Do You Know When You Were Saved?
Do you know when you were saved? Do you know exactly when you came to Christ and were “born again” of water and Spirit? Do you know when you were transferred “from darkness to light” and “from the dominion of Satan to God?
As you can imagine, this question is an extremely important one! If you were to ask a selection of professing Christians, some would claim to “know” that they are saved, others would be unsure of their salvation, and still others wouldn’t be clear as to when they were saved. Maybe you have observed this state of confusion yourself. In fact, maybe you are one who is unsure of your standing with God but still you are “sure” that you are a Christian! But like many others, you may not know when you were saved!
It is of special interest to us to examine those who are “sure” they are saved but they don’t really know when this happened. They assume that at some unknown time and place, God accepted them as His own child, but they are either unclear as to when this might have been or they are simply confused about the time and circumstances. They may reason, “I don’t know when God forgave me, but I’m forgiven now, thus He must have forgiven me in the past!”
Obviously, this is assuming something that may not be provable. And we might notice that this relies more on emotions and feelings than it does on the solid and reliable Word of God.
Others are firmly convinced that they are indeed saved and regenerated, but they simply don’t know when God saved them. This is the case with Ruth Bell Graham, the devoted (late) wife of the renowned Billy Graham. Until her death, Ruth had no idea when she was saved—but apparently she didn’t doubt her salvation. Billy, on the other hand, is a Baptist and claims that he knows the day and hour when he was “saved.” Here is their official account through Ruth’s views on the subject:
Billy as a young man had a dramatic conversion experience. It was of the type associated with revivals. He subsequently became an evangelist, specializing in revivals meant to further emotional and crisis religious experiences in everyone. He was immersed and became a Southern Baptist.
Naturally as a Baptist evangelist he is for both immersion and a crisis religious conversion. However, he is aware that God in his mysterious way affects people in different ways. He is not literal enough to say these experiences are necessary to salvation. A wise man, he leaves salvation to God’s judgment. Graham merely testifies to what he knows.
In a different way Ruth Graham testifies to what she knows: for, true to her Presbyterian training, and knowing more than enough Bible to defend it, she has not been immersed nor felt a conversion experience necessary for everyone alike. This does not mean she does not see the good in those who have conversion experiences.
Ruth Graham notes, “I have had ‘crisis’ experiences but my salvation did not happen to be one of them, for I cannot remember the time when I did not love and trust Him. In fact my earliest recollections are of deep love and gratitude that He should love me enough to die for me.”
There has never been a time in Ruth Graham’s life when God was not a part of it. God always has been part of her life as the air she breathes. A crisis conversion experience would have been incongruous when God’s love always has been accepted as a fact of life, when God has been seen as love inside the organic church, not as an outside force that has to be surrendered to. Ruth Bell, a child of the church, has grown up with God, grown into Him as the result of Christian associations.
If their experience on immersion and conversation has been different, Billy sees Ruth as an individual whose rights and spiritual integrity he respects. Respecting each other’s rights to be different has not pulled them apart. They have become one in spirit, because they know each admires and respects the other’s views. Billy certainly does not try to force his Baptist beliefs on her Presbyterian ones. (http://www .faithinwriting. com/Tradition/Family/ index.htm).
Ruth’s experience is typical of confessional Presbyterians and other Reformed people. They feel that they have an assurance of salvation but they often can’t point to a particular time when this salvation occurred. Billy, on the other hand, believes that he can point to the exact day when he was saved and forgiven. His ministry is predicated on the idea that one can make a “decision” for Christ at a large “crusade” and thus know when they are saved. (Interestingly, most of Billy’s converts can’t be found in the subsequent months and years after the crusade.)
What Do the Scriptures Reveal?
As in all spiritual matters, we must turn to God’s Word for answers to this vital subject. We can see that if one is mistaken on this question, he is in jeopardy before God Himself! We must examine what God has said about this matter. “What does the Scripture say?” (Romans 4:3a).
- The Day of Pentecost
On the Day of Pentecost, some fifty days after the death and resurrection of Christ, thousands of people had gathered in Jerusalem to celebrate one of the three obligatory feasts of the Jews. The Holy Spirit was poured out on this crucial date and Peter took the opportunity to speak to the assembled crowd of devout Jews about the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, the Lord and Messiah (Acts 2:36). When interested hearers asked, “Brethren, what shall we do?” (v. 37), Peter answered, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (v. 38). The apostle kept exhorting the listeners, “Be saved from this perverse generation!” (v. 40).
