You have heard of phantom pains. Some people, after having a leg or an arm removed, will complain of severe pain in the limb that has been removed. It’s impossible for the amputated limb to hurt, of course—it has been removed. But the pain is still real to the one who received the amputation.
This strange phenomenon reminds me of a terrible spiritual condition in which a person who has been forgiven still suffers from guilt. These are phantom pains of the soul. These are individuals who have obeyed the gospel and are living the Christian life, yet their hearts are still anxious because they doubt whether God has really forgiven them. Some even believe it’s wrong to say you know for sure that you have been saved.
The Bible says otherwise. According to God’s Word, you can know that you are saved.
Now, that doesn’t mean…
- You are never anxious about spiritual matters
- You are perfect and never sin
- You never suffer or are persecuted
All of these things happen to secure believers in Christ. Yet they still have an assurance about their salvation that brings them peace from the guilt of their past sins.
Two passages in 1 John affirm this assurance and encourage it in God’s people. The first one reads:
By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him; for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything. Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God. (1 John 3:19-21)
Consider this as a reminder from John. He says, If your heart starts to feel those phantom pains, remember that God is greater than our heart and that he has promised, “I will be merciful towards their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more” (Heb. 8:12). In addition to this assurance from God, if we also have the approval of our own heart, we have an even greater confidence before God.
Here’s the second passage:
I write these things 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)
John had just written, “God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son” (v. 11). Why did he write that? Because it was beautiful? No, so that we might believe and know that we have eternal life!
We tend to spiritualize guilt as if it were a virtue to be cultivated in our hearts. These passages challenge that notion. We’re to take sin seriously, but once we have taken the proper measures to obey the gospel and God has removed our sin, we must overcome guilt and receive the blessed assurance that comes from being in Christ.