Testing Our Salvation

Q. Can you give us your perspective on 1 John 2:3-6 regarding its use as a test for Christians to see if we are truly saved? I’ve heard teachers say it means if you aren’t obeying God, you aren’t truly saved, because if you did have Jesus in your heart, you would desire the things of Christ.

A. 1 John 2:3-6 says, We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands. The man who says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But if anyone obeys his word, God’s love is truly made complete in him. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.

1 John 2:3-6 is often understood as requiring obedience to the commandments as evidence of salvation. Therefore, I don’t believe it should be used as a kind of litmus test for salvation, and Here’s why.

Jesus said everyone who believes in Him will have eternal life (John 3:16). He said that’s the only thing God requires of us (John 6:28-29) and it’s His Father’s will that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in Him will receive it (John 6:38-40). These statements are all from John’s gospel and emphasis belief, not behavior. Was John contradicting the Lord’s statements when he wrote 1 John 2:3-6?

Paul made similar claims in Romans 10:9, Romans 10:13, Ephesians 2:8-9 and Titus 3:4-7. Again, it’s belief, not behavior. And in Ephes. 1:13-14 and 2 Cor 1:21-22 Paul said we’ve been marked with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit as a deposit guaranteeing our salvation. John 10:27-30 and Romans 8:38-39 say that no power in Heaven or on Earth can change that. Was John contradicting Paul by saying we have to obey the commandments to stay saved?

No. 1 John 2:3-6 was not meant to render null and void the concept of salvation by Grace through faith by pushing us back into the legalistic religious life Jesus had come to free us from. Nor does it say that although we are saved by God we have to keep ourselves saved by our own works because that would effectively make us responsible for saving ourselves.

So what were the commands of Jesus John was referring to that makes God’s love truly complete in us? First it’s to believe that Jesus is the one who God sent to die for our sins (John 3:16, John 6:28-29), and second it’s to love each other as He has loved us (John 15:12). These two commands effectively summarize all of God’s law and they are the desire of every Christian’s heart. And salvation is, after all, a matter of the heart.

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