How Can I Be Sure that I’m a Christian?


Bible Studies

Right with God

Someone wrote and asked:  “Dear Bob, My name is ___.  I am a married mother of _, __ years old, and I am in the biggest trial of my life.  My husband and I have been married for __ years and both attended the same church for __ years.  We are now faced with the choice of a new church.  I have come to realize that I grew up in a very legalistic home . . .  The church of my youth, is a ___ church.  They believe in __, __ and a very high moral standard.  The church my husband wants us to start to attend, is what my old church would consider, wordly . . . and the teenagers look “worldly”.  I hate that I judge in this fashion, and have come to fear that I may not be saved at all.  I have tried for years, to conform to all the rules of my church, thinking that if I loved Jesus enough, I would gladly conform, but I never have been able to.  But, I’m also afraid of this new church, thinking I may be backsliding into the beggerly elements of the world.  . . . but I just don’t know what to do.  I’m so scared that I may have never been saved, but . . . I fear my family and I will be lost forever!  I know this all sounds totally neurotic . . . but please, I need some wisdom.  I only want Jesus, more and more in my life.”

Dear Sister,

There are several issues in your post:
1.   Rules that appear to be based on the Bible,
2.   The nature of God and how we are right with him, and
3.   The duty that a wife owes her husband.

Of these, the most important is the nature of God and how we are right with him.

While God is altogether just and holy, he is also loving and kind.  While his holy nature dictates that sin must be punished, he himself provided the way for sin to be punished and sinners to be saved.  God himself, without ceasing to be God in any sense whatsoever, became a real human being, just like us except that he did not have a sinful nature, and he never sinned.  He died on the cross and took the guilt and the consequences of our sins—we receive the benefits of what he did, not by following a set of rules but simply by trusting in him and what he did for us.

However, before we can truly place our trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, we must take full responsibility for our sins; we must recognize the guilt that is ours, because it is we who have chosen to commit those sins of our own will, and nobody forced us to do them.  We must confess that we deserve to suffer the consequences of our sins both in this life and in the world to come, and that whatever comes our way is less than what our sins merit.  We must sincerely choose to turn from those sins to God, even though the fruit of that choice will never be perfect in this life.

In the gospel we understand that Jesus took the responsibility for the consequences of the guilt of our sins.  Our Lord Jesus Christ took on himself all of the curse and condemnation due for our sins, having become a curse for us as he took both the guilt and the consequences for our sin.  “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us.” (Galatians 3:13.)  What does it mean that Christ became a curse for us?  It means that he fully bore the just consequences of our actions, the curse and judgment of a holy God.

“God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21.)  Jesus did not become a sinner, but he became sin.  He became the guilty one, the one who accepts the responsibility for the consequences of our sins.  The spotless, unblemished Lamb of God became hideously defiled and morally reprehensible. God punished the Lord Jesus, because the Lord Jesus voluntarily took our sins on himself and thereby became liable to the just wrath of God.  While we may not be able fully to comprehend everything about how God acted for us in Christ, Scripture does, nevertheless, paint a clear picture that our Lord was punished in our place, the guilt of our sins having been put to his account.

God caused his very own righteousness, the righteousness of God, to be put to my account.  “This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.”  God punished the Lord Jesus Christ in my place, as my Substitute, and the result of this propitiatory sacrifice (an offering that takes away the anger of an offended party) is that I will NEVER know the wrath of a holy God, because God has declared me righteous solely for the sake of Christ.  “But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by his grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in his blood through faith. This was to demonstrate his righteousness, because in the forbearance of God he passed over the sins previously committed; for the demonstration, I say, of his righteousness at the present time, so that he would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”  (Romans 3:21-26.)

What is justification?  It is a legal declaration, not unlike what happens in a court of law; it has to do with our legal standing before God.  As some godly pastors and teachers put it so well over three centuries ago: “Justification is an act of God’s free grace, wherein he pardons all our sins, and accepts us as righteous in his sight, only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, and received by faith alone.”*

Justification is not that God makes us good and then declares what he has done.  Rather, God declares sinners righteous solely on the basis of what Christ did for them:  “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8.)  This gracious declaration is without any reference to anything in me.  This is what the Apostolic Church has ever maintained: “For we maintain that a man is justified (declared righteous) by faith apart from observing the law.” (Romans 3:28.)  We can NEVER come under condemnation, regardless of what we do.  Yet, in spite of this absolute, impeccable, imperishable, irrevocable standing that we possess before God, which is in no way subject to the vacillation and vicissitudes of our personal walk—as an expression of our gratitude, we strive to keep the Law, because we have been embossed with the restored Image of God in Christ, after we believed, when we were sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise. (Ephesians 1:13, 14.)

Those who have been born again do reflect this in a changed way of life.  They have not been saved because they live a new life; they live a new life because they have been saved.  Dead sinners are effectually called by the Holy Spirit working through the preaching of the gospel.  The moment these sinners believe, their sins are forgiven, having been fully paid for by Christ, and Christ’s perfect obedience—the very righteousness of God himself—is put to their account.  Just as credit card charges and our payments are reflected in a monthly statement, so Jesus takes our whole debt, and he credits us with his completely righteous record.  But, as I said, believers are also immediately sealed with the Holy Spirit, who begins the life-long process of changing them into the restored image of God, making them more and more like the Lord Jesus Christ, a process not completed until death.  As Paul says, “In whom you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after you believed, you were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise, who is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of his glory.” (Ephesians 1:13, 14.) 

