How Can I Know I Am Really Saved?

Posted by Pastor J.D. on February 3, 2013

My new book officially came out on Friday: Stop Asking Jesus Into Your Heart: How to Know For Sure You are Saved.

The following is a repost from an earlier blog post and an excerpt from the book:

My first year of college was the worst year of my life, despite the fact that I had lots of friends, was in a good school, enjoying good grades and a reasonably bright future. The question of whether or not I was saved was driving me to despair.

I spent many a Friday night chained to my desk, poring over the Scriptures and scouring obscure commentaries to figure out what various verses about repentance and faith really meant. I memorized large sections of the Bible. I did Greek word studies. I prayed and fasted. I talked with pastors, professors, and friends. I interviewed Charles Ryrie. I went out in the woods and yelled at God. But no matter what I did, I lived with the constant fear of dying and going to hell.

That might seem strange, almost delusional, to some people. But when you really believe in heaven and hell, and you give eternity even half of a thought, desperation can be the result. I began to conclude I could never really know.

Late in that year, I met with the director of a large Christian camp ministry and poured out my struggle to him. He listened patiently, then opened his Bible to John 3:36:

“He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.” (NKJV)

He said, “How many categories of people do you see in that verse?”

“Two,” I answered.

“What are they?”

“Those who believe, and those who don’t.”

“Which are you, J.D.?”

He was right. There are the only two categories, and you must either be in one or the other. Jesus left us no third option. Those who “believe,” John says, have eternal life.

John restates that same truth at the end of his first epistle:

“Whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself. Whoever does not believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has borne concerning his Son (1 John 5:10).

God has given us a testimony about Christ—the testimony that eternal life is a gift God gave us in Jesus (1 John 5:11). If we believe in this testimony, we are saved. If we don’t, we stand in blasphemous rebellion against Him and are damned.

Jesus did for us what we could not do for ourselves, by living the life we really should have lived and then dying the death we were condemned to die. Salvation is given as a gift, earned entirely by Christ. He is the Savior of otherwise hopeless sinners.

Pastor J.D.


J.D. Greear is pastor of The Summit Church, in Raleigh-Durham, NC and author of Gospel: Recovering the Power that Made Christianity Revolutionary (2011) and Stop Asking Jesus into Your Heart: How to Know for Sure You Are Saved (2013). More

8 responses to How Can I Know I Am Really Saved?

  1. Where does “Lord ship” doctrine come into this? Is Lordship doctrine correct?

  2. That “gift” that is mentioned at the end, is the Gift of the Holy Ghost (Acts 2:38) John 3:5

  3. Lordship doctrine is correct…one must receive all of who Jesus is, not just saviour, not just redeemer…but Lord. We can’t have one without the total package. If when receiving Christ we do not receive his Lordship in so much that we are driven to obedience through sanctification then we must conclude on some level that there is something wrong with the profession of faith. there are differing degrees but the drive and motivation must become normal when it comes to pleasing Christ if one is to claim faith in him.

  4. salvation is freedom from bondage – from Egypt. Lordship/obedience is how we enter the promised land. It is where we learn to rely on Him and watch Him provide.

  5. Dr. Greear, while there are only two categories in John 3:36, there are a lot more passages about eternal life than just that one! For instance, if the camp director would have shown you Matthew 25, then the categories would be those who feed the hungry or thirsty, clothe the needy, or help a stranger and those who do not. Both categories believe in the Lord. Only one category follows the Lord and is saved unto eternal life in that passage. If the camp director would’ve shown you John 10, then the two categories would be those who hear Christ and follow Him and those who do not. Those who do hear and follow receive eternal life. If he would’ve shown you Romans 2:7, the two categories would be those who receive eternal life by persistence in doing good and those who don’t.

    Those who believe do have eternal life, don’t get me wrong. However, so do those who follow Christ and love their neighbors. Also, taken as a whole, the Scriptures teach that what believers do with their faith determines whether those believers continue to live out and gain that eternal life. Hear Christ in John 8 say to people who had believed, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples.” Hear the holy Apostle John say of all believers (even himself), “If we keep on loving others, we will stay one in our hearts with God, and he will stay one with us.”

    We must believe and be saved, but we also must save ourselves through the power God has given us with our own two hands. For instance, see 1 Timothy 4:16. Paul told Timothy that if he perseveres in his life and doctrine then he will save both himself and his hearers. All salvation ultimately originates with God, but we participate in His salvation by what we believe (our doctrine) and by what we do (our lives). We participate so much in God’s salvation that Paul even calls on Timothy to “save” himself! And others!

