Can a Christian know if he or she is saved? Yes! In fact, we should know it:
Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things freely given to us by God, (1Corinthians 2:12, NASB)
But the key question is HOW can a person be certain of their salvation? And could it be that some people have a false hope of their standing with God because they were misled?
Jonathan Edwards addresses this question in this book, The Religious Affections.
One big error for Christian leaders addressed in this book is that they sometimes give false assurance and create in professors a “presumptuous peace.” I today’s world it could happen like this:
Say a man is troubled about his salvation because he doesn’t see fruit or signs of grace in his life, so he goes to his pastor and explains his doubts. The pastor hears him and tells him to stop worrying, that he needs to have more faith that he IS saved, that he should be “living by faith, and not sight, and trusting in God in the dark, and living upon Christ and not upon experiences (Edwards, p.109).”
This pastor would have just given this man a false basis for his confidence, what Edwards (quoting Shepard, p.103 fn) calls “presumptuous peace.” This might be a mistake only in how the man is evaluating his standing with God, or it might be establishing a hypocrite in false hope.
John Owen, in his work on The Mortification of Sin, explains that God often causes his presence and the assurance of salvation to leave a believer so He will discipline them back to a life of holiness. Or, when God’s wisdom puts his children into dark times such as Job, God can seem very distant. In such cases “it is true that it is the duty of God’s people to trust in Him when in darkness (Edwards, p.105).” In these times we should evaluate our standing with God by a Biblical definition of faith–such as from the book of 1 John–one that trusts Him and lives obediently toward him even when we can’t see the outcome or sense of our current circumstances.
On the other hand, if the man in our example is wrestling with his standing before God, this may be God’s way of turning him away from sin and death by first convicting him of his sin and awakening in him a need for true grace. In this case, this man should give himself no rest until he is certain that he has true peace with God. This man does not need faith in his faith, he needs faith in Christ. He does not need faith in some experience he once had or some prayer he once prayed. He does not need presumptuous peace. He needs to “look on the Son and believe in him” and “have eternal life (John 6:40, ESV).”
(For more on this subject, click on the book image above.)