Why Your Faith Is Secure, Part 2:
It is Based upon a Life-Changing Experience with God
by Steve Lemke, Provost, Professor of Philosophy and Ethics, McFarland Chair of Theology, and Director of the Baptist Center for Theology and Ministry at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.
The previous article in this series is “Salvation is of God, Not of Us.”
Can you lose your salvation? This is the second in a series of articles that show that the Bible affirms that once you are genuinely saved, you are saved forever. In the previous article, we saw that we cannot lose our salvation because salvation is simply not ours to lose. It is God who took the initiative in our salvation and who accomplished our salvation, not we ourselves. We did not earn or deserve our salvation; it is God who provided it for us.
The second reason that we can know the assurance of our salvation is that it is based upon a life-changing experience with God. In Ephesians 1, even as the Apostle Paul is talking about God choosing us from the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4) and predestining us (Eph. 1:5, 11), just verses later he also speaks of the role of a believer’s faith response to God.
Paul speaks first of his own life-changing conversion experience and that of the other early Christians. He said that in response to God’s initiative in salvation, “that we who first trusted in Christ should be to the praise of His glory” (Eph. 1:12, NKJV). Perhaps as he wrote these words, Paul was reflecting back on his own dramatic salvation experience on the Damascus Road. Saul the persecutor of the church became Paul the apostle. Paul’s testimony of this experience is so pivotal to him that the entire account is repeated three times in Scripture (Acts 9:1-31, 22:1-22, 26:2-23). Paul’s confidence in his own salvation was based in part in his absolute assurance that the experience he had with the risen Christ on the Damascus Road was real and genuine. You simply could not have convinced the Apostle Paul that this dramatic, life-changing experience was a dream, illusion, mirage, or hallucination. He knew it was real, and it changed his life. As he came to know the other early apostles and believers in the Jerusalem church whose lives had also been dramatically transformed, he had confidence in the genuineness of their salvation as well. Whenever any doubts arose about his own salvation, all he had to do was remember the reality of his own salvation experience, and remind himself, ”I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that Day” (2 Tim. 2:12, NKJV).
Paul was confident not only in his own salvation and that of the believers in Jerusalem, however, but also in the salvation of the believers in Ephesus that he was addressing in Ephesians 1. To them he said, “In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation (Eph. 1:13a, NKJV). The Christians in the church at Ephesus were no strangers to Paul. He had helped start their church, he had served as their pastor for over two years, and he personally had led many of them to faith in Christ (Acts 19-20). Paul knew them personally. He knew who they were before they were saved, and he knew how their lives changed after they became Christians. Some were Jews who were disciples of John the Baptist but had not yet heard that the Messiah had come (Acts 19:1-8). As Paul preached and taught in a public place, many Jews and Gentiles came to faith in Christ (Acts 19:9-10). Many were turning from magic and idol worship to serve the true and living God (Acts 19:11-41).
Paul had seen the lives of many of these Ephesian Christians change in a dramatic way. Demon-possessed people had been cleansed, the sick had been healed, and pagans had been brought to Christ. It was impossible to account for this dramatic transformation in their lives apart from the life-changing gospel power of Jesus Christ. Whenever any of them might have doubted their salvation, they just had to look back and see how dramatically God had already changed their lives. Paul could assure the believers in Ephesus about the genuineness of their salvation in the same way that he had assured the Christians in Philippi: “being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:6, NKJV).
The Bible never claims that everyone who claims to be a Christian really is. In fact, Jesus made it quite clear in the Sermon on the Mount that many who are lost will be deceived into thinking they were saved because of their good works (Matt. 7:21-23). In His famous Parable of the Soils, Jesus taught that although some have a shallow emotional response to the gospel, the Word of God really never takes root in their lives and they are not saved (Matt. 13:3-9, 18-23). There were even some people who wanted to follow Him just because He did exciting miracles, but Jesus would not commit Himself to them (John 2:23-25). So Jesus never taught that every would-be follower of His was genuinely saved. But someone who has a genuine conversion experience can know that they are saved forever. Jesus told Nicodemus, “whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:15, NKJV). Likewise, the Apostle John assured us that we can know that we have eternal life (1 John 5:13).
We can have the same assurance of our salvation today that the Apostle Paul spoke about to the believers in the early church. When the shadow of sin comes into our lives and clouds our fellowship with God, we may feel doubts and fears arise about our salvation. When that happens, what should we do? The Bible suggests at least three things to do to reassure us of our salvation. First, we should reflect back on our own salvation experience, just as Paul did for his own salvation experience and for the salvation of the believers in Ephesus. For some of us who were saved in older youth or adulthood, it was a dramatic change of lifestyle. We were living an ungodly life, and God totally changed and reoriented our life, just as He did the lives of Paul and the Ephesian believers. On the other hand, some of us reared in Christian families came to faith at an early age. For us, we look back and see the life we would have lived apart from Christ, and realize that God has saved us from that life. Were it not for Christ intervening in our lives at an early age, our lives would have been very different. However we came to salvation, reflecting on that dramatic change that God has wrought in our lives reassures us that we were genuinely saved.
Second, we should seek the inner witness of the Holy Spirit. We can feel assurance of our salvation because of the Holy Spirit within us (Eph. 1:13, 1 John 3:24, 4:13). Paul expressed this encouragement by God’s Spirit in a compelling way in Romans 8: “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs–heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together (Rom. 8:14-17). We can pray that the Spirit of God who came into our lives upon our profession of faith would rise up within us and assure us of our salvation.
Third, we must be careful not to trust in feelings but to put our trust in God and His Word. Even when Satan is plaguing our own heart with doubts and feelings of unworthiness, we should simply take God at His Word. As the Scripture says, “And by this we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before Him. For if our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and knows all things. Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence toward God” (1 John 3:19-21, NKJV). Our own feelings are fallible, but God is infallible. We do not know all things, but God does know all things. So we should simply reassert our faith in Him, knowing that He is true to His Word.
This series was published previously in the Louisiana Baptist Message, the SBC Tomorrow blog, and Billy Stevens’ Notes on Ministry, Transformation, and God’s Grace blog. It is reposted here for our SBC Today readers. The next article will suggest reason three that you cannot lose your salvation – because eternal security is a Scriptural promise.