I am holding a tract in my hand that reads, "Do you know for certain that you have eternal life?" We use these tracts regularly at our church to share the good news of Jesus Christ and to help people gain assurance of salvation. How would you answer that question today? Do you know for certain that you have eternal life? I want us to look at the Book of 1 John and explore three questions related to assurance. Let us examine these three questions.
I. It is important to know that you have eternal life?
Yes, let's examine some reasons.
A. It was important because God inspired John to write about it.
B. It is important because John, as a loving pastor, addressed an issue of concern that was troubling believers.
C. It is important because having assurance affects our joy.
D. It is important because having assurance affects our service.
E. It is important because this is an eternal issue.
II. It is possible to know you have eternal life? Yes. One of the primary purposes of the Book of 1 John is to help us to know we have eternal life.
A. Some people perhaps are hesitant to say they "know" they have eternal life because that seems presumptuous. Usually their assumption is that they have to be good enough to be saved. And they ask, "How can a person know if her or she is good enough?" The primary problem of this kind of thinking is the theological error that one is saved by doing good works or by being good enough.
B. Believers CAN say they "know" they have eternal life, because God wants us to know and has provided some means by which we might know.
1. It is possible to have assurance because it is stated by God in the Bible (throughout the Book of 1 John).
2. It is possible to have assurance because God has given us His Spirit (3:24).
III. How may you know that you have eternal life? The Book of 1 John provides at least four tests we can apply to our lives.
A. The first test is the test of right belief (5:13; 4:2). We may have assurance because we have placed our trust (belief) in Jesus Christ.
B. The second test is the test of right living (2:1-3). We may have assurance because we live transformed, holy lives.
C. The third test is the love test or fellowship test (3:14; 5:1). We may have assurance because we love the children of God.
D. The fourth test is the Spirit test (4:13). We may have assurance because the Spirit of God is present within us.
In his song "What About the Change?" contemporary Christian artist Stephen Curtis Chapman asks if our lives as believers are marked by transformation. When we come to know Christ and receive eternal life, our lives will give evidence by changes toward Christlikeness that take place. Our lives will be changed as we have a growing faith in Christ, as we become more like Him, as we have an increasing love for our brothers, and as we recognize the abiding presence of God's Spirit. What about you? Is there any change?
"Polycarp Serves to the Fiery End"
Point: Assurance makes a difference in our service
When you have assurance, you can serve Christ - no matter what comes your way. One of the most famous martyrs in history was Polycarp, the bishop of Smyrna. On a festival day when people were feeling excited and daring, they decided to seize Polycarp. When given the choice to worship Caesar or die, he boldly confessed that he was a Christian and could not worship Caesar. When then threatened with sacrificing to Caesar or being burned, he gave his courageous response: "Eighty and six years have I served Christ, and he has never done me wrong. How can I blaspheme my King who saved me?"
As they prepared to burn him he stated, "It is well. I fear not the fire that burns for a season, and after a while is quenched. Why do you delay? Come, do your will."1 And with that, they burned Polycarp to death. Let us hear his assurance in those words: "It is well." He knew that his King had saved him and had been with him during all those years of service. His King would be with him, even in the flames. When you have assurance you can serve Christ no matter what comes.
1 William Barclay, Letters to the Seven Churches, (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press), 2001, 36.
"Can we really have a new life?"
Point: Christ gives us new life.
Many people wonder if their past mistakes or sins can or will keep their life from ever being different or better. Sometimes our past mistakes keep making their way into our present, robbing us of a brighter future.
In the movie "The Natural" 1 Robert Redford portrays the fictional character Roy Hobbs. As a young man, Hobbs had the potential of becoming the greatest baseball player ever. But he made a bad decision regarding an emotionally unstable woman, who shot him.
Sixteen years later, before he lost his opportunity, he tried to compete in the major leagues. He was spectacular. However, just as his season was reaching the climax, his health failed due to the complications related to the gunshot wound earlier in his life. Also, a greedy team owner threatened to expose his scandalous past. In his hospital room he voiced his inner most thoughts to an old friend, "I guess some mistakes you never stop paying for. My life didn't turn out the way I expected." His friend replied, "You know, I believe we have two lives. . . . The life we learn with and the life we live after that."
In 1 John, the Bible tells us that we can have two lives. The first life is that one which is broken by sin. That life teaches us some painful lessons. The second life is that one which comes through faith in Christ bringing us the forgiveness of sin. This new life is in the Son (1 John 5:11) We really can have a new life.
1 "The Natural," released 1984 by Columbia TriStar, rated PG.
"How did you do on the test?"
Point: Not everyone has assurance
Ronald Meeks, associate professor of Bible at Blue Mountain College in Mississippi says, "When I give tests in my college classes, I sometimes ask the students as they leave the room how they did. I get a variety of responses. Some say they did great and they did do great. They have true assurance. Some say they did great and they did just the opposite. They had a false assurance. Some say they are not sure and they do well. They have no assurance, but they have passed. Some say they are not sure and they do poorly. They have no assurance of success and for good reason. And occasionally there are those who say they did poorly and they were correct. They failed.
"That is similar to the way people describe their assurance of salvation. Some are certain they are saved and they are. Some say they are certain they are saved and are not saved because they have based their assurance on a false reason or hope. Some have little assurance, but have, in fact, trusted Christ for salvation. Some have little assurance because there has been no genuine experience of salvation. And some have know assurance and with good reason. They have never trusted Christ or have rejected outright God's offer of salvation. Not everyone has assurance, but according to 1 John, you can get assurance today."