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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. These are not three things we do to earn salvation, but three indicators that God has indeed saved us. We believe in Jesus Christ the Son of God. We live a righteous life. We are generous toward 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 in the Christian, and all three are meant to be signs 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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86 thoughts on “How Do I Know I’m a Christian?”

  1. “Examine myself to see if I am in the faith.” When I examine me apart from Christ I realize how much I need Christ, how hopeless I am, how below the standard of God’s Law I am living and fulfilling….the moment that I think that me on my own is without sin I am deceived and I am applying a cheap version of God’s Law….with the full weight of God’s Law in mind I examine me and I am crushed…when I look to me and how I am doing it should always be a reminder of how desperate I am to be hidden in Christ, for Him to be my substitute. When I examine “me” or “I” in Christ….which is who and what I am as a Christian because Jesus saved me by grace alone through faith alone in him alone, I now am an adopted child of God, one who Jesus loved, lived, died and rose again for. This is the same Jesus who has imputed me with his righteousness, stands in my place as my substitute, presenting his record as mine effectively making it not only as if I had never sinned but as if I have always obeyed (notice as if, it is different than I have…salvation is based on what Jesus has done not what I have done)….when I examine me in Christ I am looking at Christ…I am examining Christ because that is where my hope lies. Not in what I do or need to do but in what he has done for me. That is the source of my faith. Christ Alone…The exam to see if I am in the faith=Jesus or it=me. If it equals me or Jesus + me than that is not the gospel and I have no hope. If the exam results are Christ Alone, than I have hope. That’s the gospel, that Jesus has finished it all. My examination of me is designed to point my gaze to the direction of Christ….if I am examining “me” to see how I am doing, how dare I ever think I am “doing pretty good”….thinking about who we are apart from Christ is not even on the table anymore for those who are in Christ. “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Galatians 2:20 When you are called to examine yourself ask how Christ looks and how he is doing. Not how you look and how you are doing. Examine yourself….do you see Jesus standing in your place for the exam? If yes….rest in the assurance, security of Christ.

  2. The Truth. I read somewhere that Khans are Cane, from The Orient. Of course, one ruthless killer Chingez Khan also had same surname. But I am sorry, Christ Jesus. I am the Son of God and I want you to fill me with the love your your people. Just like you love me. And keep us all safe. Amen

  3. Stephen Sapaugh says:

    Stop this nonsensical discussion of how you should have assurance.

    It is easy.
    “…one Baptism for the remission of sins.” The nicene creed

    I am saved ,because “1 Peter 3:21English Standard Version (ESV)

    21 Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,”

    Look to that for your assurance. Stop this moral bovine scatology that the ROMAN catholic church has preached for years.

    It’s hard for us to think that people who live in sin can be saved, but LOOK at the patriarchs of our faith. Abraham, Lot, Noah, David, and many more! Look at all their sins Pimping out his wife (Abraham), Being a drunkard incest (Lot), Being a drunkard( Noah), and Adultery (David). Did they end up in the fire furnace for them?

    NO! They repented of them.

    So we to live a daily life of repentance. We live a life of reliance on the word of God. In the word of God it tells us that 1 Peter 3:21English Standard Version (ESV)

    21 Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,

    STOP pretending that it doesn’t say this.
    START teaching what the bible says on this.

    Your assurance is in what Christ has done for you on the cross for the remission of your sins.

    How are your sins forgiven? One way is through BAPTISM.

  4. J. Dean says:

    I’m a little surprised and disappointed that Mr. DeYoung says nothing about faith in the finished work of Christ on the cross, and that he gives the appearance of leaning in the direction of trusting in one’s own works for salvation, even if he does not intend to do so.

    While we do bear fruit, we bear it imperfectly, and we will always see our best works tainted with sinful actions or motivations. And Mr. DeYoung, as well intended as he may be, ultimately makes salvation rest on me and my efforts rather than on Christ and the cross.

  5. David Richards says:

    Amen to J. Dean. Also noticed that another responder has thrown Baptism into the “Assurance Puzzle” which isn’t a puzzle at all. Mr. De Young, you have some writing/responding to do!!!!!!!

