I mentioned in my testimony of how the Lord brought me to Himself that I had struggled off and on for long years with the assurance that I was really saved. One person in particular mentioned wanting to hear more about that, so for her and for anyone else who might be struggling with this (or for those who want to help someone struggling with this) I wanted to share how the Lord helped me over the years.
I don’t think I ever struggled with the thought that I had lost my salvation. I think Scripture is pretty clear that once you’re “born again” you don’t get unborn. My struggle was more internal on my end of things.
I think there were a number of reasons for that. I had made a profession when I was 8 or 9 and then wasn’t in church or reading my Bible regularly, so therefore I wasn’t taught or grounded very well. When I did get back into church and began reading my Bible and began to examine whether I was truly saved, I couldn’t remember very well what had actually happened or what I was thinking or feeling or understanding at that time back when I was 8 or 9. Even some who are spiritually well-grounded and taught struggle over that. Then, I tend to be a analytical — maybe too much so at times.
I know that the devil can use a lack of assurance to trip people up and almost cripple them spiritually, both from a loss of confidence (“How can I tell anyone else how to be saved if I’m not sure if I am?”) and from a preoccupation with these thoughts and issues instead of going on in the Lord. But it is such an important issue, I certainly didn’t want to brush off doubts as just coming from the devil. I think it certainly is possible for a well-meaning person to make a false profession for any numbers of reasons (trusting in something outward like a walk down the aisle or raising the hand or even praying a prayer rather than in the Lord Himself, responding to “positive peer pressure” instead of the Lord’s conviction, not being instructed very well by the person telling them about the Lord, and so on) and I’ve heard testimonies of people who thought they were saved for years but then realized they were not. For years every testimony like that shook me up and caused me to re-examine my faith and fear that I had missed it somehow. Many agressive sermons did the same thing. I do know the experience of coming home to an empty house or waking up to find my husband not in bed or hearing the Christian radio station unexpectedly go off the air and wondering if the rapture had occurred and I hadn’t gone to heaven. It’s a miserable way to live, let me tell you.
I did seek counsel several times, and it was all very helpful and made me feel settled for a time. But before long the old doubts or some new ones would creep in.
It did help me to learn that others did struggle with this, even prominent Christians whose salvation no one else would doubt. Somewhere along the way I discovered John Bunyan’s Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners. I think I read somewhere that some pastors didn’t want their people reading that book, because if they hadn’t doubted their salvation before, they might after reading it. It’s been so long since I read it that I don’t remember the details, but I was encouraged that someone such as Bunyan struggled with some of the same things.
Here, then, are some of the particular issues I struggled with and how the Lord graciously helped me with them.
1) The “Right” words
If you think of it, we express salvation in many ways: being born again, having our sins forgiven, having our sins put under the blood, being on the straight and narrow road, etc., etc. Sometimes I’d hear a particular phrase and think, “Oh, no! I don’t know if I thought of that or mentioned that when I prayed.” Then I’d pray that particular phrase (i.e., “Dear Lord, please put my sins under the blood.”) (I know, it sounds a little neurotic, doesn’t it?)
What I had to come to realize is that salvation is not a “magic formula” of certain words. The “sinner’s prayer” is a fine thing, but one can be saved without praying those exact lines (look at the thief on the cross beside Christ for one example).
There was one incident that helped me most with this particular issue. To help you fully appreciate it, I need to give you a little bit of background, though it will make a long post even longer. There was a certain program on the local Christian radio station that I enjoyed listening to. Right after that program came a radio preacher that I thought of as “ranting and raving.” If his intro. music came on, I’d disgustedly turn the radio off as fast as I could get to it. One day I got convicted that that attitude of disgust was not right toward any Christian, especially a man of God. He was a good man, preached the truth, and had been used by the Lord to bring many to Himself. It was just a matter of not liking his style, but I realized that that style might appeal to someone else who might not be reached by the style of preaching that appealed to me. So, one day when the program I like finished and this man’s program came on, I left it on. This preacher was sharing his own testimony, and at some point he said something like, “I told the Lord I didn’t even know what or how to pray….” and then went on to express his desire to be saved, though I can’t remember now how he put it. But that one phrase “clicked” with me and reinforced to me that it is not certain words that save us, it is faith in Christ.