And the response? “So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand souls” (v. 41). The people had asked what they needed to do (to be forgiven of their sins). Peter had told the people to repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of their sins (v. 38). Then 3,000 people responded by being baptized. Do you think that they knew when they were baptized? Did they know when they were forgiven? Were they aware that they had received the gift of the Holy Spirit? Yes, definitely, they knew when they were forgiven by God. Since people have “the knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of their sins” (Luke 1:77), we can see that these 3,000 people were aware of when they were saved!
- The Ethiopian
The account of the Ethiopian’s new birth is found at Acts 8:26-39. Here we see Philip preaching the gospel of Christ to this visitor to Jerusalem (v. 35), and the Ethiopian asked, “Look! Water! What prevents me from being baptized?” (v. 36). The account then describes how Philip baptized this sincere man, then he “went on his way rejoicing” (v. 39). Do you think that the Eunuch was saved? Was he forgiven and born again? Do you believe that he knew precisely when he was saved? Surely he knew when he was accepted by God, thus he departed with joy in his heart!
The account of the conversion of Cornelius, the devout Roman, is found at Acts 10:1-11:18. Here we read of Peter’s visit to this sincere Roman authority, along with six brethren from Joppa (11:12). Peter preached the good news of Jesus the Lord to the assembled crowd of Cornelius and his family (10:34-43). The account speaks of the listeners receiving the Holy Spirit and being baptized immediately upon hearing Peter share the gospel (vv. 44-48). They had believed and received “forgiveness of sins” (v. 43). Do you think that Cornelius and his family were aware when they were saved and forgiven? In subsequent years, would he have been able to tell others when he was forgiven and given the gift of the Spirit?
- The Jailer
The interesting account of the Philippian jailer’s salvation experience is found at Acts 16:25-34. Here we notice that Paul and Silas, his companion, were thrown into the jail for preaching the gospel and casting a demon out of a slave girl (vv. 16-24). After the Lord brought an earthquake to the jail and released the prisoners, Paul had the opportunity to speak to the jailer. The jailer asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” (v. 30). Doesn’t this sound like he wanted to know how and when he could be saved from sin and even saved from condemnation?
Paul answered the jailer, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household” (v. 31). But who was this Jesus whom the jailer was required to believe? Paul and Silas “spoke the word of the Lord to him together with all who were in his house” (v. 32). Evidently the jailer and his family responded in faith to this message, for the jailer “took them that very hour of the night and washed their wounds, and immediately he was baptized, he and all his household” (v. 33). What then occurred? “And he [the jailer] brought them [Paul and Silas] into his house and set food before them, and rejoiced greatly, having believed in God with his whole household” (v. 34).
Here again we see the good news of Christ being shared and the jailer and his household believed the message (which was connected with salvation). Paul then baptized this family, according to his regular practice. The result? The jailer “rejoiced greatly.” Why would he have this response? Obviously, it was because he was now saved or forgiven of his sins.
- Paul the apostle
The account of Paul’s salvation event is an interesting one and may be taken from several passages—Acts 9:1-18; 22:3-21; and 26:1-18. If we combine all of these passages, we learn that Jesus appeared to Paul on the way to Damascus. Paul (Saul) was then taken into the city. He was blind (Acts 9:8), he fasted (v. 9), and he spent some three days praying (v. 11). Ananias, a disciple of the Lord, was then sent to Paul by the Lord, and when he encountered him, he said, “Now why do you delay? Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name” (22:16). Do you think that Paul knew when his sins were “washed away”? Did he know when he was born again and saved? Or was all of this a mystery to him?
Indications that Early Christians Knew when they were Saved
If the Pentecostians, the Ethiopian, Cornelius, the jailer, and Paul all knew when they were forgiven and saved, is there any indication from the New Testament that the Christian readers knew when they were forgiven and saved?
Salvation and Forgiveness were Instantaneous
The Scriptures use a number of terms to refer to the experience of one who leaves the realm of sin and death and enters the realm of forgiveness and life. Some of these terms would be that the sins were being wiped away (Acts 3:19), the forgiveness of sins was granted (2:38; 5:31; 13:38; 26:18), the Holy Spirit was received (2:38-39; 5:32), people were being freed from all things (13:39), people had their hearts cleansed by faith (15:9), they were being saved (15:11; 16:31), they rejoiced greatly (16:34), their sins were washed away (22:16), and they were turning from darkness to light, and from the dominion of Satan to God (26:18). These are the kinds of terms used to describe the person’s salvation or forgiveness. We can see that these spiritual blessings occur at a particular time and place.
