“There’s no way my salvation is real, I feel nothing like a real Christian.”
“I used to feel so close to God, but recently, it just doesn’t feel the same anymore.”
Friend, as you read these can you relate? Maybe right now you can relate with full understanding with these phrases? If so, then you are lacking some assurance in your place before God. It is not a comfortable or a happy place to be.
See, these are not just some random examples, these are quotes, quotes taken from my own diary.
Since I was first saved, around ten years ago, one of my biggest struggles has been doubting the validity of my salvation.
Not doubting God, not doubting His power to save.
But simply doubting if I have been saved at all.
Every so often, I’ll get a small nagging doubt in the back of my mind. Sometimes it may only last a few minutes. Other times this small thought can grow and grow, and stay with me for days.
I know it’s not easy to share these kinds of thoughts with our brothers and sisters. Have you shared your thoughts with other Christians, or have you kept them locked away in your mind?
Scared, scared that no one else knows what is to doubt your salvation, to lack assurance?
The reality is you are not alone. Brothers and sisters all throughout history have been where you are now, and have shared with you and with me in their doubts.
The famous Puritan Thomas Brooks, writing in 1650:
“Assurance is the believer’s ark where he sits, Noah-like, quiet and still in the midst of all distractions and destructions, commotions and confusions…. [However] most Christians live between fears and hopes, and hang, as it were, between heaven and hell.
Sometimes they hope that their state is good, at other times they fear that their state is bad: now they hope that all is well, and that it shall go well with them for ever; [then] they fear that they shall perish by the hand of such a corruption, or by the prevalence of such or such a temptation …. They are like a ship in a storm, tossed here and there.”
Here he reminds us that assurance should be our “”Ark”, where we are to find security in the midst of the storms of life. But, for various reasons, instead we find ourselves like a “ship in a storm, tossed here and there”
We are commanded in 2 Corinthians 13:5 to make sure that our belief/ love and salvation is indeed genuine – but this should never result in a constant doubting of who we are in Christ.
So what causes our lack of assurance, and how can we fight against it?
I’ll only touch on a few possible reasons, there will be many more, but let’s look at some of the most common reasons people have for doubting their salvation:
1- We misunderstand the nature of our salvation
Scripture is clear on the process of our salvation, Romans 8:28-30 clearly lays out for us five ‘steps’ in our salvation:
A- Foreknew: Before we were born, before the universe was created, God knew us. Not in a general sense, he knew us, all that we would ever say, do, and think. All that was known to God. He knew his children, before they ever saw the light of day. He knew those that he would save.
B- Predestined: He knew us, and he also chose us. He ‘set apart’ his people, those that he would save.
[A & B occur in eternity – with no interaction by us]
C- Called: We hear the Gospel, we see ourselves as someone that needs to be transformed and changed, wee see our sin and acknowledge that we need a saviour. We listen to the Gospel, and we cry out to Christ to save us.
D- Justified: Through the sacrifice of Jesus, the punishment of our sin is placed on him. In that happening, we are made right with God (to put it simple terms)2 Corinthians 5:21
E- Glorified: This is the future hope of every Christian, that one day we will join with our saviour in eternity. And when we see him we will be made like him.
If we miss or misunderstand these steps, it usually ends up with us thinking our salvation as something that relies on us, on our actions.
If we get this wrong, then it is likely we will really struggle with our assurance – everything else we will look at has its base on this fact.
We were not saved based on our actions, we are saved because of the love and grace of holy and perfect God.
So because we were not saved by our own power, we also do not continue in our faith by our own power.
Along the same lines as this is the idea some people have that they can somehow ‘lose’ their salvation when in reality we cannot lose our salvation as it’s not ours to lose. It was purchased for us by the blood of Christ, it is established on him and not on ourselves.
If we don’t understand that our salvation is based solely on Christ, and on his unfinished work then we will be so easily swayed by any and everything that comes our way.
2- Feelings vs. Facts
You might now be thinking “well I know all of that, but I still find myself doubting my salvation”
One of the most common reasons for finding ourselves doubting salvation is that we place our faith in our feelings rather on the facts.
Our worship and understanding of God and His works encompasses all that we are. We don’t just worship God through knowing all the correct points of theology and history. Our worship of God involves our emotions and our feelings – we feel humbled, we feel love etc.
The problem arises when we give an unequal place to our feelings over the facts.
The thought “I don’t feel like a Christian / don’t feel saved” is based not on Scriptural facts but instead it’s based on our emotions.
Scriptural fact is fact regardless of the situation/ place/ person. But our emotions and feelings can and do change so often, the are completely subjective. They can, and so often are, influenced by sin.
If you find yourself in the middle of a trying situation (perhaps one completely out of your control), you very well might not feel like a Christian, but does that mean you are not?
