This week only! Save 25% on a PLUS membership with code: FRIDAY

Can We Be Sure of Our Salvation?

Explaining God’s gift of eternal life along with a few biblical passages may be enough to answer this question. But sometimes people will have specific objections to the idea of assurance, and when this happens, we will need to answer these objections.

Updated Nov 15, 2023
Can We Be Sure of Our Salvation?

Subscribe to Dr. Ken Boa's free teaching letter here.

This question is raised most often by Christians struggling with doubt, who grew up in a culturally Christian setting that taught that salvation depended on rule-keeping.

If getting into heaven depended on our good works as well as our faith in Christ, none of us could have any confidence in going to heaven.

This is the first option. The other option affirms that the believer can be assured of eternal life based solely upon the redemptive work of Christ, not our performance.

1. We Cannot Be Sure of Eternal Life

In most cases, the question of assurance is not so much an objection to Christianity as a request for clarification of the gospel.

People often assume that assurance is impossible because of misunderstanding the nature of faith, sin, or good works. The real issue is what God’s Word says about assurance, not how we feel about it.

Explaining God’s gift of eternal life along with a few biblical passages may be enough to answer this question. But sometimes people will have specific objections to the idea of assurance, and when this happens, we will need to answer these objections.

Faith (Can’t a person stop believing?). One of these objections has to do with the nature of faith. Can’t someone stop believing in Christ, and wouldn’t this cause him to lose his salvation?

For example, many people who grow up in the church discard their faith in college as just another religious delusion and never return.

In cases like these, it may be that they never had real faith. They did not lose their salvation because they did not have it to begin with.

This does not mean that a genuine Christian will not have doubts due to circumstances or intellectual problems. Wrestling with honest doubts can be healthy and can strengthen our understanding of the faith.

The Christian who never consciously wonders, “Is all of this really true? How do I know I’m not deluding myself?” will probably not have as firm a grasp of the basis for his faith as the one who struggles through these questions.

Jesus tells us that he not only saves us but also sustains us (John 10:28-29). Our hands are firmly held by him who loves us to the end. Salvation is based on God’s ability, not ours.

Sin (Don’t some sins disqualify a person?). Another objection relates to the nature of sin. Can’t a person lose their salvation by committing certain sins?

The problem here is that most people forget that God judges our hearts and thoughts, not just our actions. God regards the intent to murder or commit adultery as seriously as the acts themselves (Matthew 5:27-28; 1 John 3:15).

In God’s sight, sins like jealousy, anger, malice, slander, pride, bitterness, and envy are not minor offenses. Thus, if any sins can disqualify someone from heaven, all of us would be disqualified.

An alternate approach to this objection is to ask, “What is good enough to get you into heaven, and what is bad enough to keep you out of heaven?” Jesus said, “Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).

God will accept nothing less than perfection. Our only hope of salvation, then, is the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ, which is imparted to those who trust in him.

Some people accept that Jesus forgave their past sins but worry about their future sins. But when Christ paid for our sins almost 2,000 years ago, all our sins were future events, but he knew them all and paid for them all.

A simple way to point this out is to ask the doubter, “How many of your sins were in the future when Jesus died for them?” Either he paid for them all or he paid for none; a partial redemption is no redemption in God’s sight.

Good works (Doesn’t salvation need to be maintained?). Yet another objection relates to the nature of works. Doesn’t a Christian have to maintain his relationship with God and thus his salvation?

No, because salvation is and must be a gift by God’s grace since no one deserves it. His power maintains it, not by our performance (Titus 3:4-7; Jude 24).

Christ’s righteousness has been imputed to us — placed, as it were, in our account. This is his righteousness, and by his grace, it has become ours; it is not jeopardized by our behavior (2 Corinthians 5:21).

Both salvation and sanctification come from God’s grace working in us through faith by the power of the Spirit (Galatians 3:3). Of course, faith should produce evident changes in a person’s life (James 2:14-26), but these are not the basis of our salvation.

The nature of gifts. Salvation is described as a gift throughout the New Testament (John 3:16; Romans 5:15-16; Ephesians 2:8-9; 2 Corinthians 9:15). God paid our debt in full, and we have been set free from our bondage.

Nothing more remains to be paid, but this gift must be accepted. Once it is accepted, it is the recipient’s permanent possession; it cannot be received and then returned. When Christ’s righteousness is placed in our account, it is there to stay.

But doesn’t this mean that a Christian can sin freely and still get to heaven? Paul responds to this in Romans chapter 6. Salvation means dying with Christ, and that means dying to sin (Romans 6:10-11).

When a person makes a genuine commitment to Christ, things in their life gradually begin to change. New interests and desires emerge, and the believer no longer can indulge in old sinful patterns without a conviction by the Spirit or discipline by the Father (Hebrews 12:6).

As a person matures in Christ, they discover that what previously had been imagined to be a dreary life turns out to be the greatest adventure of all. A life of abiding in Christ is so much more abundant (John 10:10) than a life of putting the self first.

Eternal lifeEternal life cannot be lost, because if it could, it would not be eternal.Christ says that eternal life is the presentpossession of each believer (John 5:24).

2. We Can Be Sure of Eternal Life

What about feelings? Many people have trusted in Jesus Christ but have no feelings of assurance of eternal life.

The Holy Spirit should be the primary source for a sense or a feeling of assurance (Romans 8:16). One possible reason that this witness may be absent is that a person has never really trusted Christ.