As we leaf through the New Testament, we see that people were adopted into God’s family to be sons (Ephesians 1:5). This would be an instantaneous work on God’s part. The forgiveness of trespasses occurs at a point in time (v. 7), as does the sealing with the Holy Spirit in Christ (v. 13). People were made “alive together with Christ” and saved by grace (2:5, 8). They are brought near by the blood of Christ (2:13). None of this is a lengthy process but an instantaneous work of God.
In Colossians, we note that people are rescued from the domain of darkness and “transferred” to “the kingdom of His beloved Son” (1:13). Again we also see that we have redemption, “the forgiveness of sins” (v. 14). This transference is an instantaneous event, just as redemption and forgiveness are. We are also reconciled to God (v. 22). The one who responds to Christ is “raised up with Him through faith” (v. 12) and is “made alive together with Him” having been forgiven of all trespasses (v. 13). All of this speaks of an immediate event of the working of God. It was not a long process but instantaneous in nature.
As we turn to 1 Peter, for instance, we see that “in obedience to the truth” the readers had “purified” their souls” (1:22). Was this purification something that occurred spontaneously or did it occur over long periods of time? These Christians had been “called” out of “darkness into His marvelous light” (2:9). People were “put to death in the flesh,” but “made alive in the spirit” (3:18). This was an event in history when they had been “put to death” and a moment when they were “made alive.” It was something that they were aware of. We could look at dozens of other examples of references to the instantaneous event of salvation.
Yet if we were to speak to a cross section of people on the street, probably the majority would either gaze at you uncomprehendingly or they would be confused about when they were forgiven. Can we see how utterly dangerous this would be? If we don’t know when we were saved do we even know that we were saved? If we are confused as to “when,” could we be confused as to the “how” of salvation?
Probably one of the chief reasons why people are not aware of the instantaneous change in status before God pertains to our view of baptism. Some people simply look on baptism as a “testimony” to a past spiritual experience with the Lord. And that past experience may be unknown to them. Others look on it as a veritable means of salvation whereby an unconscious infant is born again, forgiven, given the Holy Spirit, and receives eternal life! Still others merely look on baptism as a “door” to the local church or congregation rather than entrance into the very body of the Lord. And there are millions who only view their version of baptism as a superficial church ordinance or sacrament that has no fundamental meaning at all. How tragic! We can understand how baptism (and all that it means) simply doesn’t figure at all into the “when” of salvation.
Since people like this don’t view baptism as the Scriptures do, they really don’t understand how this meaningful act can be the transition between the past and the present. They are unaware of the crucial point that God wants it to have in our life so that the person’s life may be marked as “B.B.” (before baptism) and “A.B.” (after baptism). If they have a Biblical understanding of this meaningful act of faith, they would be able to see that baptism is the “dividing line” between a life of sin and a life in Christ, a life of guilt and a life of forgiveness, a life in death and a life in Christ, being a child of the devil and a child of God. We need not wander in the darkness, wondering how we can discover just when God wants a change to take place in our heart and life.
Let’s just mention some of the relationships and connections that New Testament baptism has. Biblical baptism is related to forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38), the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38-39), being added to the assembly of saints (Acts 2:40-41). It is related to entrance into the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19) and becoming a disciple of Christ (Matthew 28:18-20). It is related to faith (Mark 16:16; Acts 8:12; 18:8; Galatians 3:27; Colossians 2:12) and repentance (Acts 2:38). Baptism is related to salvation (Mark 16:16; 1 Peter 3:21), to entering Christ (Romans 6:3-4; Galatians 3:26-27), to death to sin and resurrection to a new life (Romans 6:3-4), washing away of sin (Acts 22:16), being clothed with Christ (Galatians 3:27), experiencing a spiritual circumcision (Colossians 2:11-12), entering the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:13), and much more. Can we see that if we had this Scriptural view of baptism, there would be little doubt about when a person is forgiven and becomes a Christian. It would be self-evident.
Let us pursue a Scriptural view of conversion and salvation and then we will see the line of transition between death and life.
Similarities that Help us Understand How the New Birth is Instantaneous
- Everyone knows the day and hour when they were married. This wedding event wasn’t a long and drawn-out process. Wouldn’t the New Birth be similar?
- People know the day and hour when they became a Naturalized citizen. It did take a procedure to prepare for the day but when it finally came, the event was immediate.