2) “Enough” repentance
Repentance is vital in salvation and many are rightly concerned that in this day of “easy believism” it’s a forgotten element. I’ve heard repentance defined many times as a change of mind that leads to a change of action. I felt that I had done that, changed from depending on “my” works to Christ’s finished work on the cross, changed from wanting “my way” to wanting God’s way, but maybe because as believers we still have a sin nature residing in us, and I still struggled in some areas, I often wondered if I had really repented “enough” to be saved.
My mother-in-law is as much or more of a book lover than I am, and when we visit each other we peruse each other’s shelves for books to read while we’re there. Once when we were visiting my husband’s folks, I found the book Full Assurance by H. A. Ironside on her shelf and picked it up. The whole book was very helpful, but the one part that I felt was the written just for me was in the second part of the book, “Difficulties Which Hinder Full Assurance.” The very first question dealt with was “How may I be sure that I have repented enough?” Here is Ironside’s answer:
Very often the real difficulty arises from a misapprehension of the meaning of repentance. There is no salvation without repentance, but it is important to see exactly what is meant by this term. It should not be confused with penitence, which is sorrow for sin; nor with penance, which is an effort to make some satisfaction for sin; nor yet with reformation, which is turning from sin. Repentance is a change of attitude toward sin, toward self, and toward God. The original word (in the Greek Testament) literally means “a change of mind.” This is not a mere intellectual change of viewpoint, however. but a complete reversal of attitude.
Now test yourself in this way. You once lived in sin and loved it. Do you now desire deliverance from it? You were once self-confident and trusting in your own fancied goodness. Do you now judge yourself as a sinner before God? You once sought to hide from God and rebelled against His authority. Do you now look up to Him, desiring to know Him, and to yield yourself to Him? If you can honestly answer yes to these questions, you have repented. Your attitude is altogether different to what it once was.
You confess you are a sinner, unable to cleanse your own soul, and you are willing to be saved in God’s way. This is repentance. And remember, it is not the amount of repentance that counts: it is the fact that you turn from self to God that puts you in the place where His grace avails through Jesus Christ.
Strictly speaking, not one of us has ever repented enough. None of us has realized the enormity of our guilt as God sees it. But when we judge ourselves and trust the Saviour whom He has provided, we are saved through His merits. As recipients of His lovingkindness, repentance will be deepened and will continue day by day, as we learn more of His infinite worth and our own unworthiness.
3) “Saving” faith
You may be aware of James 2:19, ” Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble.” Even the devils believe that there is a God, but they are certainly not saved, so something more than a general belief that there is a God is necessary for salvation. At least one difference from the devils’ kind of faith and saving faith is a willingness to turn from our “own” way and to submit to God. Romans 10:9-10 say, “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.” It is more than just saying the words “Jesus is Lord,” but it does involve the acknowledgement that He is indeed Lord. I don’t want to get this confused with “Lordship salvation,” and, like repentance, it is something in which we will grow in our awareness of what it means and how it affects out lives, and there will be times even after we’re saved that we struggle with wanting our own way. But that initial realization and submission must be there.
I also used to get frightened by these verses from Matthew 7:
21 Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.
22 Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?
23 And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.
It was sobering to realize that there were some who would be surprised at the judgement at God’s rejection of them. I certainly didn’t want to be in that number! But once, when talking to my pastor about these verses, he pointed out that none of these people said, “I realized that I was a sinner and I trusted in Christ and what He did on the cross to pay for my sins.” They all pointed to their own good works, which cannot save anyone. Ephesians 2:8-10 says, “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.”
