One of the many truths that a newly born-again Christian learns is that salvation, once gained, cannot be lost. Such words from the lips of the Saviour are found in Johns Gospel when referring to His own: "I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand" (10.28). Paul adds to this as he writes, "Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new" (2 Cor 5.17). At the moment of salvation a great change takes place in the heart and life of new believers. There are times, however, when the Adversary works to bring doubt into their hearts and, in so doing, causes despair and anguish.
What is the answer when doubts and fears arise? John addresses that issue in his first epistle. He gives the reader a number of simple tests. Despite what we may initially think, none of these are over-demanding or complicated. Indeed it is encouraging to know that the Scriptures deal with the problem, teaching that the reader is not alone when a cloud of doubt enters the mind.
First, note the test of obedience which reads, "And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments" (2.3). We learn to perceive more and more clearly that we know Him through a growing desire to obey His Word. Such a desire proves that we belong to Him. Unbelievers do not have this. They may have some sense of wrongdoing, but not the feeling of failure and need for repentance that is felt by the Christian who has disobeyed the Scriptures.
Second, there is the test of affection: "Love not the world If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him" (2.15). Where does our affection lie? Should we still have a deep continuing love for the world, which draws us into it and makes us feel at home in its environment and at ease in its company, there is doubt in the reality of our conversion. A believer may transgress and be found in the midst of the world and its pleasures, but in the heart there is a deep rooted knowledge that where they are is wrong. The Father who loves His own will deal with the wandering.
Third, we find the test of family feeling: "We know that we have passed from death into life, because we love the brethren" (3.14). John brings to the attention of his readers the fact that the world has an attitude to Christians that can rise to "hate" them (3.13). An Old Testament example of this truth is Cain slaying his brother Abel (3.12; Gen 4.4-8). On the contrary, believers ought to have a family link with each other. The writer heard a man not saved, having spent a day in the presence of a good number of believers, declare, "These are not my people". His people, his "family" was in the world.
Fourth, we read of the test of lifes battles: "For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world" (5.4). The first experience of overcoming is when one becomes a believer. Placing faith in the Lord Jesus is a victory over the world, a defeat for the Adversary. There are, however, other battles to be won. The world constantly calls us, invites us, and at times tries to dazzle us with its "attractions", its reasoning, and its philosophies. The Christian need have no fear. He that is for us is greater than he that is against us.
Fifth, our attention is taken by the statement, "We know that whosoever is born of God sinneth not" (5.18). Here we have the test of lifes pattern. Believers sin and confess their sins. Sin, however, is not the continuing pattern of their lives, for whosoever is born of God does nor continually engage in sin. Sin is the exception, not the constant practice. That is the force of the words "sinneth not".
Should doubts as to salvation arise, turn to Johns first epistle. The answer is not long, complicated, or difficult to grasp. These Scriptures can be understood by any believer. Avail yourself of them and come out of the dark shadows of doubt back into the confidence which the Scriptures restore.