- People know the day and hour when a man becomes President of the United States. Although there are many preliminaries and processes, the inauguration itself is immediate.
- Everyone knows the day and hour of their physical birth. The mother surely knows this! Although there are differences between the physical and the spiritual birth, both are immediate.
If we can see how these events can be immediate or instantaneous, we should be able to see that spiritual birth is also a clear-cut event. It is not a nebulous happening without meaning or separated from time and occasion.
Reasons Why Someone May not be able to Identify the Time and Occasion of one’s New Birth
If the Scripture is so clear on this matter and if the examples above are so apparent, why is it that many people are utterly confused about when they think they were saved?
- Some people don’t use such Scriptural terminology as “saved,” “born again,” “regeneration,” or others. Thus it is hard for them to recognize the exact time of their new birth.
- The “faith only” view may not encourage one to know the exact day and hour of their salvation. If it is all in their mind, they may not know about when they were born again.
- The “no repentance” view would contend that there is no repentance in salvation, thus there is no clear-cut repentance to date the event.
- Some are too young to remember when they “invited Jesus into their heart” or “asked Jesus to save them.” Some children as young as 7, 6, or even 5 or 4 have claimed to be saved in this way. Later people just don’t remember how all of this happened.
- Baby regeneration would say that an infant of one week or one, two, or three months must be baptized. Generally this is associated with the “baptismal regeneration” view, thus they think that they were saved, forgiven, sanctified, given the Holy Spirit when a “sacrament” is done to them, when a baptismal rite was performed long before the baby is old enough to make a personal choice of Christ. Such a child either identifies such an event as his salvation or he may not have any idea when such a rite was performed on him or to him.
The Scriptural View
The Scriptural view is that a person knows when he was saved and forgiven, and given the Holy Spirit as a Gift. There are dozens of passages that make it clear that one knows when he responds to Christ Jesus with repentant faith and is becomes a disciple of the Lord.
The entire New Testament bears witness to the obvious fact that the original readers knew when they had come to Christ for their salvation. They knew that they had been born again (or born from above, or born of God) and could remember when this life-changing event had happened. This crisis event was so important to each brother and sister that they knew that there was a time when they were not a child of God but now they were a child of God!
The “Dividing Line”
This “dividing line” was clear to them. Notice the following historical events which show the “before” and “after” state of believers:
- Once they were lost but now they have been found. In Christ’s parable of the two lost sons (or the parable of the Prodigal Son), the “father” said, “This son of mine . . . was lost and has been found” (Luke 15:24). In another place, He declared, “The Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost” (19:10). At one time, they had been lost but through Christ’s rescue, they were saved.
- Once they were in sin but now they are in Christ. “All of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ” (Galatians 3:27). Before coming to Christ, people are “in sin” (Romans 6:1), but then we read, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His dead?” (Romans 6:3).
- Once they were guilty but now they have been forgiven. Acts 2:38; 3:19; 10:43. “He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions” (Colossians 2:13b). “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace” (Ephesians 1:7; cf. Colossians 1:14).
- Once they were spiritually dead but now they were made alive with eternal life. “When you were dead in your transgressions . . . He made you alive together with Him” (Colossians 2:13). “You were dead in your trespasses and sins. . . . When we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ” (Ephesians 2:1, 5). “This son of mine was dead and has come to life again” (Luke3 15:24a). “The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23). Cf. 2 Corinthians 5:15.
- Once they were alienated from God but now they have been reconciled to God. “Although you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds, yet He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach” (Colossians 1:21-22a). “Now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ” (Ephesians 2:12-13). Cf. 2 Corinthians 5:19-21; Romans 5:9-11.
- Once they were possessors of their “old” self but now they have been given a “new” self. “In reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self . . . and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self” (Ephesians 4:22-23). “You laid aside the old self with its evil practices, and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him” (Colossians 3:9-10).
- Once they were part of the “old” creation but now they are part of the “new” creation. “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come” (2 Corinthians 5:17).
- Once they were in darkness but now they are in God’s light. “. . . to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light” (Acts 26:18). “You were formerly darkness, but now you are light in the Lord; walk as children of Light” (Ephesians 5:8). “You, brethren, are not in darkness . . . for you are all sons of light and sons of day. We are not of night nor of darkness” (1 Thessalonians 54-5).
- Once they were under Satan’s power and dominion but now they are under God’s rulership. “. . . to open their eyes so that they may turn . . . from the dominion of Satan to God” (Acts 26:18). “Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil” (Ephesians 6:11). Cf. James 4:7.
