How do you know if you’re really a Christian or not? Is there a way to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that you’re really saved?
These are questions I’m sure we’ve all asked from time to time. But for many, there appears to be an almost fearful uncertainty about their salvation—a fear that they may have professed faith in Jesus, lived faithfully but then, at the end, find out they’re going to spend eternity in hell.
And so maybe they’re not “saved enough,” so they pray a prayer, maybe get baptized again, and are good until the next crisis of faith.
JD Greear, pastor of The Summit Church, knows what this is like. “If there were a Guinness Book of World Records record for ‘amounts of times having asked Jesus into your heart,’ I’m pretty sure I would hold it,” he says as he opens his new book, Stop Asking Jesus Into Your Heart. His early years were a seemingly endless cycle of pray a prayer, get baptized, be jazzed up for a while, have a crisis of faith and doubt his salvation and pray the prayer again.
He’s not alone in his experience. “The Enemy—one of whose names in Scripture is ‘the Deceiver’—loves to keep truly saved believers unsure of their salvation because he knows that if he does they’ll never experience the freedom, joy, and confidence that God wants them to have,” he writes. “But he also loves to keep those on their way to hell deluded into thinking they are on their way to heaven, their consciences immunized from Jesus’ pleas to repent” (Kindle location 236).
He wants genuine Christians to have confidence in their salvation—but he also wants those who have false assurance to understand the truth of their situation. These twin goals drive this short book.
But is certainty something we’re promised—does God want us to be sure that we’re saved? Yes, writes Greear:
I can say with certainty that God wants you to have certainty about your salvation. He changes, encourages, and motivates us not by the uncertainty of fear, but by the security of love. That is one of the things that makes the gospel absolutely distinct from all other religious messages in the world. I’ll be so bold as to say that your spiritual life will really never take off until you have the assurance of salvation. (Kindle location 337)
This point, that our spiritual lives “will never really take off” until we have assurance of our salvation, is crucial.
While some treat the notion of assurance or certainty as something that leads people into laziness and apathy—after all, if “once saved, always saved” is true, the it doesn’t matter what we do, the argument goes—Greear’s point is that assurance is what motivates our obedience rather than hindering it.
Repentance and belief in the gospel—”the biblical summation of a saving response toward Christ,” as he puts it—demands not that we pray a particular prayer (not that that’s a bad thing), but that we obey Christ.
To be saved means to repent of your sin and to fix your eyes on Jesus and His finished work by faith—and this inevitably leads to a changed life.
Greear’s connection of obedience to repentance and belief is important—perhaps the most important thing in this book. It’s both the most challenging thing for modern evangelicals to grasp about the gospel, but also among the most liberating.
Too often we get caught up in questions about whether or not a call to obedience is a denial of the doctrine of justification by faith alone. Greear, like many others before him (including the authors of Scripture), is very careful to make it clear that obedience is not the grounds of your salvation—rather, your salvation is the grounds of your obedience.
There are points you can never pass spiritually until you are confident that Jesus will support the full weight of your soul. There are sacrifices you’ll never make and commands you’ll never obey unless you are convinced of their eternal value… You’ll never give up your life in radical obedience until you are radically assured of His radical commitment to you… Religion commands us to change our behavior, but it cannot change our hearts. It can tell us to do what is right, but cannot give us a love for the right. Only the gospel and the assurance it yields creates a passion for the right in our hearts, because only the gospel goes deep enough to actually change the warped nature of our hearts. (locations 378, 388, 402)
“The gospel of God’s grace creates in us the desire to obey,” he writes (location 482). This is so important for us to get—in fact, if it’s the only thing you take away from Stop Asking Jesus Into Your Heart, your time reading the book will be well spent. Genuine obedience is never motivated by fear—it’s motivated by love. Our certainty of God’s love for us in Christ is what allows us to obey Jesus, imperfectly though we do. But make no mistake: where there is no evidence of belief, there is no genuine belief.
“Saving faith, because it is rooted in a new, born-again heart, has in its character the impulses that produce good works, he writes. “Where those good works are absent, so is saving faith. It’s not that good works are equal to, or interchangeable with, faith, but that true faith always produces good works” (location 1978).
Stop Asking Jesus Into Your Heart is a very good book, and is sure to benefit a lot of people. Give it a careful read and share it with others. You won’t regret it.
Title: Stop Asking Jesus Into Your Heart: How to Know for Sure You Are Saved
Author: JD Greear
Publisher: B&H Books (2013)