How Do I Know For Sure?
How do I know for sure that I am a Christian? Is it because I have prayed the sinner’s prayer? Is it because I have joined a church? Is it because I try to obey Jesus’ commands and live a good life? Is it because I declare myself a Christian whenever I’m asked? Is it because I name Jesus “Lord” of my life?
We all have our own ideas of what it means to be a Christ-follower. I’d venture to say that most of us, if not all of us, would declare our own Christianity. But how do we know for sure? Is it something we should even be asking? I don’t know about you, but I am haunted by Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 25:41:
“Then He [Jesus on His glorious throne] will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.’”
It seems very clear that on the final day of judgment that there will be people, who were not at all sure they were indeed Christ-followers… and yet they are! And just as shocking (if not more so), there will be people who think they ARE Christians, who turn out not to know Jesus at all! Which leads me to our first point today…
#1 - We should be asking the question, AM I THE REAL DEAL?
The next verses in our Romans 8 study are directly addressing this issue. On the one hand this is surprising to us because the first 4 verses of Chapter 8 are so affirming! Because I am a Christian, I am not condemned! (2 Sundays ago). Because I am a Christian, God has provided my righteousness. (Last Sunday). But then Paul goes on with a series of “what if” scenarios. Do you see them?
“… IF indeed the Spirit of God lives in you.” Romans 8:9b
“And IF anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ.” Romans 8:9c
“But IF Christ is in you…” Romans 8:10a
“And IF the Spirit of Him… is living in you.” Romans 8:11a
That’s a lot of IFs! It sure seems to me that Paul is following up his “Good news sermon” on condemnation and righteousness by telling us that we’d better be making sure of our salvation! And it also is totally consistent with Jesus’ own teaching in Matthew 25 that there will be people on both sides of the great divide who are surprised by where they ended up. So here, Paul is giving us some excellent advice for how we can know for sure. So let’s get started.
#2 - I can know for sure when my mind is focused on HOLY SPIRIT THINKING.
“Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires.” Romans 8:5
Let’s break this down. We learn here that it’s not just how I live that has changed. It’s not just about my “doing.” It’s also about my “thinking.” There is a dividing wall in this entire narrative between “living according to the flesh” and “living according to the Spirit of God.” So yes, the way I live changes. I should be able to look back and see a change in my lifestyle. But Paul says this change goes even deeper. It’s not just that my doing changes. My thinking changes too!
There is a very important subject-verb contrast: minds set on. As soon as I read this, I should be asking myself, “What is my mind set on?” Is my mind set on what the flesh desires (what my personal wishes are, what my selfish side wants, what I want, what my goals are, what interests me?) Or is my mind set on what the Spirit of God wants for me?
The Christian is changed first and foremost by how he/she thinks! This is why it is so important for you to be asking yourself: Where is my mind set on? Myself or Christ in me? Is Jesus along for the ride? Or is Jesus the ride? Am I in the driver’s seat taking Jesus with me? Or am I daily praying, “Jesus, You take the wheel! I’m riding with You!”
This changes first in our minds, in our thinking, in our attitudes. This is why…
“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” Romans 12:2a
There really is a transformation in the life of the authentic Christian. Again, there IS a change of lifestyle. But what comes FIRST is the change in the way someone thinks. Priorities shift. Everything that happens to you, every opportunity, each fork in the road should cause you to think about God’s priorities, about what He wants to accomplish, about what God in me - the Holy Spirit - thinks about each situation.
This is why I have so urged you to begin each day with God in prayer, in meditation, in reading and studying and memorizing Scripture… not because you or I need another “to-do” list to be a “good Christian.” No - it’s a means to an end. I want my mind to be changed, to be renewed. I want to think Holy Spirit thoughts. In fact - for the authentic Christ follower, his/her mind will be set on the thoughts of the Spirit!
#3 - I can know for sure when my mind is focused on LIFE & PEACE.
“The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace.” Romans 8:6
What does THIS mean? At first glance, most of us check this box off in our minds easily. “I’M not thinking… I’M not governed… I’M not focused on death! I don’t want to die. I don’t want anyone else to die. I want to live. I want everyone else to live.” However, be careful not to dismiss this one so quickly.
