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Whenever counseling Christians looking for assurance of salvation, I take them to 1 John. This brief epistle is full of help for determining whether we are in the faith or not. In particular, there are three signs in 1 John given to us so we can answer the question “Do I have confidence or condemnation?”

The first sign is theological. You should have confidence if you believe in Jesus Christ the Son of God (5:11-13).  John doesn’t want people to be doubting.  God wants you to have assurance, to know that you have eternal life.  And this is the first sign, that you believe in Jesus.  You believe he is the Christ or the Messiah (2:22).  You believe he is the Son of God (5:10).  And you believe that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh (4:2).  So if you get your theology wrong about Jesus you will not have eternal life.  But one of the signs that should give you confidence before God is that you believe in his only Son Jesus Christ our Lord (4:14-16; 5:1, 5).

The second sign is moral. You should have confidence if you live a righteous life (3:6-9).  Those who practice wickedness, who plunge headlong into sin, who not only stumble, but habitually walk in wickedness–should not be confident.  This is no different than what Paul tells us in Romans 6 that we are no longer slaves to sin but slaves to righteousness and in Galatians 5 that those who walk in the flesh will not inherit the kingdom.  This is no different than what Jesus tells us in John 15 that a good tree cannot bear bad fruit and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit.  So if you live a morally righteous life you should have confidence (3:24). And lest this standard make you despair, keep in mind that part of living a righteous life is refusing to claim that you live without sin and coming to Christ for cleansing when you do sin (1:9-10).

The third sign is social. You should have confidence if you love other Christians (3:14).  If you hate like Cain you do not have life.  But if your heart and your wallet are open to your brothers and sisters eternal life abides in you. One necessary sign of true spiritual life is that we love one another (4:7-12, 21).

These are John’s three signposts to assure us that we are on the road that leads to eternal life: we believe in Jesus Christ the Son of God; we live a righteous life; and we love other Christians.  Or we can put it this way: we know we have eternal life if we love Jesus, we love his commands, and we love his people.  No one of the three is optional.  All must be present for our assurance (see 2:4, 6; 4:20; 5:2). John belabors the same points again and again. Do you love God?  Do you love his commands?  Do you love his people?  If you don’t, it’s a sign you have death.  If you do, it’s sign that you have life. And that means confidence instead of condemnation.


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15 thoughts on “Confidence or Condemnation?”

  1. Blaine says:

    I’ve always loved this threefold “checklist” in 1 John. It’s ready-made to preach :) and I’ve used it many times myself in counseling others.

  2. bill crawford says:

    Of course one cannot argue with Scripture. How do you respond to the question “How moral?” “How social?”

    To have the focus shift to looking at ourselves takes our eyes off the cross. I’m reading Sproul’s Sermons of Romans and have been encouraged by his honesty about his own sinfulness and how this drives him to Christ and the cross.

    I think any focus on ourselves for assurance can result in not taking sin seriously or despair.

  3. Mike R says:

    Good comment by Bill, I think it’s important that the theological sign always be the first and foremost sign of assurance. Certainly someone who demonstrates hatred of God’s law or God’s people should be challenged, but someone who is honestly struggling with immorality should be pointed to the cross, because it doesn’t fluctuate like our good works do.

  4. Blaine says:

    I think that the moral and social indicators are “fruitful evidence” that should be apparent in the life of the true believer. Certainly there shouldn’t be any kind of scale of goodness with a mark somewhere near the top labeled “SAVED”, and certainly also the theological aspect outlined by John is the foremost issue. There is a place for introspection on the road to assurance, for if we look closely at our lives and see evidence of the fruit described by John, we can be assured that God is at work because nothing good could originate with us! :)

  5. This is good. John is the epistle most religious leaders against christinity don’t want to hear.This is because it talks the truth of our hope and salvation. Jesus is truly the Son of God. this is a fact that many who are anti-Christ don’t wonna accept though deep inside, they know it is true.

    The epistle of John is also a good start for new believers because it teaches about what we believe in and who we believe in i.e. Christ the hope of glory.

  6. Jim Browne says:

    A very good point by Bill. As a recovering perfectionist I know checklist items 2 and 3 are easy sources of condemnation. I look at my life and objectively see clearly that there are very significant differences in both of those categories as I’ve walked with Christ (my entire life, thankfully). However, the condemnation easily comes when I see that there is STILL sin or STILL self-centeredness.

    I think it comes down to wisdom. A brother who errs on the side of legalism and perfectionism must be thoroughly and continually pointed to the finished work of Christ and the words of Romans 7 where Paul talks about his struggle with sin that doesn’t seem to let up. Brothers who err on the side of license should be counseled on that fruit of holiness that must be present in some amount. All of us sit on one or the other side of that scale. There is only One who walked that fine line!

    I think, though, in the end, the only hard and fast external sign that we have is #1. If a person professes Christ, they our our brother or sister unless their life most clearly shows that they are not.

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Kevin DeYoung


Kevin DeYoung is senior pastor of University Reformed Church (PCA) in East Lansing, Michigan, near Michigan State University. He and his wife Trisha have six young children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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