There will always be the fruit of a changed life in everyone who believes—always imperfect, but always there.  “No one who is born of God practices sin, because his seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious: anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor the one who does not love his brother.” (1 John 3:9, 10.)  In other words, a person who is born again can fall into serious sin, even adultery or murder, and never lose his salvation:  “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” (1 John 1:8.)  But a born again person cannot live on and on in sin without turning away from it and back to God.  Why?  Because the Holy Ghost will not allow a born again person to live in sin.  He convicts us, and if that doesn’t produce repentance, he disciplines us—gently at first, more severely if necessary.  If all else fails, the Holy Spirit will take us home to heaven.

Yet all who believe are fully righteous in God’s sight the moment they believe:  “For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law.” (Romans 3:28.)  “But to the one who does not work, but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness, just as David also speaks of the blessing upon the man to whom God reckons righteousness apart from works:  ‘Blessed are those whose lawless deeds have been forgiven, and whose sins have been covered.  Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will not take into account.’” (Romans 4:5-8.)  And, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1.) 

Because God chose us out of a sinful and fallen humanity, chose us for no reason inherent in us, chose us not because he foresaw our faith or good works, but unconditionally, we STAND under his grace and will NEVER come under his condemnation. (Romans 9:6-18; Acts 13:48; Ephesians 1:3-2:10; John 6:37, 44; 10:28, 29; Romans 5:1ff.; 8:1, 31-39.)  Even when we experience suffering in this life, it is never as a condemning consequence for our sins, but part of God’s benevolent plan for our lives, including his Fatherly discipline, whereby he causes whatever happens to us, even our own sins and foolishness to work together, not only for our own individual good, but for the good of all God’s people in all ages and places. (Romans 8:18-30.)

Because our Lord was cursed and condemned, we NEVER will be (Galatians 3:13.)—“in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.” (Galatians 3:14.)  “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32.)  When we read of those dreadful curses and condemnations, we know that they will never be visited on us.  Rather, all we ever receive is the blessing of God.  We are united with the one true Seed of Abraham, and we are therefore the inheritors of all the good things and none of the bad. (Romans 8:17.)

And all this is so because God did not “spare his own Son, but delivered him up for us all.” (Romans 8:32.)  He did not spare him from one ounce of guilt that is yours or mine; he did not spare him one piece of the defilement and consequences of that guilt; he did not hold him back from experiencing the full brunt of his just wrath due for our sins, but abandoned him to hell on the cross.  Who can bring any charge against us? (Romans 8:33.) Who can condemn us? (Romans 8:34.) There is no longer condemnation (Romans 8:1.) because there is no longer any guilt left.

Now, as I say, we receive this gift by means of faith alone, even though that faith is never alone; it is always accompanied by other evidences of the grace of God that are the fruit of true faith.  That’s why every real Christian will want to be baptized, even though it isn’t the waters of baptism that save, it is God’s grace that is exhibited in the waters of baptism that saves us:  “This water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand—with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him.” (1 Peter 3:21, 22.)

Our loving God did not concoct elaborate schemes and obscure rituals for us to do in order to go to heaven.  Jesus paid it all, and we receive his free gift with the open hand of faith, a faith that is itself the gift of God.

Your second issue concerns rules.  While we are not saved by keeping the rules, real believers will want to please God by doing what he has commanded—not to earn salvation, but to show our gratitude for his free gift of salvation.

If you seek the Lord with all your heart, you will surely find him. (Jeremiah 29:13.)  He will give you the assurance that you are his child, adopted into his family. (Galatians 4:6.)  Why don’t you pray something like the following? 

“Heavenly Father, I confess that you are bigger than my little mind can ever comprehend.  The Bible teaches that you are somehow one, but it also teaches that you are somehow three, because you are called God, and the Holy Ghost is also called God, as well as the Lord Jesus.  I am confused, and I want to believe what the Bible teaches.  Please give me your Holy Spirit to teach me.  Open my mind to your truth, what you actually teach in the Bible, rather than men’s theories about you.

“I also confess that you would be completely just to cast me into hell.  But I also confess that I believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, who without ceasing to be God, became a real human being, just like me, except that he never sinned.  I confess that he died on the cross as my substitute, in my place.  You have said in your Word that salvation is a free gift; it is by grace, grace alone. (Ephesians 2:8-10.)  And you have told me that if I turn from myself and receive the Lord Jesus Christ by faith, he will become my Saviour. (Romans 3:21-26.)

“Father, I cast myself on your mercy in Jesus; I trust that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures and rose again.  I receive the Lord Jesus as you offer him to me in the gospel.  I lay down my life and unconditionally surrender my will to you.  Please give me your Holy Spirit that I may truly trust in you and live for youPlease come into my heart.   

“Have mercy on me, a sinner, and save me for Jesus’ sake.”

If I can be of further help to you, please feel free to contact me, either by email or telephone.  My office number is 318.445.7271; my home number is 318.793.5354.  

Cordially in Christ,


* The Westminster Shorter Catechism, Answer 33.