A Salvation Check-Off List

Question
I'm worried about my salvation. I always and deeply want to glorify God, but keep messing up. Do you have a check-off list that I can look at to see if I'm saved?
Answer

Thanks so much for your question. You're not alone in seeking for an answer. Many people ask a similar question all the time.

First, let me impart some hope because the mere fact you are asking this question is a good indicator that you are growing in Christ. In Romans 8:7-8, Paul says, "the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God's law, nor can it do so. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God." Note the four-fold severity of the totality-depraved man. He:

  • (1) is hostile towards God (Rom 8:7)

  • (2) does not submit to God's law (Rom 8:7)

  • (3) cannot submit to God's law (Rom 8:7)

  • (4) cannot please God (Rom 8:8)

This reveals man's utter depravity. Before a person can come to God something must happen from outside of them - as there is nothing inside of them that glorifies or can glorify God. The Spirit of God must move upon them first and foremost so they may "hear" (John 3:8; Rom 10:9-10), "see" (John 3:3) and "enter" (John 3:5) the Kingdom of God. You wrote, "I always and deeply want to glorify God." Comparing your desire with Romans 8:7-8, I see as a positive sign that you have heard, seen, and have entered into the Kingdom of God. This said, only you and God can ultimately answer this question.

Second, while we are to examine and test ourselves (2 Cor. 13:5) to see if we are in the faith once delivered unto the saints (Jude 1:3), check-off lists can be kind of dangerous. They can be accompanied with pitfalls of sorts. For instance, someone may look at a check-off list one or two times and think they are finished with their salvation inventory forever! They may have a tendency to not understand that salvation is an ongoing relationship with the Lord and enter into numerous sins (Heb 6:1-9).

Regeneration is a one-time life change, but it is always accompanied with ongoing maturity. For instance, the Book of Ephesians uses words like "sit" (Eph 2:6), "walk" (Eph 4:1, 17; 5:2, 8, 15), and "stand" (Eph 6:11, 13, 14) and John uses terms like "little children" (1 John 2:1, 12, 13, 18, 28), "young men" (1 John 2:13, 14), and "fathers" (1 John 2:13, 14) in part to show how Christians mature with age and experience. So, regeneration without sanctification is no salvation at all! True regeneration is always accompanied by ongoing sanctification and therefore a true Christian is always in a maturing relationship with the Lord. They pray, read the Bible, attend worship, share in the sacraments, love one another, and love God, etc.

Another pitfall for others is that they can get rather legalistic about their salvation - leaving no room for grace alone! They may pick up a list and everyday try, try try to check off the list - only to fail, fail, fail (Gal 3:3). They create so much tension in their own lives that they can become rather angry, bitter, and discontent with day to day life. John states that we all sin (1 John 1:9-10). We all need grace - "every day" (Eph 2:8-10). The Christian life needs to be a balanced life.

This said, while John's Gospel was written to move readers to faith in Jesus (John 20:31); 1 John was written to give believers the ability to find assurance of their salvation (1 John 5:13). According to Calvin, "As there ought to be a daily progress in faith, so he [John] says that he wrote to those who had already believed, so that they might believe more firmly and with greater certainty, and thus enjoy a fuller confidence as to eternal life." John lists several traits that should be evident in one claiming to be born again by the Spirit of God: They . . .

  • (1) desire fellowship with God and others "in Christ" (1 John 1:2-3; cf. Acts. 2:42-47; 1 Cor. 1:9; Heb. 10:25)

  • (2) have joy (1 John 1:3; cf. John 15:11; Phil. 1:4, 18, 25, 26; 2:2, 28; 3:1, 4:1, 4, 10; 1 Pet. 1:8)

  • (3) are sensitive to and honest about their sin (1 John 1:5-6, 8-10; Rom. 3:23; cf. Psa. 66:18)

  • (4) obey God's commands (1 John 2:3)

  • (5) love not the world (1 John 2:12-17; 5:4, 19)

  • (6) demonstrate purity in hope of Christ's return (1 John 3:2-3; Phil. 3:20-21; Tit. 2:11-13)

  • (7) have a decreasing pattern of sin in their lives (1 John 3:4-10)

  • (8) love others (1 John 3:10; cf. John 13:35; 15:13; 1 Thess. 4:9; 1 Pet. 1:22)

  • (9) have their prayers answered (1 John 3:22; 5:13-15)

  • (10) acknowledge Jesus came in the flesh (1 John 4:2-3; 1 John 2:22; 2 John 1:7 )

  • (11) are willing to suffer for Christ (1 John 4:13; cf. 1 Cor. 4:13; Phil. 1:28; 1 Pet. 2:20; 4:4; 5:10)

  • (12) are able to discern between truth and error (1 John 4:1-6; cf. 1 John 2:21; 2 Tim. 3:16; 1 Thess. 5:21; cf. Deut. 29:29)

  • (13) experience the presence and ministry of the Holy Spirit (1 John 4:13; cf. 1 John 2:27; 1 Cor. 2:10, 12; Gal. 4:6; 5:22-23; Rom. 8:16)

  • (14) demonstrate faith (1 John 5:1)

  • (15) accept the testimony of God concerning his Son (1 John 5:9-12; John 14:6)

  • (16) keep themselves from idols (1 John 5:21).

Jesus' version of this list is a little shorter and easier to remember: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself" (Luke 10:27, ESV; cf. Matt 22:27-29; Mark 12:30-31; Rom 13:8-10; 1 Cor 13:1-13; Gal 5:14; 1 Pet 2:17; 4:8; Jas 2:8; 1 John 4:21; 5:2).

While many of the above traits overlap one another, this is not a smorgasbord! The true Christian will not consider if he can get away with embracing 1, 7, and 10 above and leave the rest at the Lord's Table. No, as new creations we desire all that has been freely given to us in Christ, that we fall behind in no good thing. The true Christian looks not for excuses, but fullness (Matt. 5:6), which we have found and will continue to find at the foot of the Cross.

"Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves" (2 Cor. 13:5). This is the command of Scripture. When we do this honestly and fully we will always find some shortcomings (Rom 3:23). We will always discover sin! Christians are not perfect in all these 16+ characteristics above at rebirth (1 John 1:8-10) and never will be this side of Heaven; they nonetheless have these traits. Even though believers are not like Christ in terms of the completeness of their obedience, they are like him in their basic orientation and stand out, as Christ did, in contrast with the world at large (John 5:44; 17:16). Since believers are new creatures (2 Cor. 5:17), endowed with all things pertaining to life and godliness (2 Pet. 1:3), they should and will let their light so shine before the rest of mankind (Matt. 5:16; cf. Phil. 3:8; 1 Thess. 2:12; 2 Pet. 2:20). See WCF 18.1; 18.3; WLC 80, 172; WSC 36.

Answer by Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr.

Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr., D.D., M.Div. is the Theological Editor at Third Millennium Ministries (IIIM).