Or what about our brothers and sisters who suffer with an illness like depression, do you think they always ‘feel’ like a Christian? Does that mean they are no longer saved?
Our feelings and emotions can change in a second, but our salvation does not rely on them. Like we saw in the first part, our salvation relies alone on the work of Jesus. Until we accept this truth, we will still find ourselves being tossed and thrown around with worries about our salvation.
In terms of practical help, I have found incredibly useful to keep a simple diary. Recording how God is dealing with me day by day. Be honest and be disciplined with it, and when you start again to doubt your salvation look through the diary, and you will see God’s faithfulness in your life. Regardless of how you have been feeling.
One of the other reasons that Christians lack assurance is because of certain sins in their life that they can’t seem to shake.
Sin in our life is never to be taken lightly, it has to be battled against every day and in its every form. But to say that we sin therefore we are not saved, well that makes no sense. The sad fact is that we will sin until we reach eternity.
The difference is that the Christian does not just simply feel remorse over their sin, they are repentant.
In other words, we don’t just feel sorry for ourselves, the Christian goes to God and says: “I can’t do this, I have no power over my sin. Help me!”
If we hate our sin, and are on our knees before God in repentance, if we understand that our sins are blatant disobedience to our Saviour. Then these things are a mark of faith for us, a strong piece of evidence that our faith is genuine. If it wasn’t, we’d have no desire to turn to God for forgiveness.
In terms of some practical advice, it’s not easy being honest with our brothers and sisters, especially when talking about our sins.
But in Scripture we are instructed to share our burdens with each other. I’d advise that you and perhaps two other friends become accountable to each other. Agree to meet one a week (or whatever suits) and share each others burdens. Discuss your walk that week, hold each other accountable on your sins, encourage one another. Incorporate even a short Bible study.
4- A time of testing
At times, God withdraws from us our sense of his presence and our assurance of salvation. He does this as our loving father, to test us and to help us to grow in reliance and trust in Him.
It’s an extreme case, but it still serves as example, when we look to the life of Job. God permitted him to endure a great deal of things, but in the midst of his darkness he grew in his love and understanding of the God he served.
Talk with other Christians, share with them what you are experiencing – ask them to pray with you and for you. Trust me it will encourage them just as much as it will encourage you.
5- Unclear Conversion
Some can pinpoint an exact time, date, and location for the moment of their conversion. Others, myself included, cannot offer a specific moment, rather it’s a slow progression.
The problem is that when it is a series of stages, if we do doubt our salvation, it can be difficult to look back and see a specific moment of seeing ourselves as saved.
This issue can be worked through relatively easily, just because you cannot look back to certain singular moment, that doesn’t mean that you cannot look back to see God working in your life. Again I think the diary idea works well, record the progress of your walk. You can then look back and see how God has been working in your life.
If you are struggling with assurance, you are not alone, and this state will not last forever. Over and above all other things, when you feel as if you are confused or concerned where you stand before God. Turn to the Word, pray, meet with the people of God.
Remember: facts over feelings, and your salvation & eternal standing with God is based on the finished and perfect work of Jesus, not on you.
Here are some other helpful resources for when you find yourself lacking assurance:
Rev Kenneth Macrae offers 9 marks (evidence) of God’s work in our life :
[Diary of Kenneth Macrae pp.59-60]
1- A love for God’s Word, house, and day
2- A desire for holiness
3- A longing to be able to pray
4- A mourning over a sinful heart
5- A desire to love Christ
6- A desire for fellowship with Him
7- A fear lest, these evidences being so faint in us, we lack them altogether
8- A belief that if Christ be not for us in eternity then we are lost
9- A belief, founded upon the free invitation extended in the Gospel and in virtue of His work on Calvary, that He will be for us and will be our Surety
Westminster Confession of Faith [in modern English] Chapter 18.4:
“True believers may have the assurance of their salvation shaken, diminished, or temporarily lost in various ways: as by negligence in preserving it, by falling into some special sin which wounds the conscience and grieves the Spirit, by some sudden or violent temptation, or by God’s withdrawing the light of his countenance and allowing even those who reverence him to walk in darkness and have no light. Yet, true believers are never completely deprived of that seed of God and life of faith, that love for Christ and fellow believers, that sincerity of heart and conscience concerning duty, out of which – by the operation of the Spirit – this assurance may in due time be revived; and by which, in the meantime, they are supported from utter despair.
Donald Guthrie provides three simple tests for us to apply to our lives [I have paraphrased]:
1- Do I have a present trust in Christ for my salvation? Despite my current situation, do I still trust that in Christ alone I find salvation?
2- Is there evidence of ongoing regenerating work in my life?
3- Is there evidence of a long term ‘pattern of Growth’’