In the case of genuine believers, another reason may be that we have grieved the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 4:30) with some hidden (or not-so-hidden) sin. In this case, the Spirit may not provide the person with feelings of assurance.

A third reason for lacking a sense of assurance may be ignorance of the biblical teaching on assurance. But doubts and depressed feelings do not change what God says is true.

Our responsibility is to choose to believe what God says, and when we honor God in this way, we create an environment in which his Spirit can gradually conform our feelings to the truth.

Biblical Passages on Assurance

Numerous biblical verses affirm the security of the child of God. Here are 12, listed in New Testament order:

John 3:16: The only condition for eternal life is faith in Christ.

John 5:24: Jesus promises three things to those who believe in him:

1. The present possession of eternal life.

2. Exemption from being condemned in the judgment.

3. A new position of spiritual life before God.

A contract is no better than the people behind it — if we can believe men, why not Christ? Having believed in him, the fulfillment of his promises depends on him, not us.

John 6:37,44: Everyone who comes to Christ has been drawn by the Father and given to the Son.

John 10:28-29: Christ’s sheep are held securely in his hands and in the Father’s hands. No force, including ourselves, can remove us from his grasp.

Romans 8:1,16: The believer should have a spirit of adoption as one who knows he is a child of God.

Romans 8:29-35; 38-39: This magnificent passage tells us that once a person is in Christ, nothing at all (including himself) can separate him from Christ. This relationship becomes timeless and irrevocable.

Ephesians 1:4: God knew us even before the creation of the cosmos and planned that believers would become perfectly conformed to the image of his Son.

Ephesians 1:13-14: Every Christian is sealed with the Holy Spirit, and this seal remains until we obtain our heavenly inheritance.

If you get on an express elevator to the upper observation floor of the Empire State Building, you will arrive there regardless of any doubts or panic you may have along the way.

Similarly, coming to Christ involves a willful choice to place one’s eternal destiny in the hands of the Savior. The choice needs to be made only once; then regardless of how we feel, he will bring us safely to our destination.

Colossians 1:12-14: Believers have already been placed in Christ’s Kingdom; his redemptive work has already been accomplished.

1 Peter 1:3-4: As believers, our incorruptible inheritance is reserved for us by God.

1 John 2:1: When believers sin, Christ stands as our Advocate and satisfies the Father because of his once-for-all sacrifice.

1 John 5:13: Believers can know for sure.

Passages Commonly Used to Refute Assurance

The four passages most commonly used to dispute the assurance of the believer are John 15:6; Galatians 5:4; Hebrews 6:4-6; and James 2:18-26.

John 15:6: In context, Jesus is addressing the issue of spiritual fruit, not salvation. The Greek text uses the neuter gender (not masculine or feminine) for what is burned, and this cannot refer to the believer.

1 Corinthians 3:11-15 illuminates this verse — the works that a believer does in the flesh will be burned at the Judgment Seat of Christ.

Galatians 5:4: Paul told the Galatians that Christ has set us free from the yoke of the Law (Galatians 5:1). Justification by grace is incompatible with justification by law. If a person seeks to be justified by keeping the Law, he rejects the grace that would save him.

Hebrews 6:4-6: This is a very difficult passage. Some take it to mean that a believer can lose salvation, but if the passage teaches this, it also teaches that those who lose their salvation can never get it back (and very few would want to go that far).

The phrases used in verses 4 and 5 evidently refer to believers, and in the broader context here (5:11-6:3), the author of Hebrews is arguing that we can only come to Christ one time. His description of those falling away is intended to demonstrate the impossibility of such a scenario.

James 2:18-26: It may appear that James is contradicting Paul’s teaching on justification by faith (Romans 4). However, two observations clear up the problem: Paul spoke of justification before God in Romans; James, on the other hand, is referring to works as evidence of faith before men.

A saving faith is a faith that works — a lack of changes in a person’s life may be the result of a dead faith (James 2:26).

People who have no assurance of salvation may be walking by feelings and not by faith in God’s promises. But if the Holy Spirit does not bear witness with his spirit that he is a child of God (Romans 8:16), this witness may be absent because he is not a child of God.

Therefore, if someone is unsure of where they stand with the Savior, the best approach is to invite them to pray with you to receive Christ. Even if they already knew Christ, this could help solidify their commitment.

For further discussion, join Dr. Boa’s weekly live interactive webinar, Think on These Things.

For further reading:

Eternal Perspective Trilogy

Is Christ Really the Only Way to God?

Is Salvation Through Faith Too Easy?

Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/LightFieldStudios

Kenneth Boa

Kenneth Boa equips people to love well (being), learn well (knowing), and live well (doing). He is a writer, teacher, speaker, and mentor and is the President of Reflections Ministries, The Museum of Created Beauty, and Trinity House Publishers.

Publications by Dr. Boa include Conformed to His Image; Handbook to Prayer; Handbook to Leadership; Faith Has its Reasons; Rewriting Your Broken Story; Life in the Presence of God; Leverage; and Recalibrate Your Life.

Dr. Boa holds a B.S. from Case Institute of Technology, a Th.M. from Dallas Theological Seminary, a Ph.D. from New York University, and a D.Phil. from the University of Oxford in England. 


Christianity / Theology / Salvation / Can We Be Sure of Our Salvation?