After rising from baptismal burial with Jesus, a new convert feels wonderfully clean before God. The blood of Christ has washed away his sins, and he is certain that death will find him prepared for the day of judgment. With the passing of time, though, insidious doubts begin to creep in and steal the new disciple’s joy. Satan, the one prompting these unsettling fears, tries to discourage him by insinuating that being in Christ is insufficient. “Even if you love the Lord with all your heart and serve him faithfully,” the devil says, “you may overlook something and end up in hell after all.”
Due to this satanic assault, some Christians wonder whether they can know they are saved. Unfortunately, they often ask the wrong person, someone just as uncertain as themselves. The answer they hear is deeply disappointing: “No, you cannot know you are saved. You can only hope.”
The NT writers do speak of “hope” for the Christian. Paul, for instance, wants the Thessalonians to be informed “concerning those who are asleep [dead], that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope” (1 Thess. 4:13). A grieving believer has hope. In heaven he is to reunite with departed Christian brothers and sisters. And this hope is more confidence than desire. Biblical hope equals firm conviction and promise. This explains why the author of Hebrews can describe hope as “a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul” (Heb. 6:19).
Can a Christian know with certainty that he is secure in the loving embrace of God, or must he be content with merely wishing for eternal life? The apostle John answers this question definitively at the close of his first epistle. Here is his stated purpose for penning the letter: “I write this to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:13).