    You’ve written, “‘Am I really saved?’… The answer is simple. Keep believing the gospel… Rest in His finished work. That’s all you can do. It’s all you need to do.” I’m afraid you’re mistaken. That is pretty foreign sounding compared to what the historical church teaches (by that I mean every church with historical and geographical ties to the first disciples of Christ (Rome, Greece, Israel, Turkey, Egypt, Ethiopia, Armenian, etc.). They all teach (and have all always taught) that while resting in Christ’s work is something we need to do, it is definitely not *all* that we need to do. We must persist in living a good life, in loving God, obeying Him, and loving neighbor, if we want continue in salvation.

    Focusing only on what certain passages say about faith and salvation can provide great comfort and assurance in the short run, but it can also hinder assurance (and even salvation) in the long run. For instance, in one blog post calling for people to stop asking Jesus into their hearts, you cited Ephesians 3:17 as evidence that “when you get saved, Jesus ‘comes into your heart.’” However, the passage itself is a prayer written to believing, ‘saved’ Christians, asking that they receive more of Christ into their hearts through faith. Therefore, what the Scriptures actually say is that Jesus comes into the hearts of believers deeper and deeper through more and more faith. Yet somehow you use that passage to teach people to *stop* praying for Jesus to enter in! (or rather to only do it once and then stop and rest in assurance) Of course I know that destruction is the opposite of your intention, but that seems spiritually destructive to me!

    We need to keep 2 Peter 3:15,16 in mind. It almost seems like it was written for the Protestants of the Southeastern U.S., given their doctrinal reliance on recently invented interpretations of Ephesians 2 and Romans 4 for what they teach about salvation “through faith alone.”


  6. Jason, I think you may be misconstruing what I mean by “believe,” which is always, by definition, coupled with repentance. Repentance will always produce those things. If it does not, it is not true repentance. What we call in English “belief” does not become “faith” until it is coupled with action. Belief the chair will hold you up does not become “faith” until you sit down. Mental belief in Christ does not become John 3:36 belief in Christ until you surrender to his Lordship and trust in his finished work alone as your sole claim on heaven.

    And I also think you are confusing the infallible effects of saving faith with faith itself. Romans 4:5 is very clear in its definition of faith. Faith is set apart from works. Saving faith produces works, but it is not the same. As Luther said, saving faith is passive, receiving righteousness from God, not producing righteousness for God. It is a righteousness from God, Paul said.

    The verses you cite are equally true, of course, but we must not interpret them in ways that contradict, but harmonize with Paul’s clarifications. The construct I have given you above does that. (Also, there is an appendix in the book that spells that out.)

    If what you say is true, we will be forever plagued by the question of “how much is enough?” You say, for example, we must live “a good life” and “love God” to be saved. How good is “good enough?” Do you believe you have lived a “good enough” life? Compared to whom? And how much love for God is “enough”? Are you really confident that you love God enough? With even the little bit that I know of my heart–if that were the basis of my salvation, I would despair.

    When Jesus says “it is finished,” we can trust him. Resting repentantly in that finished work saves us. And when we are saved, we will grow in our love for God, and thus fulfill the whole law (Matt 22:37). Our good works are the result of Christ’s salvation, not it’s cause.

  7. Pastor Greear,

    Please read my comment and respond. I have read your blogs and most all the comments.

    I have read your book-again and again. Every single point you bring up I have struggled with. I am 30 years old, and I have been struggling with this since I was 12. I went forward between the age of 7 or 9 and prayed with my preacher. I was later baptized. Then around age 11 or 12 I began to doubt my salvation, so I would talk with my Sunday School teacher and pray again. I vividly remember Dec. 9, 1998…that very night I prayed and then I doubted it was true before I even left the church yard. I witnessed to my dad- I used to write him tear-stained letters because I was so afraid he would die and go to hell. I read my Bible. I sang in youth choir. As far as I “knew” then…I loved Jesus. He was undeniably the way to Heaven.

    At age 18 I stepped out into a world of crystal meth addiction, and remained in that for around 2 years. My lifestyle even afterwards was one of hustling, fornication, and belittling people. I don’t really remember “conviction” during those times. I know sometimes when I would be coming down off my high I would think back to when my Baptist preachers would say that God would take a loved one from us to get our attention, and I would hope/pray that God would not take my momma or daddy because I was out getting high.