  6. Ken Abbott says:

    I’m curious how folks who have participated here would respond to this succinct but more comprehensive treatment of assurance of salvation:

    “Although hypocrites and other unregenerate men may vainly deceive themselves with false hopes and carnal presumptions of being in the favor of God, and estate of salvation (which hope of theirs shall perish): yet such as truly believe in the Lord Jesus, and love Him in sincerity, endeavouring to walk in all good conscience before Him, may, in this life, be certainly assured that they are in the state of grace, and may rejoice in the hope of the glory of God, which hope shall never make them ashamed. This certainty is not a bare conjectural and probable persuasion grounded upon a fallible hope; but an infallible assurance of faith founded upon the divine truth of the promises of salvation, the inward evidence of those graces unto which these promises are made, the testimony of the Spirit of adoption witnessing with our spirits that we are the children of God, which Spirit is the earnest of our inheritance, whereby we are sealed to the day of redemption. This infallible assurance does not so belong to the essence of faith, but that a true believer may wait long, and conflict with many difficulties, before he be partaker of it: yet, being enabled by the Spirit to know the things which are freely given him of God, he may, without extraordinary revelation in the right use of ordinary means, attain thereunto. And therefore it is the duty of every one to give all diligence to make his calling and election sure, that thereby his heart may be enlarged in peace and joy in the Holy Ghost, in love and thankfulness to God, and in strength and cheerfulness in the duties of obedience, the proper fruits of this assurance; so far is it from inclining men to looseness. True believers may have the assurance of their salvation diverse ways shaken, diminished, and intermitted; as, by negligence in preserving of it, by falling into some special sin which wounds the conscience and grieves the Spirit; by some sudden or vehement temptation, by God’s withdrawing the light of His countenance, and suffering even such as fear Him to walk in darkness and to have no light: yet are they never so utterly destitute of that seed of God, and life of faith, that love of Christ and the brethren, that sincerity of heart, and conscience of duty, out of which, by the operation of the Spirit, this assurance may, in due time, be revived; and by the which, in the mean time, they are supported from utter despair.”

  7. J. Dean says:

    Ken Abbott,

    I have issue with one phrase in that quote: ” yet such as truly believe in the Lord Jesus, and love Him in sincerity, endeavouring to walk in all good conscience before Him, may, in this life, be certainly assured that they are in the state of grace, and may rejoice in the hope of the glory of God, which hope shall never make them ashamed.”

    The problem with that statement is that it gives the impression of making our love and our works-neither of which measure up to God’s standard of perfection-conditional for our salvation. When you do that, you take a step in the direction of placing trust in your own works as an additional condition for salvation, which is clearly and concisely forbidden by Scripture (Galatians 2:16, Titus 3:5, Romans 3:28)

    As R.C. Sproul has said, “There is not a single one of us who has gotten up this morning and loved God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength for the entire day.” My works, my attitude, and my love will NEVER in this life be what they should be as a truly perfect Christian. I have and I do still come to the end of the day with the realization that I have sinned in some way or another, and that I must confess my sins before God. Jesus’ petition in the Lord’s Prayer to “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us” is not a one-time thing to say at the moment of conversion only.

    Lutherans (and pre-Puritan Calvinists) make a strong point about this: if you start looking to your works for assurance of salvation, you’re either going to fall into an attitude of pride (Pharisaism) or despair (realizing you have failed to perfectly live in obedience, which is the far more correct view).

    On the other hand, if you look toward Christ and His work on the cross for assurance and realize that this assurance is FOR YOU, to be received in faith, then you will see that fruit manifested through the Sprit. People who like to quote Philippians 2:12 need to keep reading to verse 13 to see that it is God who works within us to do good.

  8. David Richards says:

    Ken Abbot-who are you quoting?

  9. J. Dean says:

    David Richards,

    Your remark/response to my first post leads me to a question that I have wanted to ask for some time now: why do the Reformed not stress the sacraments more than they do, especially when it comes to a means of assurance?

    While Reformed do not hold to the literal presence in the elements of the Lord’s supper, they nevertheless do believe that those who take communion are literally receiving Christ and not merely waking through a symbolic ritual. Same with baptism: baptismal grace was talked about by Calvin and the early Reformers; why is there so little mention of it anymore?

    I realize that some of it has to do with the large presence of Reformed Baptists present, but it seems like this isn’t a trivial issue to ignore, especially concerning assurance. Even Calvin discussed baptism as a point of assurance (see ). Is it because (and I think this is due to Puritanism in part) the sacraments have been minimized or nullified in their importance in the Reformed denominations?

  10. Ken Abbott says:

    David: the Westminster Confession of Faith. The London Baptist Confession probably reads very similar.

  11. To J. Dean. I can’t speak to your question regarding the Sacraments. I’m not Reformed in my theology and do not attend a Reformed church. I was not aware that some Reformed, look to the Sacraments for assurance, but your conclusion as to Puritan roots makes sense to me. Have you read or studied the Anne Hutchinson trial in Mass. Bay Colony?. A sad chapter in American Christianity. It is about works as proof of salvation and is the start of the roots of Free Grace theology in America.