4) “Enough” faith
In a similar vein to the issue of “enough” repentance, I wondered if I had “enough” faith. With this and these other questions, there were probably many contributing factors, from preaching and Bible reading and counseling, which helped, but there was one moment when this issue was essentially solved. I don’t remember whether I read this in one of C. H. Spurgeon’s books or heard it on the radio (there’s a local program of someone reading through some of his sermons) or heard it as an illustration, and some day I want to track it down and get the exact quote, but it went something like this:
In a journey you come to a place where there is a deep chasm. It’s too far across to jump and too deep and treacherous to crawl down into it and over to the other side. The only way across is a plank that someone laid across the chasm. You can go across in full confidence of the plank’s support, or you an go across haltingly and fearfully, but it’s not the largeness or smallness of your faith that got you across — it was the plank. That you had enough faith to trust in it and walk across it was all the faith you needed. So with our salvation, it’s not how great or small our faith is: what matters is Who we are trusting in.
5) I John
I John was “written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God” (I John 5:13). Within the book are several evidences that one is a child of God. The one possibly confusing thing about this is that none of us is perfect in any of these ways. But a child of God will have some degree of these evidences in his or her life. One time I went through and put a star beside all of these in my Bible:
I John 2:3: And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments.
I John 2:15: Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.
I John 2:29: If ye know that he is righteous, ye know that every one that doeth righteousness is born of him.
I John 3:6-9:
6 Whosoever abideth in him sinneth not: whosoever sinneth hath not seen him, neither known him.
7 Little children, let no man deceive you: he that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as he is righteous.
8 He that committeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil.
9 Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God.
(This can be confusing because it sounds like it is saying that a Christian will never sin, but it can’t mean that because in chapter 1:9 we’re promised that if we confess our sin we’ll be forgiven. I am told that these verses are speaking of a continual practice or lifestyle of sin. A true Christian cannot continue on in sin without experiencing God’s chastisement [Hebrews 12:5-8]. See also I John 5:17-18: “All unrighteousness is sin: and there is a sin not unto death. We know that whosoever is born of God sinneth not; but he that is begotten of God keepeth himself, and that wicked one toucheth him not.”)
I John 3:14: We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not his brother abideth in death.
I John 3:18-19: My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth. And hereby we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before him.
I John 3:24: And he that keepeth his commandments dwelleth in him, and he in him. And hereby we know that he abideth in us, by the Spirit which he hath given us.
I John 4:13: Hereby know we that we dwell in him, and he in us, because he hath given us of his Spirit.
I John 4:15: Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwelleth in him, and he in God.
I John 5:1: Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God: and every one that loveth him that begat loveth him also that is begotten of him.
I John 5:12: He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life.
6) Not remembering my salvation experience
This is probably most common in those who profess Christ as children, but really it is hard for many people to remember exactly what they said, what they were thinking and understanding, etc. My former pastor, Dr. Mark Minnick, helped me with this by telling me that what is important is what am I trusting in now. He is the first one of whom I heard the question, “If you were to stand before God right now and He were to ask you why He should let you into His heaven, what would you say?” It’s not that that is how it will happen, but our response, the first thing that springs to our minds without thinking about it much, reveals what we’re trusting in. If our minds immediately think of good things we’ve done, we’re trusting in our own works which cannot save. But if our answer is that we’re trusting in Christ and what He did on the cross to provide for our salvation, we’re on the right track.
7) Taking the Bible at its word
Many times during these struggles I would have to just get out my Bible and go over and over salvation verses like the following and reaffirm my trust and just simply take them at their word:
John 3:16: For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
John 5:24: Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life.
Romans 10:9-10, 13: That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.
John 1:12: But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name.
I hope this is helpful to anyone else struggling with whether or not they are truly saved, and I invite anyone readong this who is not saved, or isn’t sure, to read more about it here.