When a Catholic engages in conversation with another Christian who believes in the doctrine of Eternal Security, one of the more common questions we may be asked is, “Do you know you are saved? The Bible says you can know that you have eternal life. Do you know you have eternal life?” The underlying premise is that to reject a once-saved, always-saved theology is not Biblical.
The Scripture this is usually based on is 1 John 5:13 where the apostle John writes “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life.” (NRSVCE)
As Catholics we can sometimes be a little lost on how to answer this. But we need to explore exactly what are “these things” that St. John mentions? After all, that would be pretty important in order to understand the meaning of the passage.
If you read the four chapters of St. John’s letter before he makes that statement, you will find more than twenty “ifs.” And he speaks a lot to our abiding in God, and God abiding in us.
“Abide” is one of those words not often used in language today in the sense it is used in Sacred Scripture. Dictionary.com offers this definition — “to remain; continue; stay.” Newer translations, like the NIV translate it as “remain.”
So, one of the things that St. John writes in his letter is that “Let what you heard from the beginning abide in you. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, then you will abide in the Son and in the Father.” (1 John 2:24). The NIV translates this verse as “As for you, see that what you have heard from the beginning remains in you. If it does, you also will remain in the Son and in the Father.” And even the KJV renders it as “Let that therefore abide in you, which ye have heard from the beginning. If that which ye have heard from the beginning shall remain in you, ye also shall continue in the Son, and in the Father.” The “if” and the “remain” are significant.
So can we know we are saved? Yes, if we chose to allow our commitment to Christ to remain in us, we will therefore remain in Christ, and we can know we are saved.
St. John also writes “And by this we may be sure that we know him, if we keep his commandments.” ( 1 John 2:3) There’s also 1 John 3:21 “Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God,” as well as 1 John 4:12 “if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.”
“I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life.” (1 John 5:13 NRSVCE). We cannot ignore “these things” St. John wrote that have a direct relationship to our salvation. Our Catholic faith requires that we listen to St. John’s words, all of them, and accept the things he has written. Faithfulness to Christ is not optional in regards to our salvation. And if we are faithful, we can indeed know that we are saved.
If you’ve been in my class recently, you know we “practice” a bit on how to answer the question “Are you saved?” It’s a simple answer, really. Do I know if I am saved? The answer is “Yes, if I follow God’s will, with the help of His grace.”
That answer covers all the bases. First, “yes.” Absolute confidence in God’s desire for us to be saved.
Second, “if I follow God’s will.” Obedience to God’s commandments and faithfulness to Him are not optional. That covers “these things” St. John writes to us about, and are found many other places in Sacred Scripture.
Third, “with the help of His grace.” As Catholics, we acknowledge that without divine assistance, we cannot possibly follow God’s will. But we do firmly believe that “I can do all things in him who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13). Our ability to be obedient, to follow God’s will, and to persevere in faithfulness is only possible by the grace we receive from God, His divine help that never leaves us. And we can indeed trust that He will always be faithful.
So, do I know I am saved? Yes, if I follow God’s will, with the help of His grace.