How to Know You are Really Born Again?

Ryan&Amber2013

Puritan Board Senior
I've seen more and more that I struggle with this, and it prevents me from experiencing the true blessing of resting in assurance. I'm kind of always in this state of "I'll never really know until I die." I don't want to live like that.

Do I believe and trust in Christ? Yes. But the Bible doesn't leave it at that. There is examining and testing, but I have no real objective grade on the test. It's just a subjective hope, and false assurance would end up being worse than a doubtful true Christian.

How much holiness is enough? How much fruit means you are actually in grace? What of all the doubts, sins, unbelief we see in ourselves? What of how we neglect the means of grace on a regular basis? How about when we compare ourselves to those of a different age, who were so much more devoted to the things of God and didn't really deal with the distractions of this world like we do? What if I love the world too much?

I'm just having a hard time seeing how assurance doesn't come down to something that has to do with our works. And if we are focused on our works, there is no real objective yes or no.

I would appreciate any thoughts of enlightenment. Thank you!
 
This article was incredibly helpful for myself and my wife.

If your assurance of faith is based on your own performance, you’ll find a million reasons why you shouldn’t be saved. If your assurance has at its foundation the promises of God and the covenant of grace, it won’t be easily shaken. There’s something to be said also about the sacraments strengthening our faith.
From WCF XVIII.2
This certainty is not a bare conjectural and probable persuasion grounded upon a fallible hope; (Heb. 6:11, 19) but an infallible assurance of faith founded upon the divine truth of the promises of salvation, (Heb. 6:17–18) the inward evidence of those graces unto which these promises are made, (2 Pet. 1:4–5, 10–11, 1 John 2:3. 1 John 3:14, 2 Cor. 1:12) the testimony of the Spirit of adoption witnessing with our spirits that we are the children of God, (Rom. 8:15–16) which Spirit is the earnest of our inheritance, whereby we are sealed to the day of redemption. (Eph. 1:13–14, Eph. 4:30, 2 Cor. 1:21–22)
From the Heidelberg catechism:
Question 69
How art thou admonished and assured by holy baptism, that the one sacrifice of Christ upon the cross is of real advantage to thee?
Thus: That Christ appointed this external washing with water, adding thereto this promise, that I am as certainly washed by his blood and Spirit from all the pollution of my soul, that is, from all my sins, as I am washed externally with water, by which the filthiness of the body is commonly washed away.
Question 75
How art thou admonished and assured in the Lord’s Supper, that thou art a partaker of that one sacrifice of Christ, accomplished on the cross, and of all his benefits?
Thus: That Christ has commanded me and all believers, to eat of this broken bread, and to drink of this cup, in remembrance of him, adding these promises: first, that his body was offered and broken on the cross for me, and his blood shed for me, as certainly as I see with my eyes, the bread of the Lord broken for me, and the cup communicated to me; and further, that he feeds and nourishes my soul to everlasting life, with his crucified body and shed blood, as assuredly as I receive from the hands of the minister, and taste with my mouth the bread and cup of the Lord, as certain signs of the body and blood of Christ.
 
So the Spirit's work. What would you consider evidence? Thanks!
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.

Evidence would be a progression of your former self into practice of the above. Every one of these can be exhaustively expounded. And if biblically so, they display the image of Jesus. It is one of the functions of the Spirit to transform people into the image of the Son, our sanctification is also the will of the Father. If we are truly a child of God, He who started the good work in us, will finish it up. This doesnt mean we will reach perfection, but we should be able to see we are becoming more like Jesus as time goes on. And as time goes on, we will also grieve that we are not more like him. There is nothing wrong in understanding even if we were more righteous than Job, we would still be as filthy as mud to the holiness of God. But understanding that rightly includes the joy of adoption; that is, Jesus imparts his righteousness to us so that we can stand boldly at the throne of grace through faith. In the end, it depends on Christ alone. Rest in that.
 
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Joel Beeke's book 'Knowing and Growing in Assurance of Faith' is in my opinion a masterful and eminently pastoral treatment of the subject. He unsurprisingly draws heavily from the puritans and balances the importance of both the promises of God with self examination for evidences of the Spirit.

In my earlier years I also found Walter Marshall's book on Sanctification incredibly helpful for assurance of faith and salvation.

To add to Dave's helpful response above, there are many additional evidences of grace - notably the beatitudes and what John wrote of in his first letter.
 