    At age 23 I was pregnant with my oldest son and I woke up with 2 Chronicles 7:14 on my mind. I think I got out of bed that night and prayed (not for salvation). 20 months later I had my second child. I found my way to a church that made me feel accepted even with my children out of wedlock…I suppose I felt like I could believe again, could have faith in God again. I immediately began to doubt my salvation, especially since this church was a Spirit-filled church- and everyone seemed so much more in tune with God than I had ever imagined being. Everyone seemed alive- but not me…

    My children’s pastor brought me to her home. She revealed that her husband suffered the same awful issue. That she would find him on the floor in the middle of the night crying out to God to save him. But his assurance never lasted. They counseled me. During that time one day in the car by myself I cried out to God and prayed..I don’t remember what I said but I know it was something like I know I’m a sinner, if it’s never been real before then it is now, I trust You…and so on. I was baptized. On baptismal morning I was full of doubt again.

    This mountain happens at least once yearly, sometimes more often than not. I have been baptized in the Holy Spirit, have spoken in tongues, I write poetry(spoken word) and share it with youth– everyone in my life says I’m saved…but I never feel like I am.

    The worst feelings hit during actual church services. I cry out to God in my head, and (what I think is Him) says, You don’t know me. You think you do, but you don’t. So I pray. again. And again. I even gotten down on my knees in Wal-mart and prayed out of desperation.

    I can relate to everything you experienced in your book. But nothing was that “ah-a!lightbulb” moment for me. Here are my “issues”:

    1. Don’t I have to KNOW I’m a sinner in order to be saved? Meaning, I can’t pray (if) I never meant this before I mean it now? Don’t I have to be fully and completely aware that I am a sinner, have never been saved, and need Jesus in order to pray to be saved?

    2. How do I KNOW I’ve believed in my heart and truly repented? My life is TOTALLY different now than my drug addicted former life…but how do I know I didn’t just modify my behavior after that way of life left me busted down, broke, and disgusted? How do I know I’m not just a big fake? And what about my dependence on people, my gluttony, my doubt, my pride..those things are still there…and the only two fruits of the Spirit I really see in my life are maybe kindness and some love.. I’m still mean to my kids a lot and so impatient. I still sass my mom sometimes (yes, even at 30). I don’t want to get STUCK on the sins here..I know born again Christians do sin…but my main focus is how do I know I believed in my heart? I am sorry for my sins and I want Jesus more than anything. I have told Him this. Is something wrong with me? Can I just not believe?

    3. Don’t we have to accept/or receive Him? What if I didn’t really get that and I mostly just was sorry for my sins?

    4. I don’t ever feel like God loves me. There’s a part of me that knows He would not have went to the cross for me if He didn’t…but I long to tangibly feel His love..

    5. The Holy Spirit is supposed to bear witness with our spirit. He is supposed to help us see God as a Father ..I struggle with that..I struggle with believing God is good…I struggle with understanding scripture..I feel like this means I don’t have the Holy Spirit.

    There are times when I hear from Him (as far as I know). Dreams He gives me. He wakes me up at 333 a lot (in Hebrew that equals 9 and means a convenant (or the enemy-yay for doubt..not). The couple who disciples me and my pastor say I’m saved. The big pastors in our area have met with me and counsel me and say I’m saved. Three groups of people paid for me to go to an Encounter weekend to “get delivered of whatever this is that keeps me from believing it and walking in it”…but all I did was come home doubting more than ever. I can’t hardly sleep. Why won’t God reassure me?

    I do love my neighbor. I may still be quick to form a witty cut-down in my head, but I don’t say them out of my mouth like I used to. I may still spout off at my momma, but I feel sorry as soon as I do it. The moment I go to raise my voice at my boys I know I’m in the wrong. But do I just feel morally right or wrong? I feel like people who don’t even care to know God have more joy than me.

    I feel like this is neverrrrrr going to go away. And it’s really hard because the church I go to is full of people with radical conversions-saved in the crack house..They have NO doubts-zero. They can’t relate at all.

    I really hope you will respond, please. 18 years is TOO long for this to have gone on. And I feel like I would rather die than not know for sure.

    Thank you.

  8. Also, to add..

    “Belief” is resting your weight on Christ’s finished work, and that is something you never stop doing. The way you know you are doing it now is not by remembering when you first started doing it, but by reflecting on the present posture of your heart.

    What if the present posture of my heart feels like it isn’t in Jesus arms? What if somehow along this way I’ve started to look too much at what I’ve prayed or haven’t prayed, meant or haven’t meant…He’s still holding me? Or did I never jump up there to start with?

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