Can You Be Sure You're Going to Heaven?
Do you know for sure that you will be with God in heaven when you die? Is it possible for a person to attain assurance about his or her salvation? Yes, it is. The apostle John penned his first letter precisely so that Christians could be certain: "I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life" (I John 5:13). John wants those who trust in Christ to "know" that they have eternal life.
Some ask, "But in light of my sinfulness, how is it possible to have assurance?" Assurance is possible because a Christian's salvation lies not in himself, but in the person and work of Christ. If you are resting on Jesus Christ alone for salvation, and not your own efforts or moral strivings, then you can be certain that you belong to God.
What is the basis for assurance of salvation? The components of Christian assurance are like a three-legged stool. The first leg consists of the promises of the Bible which teach that all who repent of their sin and trust in Christ alone for salvation will be saved. In John 6:37 Jesus promises that "whoever comes to me I will never drive away." If you have genuinely repented and are resting on Jesus as your substitutionary sin-bearer, then you are forgiven; Jesus will never drive you away.
Martin Luther was once asked whether he felt his sins were forgiven. He answered, "No, I don't feel they are forgiven; I know they are because God says so in his Word."
The second leg on the stool of Christian assurance is the testimony of the Holy Spirit in the believer's heart that he belongs to God. In Romans 8:16 Paul says, "The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God" (cf. Galatians 4:6). Seventeenth century pastor Thomas Goodwin called the Spirit's testimony "a light beyond the light of ordinary faith."
The third leg of Christian assurance is a growing obedience in the believer's life. This is crucial. Many people who are living in open rebellion against God nonetheless think they are going to heaven because they prayed a prayer or walked an aisle years ago. They have a false sense of assurance.
The final test that an apple tree is an apple tree and not an orange tree is that it bears apples. The final test that you are a Christian is that you bear what Galatians 5:22-23 calls "the fruit of the Spirit...love, joy peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control." Jesus said, "By their fruit you will recognize them" (Matthew 7:16).
The apostle John also identifies character transformation as an indispensable evidence of the genuineness of your of faith in Christ. The final proof that you are truly born of God is not the eloquence of your public prayers or your church attendance. The final exam of the reality of your faith is that you do not go on sinning in an ongoing, unrepentant manner (I John 3:9), you love others (I John 3:14), and you obey God's commands (I John 2:3).
Some years ago I asked a lady on her death-bed if she was certain she would be with God when she died. She said, "Yes." I then asked what made her so certain. Without hesitating, she answered, "My only plea is Jesus Christ, who died on the cross for my sin."
Are you certain you are going to heaven? You can be. If you are trusting not in your own righteousness, but in Jesus' death on the cross for your sin, then you can know that you have eternal life. That's good news!
Peter Kemeny, Pastor
Good News Presbyterian Church
P.O. Box 1051, Frederick, MD 21702