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Joel Beeke's book 'Knowing and Growing in Assurance of Faith' is in my opinion a masterful and eminently pastoral treatment of the subject. He unsurprisingly draws heavily from the puritans and balances the importance of both the promises of God with self examination for evidences of the Spirit.
:amen:

If you want to study this in greater detail, Dr Beeke's larger book on Assurance published by Banner of Truth is a real treasure trove. It is a serious study of the teaching of the Puritans and also the Dutch devines on Assurance.
In my earlier years I also found Walter Marshall's book on Sanctification incredibly helpful for assurance of faith and salvation.
:amen:
 
Salvation is your trust in Christ’s work on your behalf, not your own works. If you are constantly evaluating based on your own works, it will never be enough - the law will always condemn you.

“How much” is the wrong question. “Any” fruit of the Spirit means you have the Spirit - unbelievers have 0 fruit of the Spirit.

Perhaps a renewed focus on the grace of God and the work of Christ would be helpful.
 
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.

Evidence would be a progression of your former self into practice of the above. Every one of these can be exhaustively expounded. And if biblically so, they display the image of Jesus. It is one of the functions of the Spirit to transform people into the image of the Son, our sanctification is also the will of the Father. If we are truly a child of God, He who started the good work in us, will finish it up. This doesnt mean we will reach perfection, but we should be able to see we are becoming more like Jesus as time goes on. And as time goes on, we will also grieve that we are not more like him. There is nothing wrong in understanding even if we were more righteous than Job, we would still be as filthy as mud to the holiness of God. But understanding that rightly includes the joy of adoption; that is, Jesus imparts his righteousness to us so that we can stand boldly at the throne of grace through faith. In the end, it depends on Christ alone. Rest in that.
Thank you for the thoughtful reply. And that's my understanding too, which I am finding to be troublesome. Like how much love is enough, or inward peace, or joy in suffering, to really help me believe I am God's child? It just seems like it's always coming back to evidence, but there is really no true way to know whether there is enough evidence.
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Salvation is your trust in Christ’s work on your behalf, not your own works. If you are constantly evaluating based on your own works, it will never be enough - the law will always condemn you.

“How much” is the wrong question. “Any” fruit of the Spirit means you have the Spirit - unbelievers have 0 fruit of the Spirit.

Perhaps a renewed focus on the grace of God and the work of Christ would be helpful.
I think this is really good, and I agree with it. I guess the next question then is, what do I do when I'm reading the scriptures and come across the many passages that call me to examine myself, and the holiness which without we will not see the Lord, and things like that? Do you think that's a matter of if there is any kind of fruit at all, that is grounds for true salvation as long as one is trusting in Christ alone?
 
“How much” is the wrong question. “

@Ryan&Amber2013 I just want to add to Jim here.

"How much" is indeed the wrong question. Sons don't ask the question, "How much is enough to stay in the house?" That's the question of the hired servant. Or, in Luke 15, the older brother.

1 John does exhort us to examine our lives to see if we have the marks of grace. In the same book he says (3:2), "Beloved, now we are children of God;" that tells us what all the marks of grace are about. Whose son do you show yourself to be? The marks aren't about tallying up your degree of marks to meet a certain quota. They are diagnosis questions to ask, "Do I live like a son?"

How does one get ahold of sanctification itself? Justifying faith truly is the simple faith that admits that one is completely helpless to save oneself, but it takes hold of Christ as truly and solely being sufficient, nothing else needed from us or any man or deed. When that faith is present, one has come into union with Jesus Christ, they are adopted children of God, and they partake in all the benefits of salvation. Those benefits include sanctification. John 15, it is those abiding--united by faith--who bear much fruit.

To be clear, I am not calling you a hired servant. However, all of God's people must watch and pray against the Pharisee in the heart till the last.

@alexanderjames and @Stephen L Smith both recommended Walter Marshall's "The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification." Excellent read. Helped me greatly. Tolle lege brother.
 
@Ryan&Amber2013 I just want to add to Jim here.

"How much" is indeed the wrong question. Sons don't ask the question, "How much is enough to stay in the house?" That's the question of the hired servant. Or, in Luke 15, the older brother.

1 John does exhort us to examine our lives to see if we have the marks of grace. In the same book he says (3:2), "Beloved, now we are children of God;" that tells us what all the marks of grace are about. Whose son do you show yourself to be? The marks aren't about tallying up your degree of marks to meet a certain quota. They are diagnosis questions to ask, "Do I live like a son?"

How does one get ahold of sanctification itself? Justifying faith truly is the simple faith that admits that one is completely helpless to save oneself, but it takes hold of Christ as truly and solely being sufficient, nothing else needed from us or any man or deed. When that faith is present, one has come into union with Jesus Christ, they are adopted children of God, and they partake in all the benefits of salvation. Those benefits include sanctification. John 15, it is those abiding--united by faith--who bear much fruit.

To be clear, I am not calling you a hired servant. However, all of God's people must watch and pray against the Pharisee in the heart till the last.

