We profess to have placed our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ alone for salvation … but how do we truly know that we are saved? John presents some objective pass/fail tests that we can apply to our own life. In my experience, these practical tests have been a tremendous encouragement when faced with the reality of failure in my Christian walk. This is a controversial book among evangelicals because many modern day commentators have more of an “easy believism” approach to eternal security and do not want to question the validity of anyone’s salvation. They are willing to take at face value any profession of faith regardless of the person’s life and character.
My understanding of the Biblical perspective on Assurance of Salvation is that there are two different tracks which are designed to complement one another. These two tracks are not mutually exclusive but are designed to exist together and even grow as one matures in the faith.
1) TRACK #1 — Subjective Faith and confirmation by the indwelling Holy Spirit. This track is immediately operative upon conversion so that anyone is totally correct in giving testimony immediately as to his confidence of being in the family of God and being certain of his final destiny in heaven. One’s faith should continue to grow even though at times there may be periods of severe doubt .. so that even this track does not remain at some static level.
2) TRACK #2 — Objective confirmation by the demonstration of the fruit of the Holy Spirit in one’s changed life. God has been extremely gracious to provide this other barometer of our spiritual standing. For there are times when our heart will condemn us and call into question the validity of our relationship with God. But “God is greater than our heart, and knows all things. (3:20)” At times like these when the introspective believer is wrestling with some specific area of trial, he can look to the types of general tests of life presented in 1 John and have his confidence renewed on Track #2 that he truly is a child of God.
The bottom line is that from an interpretation standpoint, 1 John truly is about “tests of life” with the emphasis on this second track of assurance. From an application standpoint many of the pastoral concerns of Zane Hodges (and others) are certainly helpful in terms of motivating believers to live in closer fellowship with the Father, abiding in a deeper sense, etc. Certainly we all benefit from applying to our lives those challenges that call us to love our brother, to separate from worldliness, to embrace the truth, to recognize error, to continue to confess our sin on an ongoing basis, etc. We can all improve in terms of drawing closer to God. But that is by way of application — not interpretation. When you look at the contrasts presented in the epistle (between light and darkness, between life and death, between truth and error … read through the book on your own and make a list of these contrasts …) it is evident that these are black and white distinctions between believers and non-believers. John is presenting pass / fail tests that are designed to increase our level of assurance as believers.
Assurance Of Eternal Life Matures As We Pass Three Practical Tests of:
Fellowship = Walking In The Light
Sonship = Practicing Righteousness
Abiding = Faith And Love By The Holy Spirit
1 John 5:13 “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, in order that you may know that you have eternal life.”
NOTE: I would like to give credit to Professor James Boyer from Grace Theological Seminary in Winona Lake, IN for his excellent class on I John. The main divisions of this outline and the overall direction of this study follow Dr. Boyer’s excellent outline and approach. Professor Boyer, in turn, has largely followed the classical analysis of Robert Law. This approach has been rejected in recent decades by a number of men trained at Dallas Theological Seminary who seem uncomfortable with requiring any type of visible fruit of life and character as verification of the existence of saving faith and thus contributing in any way to our assurance. Clarity in this debate comes from a biblical analysis of crucial concepts like: fellowship, abiding, repentance, etc.
(1:1-4) Introduction — God Manifested His Life To Be Proclaimed, Shared And Enjoyed
A. (:1-2) The Life Of God Was Manifested To Be Proclaimed
B. (:3) The Life Of God Was Manifested To Be Shared
C. (:4) The Life Of God Was Manifested To Be Enjoyed
I. (1:5 – 2:27) The Test Of Fellowship Is Walking In The Light
A. (1:5-7) Theme Of Section 1
B. (1:8-10) Walking In The Light Means Taking Sin Seriously
C. (2:1-2) The Ministry Of Christ Allows Us To Take Sin Seriously Without Despairing
D. (2:3-6) Walking In The Light Means Obedience
E. (2:7-11) Walking In The Light Means Love
F. (2:12-14) Aside: All Believers Need Encouragement As They Apply These Tests Of Fellowship
G. (2:15-17) Walking In The Light Means Separation From The World
H. (2:18-28) Walking In The Light Means Abiding In The Truth
II. (2:28 – 3:23) The Test Of Sonship Is Practicising Righteousness
A. (2:28 – 3:1) Theme Of Section II
B. (3:2-10a) Our Lifestyle Reveals Our Family Identity
C. (3:10b-13) Transition: A Lifestyle Of Practicing Righteousness Involves Loving The Brethren
D. (3:14-23) Love For The Brethren Produces Security
III. (3:23 – 5:12) The Test Of Abiding Is Faith In Jesus Christ And Love For The Brethren By The Indwelling Holy Spirit
A. (3:23-24) Theme Of Section III
B. (4:1-6) Truth Is The Basis For Faith And Love — Spiritual Teaching Must Be Examined To Identify Its Source
C. (4:7 – 5:3) The Sacrifice Of Love Proves A Relationship With God
D. (5:1-12) The Victory Of Faith Proves A Relationship With God
(5:13) Theme Verse — “These Things Have I Written Unto You That Believe On The Name Of The Son Of God, That Ye May Know That Ye Have Eternal Life”
WHY STUDY THIS BOOK?
