Let me start by sharing David's response to my question:
Yes, none of us are perfect in obedience to Christ. Peter denied Jesus three times and he was not rejected because of it. But I think it [sic] anyone who lives their life for themselves is probably not a regenerated person.
I think he answered correctly, but it could lead to some confusion to some, bad advice for ministry, and complacency for all believers. I'll explain why this is so, but first of all let me give some illustrations of common perceptions of Christians.
This first is the common evangelical. I'm going to define the evangelical according to Gallup's short definition: this is a Christian, typically Protestant, who believes the Bible is inerrant, share their faith, and have had a born-again experience. I didn't find recent figures, but in 2005, 44% of Americans identified themselves as evangelical, but when asked these three questions, only 22% fit the definition. Evangelicals further believe that “an individual's eternal salvation rests solely on accepting Jesus Christ as one's Lord and Savior. Jesus' death and resurrection are atonement for sin and a promise of eternal life, which are only given to those who accept him as Lord and Savior.” About 52% of Americans had indicated that they have invited someone else to believe in Jesus. Only 32% of Americans believe that the Bible is God's word. 48% said that at some point in their lives they committed their life to Jesus. It is important to remember that telephone polls have their limitations. For example, many Buddhists might syncretize Christian belief and say that they have had a born-again experience at some point in his/her life. If we are careful, we can learn something from the data none the less.
So the typical evangelical is someone who has had a born-again experience, believes that salvation is for those who accept Jesus, and believe in the Bible. This person typically attends a conservative Protestant church regularly, prays daily, and reads his or her Bible at least weekly. At some point in her life she shares the gospel.
Let us look at another illustration. We all know those whom we might label nominal Christians. These people might identify as evangelical or born-again, but they seldom go to church and don't seem much different from those who don't identify as an evangelical or born-again Christian. Maybe this person divorced his spouse, because he found someone with whom “he fell in love.” You don't want to judge, but you wonder why he is unapologetic about this. When you confront him, he has an interesting angle on the teachings of Jesus. Maybe this person is a living with her boyfriend, and you don't want to judge, but doesn't she believe that this is sexually immoral?
OK. So on to my last illustration. Let's look at the saint. This person cares for the poor, not just as a vocation, but sacrificially. She touches the untouchables. She shares the gospel. She has an unwavering faith in Jesus. She may or may not believe everything that you believe the Bible teaches as orthodox doctrine, but you are convinced by her humility, love and faith, that this one is a disciple of Jesus.
My first contention is this: it is only the last illustration that can be called a disciple with confidence. For some, discipleship is vague, but for the last, this is a disciple of Jesus while most of us aren't. The third illustration that I've presented illustrates what Jesus meant by “Sell all that you have, take up your cross, and follow me.” Because you are a Christian doesn't mean that you are a disciple. Jesus makes it clear that we cannot remain typical evangelicals, having our cake and eating it too, and be his disciples. Let's be clear on this, Jesus did not make this statement once, but consistently:
“But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins” (Matt 6:15). “No one can serve two masters” (Matt 6:24). “With the same measure that you judge others, you will be judged” (Matt 7:2). “Not everyone who says to me 'Lord, Lord' will enter the Kingdom of Heaven” (7:21). “Whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven” (10:35). “Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it” (Matt 10:37-39).
Whew! Boy, I'm only halfway through the first Gospel. A disciple of Jesus learns from his master and does as his master did. All three of the synoptic Gospels teach the Great Commission. As evangelicals, we do not believe that this commission was to the Twelve only or to the professionals only. No, we believe that we are all disciples and have been given a commission to preach the gospel to the world. Don't misunderstand me. I'm not saying that the measure of who is saved or not is whether they carry out the Great Commission, or any other work for that matter. I am saying that a true disciple engages in Kingdom work; not all Christians do this, so not all are disciples.
How does anyone do such a task? By learning from their master. In Luke 9, Jesus sends out the 12 to go ahead of Him and preach the Kingdom of God, cast out demons, and heal the sick. This is a teaching strategy. Jesus was not going to be with them forever. If He had only taught them with words and example they would not know how to carry out the Great Commission. Rather, as an excellent teacher, he sent them out while still present to teach them. So, they had already practiced the Great Commission before it was given. In Luke 10, we read of the sending of the seventy-two. When they returned, they rejoiced that even the demons submitted to them. This was remarkable to them, because of all the miracles that Jesus performed, this is the only one not performed by the Old Testament prophets. But Jesus didn't just tell them to preach and cast out demons, He also told them to heal the sick. This is what their Rabbi did, it was what He expected them to do. But how can the disciples heal the sick and cast our demons? “...[H]e gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases,” (9:1).
Yet the mark of a disciple isn't contributing to the Great Commission or casting out demons, but faith, hope and love (1 Cor 13:13). Paul writes that neither circumcision nor uncircumcision matters, but “...the only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love” (Gal 5:6). Jesus said, “ By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. (John 13:35).
My second contention is this: because a person doesn't look like a disciple of Jesus, doesn't mean that she isn't saved, or isn't a sister in Christ. This I say because we are not to judge another's servant. When Paul heard of a sexually immoral person in the Corinthian church, he never declared him an unbeliever, but rather excommunicated him, saying, “...hand this man over to Satan, so that the sinful nature may be destroyed and his spirit saved on the day of the Lord” (1 Cor 5:5). Jesus told the parable of the tares, indicating that not even the angels can discern the elect from the damned, therefore, do not judge someone before the appointed time (Matt 13:24-30). We ought not judge because Paul didn't even judge himself, saying, “I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait until the Lord comes” (1 Cor 4:3-5).