@alexanderjames and @Stephen L Smith both recommended Walter Marshall's "The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification." Excellent read. Helped me greatly. Tolle lege brother.
Thanks so much. I agree with everything you say. I think I wrestle with the practical implications of it. Which is weird because I went so many years of my Christian Life with much zeal and probably some arrogance, not ever really thinking about the possibility of myself actually not being in a state of grace. But here I am after quite some time, and as I would like to think more humility is a part of me, I wonder about things like this.

So are you saying it is really just a matter of, "do I believe I am practicing holiness, do I believe I am living in the light, etc.", and if I can say yes to those things, I should be greatly assured I am a Christian, and not really be concerned about the degree of how I practice those things?
 
If assurance is the object you wish to see, simply look upon it with your eye of faith.

Confirmation of what you are able to see by one eye only doesn't hurt, of course. Just remember that your second eye of faithful fruit will not be perfectly open in this present life in which you must mortify sin.
 
I think I wrestle with the practical implications of it.

I hesitate to say too much because one of the errors online preachers fall into is finding a unique tool that helps them and then proclaiming it as a new tool for everyone everywhere at all times. This is NOT what I want to do.

Now, having said that, tracking my personal time in personal worship, family worship, work, reading, downtime etc was instructive in noticing patterns in percentages of time spent in one area vs. another.

Being painfully conscious of sin's time and cost percentage can be hurtful but - long term - beneficial in seeing a certain quantifiable shrinkage in certain areas.

Remember, in all things do as unto the Lord. Every task should be summed up with "I am following Christ" and do not give up in that pursuit across all areas of your life.

I pray you find what is helpful or if not - forgive any unintentional presumption.
 
Ryan, the fact that you are even concerned about your personal holiness before the Lord is evidence of the Spirit, as long as you are not using such holiness as a basis for your salvation (i.e. earned merit). Although I don’t know you, nothing you have posted here would indicate to me any worry about you (from what I remember). I think you should be encouraged and delight in the Lord’s patience and forgiveness and mercy. None of us does enough and none of us are the Christians we should be.
 
Thanks so much. I agree with everything you say. I think I wrestle with the practical implications of it. Which is weird because I went so many years of my Christian Life with much zeal and probably some arrogance, not ever really thinking about the possibility of myself actually not being in a state of grace. But here I am after quite some time, and as I would like to think more humility is a part of me, I wonder about things like this.

So are you saying it is really just a matter of, "do I believe I am practicing holiness, do I believe I am living in the light, etc.", and if I can say yes to those things, I should be greatly assured I am a Christian, and not really be concerned about the degree of how I practice those things?
I very much appreciate this discussion, the question posed, and the responses/resources mentioned by others. I, too, fall into questioning my assurance especially after sin (more emphatically, repeated sin that I am working to mortify by His grace). I have been reading and meditating on 1 John and 2 Peter quite a bit lately and how magnificently short I fall of walking as our Lord walked (hence the questioning and examining that I sympathize with). Sometimes I can really beat myself up about it, but then the Spirit, being our comforter, drives me again and again to the throne of grace. Paul helps me a ton when I study and meditate on Romans 8, convicting me that I am an adopted child of God, and there is nothing to separate us from His love in Christ Jesus. Long suffering is one virtue I really need to develop/am lacking because I have a tendency toward impatience, which I know for sure stems from some kind of pride/self righteousness. He will see our sanctification to completion, and resting in that in peace is a challenge for me.

As a young Christian (I am 35, but regenerated only about a year ago), sanctification and assurance are the two doctrines which I have spent a lot of time studying. And the more I do, the deeper realization of God's promises and His attributes tend to push my feelings (which are untrustworthy and deceitful) aside. I intend to check out Beeke's and Marshall's work for further edification.

Great thread to stumble upon this morning, indeed helpful!
Grace and peace,
Ryan
 
Beeke once said the opposite of easy believism is hard believism. Both are dangers. Let's take the testing/examining ourselves. In some of the passages it appears (1 Corinthians, Galatians, 1 John), it seems as if it is said in response to the dangers in those churches. Although it can't be an exhaustive list, when I examine myself, I find I haven't:

*had incest (1 Cor. 5)
*Got drunk at the Lord's Supper
*Argued for circumcision and Hebrew Roots (Galatians)
*Denied the Resurrection
*Denied Christ's humanity.

I don't think we need to make examining ourselves more difficult than necessary.
 
The paradox is that the more you grow in your faith, the more you understand the sinfulness of sin and thus see more sin in yourself. I imagine this tension caused by the paradox will not end until you die and are completely sanctified.

Point being is that if you examine yourself based on the perfect law of God, you will always see yourself as so exceedingly sinful as to never even come close to meeting the law's demands and perhaps question your assurance based on performance - which is the point of grace and the work of Christ on our behalf.