The entire narrative of the Bible… and then especially the entire narrative of Romans is built upon the basis of humankind’s sin and depravity and living and doing and thinking selfish thoughts to usurp God’s place and position in our lives and to live according to the way we want to live. To be gods in our own eyes. Adam and Eve’s first sin was thinking that they could eat from the tree of good and evil and that they then would know the best wisdom. That they could think like God could think. We’ve been doing that ever since. THAT way of thinking is death! That’s exactly why God warned to not eat of that tree, because when they ate of it, they would surely die!
When we think… when we meditate… when we adjust our mind sets… to the way of life and peace, this is another way of simply saying that God’s way of thinking, that God’s way of living, is that of life and peace. There is no life without God. God is the life giver. I would never want to live outside of His way. I would never want to think outside of God’s plan, because His way IS the life way! His way IS the peace way.
It’s interesting that the contrast here is between life and peace on the one hand and death on the other. Anyone else notice the imbalance? Why not just between life and death? Why is “peace” interjected with life? Very simply put, the way of life with God is one and at the same time the way of peace with God.
When Billy Graham used to preach his famous evangelical sermons, he would often talk about finding “peace with God.” His book, Peace With God, written in 1953 is still a best seller. He writes, "All humanity is seeking the answer to the confusion, the moral sickness, the spiritual emptiness that oppresses the world. All mankind is crying out for guidance, for comfort, for peace." God’s way of thinking… God’s way of life… IS that peace!
In your own thinking… in your self-audit of the way your mind is governed… are you settled and at peace with God? Do you feel any hesitation, any reserve, any holding back that what you want for your life is exactly the same thing that God wants for your life? Are you at peace when you pray, “Not my will Lord, but Yours be done… in my life… on this day… in this decision?”
Do you even bother to pray about your choices? Do you seek peace with God on everything you do? This would give you a pretty clear answer as to whether your mind is set on life or whether your mind is set on death!
#4 - I can know for sure when my mind is focused on PLEASING GOD.
“The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God.” Romans 8:7,8
These two verses really sum up exactly what we have been talking about… and leave us no room for easy escape in our thinking. At first blush we all want to say that our mind is not governed at all in a way to be hostile to God. We can pretend that we really, in fact, do want to please God. Yet buried within these two verses is a very curious statement: “The mind governed by the flesh does not submit to God’s law and can not submit to God’s law.” It is literally impossible! It’s not just a matter of want to or not want to. It’s a matter of can’t do it!
The person who is an authentic Christ-follower would be the very first one to agree with this statement about themselves. For this follows the entire teaching of Paul in chapters 6 and 7 and comes as no surprise to the Christian saved by grace and living fully within Jesus’ righteousness. Do you remember that even Paul writes:
“For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do - this I keep on doing.” Romans 7:18b-19
Again, it’s not a matter of desire or self-will. It IS a matter of how we have our minds SET. And this is why it is of such importance that we routinely, regularly, often enter into a time of self-reflection and prayers of confession and commitment to Jesus. Do you see that this is not a matter of once and done!? Rather, it is a matter of every single day in every single way without delay that I seek to obey the Lord Jesus in all He has taught and in His daily Holy Spirit instructions to me.
This is the mind-SET: that I authentically desire to please God in all I do, that I recognize that in my human flesh I cannot do it, yet in God’s Holy Spirit living within me, He can accomplish His will for my life. And that I do in fact submit to God’s law both written in His Word as well as written upon my heart.
This is what it means when we say that Jesus is LORD of my life. That I submit not only to His law, but to His assistance - His power - His righteousness in me. It is not something I take lightly or glibly. It is the most serious thing in my life! This issue of submitting to Jesus’ LORDSHIP is the priority of my life. It governs my thinking. And therefore it governs my doing.
This is why no one else can answer these questions for you but you. This is why it’s so important to be thinking about this and meditating on this issue of God within you. Because you will not be the same… you cannot be the same… once Jesus’ Holy Spirit comes upon you. Your thinking, your attitude, your mind-set, your doing… EVERYTHING changes once God has His way in you. And if God does NOT have His way in you?… then you really should be re-evaluating what you think about you being a Christian.