What is assurance of salvation? It's not about "eternal security" or anything like it. It is not the same as being saved. It is possible to be saved and not know it or to believe you're saved and not be. Assurance is simply the confidence that you're saved. Can Christians have such assurance? Can we know? One of the most popular verses you might find on the topic is found in Paul's epistle to the church at Rome.

The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God. (Romans 8:16)

That's it. Pretty straightforward. We can all see it and understand it. If I feel like the Spirit of God agrees with my spirit that I'm a child of God, then I am. It's as simple as that.

But it is? Is our certainty of salvation based primarily, perhaps entirely, on a "good feeling," some "supernatural sense"? Is that really what Paul wrote? Let's look again.

(10) If Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, yet the spirit is alive because of righteousness. (11) But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you. (12) So then, brethren, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh — (13) for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live. (14) For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. (15) For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, "Abba! Father!" (16) The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, (17) and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him. (Romans 8:10-17)

Perhaps context will help clarify. Paul starts out talking about the glorious truth that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ (Romans 8:1). But then he needs to explain what "in Christ" actually means. He differentiates between the Spirit and the flesh and points out how the flesh can't do anything good (Romans 8:2-8). In verse 9 he says that those who have the Spirit of God in them are not in the flesh. Which leads us to our passage.

The claim is that "The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God." Is this just a feeling, a spiritual sense? The text doesn't allow for that. Paul says that those with the Spirit have life through His Spirit (v 11). He says that we are under obligation to live according to the Spirit (v 13-14). He says that those who live by the Spirit "are putting to death the deeds of the body" (v 13). The claim that the Spirit's testimony that we are children of God is a feeling or a spiritual sense is, basically, nonsense. Try it in court someday. "Your honor, I wish to give testimony. I feel like that guy is not guilty." That's not a witness. Paul is saying that the witness of the Spirit is real. It is demonstrated in a changed life. It is demonstrated in a sense of obligation to be obedient to God and a sense of family with God as Father and His people (Romans 8:28-29). It is demonstrated in being new.

Jesus gave us the allegory of the sheep and the goats (Matthew 25:31-46). In the final judgment, the "sheep" and the "goats" will be separated. One group Christ will commend for what they did and the other Christ will condemn for what they didn't do. What, then, is the difference between the sheep and the goats? Don't make the mistake of thinking that it is in what they did and didn't do. The difference between them is that one category is sheep and the other is goats. That they are different is demonstrated by what they do, but that's not what makes them different; it only shows that they are.

Time and again Scripture talks about what we do. We know we are saved by grace apart from works (Ephesians 2:8-9). We know that if we were saved by what we do, it would be earned (Romans 4:4-5). We don't earn salvation. There is no doubt. The next misstep, however, is to assume, then, that works are irrelevant, and the Bible is clear that they are not. "For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them" (Ephesians 2:10) It is the repeated message that those who belong to Christ naturally tend towards obedience in an ever-increasing manner, not in order to save, but as a result of being saved, of having a new life, of having God's Spirit in us. Works are a valid test according to Scripture. They don't save, but their absence suggests an absence of life. And the testimony of the Spirit with our spirit says, "Yes, I want to align myself with God" and goes on to demonstrate it ("being led by the Spirit of God"). Don't be fooled by the ever-popular lie, "I must be saved because I feel like it," some arbitrary "spiritual sense." If you are not "putting to death the deeds of the body," you might want to "test yourselves to see if you're in the faith; examine yourselves!" (2 Corinthians 13:5) Even if you have a "good feeling."