Perhaps in the back of our minds, we are afraid of falling into antinomianism if we focus too much on grace. However, the equal danger is falling into legalism and denying the sufficiency of grace. It is a difficult tension sometimes to be sure, but both legalism and antinomianism are very harmful errors.

I would guess most on this board (and in the Reformed world in general outside of heavy gospel-centered movement influence) are more in danger of legalism than antinomianism (purely judging by the comments observed on this board over the years). And I don't mean works-based salvation legalism (haven't seen that here at all) but I mean a tendency to be more unbalanced toward personal performance without sufficient focus on the grace of God. It is a hard balance that I am sure we will all struggle with to some degree.
 
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Thanks so much. I agree with everything you say. I think I wrestle with the practical implications of it. Which is weird because I went so many years of my Christian Life with much zeal and probably some arrogance, not ever really thinking about the possibility of myself actually not being in a state of grace. But here I am after quite some time, and as I would like to think more humility is a part of me, I wonder about things like this.

So are you saying it is really just a matter of, "do I believe I am practicing holiness, do I believe I am living in the light, etc.", and if I can say yes to those things, I should be greatly assured I am a Christian, and not really be concerned about the degree of how I practice those things?

The foundational question is, have you given up hope in yourself or any other creature or thing to save you, and is Christ's righteousness enough for you? "He who believes is not condemned." If that is in place, you are saved. But since justification and sanctification both come by that living union with Christ, there will be also the marks of 1 John. If both of those things are in place, it is the mark of a true believer.

There will be different degrees in the believer. Some will have smaller degrees, others greater degrees, and the greater degrees do often result in greater confidence (2 Pt. 1:3-11). However, they do not make salvation more firm. Rather, they manifest its reality to ourselves and to others. So, take 1 John with a dose of Peter's theology, which says that our sense of assurance can be more or less, and it can be advanced or hindered.

Start with faith in Jesus Christ. Exercise it now. It's a present duty whether one is already a believer or not. And at the same time, give all diligence in spiritual pursuit per the instructions of 2 Pt. 1:3-11. By both of these things with the Spirit's blessing will come confidence in time. Do pray for the Spirit to bear witness with your own Spirit as well.
 
Ryan, I have been thinking of your concern and I think you would be edified by "John Newton on the Christian life " by Tony Reinke. It is one of the most spiritually wise and encouraging books I have read. Chapter 11 deals with Assurance but the whole book is worth reading. John Newton was much loved for his wise pastoral letter writing and this shows clearly in this book.

I appreciated Sinclair Ferguson's comments:
Rarely, if ever, has so much wisdom, love, sanity, balance, genuine affection, and wonderfully down-to-earth-because-full-of-heaven practical counsel been expressed in letters written in the English language. Underneath them all runs knowledge of the Word of God, a devotion to the Son of God, and a love for the people of God. Newton makes us feel, even two centuries later, that he was writing for us, and that he knew us well.
 
Ryan, I have been thinking of your concern and I think you would be edified by "John Newton on the Christian life " by Tony Reinke. It is one of the most spiritually wise and encouraging books I have read. Chapter 11 deals with Assurance but the whole book is worth reading. John Newton was much loved for his wise pastoral letter writing and this shows clearly in this book.

I appreciated Sinclair Ferguson's comments:
Rarely, if ever, has so much wisdom, love, sanity, balance, genuine affection, and wonderfully down-to-earth-because-full-of-heaven practical counsel been expressed in letters written in the English language. Underneath them all runs knowledge of the Word of God, a devotion to the Son of God, and a love for the people of God. Newton makes us feel, even two centuries later, that he was writing for us, and that he knew us well.
Thanks so much for the thoughts and resources!
 
Do you believe God at His Word when He says that "whosoever believes in Him will have everlasting life?" That's the principle question and the principle element of saving faith. Are you accepting, receiving, and resting in Christ? Are you taking God at His Word, trusting that He is your faithful Rock? You can examine yourself till the cows come home with respect to your holiness and always come up short. The question of sanctification is manifestly not am I doing enough. It is am I growing in my trust in God and His promises.
 
Thanks so much for the thoughts and resources!
My pleasure, Ryan. Just another thought, I am reading this book on John Newton because I have a similar spiritual struggle myself and need Newtons spiritual pastoral wisdom too.

I am also reading "Jewels from John Newton" published by Banner of Truth. It is nice to get John Newtons pastoral wisdom from two angles :)
 
I must commend Beeke and LaBelle’s book and beyond that the work by Leigh that Dave Jonescue has worked so zealously to make available. There is a real danger in making our ability to determine the work of God in us divorced from His promise in respect to that work. We must live by God’s promises.
 
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