18 Aug 2022
One of the sentences I often hear at Harvest USA is, “I’m really messed up—am I truly saved?” It usually accompanies a cry of despair amid the destructive and painful reality of sexual sins. Life’s meaning and purpose turn to ashes as many heartbreaking and grievous situations unfold, damaging lives, families, and bodies. The throat feels dry even as you drink water. Food is distasteful, and your anger and pride take control of your spirit as you feel alone, uncared for, hopeless, and destitute, repeatedly pondering, “Am I really saved?”
The anguish this question expresses is familiar to many when life-dominating sexual sins take hold. The sorrowful assumption that there is no way out—and therefore no salvation—when entangled with sexual sins is understandable, because our human hearts are not inclined to see the light. I remember when my darkness was so engulfing that the mere thought of drawing near to God for forgiveness hindered my assurance of salvation. I simply reasoned that my sins were greater than God’s forgiveness.
Beloved, I want you to know that I grieve with you over your sins and suffering and hear your heart; your burdens have not been light. I wish to speak with you as a broken brother who has been given the comfort of Christ—as a prodigal son whose stubbornness learned forgiveness by crawling back to the foot of the cross. Yes, dear brother and sister, there is hope and peace in Jesus despite our constant wrestling with sexual sin. For “by a single offering he [Christ] has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified” (Heb. 10:14). Such work of Christ is undoubtedly the magisterial foundation of the assurance of our salvation.
Jesus Is the Way
Let’s look first at 1 John 5:18: “We know that everyone who has been born of God does not keep on sinning, but he who was born of God protects him, and the evil one does not touch him.”
Who is protecting believers from evil? This verse points us to Jesus: “he who was born of God.” After all, Jesus is referred to in John’s Gospel as the only begotten Son born of God (John 1:14, 18; 3:16, 18). If we are to form a strong foundation in thinking about our assurance, we must start with Jesus.
We can’t find assurance in our vain attempts to achieve perfection as Christians. Rather, assurance is the byproduct of faith that relies on the insurmountable grace of Christ’s work, which alone protects us from evil. It’s difficult to comprehend God’s infinite grace while limited by our finiteness. But throughout his letter, John wants to keep our gaze in the right place. He reminds us of the future glory that awaits believers, and that Christ keeps us safe from beginning to end in life. John says, “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2).
Remarkably, God’s Word teaches that Christ has worked salvation with eternal consequences even now; our identity as believers rests, affirmed in him, at this moment. And when Christ returns, we will be like him in holiness and sin shall be no more. We can expect complete freedom from our human depravity at the precise moment of his return. Oh, how joyful this message is to those who believe! It is in fact this joyful confidence and expectation that motivates our efforts to obey, as John adds, “everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure” (1 John 3:3).
If you’re wondering where your confidence or help comes from, remember that your “help comes from the Lord” (Ps. 121). That’s why we must begin with Christ. God loved you so profoundly that he gave his one and only Son, whose propitiatory¹ death (1 John 2:2; 4:10; Rom. 3:25) has ignited your fellowship with him. This sacrifice brings about our union with Christ, whereby our identity as children of God is never forsaken, never lost. He is the one keeping us from evil until that very day.
Do you believe this, dear brothers and sisters? Such is the fountain of living water we drink from, through faith, that the work of Christ rules over life-dominating sexual brokenness.
Jesus Is the Truth
Make no mistake, the war we fight against the flesh highlights the reality that sin remains present. That’s why John reminds us of the ever-constant presence of sin and our ever-constant need for forgiveness as we wrestle to believe in the work of Christ (1 John 1:6; 2:4, 6, 9; 1 Cor. 15:3–4).
Certainly, we want to be free from our sexual brokenness even when we know this shall persist until Christ returns. Yet, know that such yearning for freedom is precisely where we can boldly proclaim our hatred for sin as those born of God. As we long for newness of life in Christ, we grow in holiness because of our union with him whose work on the cross grants us the assurance that, despite our torn apart, messed up, wretched life, we are saved (Rom. 7:24–25). This does not mean “go on sinning and doubting God because all is guaranteed.” It means that true fellowship with Jesus leads to greater holiness as you abide in him.
Your love for Jesus should command your hatred for sin. The message of the cross may sound like folly to the world, but it is, nevertheless, the message of salvation and the power of God (1 Cor. 1:18–31; Rom. 1:16). We can’t reason through this but only seek to be “blessed [as] those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29b). That is the essence of faith as you are convicted of things not seen (Heb. 11:1) and hear the Word of Christ (Rom. 10:17b).
Jesus Is the Life
The foundation of the assurance of our salvation is the work of Christ. Without God’s initiative to first love us, we cannot have faith in Jesus. But since “we love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19), we can have confidence in Jesus.
In this, we are not alone. The Helper, the Holy Spirit sent by the Father to teach us all things and bring to remembrance all Christ said, is with us (John 14:15–31). Through him we “put to death the deeds of the body” (Rom. 8:13b), obey God’s commandments, and are enabled to proclaim the gospel. Through him we trust in the promises of God, walk in the light as he is in the light (1 John 1:7a), and confess our sins (1 John 1:9a). Through him we take hold of the eternal life at hand as we believe in Jesus (1 John 2:25, 5:13); and believe our protection is certain as Christ is the one keeping us from all evil (1 John 5:18).
Beloved, if these truths are in your heart and you believe that Jesus Christ works all things together for good for those who love him and are called according to his purpose (Rom. 8:28), then your assurance stands with a sound foundation and, therefore, direction.² You’re headed to glory. And as you move toward this narrow gate (Matt. 7:14), you are to be sanctified in truth as you are sent into the world just like Christ (John 17:17–19).
This doesn’t mean you’ll no longer struggle with sexual sin but that, until Christ returns, the joy set before you will be more and more found in him rather than in your flesh. Jesus suffered in agony to the point of shedding blood, asking the Father to remove this cup from him (Luke 22:42–44). And yet he died on the cross, having that as a joy set before him (Heb. 12:2). Wouldn’t this be enough reason for you to confront your sexual sins and rehearse your assurance in Christ?
If your sins imprison you in such a way that you cannot possibly imagine or live as one who abides in Christ, then may I exhort you to genuinely reconsider the cost God paid to forgive you? May I challenge you to leave your standards behind, ALL OF THEM, and wholly trust in the words of Christ? Remember his promise, “I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20b). “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him” (John 14:23).
Beloved, do not be dismayed. It is never too late to start from the beginning and gaze long and hard at the cross of Christ. May your assurance of salvation be clearer and clearer as you realize, each day, that such assurance is being realized by the glorious work of Christ in your life.
For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but 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, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. (Rom. 8:14–17)
¹See Leon Morris, The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1955), 183.
²See David Powlison, How Does Sanctification Work? (Crossway: Wheaton, Illinois, 2017).