How do you know you’re saved? This question is a very commonly asked question among teenagers and young people in the Baptist tradition. The answer that is often given by a pastor or preacher is that if there was a day in their past that they prayed to accept Christ into their lives and they meant it, then they are saved.
There are a lot of issues with this approach to salvation. I would like to address some of them, and recommend you watch this video by Paul Washer, a Southern Baptist preacher, who addresses this issue directly.
Let’s take a look at Matthew 7:13-29.
Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.
Jesus is talking here about the narrow gate and the narrow way. This implies that the way to salvation is narrow, not just the gate Himself, who is Christ, but the path that you must travel to get there is not well-traveled. It is a path that isn’t a beautifully paved highway where many travel towards salvation. Instead, it is a narrow path, and I think Jesus is teaching that the path to salvation is a difficult one.
What do you mean? The Christian life is a hard life, a life of love and dedication to serving God. Serving God is far from easy. It requires daily repentance and turning from our sinful ways. Even when we start to think that we got this, we begin to have pride and God shows us again and again how we so desperately need Him. So the beginning of this text explains that not many, but few will travel this way. Let’s continue to verse 15.
Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?
Whoa-whoa-whoa, slow down…Is this passage saying that we can tell if prophets are true or false? Yes, it clearly states that you will know the real ones from the fake ones by their fruits. These fruits are their works, their deeds, the things that they do that we can see and determine what kind of tree they are. Yes, this means for you to discern (a kind way of saying ‘judge’) the spirit of another man by their actions.
20 Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.
Now here’s the key verse: 21 Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. You can’t just talk the talk, you have to walk the walk to enter into the kingdom of heaven. YES–this has to do with salvation! You not only have to believe, but you have to DO, you have to OBEY, and you have to bear good fruit to enter the kingdom of heaven.
Though we must have faith and works to get into heaven, remember that our works are not possible without Christ and the Holy Spirit. We cannot get into heaven without God sacrificing His Son to cover our sins. There is NO righteousness in us, but Jesus’ righteousness is what God sees and allows for us to enter His perfect heavenly kingdom. We also are unable to do any good works without the Spirit enabling us. So it is by God’s grace alone, and not our works that get us into heaven, but rather the works He does in our lives. God changes us, and there must be evidence of that change in the form of obedience.
This does not mean that if you sin once and then die before repenting, you are denied heaven. You must be careful of your pattern. If you pattern of life or habit is to sin without remorse and repentance, then beware that you are not entering into the kingdom of heaven. God is the ultimate judge of our hearts, and there is not way for us to accurately judge others and their salvation. However, we are able to judge ourselves. If you are not sure you are saved, you need not look for a time in your life where you prayed to accept Christ, for that means naught if you live like the world and you consider yourself a “carnal Christian.” That is an oxymoron that has been used to excuse people from obeying God’s word and yet believing they are saved. If you are not sure you are saved, you need to work towards holiness day by day, bowing your will to God’s will.
Paul Washer’s message to the youth in the YouTube video I linked above ends with an altar call. This is a very common occurrence in Baptist churches where people walk to the front of the sanctuary to dedicate and re-dedicate their lives to God. However, Paul Washer’s altar call is very different. He tells them not to come up, not to make God a promise, but rather purpose to live every day in obedience. We must work out our own salvation with fear and trembling:
12 Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. 13 For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure. (Philippians 2:12-13)
So How Do You Know You’re Saved? Through faith, you daily obey God and live a holy life. You feel truly sorry and repent when you do sin, and each day, you submit your will to God’s will and obey His word. If you look into your life and see disobedience and un-repentance, then I challenge you to plead with God to save you. Don’t be complacent in your life and trust your salvation to a moment in your past when you believed and “asked God into your heart.” Be seeking after His every day through prayer and reading the Bible, renew your mind and your heart and the fruit of your faith will follow with good works.
As an Anglican, I pray for repentance every Sunday corporately and every Morning and Evening prayer at home (the Daily Office). This prayer of general confession is beautiful in reminding us how we need God every day to forgive us and to change us. Here is the prayer:
ALMIGHTY and most merciful Father; We have erred, and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep. We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts. We have offended against thy holy laws. We have left undone those things which we ought to have done; And we have done those things which we ought not to have done; And there is no health in us. But thou, O Lord, have mercy upon us, miserable offenders. Spare thou them, O God, which confess their faults. Restore thou them that are penitent; According to thy promises declared unto mankind in Christ Jesus our Lord. And grant, O most merciful Father, for his sake; That we may hereafter live a godly, righteous, and sober life, To the glory of thy holy Name. Amen.
I find it beautiful that this confession crafted for the Book of Common Prayer brings me to introspection. I reflect upon where I have erred and strayed from God that day and am reminded that “there is no health in us.” The confession also prods me to “live a godly, righteous and sober life,” and doesn’t leave me feeling sorry for myself. It is joyful in the hope that I can live a life pleasing to the Lord! Let us all look within ourselves and make sure that we are on that narrow path to heaven. Are we producing good fruits? This is a lifelong process that needs to be lived out each day. I encourage you to watch the video by Paul Washer, since he does a much better job than me on this topic.