Have you ever experienced doubts about your salvation? If so, you are not alone. Peter doubted in the storm, prompting the Lord to say, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” (Matt 14:31, ESV). The 11 had their confidence shaken when the One on whom they placed their hopes was crucified. When Christ appeared to them in the upper room, He said, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts?” (Luke 24:38, ESV).
On the other hand, being sure of salvation is the norm for a believer. Certainty is a gracious gift that God gives to His people. The Lord Jesus said “I know My own and My own know Me” (John 10:14, ESV). John says, “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” (1John 5:13, ESV). God intends for His people to live with complete confidence in their eternal salvation.
The Source of Doubts
Why do believers encounter doubts? There may be many causes, including comparing my experience with the conversion stories of others. While all conversions involve “repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 20:21, NASB), salvation experiences vary. The level of emotions, the depth of conviction, and the clarity of understanding are all unique to each individual.
Overanalyzing my experience: Did I believe the right way? Did I really repent? Was I really convicted of my sin?
Sin in my life: If I am truly saved, how could I have these sinful thoughts? If I am born again, why do I struggle so much with temptation and so often give in to it?
A lack of daily communion with God: If I neglect to read God’s Word daily I am cutting off the very source of assurance.
The fiery darts of the evil one (Eph 6:16): Not all doubts are self-inflicted. Remember the serpent’s attack on Eve of “Hath God said?” He was trying to erode her confidence in God’s Word.
A false profession: Many have been plagued by doubts, only to discover at some point that they were never saved to begin with, and therefore had no real basis for assurance. Honestly reading God’s Word will result in one of two things. If I have a mere profession, it will bring conviction of sin. If I am truly saved it will, in time, bring confidence. Some holding on to a false profession can be reluctant to give it up for fear of abandoning what sliver of hope they have. But remember, the fearful top the list of those who will experience the second death (Rev 21:8). Clinging to a profession is continuing to trust in something other than Christ and the consequences could be horrific.
Faulty Sources of Assurance
Many search for assurance in all the wrong places. Let’s consider some faulty sources.
My life: 1 John and James teach that fruit (or good works) is the evidence of salvation, and that if there is no fruit, there is no life. However, if it were fruit that gave me assurance, then I could not have assurance until I had time to prove out my salvation. How would I know when I had sufficiently produced the evidence to give me confidence? Gaining assurance would be gradual. Both Scripture and experience teach us that assurance can be, and normally is, immediate. While assurance deepens as a believer grows, it can be enjoyed from the moment of salvation. A lack of fruit should cause serious self-examination, “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith” (2Cor 13:5, ESV).
Others thinking or telling me I am saved: No one can see into my heart or into the Lamb’s Book of Life. Only God can give me confirmation through His Spirit and His Word.
My experience: While going back over my experience brings joy, and sharing my conversion story can be helpful to others, assurance is a present, ongoing reality that comes from the written Word of God. I don’t need photographic recall of all the details surrounding the event in order to have certainty. I don’t need to go back to my experience at all to get assurance. I must find it in the Word of God alone. In Luke 24, the Lord Jesus reveals Himself, first to the two on the road to Emmaus, and then to the disciples in the upper room. He does not leave them with just the experience of seeing Him. Important as that was, He anchors what they had seen with the Word of God. Regarding the two travelers we read, “He interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself” (Luke 24:27, ESV). To the frightened and doubting disciples He said, “‘These are My words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about Me … must be fulfilled.’ Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures” (Luke 24:44-45, ESV). Their experience of seeing the risen Christ with their eyes was important, but the Lord Jesus wanted their confidence rooted in the fulfilled promises of the Word of God.
The True Source of Assurance
How does God give us assurance? It is through His Word. Paul says, “The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God” (Rom 8:16, ESV). As I read Scripture, the indwelling Holy Spirit, the divine Author of Scripture, confirms to my heart that the promises of the Word of God apply to me. So, when I read in Romans 5:8 that Christ died for the ungodly, I know that I am the ungodly one for whom Christ died. When I read, “Whoever has the Son has life” (1John 5:12, ESV) it is the Spirit’s work in me that confirms the promise applies to me. The Lord Jesus said, “My sheep hear My voice” (John 10:2, KJV). A believer reading God’s Word hears the Shepherd’s voice, and takes His assuring promises personally.