I received a good question from my nephew the other day—one that I think comes around to all of us at one time or another. It’s about assurance, or in his words, “what would be the best way for me (or any other brother or sister in Christ) to know for sure that they are 100% saved?” The context (he’s given permission to tell you this) was: (1) his own reading about NDEs (Near Death Experiences) and the horrors of hell reported by some; (2) those passages in the Bible where Jesus spews the “lukewarm” believer out of his mouth (Rev 3)—definitely unpleasant! —or altogether denies knowing people who thought they were good with him (Matt 7:22-23); and (3) some regret for his own seasons of waywardness in the past [for which he’s repented and pressed forward]. So, the question came as I’m sure it has to all of us. How can I know about my standing with Jesus?
For better or worse, here’s what I said (edited slightly), and perhaps you will find it helpful as he did:
“Good question. For starters check this out for some good background on the Revelation lukewarm verse. The end is probably the same for what you're asking --avoiding slothful Christianity--but it gets there a little better with some background.
“… I think I'd begin unpacking the question from the view of the Holy Spirit, because having him in our life is the way the Bible says someone "belongs to Christ" or not (Romans 8:9). It also says that assurance is ultimately his job according to Romans 8:16. He is the one who tells us that we are children of God. In this way, you could say that assurance comes from the presence of the signs that the Spirit is in your life. And, pressing further with this, I think part of what his presence in us looks like is not allowing us to get comfortable with where we are with our relationship with God. That's why no one is really satisfied with their prayer life, I think. This is the sign he's present and doing his job. He convicts us of sin and slothfulness we might have. We feel tension with those things in our life more and more. When someone feels the tension in their life about going to the next level with God--like you're saying is happening with you here, that's the best evidence they've got the Spirit working in them and that they belong to Christ. It shows they are alive to even care about this. Those who really don't care about such things, who live their life how they want EVEN IF they've 'believed' at one time but show no signs of the presence of the Spirit, have good reason for concern. So not being comfortable where you are is the best sign for assurance, I'd say. It shows there's Spirit life in you.
“Beyond this, I think it's important to know from where the Spirit is not pushing us to find our assurance. Since fear and pride are not his game, we have to rule out a kind of perfectionism that does 'all the right things' but does them motivated by either fear or pride--the two ways that moralism always degrades us. This is not the way to get assurance. No, the Spirit is patient with us, he knows we're 'weak and of flesh,' but he will not give us complete peace in just coasting spiritually either-- there's too much good to be lost in not knowing God better for that! He is pushing us to get deeper with what God has done for us according to 1 Corinthians 2:12: 'we've not received a spirit of the world, but the Spirit from God that we can know the things freely given to us by God.' The root of the Greek word translated 'freely-given' is 'grace,' so the Spirit is pushing that we understand how much we have been graced by God in Christ. The more we get this, the more we are moved to want to please and know God. And this is what brings about changes in our behavior and life. It's not from legalism, but from love, as the writer of Hebrews said in 13:9: 'the heart is strengthened by grace, not foods' (or the Do’s and the Don’t’s). And the more we see these changes from a growing love for God, the more we have assurance, too, because they are evidence of life (the Spirit) in us.
“It's like your relationship with Danielle [wife]. How do you know (have assurance) you have a relationship with her? Well, from your side lots of things: you did go through a wedding ceremony where you said to God and the whole world you want her in your life (and you wear a ring as a witness), right now you still know you want her in your life, you want to please her, you do things for her, you want to spend time with her, etc. But do you do these things perfectly? No, probably not, and for a lot of reasons--your own selfishness, laziness, ignorance, whatever. BUT you know you want to do these things and you want to do them better. That's why not being satisfied with how you're doing is the best assurance you're in the game.
“There are other things that God tells us are signs of his life in us. 1 John has a lot of them: love for God, love for Christ, love for the brethren, love of God's ways, victory over the world, joy, etc. But like I said, these aren't there for us to set up as some kind of perfectionist's checklist that we perform perfectly (or think we do, rather) and give assurance to our hearts that way. Rather, it’s probably better to say these are all areas the Spirit will make us uncomfortable about where we are on the journey to knowing and loving God. The sure sign that we're God's and have his Spirit are the moments of awareness we have that 'I do want to love God better,' 'I want to serve his people better,' 'I want to do better against this sin of mine,' and 'I want to pray more.'
“Better stop now—this is beginning to ramble. Uncle Mark, out”