  12. Ryan Fishel says:

    Dear brothers, whomever has issues with the article, here’s what we can do. Go through 1 John, and highlight (and type out) each reason John gives us in his letter for our assurance.

    It’ll take discipline to stick to the text of 1 John only, but see how many reasons you can find—whether there is only 1 or a few.

    How many can you find?

  13. I find Mr. DeYoungs reasoning completely unsatisfactory. Completely subjective, and not really pointing to the finished work of Jesus. We have peace with God via our Justification, not sanctification. Where are the promises of our Baptism? Or Holy Communion? Some days I feel as if I do very little good works, let alone that the culture hates me enough to give me assurance. Not enough!

  14. Mark says:

    A thought I had last night: according to what Pastor DeYoung has written, and some even more stringent examples from Pastor MacArthur that somebody else posted, how can we have any certainty that loved ones who are deceased are in Heaven?

    While they were believers in Jesus and a part of the church/Body of Christ, what if they had a couple of more “private” sin battles that they weren’t able to conquer? What if they had an unloving heart towards somebody, or their wallet wasn’t as open to the people of Christ as Kevin thinks it should be? Might they have fallen short of the “morally righteous” description put forth by Kevin above?

    Pastors like Kevin DeYoung, John MacArthur, and Paul Washer are very gifted and faithful men who I think are rightly concerned about the shallowness of many churches/much preaching, and sometimes lax morality in the church. Let’s face it, a lot of modern churches are lacking in devotion to Scripture.

    But instead of shaking up the lax occasional church goer who lives without regard for any of God’s command, my fear is that the preaching/teaching/and writing from these men wounds the confidence of believers with a sensitive conscience, resulting in despair and morbid introspection.

    I feel as though if these men wrote a letter to the church at Corinth, it would not mirror Paul’s letter, but woukd write away declare them unsaved based on how they were living.

    Am I off my rocker?

  15. Mark, you are not off your rocker. I agree. You probably are aware that strong Calvinist do not believe that a believer can be carnal as Paul described in I Cor. 3. They hold that carnal=unsaved.

  16. KM says:

    Thanks David Richards for that clarification about the position of strong Calvinists. But discussing this on a blog is not going to produce absolute truth or resolve someone’s issues with assurance. Counsel for struggling maybe-believers should really come from the local church.

    My question is, what if the struggling person’s pastors/elders have a grace-only view of salvation, but the person struggles because of listening to strong Calvinist teaching online? I keep wondering if strong Calvinists would consider anyone at my church a genuine Christian, and it makes it hard to submit to either my pastor/leaders or the strong Calvinists.


  17. I don’t understand the last half of your last sentence ” and it makes it hard to submit t0 either my pastor/leaders or the strong Calvinists.”. Is your church Calvinistic? As to your “thoughts?”, I guess I would leave a church that was “strong” Calvinist. The Pastors I know, keep the Calvinisn/FreeGrace/Arminianism debate” off the table” to keep down theological division. Personally, I wish this wasn’t so, so that everyone would understand what the issues/positions are. Sadly, many Christians are theologically “dumbed down”. Grace just seems to be a hard topic for many to accept. The Free Grace Alliance (I am Free Grace) has some papers on it’s website I think that address assurance. Between Calvinism and the Catholic Church, it’s no wonder many people just aren’t sure of their salvation Sad.

  18. Ken Abbott says:

    I am not at all sure that introducing a canard regarding “strong” Calvinism and distress over assurance of salvation is warranted. Historically, the Reformed churches have been at the forefront of helping struggling Christians with assurance, to the point where Robert Cardinal Bellarmine complained that as far as he was concerned the Reformed doctrine of assurance was one of the more troublesome of their “heresies.” Calvin himself and his Puritan heirs produced many solid works on Christian assurance.

    On the matter of the so-called “carnal Christian”–well, ya got me there. It’s an unbiblical category, and those theologians and pastors (Sproul, MacArthur) that teach against it are right to do so. Everyone struggles with sin but we are never given license in Scripture for complacency and are continually called to self-examination and repentance.

  19. KM says:

    David, to answer your question, my pastor is free grace and somewhat Arminian, but he also likes Piper and Keller. When I’ve talked to him about assurance, his arguments sounded like “easy believism”. I didn’t feel I could trust him because it didn’t seem like he was “keeping watch over my soul”.

    On the other hand, if I listen to strong Calvinists, I’m forced to reckon with lordship salvation, and I have something I’m not ready to give up. Submitting to my pastor’s teaching would make it easier to assuage my conscience, but I’m not sure that’s a good thing. But neither is it a good thing to run away from God until I can make myself give up that thing.

