." Invariably they will describe to you the feeling. They will describe to you the experience of love and joy and peace and forgiveness and purpose and direction in life. That's the super abounding element of that eternal life. The God of all comfort, the God of all grace, the God who supplies all your needs according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus, the God in whose fellowship we are caused to speak to ourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in our hearts, the God to whom we come and cry "Abba Father," like a little child to one he adores, the God to whom we draw near in time of trouble to seek for mercy, the Christ in whom we find our consolation and our comfort and in whose love we bask, the Christ whose peace we possess and enjoy, these are the experiences of abundant life. These are the elements of fellowship. And these are the things that so greatly enrich us.
Have you experienced them? Have you experienced communion with Christ in all of its richness? Have you experienced fellowship with God? Have you sensed His presence? Have you experienced that which He ministers through His Spirit? Do you have in your heart a love for Christ and a love for God that draws you to their presence? That's the question to start with. Have you experienced their power for witnessing? Have you experienced the sweet communion of prayer on your knees, the exhilarating joy of talking to the living God? Have you experienced the refreshing almost overwhelming sense of grace that comes upon you when you discover some rich new truth in the Word? Have you experienced the blessedness of fasting in the presence of God? This is fellowship. If you have experienced those things, then you have fellowship with Christ and you have fellowship with God. And that is the fellowship of salvation. And since true salvation is secure, you can enjoy your assurance.
Second question, and I have a feeling we're going to get half way through, it's all right. Second question, are you sensitive to sin? Are you sensitive to sin? Go back to chapter 1 for a moment. This is a very important portion of Scripture. Verse 5 chapter 1 of 1 John, "This is the message we have heard from Him and announced to you that God is light and in Him there is no darkness at all." Now the point here is that the message which the Lord has sent to us is about Himself. The message is that God is absolutely sinless, absolutely holy, absolutely perfect, has no blemish, no sin, no ignorance, there is no literally in the Greek a single bit of darkness in Him. Now that's the basic foundational truth to the section. And immediately we come to verse 6, follow as I read, "If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth." In other words, if God is light all light and nothing but light, and we are walking in darkness, then that's not fellowship with Him. Verse 7, "But if we walk in the light as He Himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin, if we say that we have no sin we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us, if we confess our sins He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness, if we say that we have not sinned we make Him a liar and His word is not in us."
Now you have a very clear contrast here and I want you to follow it. It is a foundational truth that God is light and in Him there is not one single bit of darkness. Yet there are some people who claim to be in fellowship with God, they claim to be in fellowship with God but their claim doesn't hold water. In verse 6, please note, they say we have fellowship with Him. They claim to have fellowship with God. Verse 8, they also claim to have no sin. If we say we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth isn't in us. There are some people who claim to have no sin. Then in verse 10, this is unbelievable, they claim never to have sinned. If we say we have not sinned, we make God a liar and His word is not in us. So here are some people who say yes, we know God, we fellowship with God, we walk with God but the truth is, they walk in sin and flatly...what?...deny it. There are lots of people who are so utterly oblivious that they think they are walking in the light when they're walking in the darkness and walking in the darkness claim to have no sin or not to have sinned at all. It is characteristic of an unregenerate, unbelieving person to be utterly oblivious to the condition of sin within his life. That's what John's point is. The man in verse 6 is not confessing sin because he doesn't think it's necessary. He doesn't even recognize it. He doesn't even acknowledge it. He just walks along in the darkness thinking he's communing with God. The man in verse 8 is not confessing sin because he thinks he's reached a state where he has no sin. The man in verse 10 is not confessing sin because he never has confessed it or acknowledged sin.
Three words describe these three viewpoints. The first word in verse 6 is darkness, the second word in verse 8 is deceit, and the third word in verse 10 will make defamation because you make God a liar because God says you have sinned.
So here are people who claim to be Christians but are utterly insensitive to the reality of their sinning. On the one hand they think they can go on sinning and walk in darkness all they want and not even acknowledge it and still have fellowship with God. On the other hand, they can deny it all together and think that they can walk and have fellowship with God. They're utterly insensitive to the reality of their condition. And the truth is, they do not know God, they do not practice the truth, they deceive themselves. The truth is not in them. They make God a liar and His Word is not in them. There's an unbeliever...a person who isn't sensitive to his sinful condition. That is why we always say when you preach the gospel what do you have to preach first? Sinfulness of man.
Now on the other hand, let's go back and pick up the other verses, verse 7, "But if we walk in the light as He Himself is in the light..." In other words, if we walk a virtuous walk, "We have fellowship with one another," that one another, by the way, refers to God not to other believers, "and the blood of Jesus His Son keeps on cleansing us from all sin." The truly saved walk as a pattern of life in the light. The truly saved, look at verse 9, don't deny their sin, they what? They confess it and God is faithful and righteous to keep on forgiving it and keep on cleansing it. So we can say the true believer is always walking in the light and always confessing the deeds of darkness that he does in the light. He has a right sense of sin. He knows if he's going to commune with God he has to be holy, he has to walk in the light. He knows when sin occurs in his life it must be confessed.
