How do you know if you’re truly saved? Many Christians struggle with assurance of their salvation. They often wonder if God loves them less when they are struggling with sin and that He must love them more when they are living the “victorious Christian life.” Evangelicalism has been plagued by an overwhelming confusion between justification and sanctification as the ground of our assurance, position, and acceptance in Christ. Romans 5:1–2 reads, “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.”
When sinners trusts in Christ for salvation, two permanent transactions occur—(1) all of their sin is credited to Christ, and (2) the perfect righteous record of Christ is credited to their account before God. Based upon this great exchange, God declares us not guilty, accepted, and forever in positive standing before His holy throne. We have peace with God. We have access to God in grace. This is the truth of justification and should serve as the basis or foundation for our assurance of salvation.
We must clearly understand how our assurance of salvation is rooted in what God alone has done for us in Christ through the power of the Spirit. In other words, our foundation for acceptance by God lies in the imputed righteousness of Christ given to us through justification. This is the objective reality that we must always put first when examining our salvation.
Yet, the Bible also speaks about sanctification, which is our growth and progress in godliness. Justification refers to our permanent position, while sanctification refers to our steady progress. 2 Peter 3:18 states, “But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” As believers, we should be growing in our faith and showing demonstrable evidence that we are genuinely saved. You should at times examine your life to see if you are bearing lasting fruit and growing in Christ. Yet, this progress is not the basis of God’s love for you. His love for you is constant based upon the righteousness of Christ, not your performance.
Whenever you experience doubts, anxiety or stress about your performance as a Christian, do not look within yourself to evaluate your acceptance by God based on your growth. God’s love for you does not fluctuate depending on your performance. Whenever you measure God’s love for you based upon your growth, this can lead to frustration, guilt, or even pride.
Instead, by faith, look outside of yourself to Christ and find your identity in who He is and who you are in His imputed righteousness. The Reformers differentiated between two kinds of faith—a reflective faith that looks inward for signs of personal faithfulness as opposed to direct faith that looks outside to Christ alone as the basis for my assurance.
How do you know you’re truly saved? Have you trusted in Christ alone to forgive you of your sins and are you resting in His finished work on the cross? Do you believe what the Bible says about one who is saved, instead of relying on your feelings to gauge whether or not you think God accepts you? The first answer to the question lies in trusting in the objective work of Christ and the doctrine of justification.
Yet, you must also examine yourself to see if you are showing signs of spiritual growth. Are you reading your Bible? Praying? Gathering for public worship? Partaking of the Lord’s Supper? Fellowshipping with other believers? Sharing your faith? These are marks or evidences of growth in your life, but they are not the basis, grounds, or foundation for your salvation. They are evidences, but not the foundation. The sure foundation is your permanent position in justification. The evidence of your salvation comes in the slow and steady progress in your sanctification. Confusing the two can become spiritually disastrous.