We must be circumspect, being careful of the houghty “higher than thou” spirit. Because I am working hard for the Kingdom, doesn't make me better than anyone else. This is God's grace in my life and only grace. I must not boast in my good works, love, faith, position in the church, success or anything, but only in the grace of God.
Even if someone in my church is not active and appears worldly in some ways, this is my brother in Christ. This person has made a confession of faith and has been baptised. This person is now enlightened, tasted the heavenly gift, shared in the Holy Spirit, sanctified and living in the Kingdom, members of the catholic Church (Heb 6:4-5). Even if not saved, but just tares among the wheat, they are members of God's family, benefiting from the blessings of the Church. So do not boast and do not judge.
My third contention is this: A person isn't saved simply because they claim to be a follower of Jesus. “Many are called, but few are chosen” (Matt 22:14). Jesus taught this to indicate that not all who are children of Abraham will be saved.” The same is true of Christians. Paul said to the Romans about the Jews, “But they were broken off because of unbelief, and you stand by faith. Do not be arrogant, but be afraid. For if God did not spare the natural branches, He will not spare you either” (11:20-21). Being baptized, making a confession of faith, living a Christian lifestyle doesn't save a person. Salvation is by faith, as Paul makes clear throughout his Epistle to the Romans.
Therefore, if someone claims Christ as their Lord and Savior and doesn't live for Jesus, we must not offer them assurance of salvation. A person isn't saved by confession, baptism or going to church, but by faith. Such a person must be warned, then if they don't repent, cast out of the church (Matt 18:17). Don't judge whether this person is saved or not, simply treat them as if they aren't saved.
My second application of these contentions is this: if someone is an evangelical Christian, there are two assurances of salvation, and neither is, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31). Hear me out! I'm not contradicting Paul and Silas! I'm saying that if you think that this offers assurance, you are misunderstanding them. Paul and Silas were not offering the jailer and his family an assurance of salvation, but instructions on what he must do to be saved.
But there is another reason that faith doesn't offer assurance. Where in the Bible is my name written? If there are tares among the wheat, which we know is true from what Jesus taught and from personal experience, how do I know that I'm not a tare? I cannot believe that the tares know that they aren't saved. “Many will say to me in that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?” (Matt 7:22). No, the tares believe that they are saved too. The point that Jesus is making isn't that a person is saved by faith, not works. This is true, but not true to the context of this particular passage. “Watch out for the false prophets. They come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.” His point is that looks good on the outside is not an indicator of salvation. The false prophets are tares among the wheat who are baffled by God's condemnation.
The Scripture says that the Holy Spirit is our assurance of salvation. “Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set His seal of ownership on us, and put His Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come” (2 Co 1:21-22; 5:5; Eph 1:14). Yes, Jesus holds us in the palm of His hand and will not lose any the Father has given Him. But how do I know that I am in His hand? Yes, there is nothing that can separate us from the love of Christ. But how do I know that I am one of God's chosen?
The Scripture says that we do have assurance, and that the assurance is experiential as well as Scriptural. That is to say, concerning the Scripture, we hear the promises of God in the Scriptures and have faith that He will do as He says. But it must also be experiential, for how do I know that these promises apply to me? I know experientially, because He has put a deposit in me. How do I know that I have the Holy Spirit in me?
Because the genuine believer experiences the Holy Spirit within. Though we can't see, hear, touch, smell or taste the Holy Spirit, we know that He is in us, because it is by the Spirit that I can cry out, “Abba.” We know because the Holy Spirit sanctifies us. We know because the Holy Spirit produces fruit in our lives. We know because the Holy Spirit gives us good gifts. We know because we do the good works of our Father in heaven. This requires more time to demonstrate from the Scriptures. May God give me grace to finish this article with a follow up.
Let me make one caveat before I end. I am not trusting in my experiences for salvation. The experiences do not save me, God does. My faith is in Him alone. The primary point I am making is that we ought not give assurances of salvation to people who do not have the experience. If someone is unsure of their salvation, I cannot respond, “Did you confess Jesus as your Lord and Savior? Then you are saved.” Nor can I say, “Were you baptized? Then the Bible says that you are saved!” Nor should I respond, “Do you feel remorse for your sins? That means that you have the Holy Spirit in you and you are saved.” After all, don't non-believers feel guilt and shame for their sins?
I would rather warn the person calls themselves a Christian, but lives in sin, just as Paul does (1 Ths 4:6-8; 1 Co 6:9; 10:11-12). Treat such a person, after warning, as an unbeliever. Cast that person out of fellowship. If someone is a weak Christian, tell them that salvation is by faith and not works, so work out your salvation with fear and trembling and you will have assurance in your heart. Encourage, don't make assurances that you have been given no authority to provide. Encourage the weak to pray for the Spirit without ceasing, because God always gives the Spirit to His children. If they believe, they will see God's salvation in this life. This is what the true disciple of Jesus has, abundant life and assurance of glorification in the life to come. The true disciple doesn't worry about their salvation, that is in God's hands. They believe His promises in His Holy Word and stand firm in the faith, and they become more and more like their Master, Jesus. This gives true assurance of salvation.