Then in chapter 2 verse 1 John says, "My little children, I'm writing these things to you that you may not sin but if anyone sins we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous." Verse 1 of chapter 2 says you don't have to sin, there's a new liberty here...he says I'm writing to tell you you may not sin. I don't want you to sin. You don't have to do this. But if you do, there's forgiveness.
The true believer, one, recognizes that he must walk in purity if he's going to commune with God. He recognizes, two, that when he sins he needs to confess it. He recognizes, three, that he doesn't have to sin. But when he does sin he knows who to go to, the advocate Jesus Christ.
The point is this that the person who is truly saved is sensitive to the sinful realities in his life. Romans 7, Paul says I know what's in me, there's a law working in me and it's called the law or the principle of sin and I'm very very aware of it. Does that describe you? Are you sensitive to sin? Are you very much aware of the spiritual battle? Do you realize very very clearly that in order to have true communion with God you have to live a holy life and walk in the light, you can't walk in the darkness and claim fellowship with Him? Are you willing to acknowledge the sinfulness as a reality in your life and confess it? Do you realize you don't have to sin but if you do you go to the advocate Jesus Christ? Are you sensitive to that like Paul in Romans? Do you sometimes cry out, "O wretched man that I man, who will deliver me from the body of this death?" because you're so weary of the burden of sin in your flesh? If that describes you then you have a salvation that is forever. And if you have that salvation that is forever, you're secure so you might as well enjoy it and be assured.
Question number three, are you obedient to God's Word? Are you obedient to God's Word? Chapter 2 verse 3, "And by this we know that we have come to know Him if we...what?...keep His commandments." Now that could not be clearer. By this we know, we perceive by experience, that seems to be the force of gnosko the verb. By this we experimentally experientially know. We know what? That we have come to know Him. What's that? Salvation. How do we know we're saved? By this...by what?...if we keep His commandments. If you want to know whether you're a true Christian, ask yourself whether you obey the commandments of the Word of God. When the disciples were sent out with the great commission, go into all the world and make disciples and Jesus said, "Teach them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you."
Obedience to the commands of God produces assurance. The word "keep" here is a word of observant obedience, watchful, careful, thoughtful obedience. It involves not only the act of obedience but what I like to call the spirit of obedience, the willingness, the habitual safeguarding of the Word, not in letter but in spirit.
The commandments here, by the way, are not nomimos, not the typical word for law. John uses that word 15 times in his gospel. But here it's the word entole which he uses 14 times for the precepts of Christ. And so commandments here is really precepts, orders, standards from Christ. And he's calling for more than a legal obedience out of a works covenant, he's calling for a gracious obedience out of a grace covenant. Legal obedience, by the way, demanded perfection or penalty. Gracious obedience accepts failure without penalty because of Jesus Christ. Understood? So it is that gracious obedience that he is calling for. If you want to know whether you're a Christian, look at your life. Do you safeguard the commandments so that you might obey them?
Follow verse 4, "The one who says, I have come to know Him," it's a claim, you say so, huh, "but the one who says that I have come to know Him and does not keep His commandments is a liar and the truth is not in Him." It is a false claim. It is a false claim. Verse 5, "But whoever keeps His Word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected, by this we know that we are in Him." By what? Keeping His Word. Again, habitual obedience, means the love of God has moved into him and pulled him toward obedience.
How can you tell a true Christian? Not by sentiment, not by mystical feeling, but by obedience. If you desire to obey the Word of God, if when you read it it's the longing of your heart to do it, and if your desire is not just a legal desire out of fear but a loving desire because of Christ, and if you see that desire showing up in a pattern of obedience, not perfection but a pattern of obedience, then you are saved. And if you are saved at all you are saved forever and if you have a secure eternal salvation, you might as well enjoy it.
A fourth question. Ask yourself this, do you reject the world? Do you reject the world, the system? Chapter 2 verse 15, "Do not love the world, nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in Him."
Now when he uses the term "love" here he's talking about our deepest constraints, our most driving compelling pulling emotion and purpose. And he frankly says Christians don't feel that toward Satan's system, the kosmos. It is impossible for a Christian to love Satan's system. It is as impossible as for light to dwell with darkness. It is impossible for love for God to coexist with love for the world.
