How many people examine their lives and conclude they are headed for hell? The number is probably very few. Yet Jesus taught that many are traveling the broad road which leads to destruction (cf. Matt. 7:13). Why is there such a discrepancy?
One reason is that these hell bound folks believe they are saved. Among that throng there will also be those who did not think they were saved but did not consider themselves to be lost either. Of course, there is no middle ground between being lost and saved. If one is not saved then he is lost. However, worldly people do not think very deeply on such matters.
Why might a person be convinced he is saved when in fact he is lost? For some it is because they accepted the doctrines of men. Numerous groups teach salvation is obtained by merely believing in Jesus and confessing His name. The Scriptures do speak about obeying a form of doctrine to be saved (cf. Rom. 6:17). However, there are also warnings about false doctrines to be avoided (cf. Matt. 15:8,9; Rev. 2:15). If one accepts error regarding how to be saved, he will be lost (cf. Gal. 1:6-9). God's plan of salvation is easily found in the New Testament. It includes faith and confession but also repentance and baptism for the remission of sins (cf. Acts 2:38). On the other hand, man's teaching about obtaining salvation cannot be found in God's word.
Others sincerely believe they have salvation because of their emotions. The first group described above can at least point to their obedience and some form of teaching. This second group only has fickle feelings as supposed proof of their right standing with God. The devil has deceived many with this ploy. Many believe that sincerity, coupled with leading a good life, is all that is necessary for one to enjoy God's favor. Apparently they have never considered what kind of life would be good enough to please the Lord. In order to please God, that person would have to lead a sinlessly perfect life to avoid condemnation. The only human who ever could do this and, in fact, did accomplish this feat was Jesus (cf. Heb. 4:15). Concerning every other soul the Bible is clear - "There is none righteous, no, not one...for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Rom. 3:10,23). If man could achieve righteousness by his own efforts, then Jesus died in vain (cf. Gal. 2:21). According to His promise, God gives salvation to those who obey Him (cf. Heb. 5:9; James 2:24).
The man who trusts in his feelings needs to learn his assurance is built on a foundation of shifting sand (cf. Matt. 7:26,27). The case of Cornelius clearly proves that morally upright and religious folks are lost apart from obedience to the commands of Jesus (cf. Acts 10:2,48). Man must understand it is sin that condemns souls to an eternal hell. No matter how hard one tries, just being good does not forgive sins.
A favorite trick of the devil is to deceive people into believing a lie (cf. Gen. 3:4; II Thess. 2:11,12). Putting confidence in false doctrine for assurance of salvation is believing a lie. Trusting in feelings about one's relationship with God is also believing a lie.
On the Day of Judgment, many will be surprised that they are lost when they thought otherwise. Many will say to Jesus - "Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name? And then [Jesus] will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!" (Matt. 7:22,23). Yes, it is quite possible for a person to be lost when he thinks he is saved.
Thankfully, inspired writers reveal the truth that it is possible to know that one is truly saved. I John 5:13 heralds the great news that "you may know that you have eternal life." By obeying the gospel a person can be sure he has been saved from sin and will continue to enjoy God's favor as long as he is faithful.