Do you ever doubt your salvation? I think every converted believer has had moments of doubt, but for some, such doubts can become debilitating in the walk of faith. The enemies of God want Christians to doubt their salvation because the world, the flesh, and the Devil are anti-Christ, and therefore anti-truth. Let's be real, a defeated Christian is a prize for the unbelieving world, so the goal of false teachers is to produce confused, defeated Christians.
This problem was certainly true in the early church. First John, penned by the Apostle John, was written to discouraged believers who had been wrecked by false teachers. Quite importantly, a major thrust of John’s letter was to assure these discouraged ones of their permanent salvation. First John declared the doctrine that gave believers assurance they were saved in Jesus Christ and could be confident of eternal life and unbroken fellowship with God’s children. There are four tenets through which John communicated these assurances: Assurance through the test of Christian fellowship; assurance through the conflict of faith; assurance evidenced in God’s love; and assurance verified by the witness of the Holy Spirit.
The Test of Fellowship
John defined Christian fellowship in his opening text: “that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the father and with his Son Jesus Christ” (1:3). John declared the basis of “our fellowship” to be God alone who “is light, and in Him there is no darkness at all” (1:5). Hindrances to legitimate fellowship were described as walking in darkness—a metaphor for living deceptively—and claiming to be without sin, while yet sinning (1:6–10). As an antidote to hindrance, John instructed on the maintenance of fellowship (2:1–17). Christ is the provider of fellowship through His finished sacrificial work: “He is the propitiation for our sins, and not only for ours, but also for the sins of the whole world” (2:2). On Christ’s provision, the believer can prove himself in fellowship through obedience to Christ (2:3–5), by imitating Christ (2:6), by loving his brother as Christ taught (2:7–11), and by separating from the things of this world (2:12–17). If you genuinely desire to obey Jesus, you aspire to be like Him, you love fellow believers, and you are distancing yourself from sin, those things are the evidences of conversion. Be encouraged, no matter how much Satan tries to beat you up with lies to the contrary!
Assurance Through the Conflict of Faith
Next, John turned to warnings of antichrist to argue assurance of one’s salvation can be found in the certainty of conflict in the Christian life. John promised conflict between truth and error regarding whether Jesus was the Christ (2:18–28): “This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son” (2:22). The conflict would also emerge between the children of God and the children of the Devil (2:29–3:12): "whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning" (3:8). "By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil" (3:10). Conversely, the sign of the child of God is love and Spirit-produced righteousness (2:29–3:3).
John asserted there would also be a conflict between love and hate (3:13–24): "Do not be surprised brothers if the world hates you. We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death” (3:14). A true Christian will be motivated to show compassion and to love as Christ loved. Finally, John asserted that conflict would come between the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error (4:1–6). Christians must “test the spirits” because “false prophets have gone out into the world” (4:1). These false prophets sought to deny that Christ had come in the flesh, yet the Christian would know by the Spirit of truth that such claims were in error and of the spirit of antichrist (4:3). If you are sensing the tide of our culture, turning more and more hostile regarding your beloved faith, you are in good company, and this is an assurance of your salvation!
Assurance from the Evidence of Love
John believed the Christian could find assurance of salvation in the evidence of God’s love (4:7–5:5). Redeeming love, he explained, “is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Moreover, “anyone who does not love God does not know God because God is love” (4:8). In light of transcendent love, the Christian is expected to love one another, to appreciate God’s love in sending His Son to die for sins, and to view the understanding of the precious Gospel as a spiritual test of one’s salvation.
Assurance from the Spirit
A final assurance was that of the witness of the Spirit. John recounted the external, historical witness that gave testimony concerning the Son of God (5:6–9). God Himself testified to Jesus being the Christ which was witnessed “by the water and the blood; and these three agree” (5:8). John also described the internal witness of the Spirit (5:10–12) wherein the believer “has the testimony in himself” (5:10) manifest in His faith in the Son of God.
A careful reading of First John can do wonders for the doubting heart. The text can also convict the deceived heart. 1 Corinthians 14:33 tells us that God desires we not be confused about the vital doctrines He has given us in His perfect word: "For God is not a God of confusion but of peace." Jesus also encouraged believers, as recorded in the Apostle John's Gospel, to see Him as the source of assurance as well:
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” (John 14:27)