Now we talk about the world, we're talking about all of its evil, all the stuff that's in it. Go back to verse 13, "I'm writing to you fathers because you know Him who has been from the beginning; I'm writing to you young men because you have overcome the evil one; I've written to you children because you know the Father; I have written to you fathers because you know Him who has been from the beginning; I have written to you young men because you are strong and the Word of God abides in you and you have overcome the evil one." Twice there referring to the evil one. The evil one has designed a system which the Bible calls the world, the kosmos, the order, the system of Satan. It encompasses false religion. It encompasses crime. It encompasses godless philosophies. It encompasses godless living, sexual sin, drunkenness, materialism and on and on. And when you become a Christian you don't love that. You really hate that. Some times you are lured into it but it isn't what you love, it's what you hate. That's why it's so amazing that a Christian can do what he hates and not do what he loves. That's Romans 7 again, isn't it? What I hate I do. New life in Christ plants within us love for God. "All that is in the world," he says in verse 16, "can be summed up as the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life. It's not from the Father, it's from the world. And the world is passing away and also its lusts but the one who does the will of God abides forever." The world is there but the true believer who has eternal life and will abide forever isn't involved in it. He may get sucked in now and then, lured in from time to time, but his love is toward God.
Do you reject the world? Do you reject it? Do you reject its false religions, its crimes, its godless philosophies, its godless living, its sexual sin, its drunkenness, its materialism, all of its false and damning ideologies? Do reject all those things? And do you love God and love His truth and love His Kingdom and love what He stands for? You don't do that normally, you don't do that naturally. Naturally men love darkness and they follow their father, the devil. So ask yourself, do you reject the world? If you reject the world that's indication of new life in Christ. And since the new life in Christ is forever, if you have salvation, you have a forever salvation, you might as well enjoy it.
Number five, and this is an equally important question. Do you love Christ so that you eagerly await His coming? Do you love Christ so that you eagerly await His coming? Chapter 3 verse 2, "Beloved, now we are children of God and it has not appeared as yet what we shall be, we know that when He appears we shall be like Him because we shall see Him just as He is and everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself just as He is pure." Then on the other hand, there are the people who practice sin and lawlessness.
So what is John saying? He's saying if you're a true Christian you will have a hope in your heart and your hope will be fixed on Christ. And that hope in the coming of Christ will purify your life. Do you love Christ so that you eagerly await His coming? That when He appears you can be like Him? This is the blessed hope, this is our supreme joy. Paul says in Romans 8 the whole creation groans waiting for this, glorious manifestation of the children of God. Three things John says, He appears, we see Him, we're like Him. Is that your hope? Are you like the Apostle Paul, do you say I'm waiting eagerly, Philippians 3:20, I'm waiting eagerly for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory? Are you waiting for that? Do you despise the sin and the fallen flesh and long to be like Jesus Christ? Can you feel the thrill of what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:49, just as we have borne the image of the earthly, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly? Can you identify and hope with the words of Paul to Titus, looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ? Do you love Christ so that you eagerly await His coming and that that eager hope has an ethical power, it purifies you? If you find yourself...and I don't mean an inordinate kind of anticipation where you are irresponsible...but when you find yourself longing for the coming of Jesus Christ, that's evidence of salvation. That's evidence of a new nature. When you find yourself longing to be delivered from the body of sin and be made like the perfect Christ, that's the evidence of salvation. And if you have salvation, you have it forever so you might as well enjoy it.
Let me review what I've said. Question number one, have you enjoyed fellowship with Christ and the Father? Question number two, are you sensitive to sin in your life? Three, are you as a pattern of life obedient to God's Word? Question number four, do you reject the world's system? Question number five, do you love Christ so that you eagerly anxiously wait for His coming? If you pass those tests, that's evidence that you have salvation and since salvation is secure you should possess assurance.
John wrote these things to give us confidence. Look at chapter 3 verse 21, let me stop at that point. John says, "Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us we have...what?...confidence before God." John wants us to do an inventory. And if you've asked yourself these five questions without even asking the six remaining ones, and your heart does not condemn you, you can have confidence before God. If you can say, yes, I have enjoyed sweet fellowship with Christ, yes I have enjoyed fellowship with God, yes I'm very much aware that I cannot walk with God and have sin in my life, yes I acknowledge and confess my sin, yes I turn to the advocate Jesus Christ the righteous...if you can say yes I have a desire deep within my heart to obey the Word of God, I don't always do what I ought to do but that's my heart passion, yes I reject the world's system, I hate what the world stands for, I resent what it stands for, and yes I love Christ and long for the day when I see Him and can be made like Him, if you pass those tests your heart does not condemn you...you can have confidence before God. And what a joy it is to know that God wants us to have that. God wants us, as verse 19 says of that same chapter, to be assured before Him. He wants us to assure our hearts, to have confidence because that brings us such joy, such peace and thus he gives us very clear examination questions that we might discern our spiritual condition.
And I say to you, also, if your heart condemns you and you don't have confidence and you don't have assurance, then give your life truly to Jesus Christ that you might know Him genuinely. Well, let's bow in prayer.
Father, we thank You again for such clear instruction. We continue, Lord, to be exposed to the Word that is so very clear that we might know our spiritual condition. Lord, You would never want there to be any doubt about that and we would assume You would make it clear. Thank You for the instruction that gives confidence to the saved and gives fear to the unsaved that we who are truly saved who pass the test might rejoice and those who fail the test might repent and embrace the Savior. We pray in His name. Amen.