- Once they were unrighteous but now they have received the righteousness of God. “There is none righteous, not even one” (Romans 3:10). “. . . those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:17). Cf. Philippians 3:9.
- Once they were in sin but now they have been justified. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified [declared righteous] as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:23-24). “Having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1).
- Once they were slaves of sin but now they are slaves to God. “You were slaves of sin . . . having been freed from sin” (Romans 6:17-18). “You were slaves of sin . . . . but now having been freed from sin and enslaved to God” (Romans 6:20, 22).
- Once they had the mind set on the flesh but now their mind is set on the Spirit. “. . . fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (Romans 8:4). “The mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace” (Romans 8:6). “You are not in the flesh but in the Spirit” (Romans 8:9). “If you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live” (Romans 8:13).
- Once they were a child of Satan but now they are children of God. John makes this clear: “By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious: anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor the one who does not love his brother” (1 John 3:10). Jesus said to some, “You are of your father the devil” (John 8:44a), but the beloved apostle said, “Now we are children of God” (1 John 3:2a).
- Once they were part of the kingdom of the world but now they belong to the kingdom of God. “Do not be conformed to this world” (Romans 12:2a). “Keep oneself unstained by the world” (James 1:27b). “Friendship with the world is hostility toward God” (4:4a). “Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (1 John 2:15). “He . . . transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son” (Colossians 1:13). Jesus said, “My kingdom if not of this world” (John 18:36a). “The kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Romans 14:17).
- Once they had been born of flesh but now they have been born of the Spirit. “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be amazed that I said to you, ‘You must be born again’” (John 3:6-7).
- Once they had lived according to the flesh but now they walk by the Spirit. “Walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh” (Galatians 5:16). “If you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law” (v. 18). “The deeds of the flesh are evident. . . . The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace. . .” (vv. 18-23). “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit” (vv. 24-25).
- Once they had no hope but now, in Christ, they do live in hope. “You were at that time separate from Christ . . . . having no hope and without God in the world” (Ephesians 2:12). “. . . you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13). “We exult in hope of the glory of God” (Romans 5:2b). “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27b). “Christ Jesus, who is our hope” (1 Timothy 1:1b). “In the hope of eternal life, which God, who cannot lie, promised long ages ago” (Titus 1:2).
As we have examined the many differences between our past life in sin and our present life in Christ, you should be able to see that there is a radical difference between the two. There was a point of crisis or a point of transition between our past and our present (and future).
Beware Lest You be Deceived!
We have seen in our discussion above that there is a “before” and “after” in the life of a Christian—a true follower of Jesus. As described on the pages of Scripture, that line of demarcation is baptism.
However, Satan wants to deceive us on this important point—and, indeed, he has deceived the vast majority! While many people flatly deny that baptism has anything whatever to do with one’s conversion to Christ, others so emphasize and pervert this meaningful act that it has become merely a religious ritual or a churchly rite that differs markedly from the baptism described on the pages of the Bible!
Baptism is no longer Biblical baptism when it simply is a religious ritual by which one achieves his own salvation! It is not Biblical baptism if baptism is merely a “door” to the local congregation or an entrance into a man-made denomination! It is not Biblical baptism if people somehow conclude that it is their means of achieving their own salvation! It is not Biblical baptism if it doesn’t really express genuine faith or trust in God through Christ or if it doesn’t manifest a heart of repentance from sin to God and His divine will!
We can see that even when “baptism” of some sort is found in a person’s life, generally it is invalid. It is not the baptism of the Bible. Make sure that your baptism is a genuine and authentic immersion in water and in the Spirit, in the name of Jesus Christ, and into the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, for the forgiveness of sins, to enter the body of Christ!
Have you Experienced the Radical Change of Position in Life?
We have seen that life in Christ is radically different from life in the world, in the flesh, according to the devil. On nearly every page of the New Testament Scriptures, we see the difference between the past and the present.
Sadly, many people can’t see this difference. Some have been blinded by baby salvation or baby baptism. Others have partaken of the world’s views and assume that Christianity is not that different from the world around them. Still others have followed a “works salvation” perspective and just think that the Christian life isn’t that different from that of the world. They just have added a few religious rituals or good deeds.
Instead, our life in Christ comes from the new birth of water and the Spirit (John 3:5) so that we become the very children of God (1 John 3:1-2). This happens at a point in time rather than constituting a slow, gradual process. Have you come to have such a change of life yet? God wants to work this transformation in your life today!