Rex D. Edwards is a former vice president for religious studies at Griggs University.


William Saroyan, the talented storyteller and playwright who won quick fame and wealth, died of cancer in Fresno, California, USA, in 1981. Last Rights, written by his son Aram, is not only an account of his last month, but is also his life story as seen by family members who for years received from him only vilification and abuse.

William Saroyan had no intention of dying without a last flourish. He telephoned the Associated Press in Fresno that cancer had spread to his “liver, heart, kidney and bones”—all truth except, of course, for his heart. Characteristically, he then confided to the AP the statement, to be transmitted on its wires only after his death, “Everybody has got to die, but I have always believed an exception would be made in my case. Now what?”1

That’s the question for which we want an answer. As dreadful as the inevitability of death is, I cannot think of anything more terrifying than not knowing whether I will be among those who “go in” through heaven’s gates on the earth's day. In fact, Ellen G. White urges us not to “remain in perilous uncertainty” whether we are “among the saved, or the unsaved.”2 The vital question remains: Can we know whether salvation is a present reality, rather than a vain assumption? Thank God, yes! John testifies, “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, ESV).


Now, consider the ways the apostle John assures us that we have present salvation:

1. There is no salvation apart from Jesus Christ. Sincere faith in Jesus is itself an evidence of salvation. “Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God” (1 John 4:15, ESV).

2. Honoring Christ as the Lord of life. The evidence that Christ is Lord of our lives will manifest itself in conformity to the will and Word of God (see 1 John 2:3–5).

3. Walking after the example of Christ. “Whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked” (1 John 2:6, ESV). Jesus cannot be a Savior to those who do not follow His example.

4. Habitually practicing righteousness, rather than sin. “If you know that he is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who practices righteousness has been born of him” (1 John 2:29, ESV).

5. Loving the believers. “We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death” (1 John 3:14, ESV).

6 Possessing a consciousness of the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. “Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us” (1 John 3:24, ESV). It is sheer presumption for anyone to claim present salvation who is not trusting in Christ with a sincere heart, keeping His commandments, walking in His steps, loving fellow Christians, and practicing righteousness. 

Please note that these evidences are not veiled “good works” to earn salvation, but rather qualities that naturally follow an established and continuing personal relationship with God. Nothing we do can add to what Christ has already done! John encourages us to maintain our faith, if we would continue to share the eternal life of God through Christ (see 1 John 2:23–25).


With all these affirmations, why is there any uncertainty and confusion brooding over the doctrine of the believer’s present assurance?

Firstly, some misunderstand Ellen White’s comments concerning present assurance. On the one hand she describes the assurance of salvation for Christ’s followers in these colorful words: “If you give yourself to Him, and accept Him as your Saviour, then, sinful as your life may have been, for His sake you are accounted righteous. Christ’s character stands in place of your character, and you are accepted before God just as if you had not sinned.”3 On the other hand she writes, “Those who accept the Saviour, however sincere their conversion, should never be taught to say or to feel that they are saved. This is misleading. Every one should be taught to cherish hope and faith; but even when we give ourselves to Christ and know that He accepts us, we are not beyond the reach of temptation.”4 Misunderstanding occurs when the first and second parts are separated. Rather than negating assurance, the second quoted phrase “know that He accepts us” harmonizes with 1 John 5:13: “You may know that you have eternal life” (ESV). The first part of Ellen White’s quote is her response to the concept of “once saved always saved.” This is a warning against “cheap grace” advocated by those who profess Christianity but disobey God’s requirements. It is, she says, “stating a falsehood” when they say, “‘I am saved.’”5 Then she offers the imperative, “It is essential to have faith in Jesus, and to believe you are saved through Him.”6 Further, “the perishing sinner may say: . . . ‘I need not remain a moment longer unsaved. He [Christ] died and rose again for my justification, and He will save me now.’”7

Secondly, there is a failure to understand the relationship between justification and sanctification. This failure stems from separating pardon from holiness. C. H. Spurgeon sees this danger when he says, “God’s blessings are blessings with both hands. In the one hand He gives pardon: but in the other hand He always gives holiness; and no man may have the one, unless he has the other.”8

So then, sanctification begins with justification. And justification accompanies sanctification all along our journey with God. Need we wait a lifetime for the all-sufficient gift of Christ’s righteousness, or may we have it for as long as we accept it in penitence and consecration?

And what about the blessings that attend our present salvation? Even now, we are sons and daughters of God, heirs of the kingdom. As partakers of the divine nature, through the Spirit, we come into living union with Christ. In Him we have “passed from death to life”— eternal life (John 5:24, ESV). All this is ours in our Lord Jesus—today! And He intends that life shall continue that way.

The manifold grace of God assures us that our present salvation may yet result in our eternal redemption. In living faith we may ask for and receive salvation in “the fullness of him who fills all in all” (Eph 1:23, ESV), “who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption” (1 Cor 1:30, ESV).

Who, then, is your salvation today? And who is life eternal? Is it not He “that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy”? (Jude 24, KJV).

Thirdly, there is a failure to understand how to live consciously in the steady reality of the “already” and the “not yet.” Jiří Moskala explains, “We have eternal life, but not yet; we are saved, but not yet; we are perfect in Christ, but not yet; we sit with Christ by the right side of the heavenly Father, but not yet. Thus we experience the true joy of salvation.”9


We can have the assurance of salvation right now, and when Christ returns our present hope of redemption will become tangible reality, and He will “let us in.”

I stood outside the gate, a poor wayward child; Within my heart there beat a tempest loud and wild. “O Mercy!” loud I cried, “Now, give me rest from sin!” “I will,” a voice replied, and Mercy let me in. Oh, what a blest return for all my years of sin! I stood outside the gate and Jesus let me in.10

1 Noland Norgaard, “Son’s Bitterness Pervades Story of Saroyan's Death,” The Denver Post, August 22, 1982.
2 Ellen G. White, Testimonies to Ministers and Gospel Workers (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press, 1923), 443.
3 Ellen G. White, Steps to Christ (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press, 1892), 62.
4 Ellen G. White, Christ’s Object Lessons (Washington, DC: Review and Herald, 1900), 155.
5 Ellen G. White, Selected Messages (Washington, DC: Review and Herald, 1958), 1:315.
6 Ibid., 1:373.
7 Ibid., 1:392.
8 C. H. Spurgeon, Spurgeon’s Sermons: Third Series (New York: Sheldon, Blakeman, 1857), 268.
9 Jiří Moskala, “Assurance of Salvation,” Adventist World, October 2017, 28.
10 Josephine Pollard, “I Stood outside the Gate,” in Christ in Song, comp. F. E. Belden (Washington, DC: Review and Herald, 1908), 90.

Rex D. Edwards, DMin, is a former vice president for religious studies at Griggs University.