Walking an aisle and praying a prayer can never assure us of our salvation. Today, Barry Cooper asserts that true assurance accompanies a life truly changed by the gospel.
When I was younger, I struggled to be sure that I was really saved.
I was a serial go-to-the-fronter during the 1980s, first as a kid, and then as a teenager. As a fourteen-year-old, I’d already “prayed the prayer” on multiple occasions. I went to the front at a Billy Graham rally and said the prayer. I went to the front at a Luis Palau meeting and said the prayer. I sat with head bowed at numerous churches, in numerous denominations over the years, and said the prayer. I said it ever more fervently, ever more anxiously, and often with tears. And I kept praying and going to the front because I was never entirely convinced that I’d prayed and gone to the front enough.
What would you say to fourteen-year-old Barry, once you’d told him to get rid of that ridiculous fluff on his upper lip? Many Christians, I think, would say something like this: “As long as you were sincere when you prayed the prayer, you are saved.”
The thing is, looking back, I’m really not sure I was.
It wasn’t until I was twenty, and in my second semester at university, that I felt a deep, inner assurance that I was truly saved.
Where did that suddenly come from? According to Scripture, this profound inner sense of assurance is something that the Holy Spirit gives us.
As it says in Romans chapter 8, “You have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.”
We have to be careful, of course. It’s not that our feelings are the basis of our assurance. After all, it’s possible to feel very good about yourself and yet be living in opposition to God. Only Christ’s life and death can be the basis of our assurance.
Some might say it’s not good to pursue a sense of assurance about our salvation. Doesn’t it lead to arrogance or complacency? Well, there’s no room for arrogance, because you know that salvation is the free gift of God’s grace—you’re not saved by anything you’ve done, so there’s no room for boasting.
And as for complacency, listen to 2 Peter chapter 1: “Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall.”
What are these “qualities” Peter refers to? He’s talking about virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection, and love. There’s no room for complacency, because it’s only when a person is practicing these qualities, says Peter, that they are confirming their calling and election.
There’s a similar train of logic in the Apostle Paul’s writings. For example, when he wrote to the Philippians, he said, “I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” How could Paul be so sure of their salvation? Because of their “partnership in the gospel”—because they’d demonstrated their love and brotherly affection for him.
To be clear, it’s not that those actions earned their salvation—not at all. Only the finished work of Christ is the basis for our salvation. But the actions of those Philippian Christians proved that their salvation was genuine and gave them grounds for assurance. Paul saw in them the fruit that invariably appears in the life of a person who is truly saved.
That’s why, as I look back, it was only when I was twenty years old that I had any assurance of salvation. Because it was only at that point that I started to live in light of the gospel. Though those first steps were definitely faltering—embarrassingly so—I started to have the inward desire to practice the qualities Peter and Paul talk about. Not begrudgingly or dutifully, as if I were trying to earn salvation. But because I already had it—and God had changed me inwardly, so that I genuinely wanted to obey Him.
And with that change came the deep inner assurance about my salvation that I had been searching for ever since I was a kid.