As Christians we sometimes struggle with questions about where we stand with God. And perhaps even you have asked at some point, “Am I really a Christian?” Sometimes it’s because God seems far away. Or perhaps you simply don’t feel saved. Maybe you are going through a very difficult time in your life. Or it could be that someone is telling you that your beliefs are wrong and to be truly saved you need something else. Or maybe you are struggling with a sense of failure and guilt.
This is real life. We go through these things. And this is why we are taking time for a series of teaching on this topic, the assurance of our salvation, or ‘how I can know I’m saved.’
Let me reiterate that I believe that you can know for sure that you are saved, even with these things that might make you question it from time to time, and that you can and should have confidence in your relationship with God.
As we saw last week, John says this, “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life.” – 1 John 5:13. We can know. And the writer of Hebrews says, “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” – Hebrews 4:16. We can have confidence in our relationship with God.
Last week, we looked at the first of three bases for the assurance of our salvation, the assurance of God’s word. Today we focus in on the second basis, the assurance of the Spirit. And the Spirit, I believe, does this in two ways. First,
The very presence of the Spirit in our life gives us assurance
The reception of the Spirit is one of the key promises that God gives us in the gospel, as we saw last week. And so, to put it simply when we see the Spirit in our lives, we know we have received the promise of salvation; we know that we are saved.
The connection between having the Spirit and being saved is so central that Paul can say in Romans 8:9, “Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.” The reverse of this, of course, is that if we have the Spirit we do belong to Christ; we are saved.
As John says in 1 John 4:13 – “By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit.” We “know” we are in right relationship with God – because of the Spirit in our lives.
Paul uses a couple of images that make this point. And I want us to look at these. The first is “sealed” with the Spirit. He says, “you . . . were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit” – Ephesians 1:14 (also 2 Corinthians 1:22; Ephesians 4:30).
Now this metaphor is sometimes misunderstood to mean that we are, as it were, locked up in a box and can’t get out even if we wanted to; that we are sealed in. (Sometimes appeal is made to Matthew 27:66, where the same word is used. “So they went and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone and setting a guard.” In this case the tomb was made secure in two ways: 1) the guards who kept watch over it, and 2) the seal. The seal by itself would not keep anyone out. It could easily be broken. Rather, it secures the tomb in a different way. If it is broken it shows that someone got in. It means that the tomb has been tampered with. It is no longer “authentic” or preserved intact. In this case it is meant to keep Jesus’ disciples from getting in and taking the body so that they could claim he was raised from the dead – Matthew 27:62-65. It secures the tomb not as a lock (or a guard) would, but it secures it’s integrity; that it hasn’t been tampered with.) But this is a wrong understanding. The word used here refers to a mark denoting ownership and authenticity.
The background has to do with sealing documents in the ancient world. How do you know that a letter is truly from who it says it’s from; that it hasn’t been tampered with? The writer would take an engraved object, like a signet ring, distinctive to them, and press it into hot wax that has been placed on the folded or rolled up letter. This is the letter’s seal. So the seal is meant to confirm ownership (who wrote it) or here authorship and authenticity. (Again, the seal doesn’t prevent the letter from being opened, it simply shows that if it has been opened before you get it that its authenticity can’t be established)
The seal in our case is the presence of the Spirit in our lives. Which means that those who have the Spirit are truly owned by God; they are authentic. They are the real thing.
A second image from Paul is the “down payment” of the Spirit. After talking about the resurrection that is to come, Paul says, “He who has prepared us for this very thing (that is, the resurrection) is God, who has given us the Spirit as a down payment.” – 2 Corinthians 5:5 (Also, 2 Corinthians 1:22; Ephesians 1:14.)
The word for “down payment” means an initial payment given as a pledge that the rest of the payments will be made. It is sometimes translated simply as a “guarantee” or a “deposit.” The Spirit here is the down payment from God to us. So the Spirit’s presence in our lives is an indicator of our present salvation; that we have already received the first installment of what is to come from God. And, as long as we have the Spirit, we have God’s pledge to give us the rest of what God has for us, in this case the resurrection. So the presence of the Spirit in our lives gives us assurance of our salvation both now and for the future.
This raises the question, how can you know if the Spirit is present in your life? There are a number of ways to answer this but our focus today is on the relational part of God’s Spirit within us:
- The Spirit guides us in everyday life – Romans 8:14
- The Spirit helps us to pray – Romans 8:26; Ephesians 6:18
- The Spirit teaches us things and reminds us of what Jesus said – John 14:26
- The Spirit is grieved when we sin – Ephesians 4:30. And we can sense this.
So in all of these examples we see that when the Spirit dwells within us, we have a relationship with the Spirit. There are various kinds of interaction. And through these interactions we can know that the Spirit abides within us. And when we know this, we know that we are saved.
But even more specifically –
The witness of the Spirit gives us assurance
Paul talks about this in Romans 8:15-17 – “. . . you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God”
This is how it works. 1) We receive the Spirit. He says in v. 15 – “You have received the Spirit.”
2. The Spirit “bears witness . . . that we are children of God.” In other words, the Spirit tells me, deep in my heart that I am a child of God; that I am a Christian. [As John Wesley put it, this is “an inward impression on the soul whereby the Spirit of God immediately and directly witnesses to my spirit, that I am a child of God; that Jesus Christ has loved me, and given himself for me; that all my sins are blotted out, and I, even I, am reconciled to God.”]
And we ought not think of this as a one-time thing, maybe something that happens just when we are first saved. “Bears witness” is in the present tense. This is seen as ongoing. The Spirit will, from time to time, affirm our standing as a child of God, deep in our heart.
3. The Spirit enables us to cry “Abba! Father!” This is why it says that the Spirit bears witness with our spirit. We both bear witness that we are saved. We hear what the Spirit tells us, and then we concur – “Yes, God you are my father. I am adopted into your family. I am one of your children.” And as Paul goes on to say in v. 17 – “. . . and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ . . .” Heirs of the salvation that God has for his own.
So if you feel insecure in your relationship with God, in addition to the assurance that comes from standing on God’s word, look to the assurance of the Spirit.
Examine your heart
Examine it today and this week. Are there evidences of the Spirit’s activity in your heart? Are you in relationship with God, interacting with God by the Spirit who dwells within you?
And then, as a part of this relationship, does the Spirit testify to you that you are a child of God?
Perhaps you would say that you don’t know what it means to have the Spirit dwell within you. You have never experienced this. Well I invite you to put your faith in Jesus and to turn from your sins so that you can know what this means. Jesus tells us in Luke 11:13 – “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” Ask and you can know what it’s like to have God’s Spirit live within you.
And if you would say, I have experienced the Spirit, but not really anymore. Ephesians 5:18 teaches us that we are to continue to be filled with the Spirit. It is not a one-time thing. So invite the Spirit to fill you again and continue to do this. And don’t go through life ignoring the Spirit. Cultivate your relationship with God by the Spirit. And then you will know the powerful assurance of salvation that comes from having the Spirit in your life.