• To assure those who pass these black-and-white tests of their inclusion in the family of God
• To motivate us to draw closer to God with the type of intimacy that should characterize those who share the same life and character
• To increase our joy as we commit ourselves to loving the brethren and experience the fellowship of the common life in Christ that we share
• To learn how to deal with sin through confession and repentance as we partake of the ongoing forgiveness and cleansing offered by Christ, our Advocate before the Father
• To place a high priority on obedience and righteousness in the walk of every believer
• To experience victory over the world rather than committing spiritual adultery by loving the world and the things that are in the world
Robert Law: “The word that, to my mind, might best describe St. John’s mode of thinking and writing in this Epistle is “spiral.” The course of thought does not move from point to point in a straight line. It is like a winding staircase – always revolving around the same centre, always recurring to the same topics, but at a higher level. Or, to borrow a term from music, one might describe the method as contrapuntal. The Epistle works with a comparatively small number of themes, which are introduced many times, and are brought into every possible relation to one another. As some master-builder of music takes two or three melodious phrases and, introducing them in due order, repeating them, inverting them, skillfully interlacing them in diverse modes and keys, rears up from them an edifice of stately harmonies; so the Apostle weaves together a few leading ideas into a majestic fugue in which unity of material and variety of tone and effect are wonderfully blended. And the clue to the structure of the Epistle will be found by tracing the introduction and reappearances of these leading themes.
These are Righteousness, Love, and Belief. For here let me say at once that, in my view, the key to the interpretation of the Epistle is the fact that it is an apparatus of tests; that its definite object is to furnish its readers with an adequate set of criteria by which they may satisfy themselves of their being “begotten of God.” And throughout the Epistle these tests are definitely, inevitably, and inseparably – doing righteousness; loving one another; and believing that Jesus is the Christ, come in the flesh, sent by the Father to be the Saviour of the world. These are the connecting themes that bind together the whole structure of the Epistle. After the prologue, in fact, it consists of a threefold repetition and application of these three fundamental tests of the Christian life.”
W. Hall. Harris: There are two basic components to assurance, both of which are repeatedly emphasized throughout the epistle:
(1) Obedience to God (= believe in Jesus Christ and show love for fellow believers) and
(2) the fact that God has given His Spirit to believers.
These may be expanded as follows:
(1) Obedience to God
(a) One must keep God’s commandments (= “do the things that are pleasing to Him”)-3:22.
(b) God’s commandment is this: that we should
(i) believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ (= remain in the apostolic eyewitness testimony) and
(ii) love one another just as He commanded us-3:23.
(c) All who keep God’s commandments reside in God, and He in them-3:24.
Note: John states these things from the premise of covenant relationship-obedience, for example, is not the means by which one enters the covenant; rather it is expected of those who are already in covenant relationship. (2) The fact that God has given His Spirit to believers- “By this we know that we reside in Him and He in us: in that He has given us of His Spirit”-4:13. It is this that assures believers that they are believers. Note: With respect to assurance, obedience to God’s commandment to believe in Jesus Christ is internal (within the believer) and the fact of God’s Spirit being given is also internal (also within the believer). For John, the only external (i.e., outwardly visible) assurance comes from obeying God’s commandment to show love to fellow believers (cf. John 13:34-35).
Wil Pounds: The unregenerate person is beguiled by the natural desire for happiness, flattered by self-love, betrayed by self-righteousness and self-confidence.
• False assurance begets spiritual pride.
• False assurance leads to lazy self-indulgence in sin.
• False assurance leads the individual to be satisfied with outward appearances and legalism.
John MacArthur: “The issue of determining who is a Christian becomes difficult when considering people who claim to believe. Many who profess to believe in Christ may act like Christians to a certain degree, but turn out to be impostors or are simply misinformed about the nature of salvation. Either way, it becomes obvious that they did not really know the truth. For example, 1 John 2:19 identifies some people who claimed to be Christians but eventually left the fellowship: “They were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us; but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us.” One way you can identify false Christians (who are called “tares” in Matt. 13:38) is when they abandon Christianity. But while they’re interacting with true believers, it is difficult to tell them apart.
A further difficulty comes in the lives of people who wonder if they are saved. Many of them have doubts and need evidence. Unfortunately, some of them who aren’t Christians have wrongly been told that their superficial beliefs are sufficient to save them, so they assume that they’re Christians when they really aren’t. In 2 Peter 1:9-10, Peter explains how a believer can be assured of his salvation: “He that lacketh [the qualities of spiritual maturity] is blind and cannot see afar off, and hath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins. Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure; for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall.” Peter was not talking about the loss of salvation, but the assurance of salvation. There are certain Christians who can’t remember that they have been saved. They lack the confidence of knowing they’re saved because they lack faith, virtue, knowledge, self-control, patience, godliness, brotherly kindness, and love (vv. 5-7). The manifestation of godly works in our lives assures us that something has transformed us. If we don’t see those things, we may question whether any change took place. Therefore, Peter encourages us to make sure those qualities are in our lives so we can have the security of knowing we’re saved.
How do you know you’re really a Christian? That is a crucial question. The Scriptures give several elements of assurance that can show us we’re truly saved. They can be categorized under the topics of objective assurance and subjective assurance.”
John Piper: “It is a great and sad irony that as a Conference, professing to cherish the Bible, we have the reputation of trying to preserve the unity of fellowship not by exalting the great doctrines of Scripture, but by avoiding them. When John wanted to cultivate and preserve the fellowship of his readers, he got theological. When the Conference wants to cultivate and preserve the fellowship, it gets a-theological. We are paying the price for this in many ways.”