Can Christians be Assured of their Salvation?

For a two-part June 2013 Viewpoint on Mormonism series on 1 John 5:13, click Part 1  and Part 2 

By Edward Mellott

“These things have I written unto you that believe in the name of the Son of God, that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God” (1 John 5:13).

When the Apostle John penned these words centuries ago, he did so to encourage faith in Christ, and to encourage those who do believe. The times were tough for believers, and they would get tougher. To follow the rabbi from Nazareth meant paying a high price, and many were inclined to turn back when they encountered adversity. John’s words to those who remained faithful were meant to encourage them that their faith was not in vain. John wrote to these faithful ones to assure them that their faith was not empty or without foundation. He pointed out to them that those who believe in the Son of God have eternal life. Acceptance with the Father is not just a possibility but a reality. This entire letter was written to encourage those who believe to live and walk in confidence. That confidence is known as Christian assurance.

To many, the idea of assurance is presumptuous and even conceited. They consider those who express that assurance as thinking themselves better than others. The notion is that no one can be sure, during this life, of having obtained eternal life. The Mormon cannot be sure because eternal life (known in Mormonism as exaltation or godhood) is based on the individual’s personal righteousness. In the words of twelfth LDS President Spencer W. Kimball, “… however powerful the saving grace of Christ, it brings exaltation to no man who does not comply with the works of the gospel” (The Miracle of Forgiveness, pg. 207).

Joseph Smith compared exaltation to climbing a ladder. “… You must begin at the bottom and ascend step by step,” he said (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, pg. 348). Kimball stated, “Each command we obey sends us another rung up the ladder to perfected manhood and toward godhood; and every law disobeyed is a sliding toward the bottom where man merges into the brute world” (Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, pg. 153). In order to gain the assurance of forgiveness, Kimball wrote, “The transgressor must have reached a ‘point of no return,’ to sin wherein there is not merely a renunciation but also a deep abhorrence of the sin–where the sin becomes most distasteful to him and where the desire or urge to sin is cleared out of his life” (The Miracle of Forgiveness, pg. 355, emphasis mine).

While the notion that no one can be assured of his or her salvation–even among non-Mormons– it is not scriptural. John told his readers who believe that they have eternal life. It is a present reality to the believer. Of course, this truth is not to be used as a license to sin, and John stressed that very point (1 John 1:6; 2:1,15; 3:6ff; 5:18).

One may ask, “How can a person be sure that he or she will spend eternity with God when things are so uncertain during this life? What makes that believer so sure of himself or herself? In other words, what is the basis of this assurance?” An examination of the Bible allows us to understand that it is not in the person alone that assurance is anchored–in the person’s ability to ‘hold fast’–but rather in the work of the Lord Jesus Christ. When we realize that, then the prospect of assurance becomes very apparent and reasonable.

Actually, there are several reasons that we can be assured of a place with the Lord. One is God’s love for us. God loved us even before we loved Him, and He sent His Son to take our place (1 John 4:10; Romans 5:8; John 3:16). We did not earn that love by any action on our part–it is all of His grace (Titus 3:5; Ephesians 2:8,9). We can be sure of God’s love because He has told us about it. Will we then doubt it?

Another foundation for assurance is God’s promise to us. He not only tells us of his love and blessings, but He promises them to us. When the Hebrew Christians were facing such adversities and pressures to return to the old ways, they were reminded that all of the promises to Abraham were fulfilled in Christ; to forsake Christ would be to turn from that fulfillment. God had made a solemn promise to Abraham, and He sealed that promise with an oath (Hebrews 6:13-18). Since He could swear by no one greater, God swore by Himself. We read of God’s promises to Abraham in Genesis 12, 15 & 17. In chapter 15 we see a solemn nature of God’s oath, that the sure hope of God’s promise is fulfilled in Christ Jesus.

Finally, our foundation for assurance is in that finished work of Jesus Christ. In Jesus’ perfect life and his death upon the cross, we have a substitute. His victory over the grave is ours as well, and we know that we will be with Him in glory. He was offered up once for all time (Hebrews 9:28; 10:10-14). There is no more sacrifice or payment to be made for sin. In Jesus, we have peace with God and the hope of glory (Romans 5:1,2). There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1). They can never be separated from His love (Romans 8:31ff; John 10:27-30).

For more on the topic of salvation, click here.