The following is an excerpt from an upcoming book I’ll be releasing with B&H Publishing on February 1, 2013 called Stop Asking Jesus Into Your Heart: How to Know for Sure You are Saved.
My first year of college was the worst year of my life, despite the fact that I had lots of friends, was in a good school, enjoying good grades and a reasonably bright future. The question of whether or not I was saved was driving me to despair.
I spent many a Friday night chained to my desk, poring over the Scriptures and scouring obscure commentaries to figure out what various verses about repentance and faith really meant. I memorized large sections of the Bible. I did Greek word studies. I prayed and fasted. I talked with pastors, professors, and friends. I interviewed Charles Ryrie. I went out in the woods and yelled at God. But no matter what I did, I lived with the constant fear of dying and going to hell.
That might seem strange, almost delusional, to some people. But when you really believe in heaven and hell, and you give eternity even half of a thought, desperation can be the result. I began to conclude I could never really know.
Late in that year, I met with the director of a large Christian camp ministry and poured out my struggle to him. He listened patiently, then opened his Bible to John 3:36:
“He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.” (NKJV)
He said, “How many categories of people do you see in that verse?”
“Two,” I answered.
“What are they?”
“Those who believe, and those who don’t.”
“Which are you, J.D.?”
He was right. There are the only two categories, and you must either be in one or the other. Jesus left us no third option. Those who “believe,” John says, have eternal life.
John restates that same truth at the end of his first epistle:
“Whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself. Whoever does not believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has borne concerning his Son (1 John 5:10).
God has given us a testimony about Christ—the testimony that eternal life is a gift God gave us in Jesus (1 John 5:11). If we believe in this testimony, we are saved. If we don’t, we stand in blasphemous rebellion against Him and are damned.
Jesus did for us what we could not do for ourselves, by living the life we really should have lived and then dying the death we were condemned to die. Salvation is given as a gift, earned entirely by Christ. He is the Savior of otherwise hopeless sinners.