Every so often I get in a conversation with someone about whether it is possible to be saved and yet not able to explain how you know you are saved or explain to someone how they can be saved. Recently I was told of a woman who believed she was saved but couldn't explain the particulars but "felt" an inward witness of the Holy Spirit that she took as proof of being saved. And I have come across many similar situations over the years.
I am writing this article because based on what I know of biblical teaching I have a big problem with such confessions. I do not deny that the Holy Spirit does witness to our spirits in such a way that aids in our assurance. Romans 8:16 says, "The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God". Surely we have all been listening to some great biblical truth that has ministered to us in some way. I would suggest that this is more objective than subjective since the witness is based on certain truths. I would say the witness of Romans 16 is the witness of the Spirit as we read the gospel truths of Scripture. It produced feelings but it wasn't based on feelings alone. This witness might sometimes come in the spiritual connection we have with other saints and the manifestation of love we have between ourselves and them. But this second witness is much more subjective and can also be produced by non Christians.
But with the woman mentioned earlier, these inward feelings seem to make up her only real assurance. I say this because she admitted to be unable to explain the particulars as to how she became a Christian. As I understood it, she could not explain the gospel or at least her part in it. The problem here is that the very nature of conversion is one in which we hear good news that salvation has been provided by God and that it comes by trusting in the finished work of Christ as your substitute for the forgiveness of your sins. So while the gospel is an announcement of what Christ has done, it is also a command to repent and believe. This in turn requires us to understand what we must do in order to be saved.
One cannot wake up one day and feel saved. Neither can one be around biblical preaching and Christians for so long that they just realize one day that they are on board with all this. There has to come a point in which under the conviction of their sinfulness, they embrace Christ as their substitute and give themselves to Him.
Now the whole point of this article is that one cannot do this and not realize that he or she has done it. Under the Old Covenant it was possible to be born into it and perhaps never really understand what had happened. You were circumcised as a baby and were "in" whether you ever understood it or not. But Jeremiah makes the point that this is not how it works under the New Covenant. "Jer 31:33 But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Jer 31:34 And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, 'Know the LORD,' for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more."
One enters the Kingdom of God hearing the bad news that their sins have separated them from God and the good news of how to be saved through repentance and faith. These are things that we do with our understanding, not our feelings. You just can't be saved without knowing why and how. Yes, God must give us the capacity to understand and believe but understand and believe we shall or we shall not be converted. Therefore you can't be saved and not be able to explain why and how. This is why a church expects one to give a credible testimony of their salvation before baptizing them and adding them to the church. Repentance and faith cannot be done apart from our understanding. We don't expect to understand it perfectly but certainly you should be able to give the basics.