    This is just the Hound of Heaven, isn’t it? Maybe I’m in a better place than I think.

  20. KM. Jesus is Lord. PERIOD. I’m sure you know that Lordship is about Sanctification, not Salvation. We all wrestle with sin, but we’re commanded to “Go for the Gold” (A good read by my former Pastor Joe Wall), We will all stand before the Bema Seat. I’d also like to recommend 3 books. “Setting the Stage for Eternity” by Harlan D. Betz, “Chosen, but Free, 2nd edition” by Norman L. Geisler, and “Confronting Calvinism” by Anthony D., Badger, “Free Grace Theology” by David R. Anderson is a good primmer on Free Grace. All these guys are DTS (known for 4-point Calvinism), but are all Free Grace. Dave Anderson is also my former Pastor. Betz is a good first book to read. I hold the same position as your Pastor-Free Grace/Arminian (OSAS=Once Saved, Always Saved). A good read on Arminianism is “Arminian Theology” by Roger Olson. He has a weekly blog that is a great, challenging read.

  21. KM says:

    I’m not prepared go the free grace route after reading the gospel of Mark where Jesus says “repent and believe”. I also don’t think anyone can have perfect submission in this life. I wiah there were some other position,. Not that I agree with this article, but the first few paragraphs were helpful –

  22. KM. Now you have to define “repent”. Ryrie and other scholars define repentance as a change of mind.

  23. Ken Abbott says:

    Dr. Geisler, bless him, did not do his best work in “Chosen But Free,” whether the first or lamentable second edition of a book that should not have seen the light of published day. James White produced an extraordinarily capable biblical refutation of Dr. Geisler’s muddled thinking in “The Potter’s Freedom,” which I highly recommend. I cannot speak to most of the other titles mentioned above due to personal unfamiliarity, but I offer a warning that Olson is likewise a poor guide in these matters.

  24. I believe White’s book was written after the 1st edition of “Chosen, but Free”. Someday, we’ll all have a better understanding of the mind of God, but not this side of eternity. I’m done.

  25. Ken Abbott says:

    Yes, Dr. Geisler’s second edition was issued in response to Dr. White’s critique. Dr. White had substantial interaction with it in videoblog form, undoubtedly available in archives at his web site. I put it to you that careful, humble, and honest exegesis of the referable texts, finding out what Scripture has to say on the subject apart from our preconceptions, goes a long way toward discovering the revealed mind of God.

  26. You can definitely see your expertise in the paintings you write. The arena hopes for even more passionate writers like you who aren’t afraid to mention how they believe. At all times go after your heart.

  27. colorslife says:

    How and Why they became Muslim ?

  28. Andy Wrasman says:

    Two friends and I recently read and critiqued these three signs that Kevin DeYoung gave for us to use to know if we are Christians or not. We totally disagreed with the moral and social signs. My two friends even disagreed with how Kevin worded the theological sign. The problem ultimately comes down to these signs pionting to us and our work and not to Christ and his work. Here’s a link if you are interested in listening to our criticism of using these types of signs for assurance of our salvation:

    I welcome your feedback and explanation if we were some how misunderstanding Kevin’s article.

  29. Richard UK says:

    I agree with you guys (Andy and bros)

    We all know the passages that KdY uses but he has hijacked them in his own inimitable way.

    ‘By their fruits shall ye know them’ is sensible advice for deciding how best to approach someone who may or may not be a Christian and therefore may need more, or less, or zero law cast into their lives.

    It does not say ‘by my fruits shall you and I know me’ which is diabolical and can only lead to rampant pride, or to the implosion of exactly the people coming to KdY for assurance.

    I therefore agree his moral and social criteria are being used wrongly, and harmfully

    The theological one is also used equally wrongly.

    It is again a criterion by which we can assess (not judge) others. But if we ask a troubled soul to look inward to find the faith that believes, he is more than likely to say ‘now that you ask me that, how can I be sure that I do believe that – there are too many days when I indeed doubt that’

    Why not simply say to the troubled soul ‘did/do you know that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners?’ ‘Yes’. Are you a sinner?’ ‘For sure’. ‘Then what more do you want! Go in peace and do not let false teachers rob you of the joy of knowing that your name is in the Lamb’s book of Life. Go forth in freedom of life, and why not help others – you might find it enormously satisfying since it matches the true humanity into we are now being transformed’

    I do hope others will not quibble with the final sentence

    In other words, lead him into a statement about the work of Jesus Christ – don’t lead him to question whether he believes that statements as it may or may not pertain to him. That way is deconstruction of the very identity that Jesus has constructed for him

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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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