“If you are 99% sure you are saved, you are 100% lost.”
“If you don’t remember the day and time you called on Christ, you are lost.”
“That voice in your head saying, ‘you’re not saved’ is not the devil, it is God trying to get your attention.”
These statements might make for “good” preaching at a revival meeting, but they flow from poor theology. For the ones who have struggled with doubts about the genuineness of their faith, assertions like these only bring about further hopelessness and confusion.
Is true assurance of salvation found in feeling saved? Will we find true assurance by analyzing the events of our conversion? Or, do the Scriptures give us a better way forward?
Not surprisingly, there is both help and hope in God’s Word. Let’s start with hope.
You Are Not Alone
In college, I traveled as a member of the basketball team. I spent multiple road trips staring out the window of the travel bus wondering, “if Jesus came back right now, what would happen to me?” I played scenarios in my head. Would I be welcomed by my Savior? Or would I hear the dreaded words, “depart from me, for I never knew you?” Neither outcome would have surprised me.
I was convinced that I alone struggled like this. I assumed the other Christians on my team had it all figured out. Surely they wouldn’t understand if I ever gathered the courage to share my doubts with them. I kept quiet, unaware that many on the bus were pondering the same questions in their hearts.
God’s Word shatters our understanding that our temptations are unique. 1 Corinthians 10:13 says, “no temptation has overtaken you except that which is common to man…” (1 Cor. 10:13). It is an odd comfort knowing that we are not alone in our doubts. It is not as if we want others to suffer through temptation the way we have. Instead, there is comfort in realizing we’re not some sort of an oddball. There is even greater comfort in knowing that many believers throughout the history of the church have faced similar temptations and have walked in faithful obedience.
There is consolation in knowing we are not alone, but our ultimate hope for change rests in the faithfulness of God. The verse goes further, instructing us that “…God is faithful, and will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide a way of escape” (1 Cor. 10:13). One of the ways God has demonstrated his faithfulness is to supply us with every resource in Christ to respond to our temptations in a way that glorifies him.
So, where does change begin for the doubter?
Too often we want to look to ourselves to find assurance. We ask ourselves, “did I really mean it when I called on Christ?” We silently wonder, “was my faith strong enough to truly save me when I asked Jesus to save me?” Soon we convince ourselves that we could say the ‘sinner’s prayer’ again with more faith, more vigor, more earnestness. This time, we surmise, it will actually work because we will mean it more. Our reflections quickly become all about us and we eventually lose sight of the Savior. In seeking to assure ourselves by ourselves we only create more doubt. As Everett (George Clooney) affirms in Oh Brother Where Art Thou, “It’s a fool that looks for logic in the chambers of the human heart.”
If it is foolish to look to ourselves as the primary means of assurance, where do we look? The alternative is to look away from ourselves and toward Christ. In other words, we must learn to rely on the sufficiency of Christ’s death and resurrection instead of relying on a past experience of asking Jesus to save us.
“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” – Romans 8:1
The gospel is that Jesus has done what we could never do–lived perfectly, died sacrificially, resurrected victoriously–in order to give us what the Law could never give us (forgiveness of sins and a heart to obey God). Let that be our foremost means of assurance. It isn’t about us, our efforts, the strength of our faith. It is about the work of Christ for us. That is news in which we can find rest for our doubting hearts.
The Evidence of Faith
Only after we can affirm that our faith is resting in Christ for our salvation, can we look at our lives for evidences of genuine faith.
In addition to affirming the gospel, our attitude towards sin is one of the greatest indicators of genuine faith. Paul suggests that those who are in Christ experience a desire to put off sin and put on righteousness (Romans 8:4). The Apostle then builds on this assertion, pointing out that these desires for righteousness are not natural, but are the result of the presence and work of the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:9). Further, everyone who has the indwelling of the Spirit is saved (Romans 8:9-10). Finally, all those who are saved count God as their heavenly Father (Romans 8:15-17).
Working backward then we might put it this way:
- How can I be confident I’m God’s child? You can be confident you are God’s child if you are saved.
- How do I know if I’m saved? You can know you are saved if you have the Holy Spirit living inside of you.
- How do I know if the Holy Spirit is living inside of me? You can know the Spirit is inside of you if you battle sin and desire godliness.
It is not wrong to examine the authenticity of your conversion, in fact, God commands it (2 Corinthians 13:5). However, you do want to avoid examining yourself on grounds the Bible doesn’t commend. Feelings or past experiences are poor evidences of real salvation. Instead, look to the gospel itself and ask if you are truly trusting in Christ’s person and work for your salvation. Further, consider if you are demonstrating an attitude of repentance (turning away from sin) that is consistent with someone who is born again.