By Elizabeth Prata
Assurance of salvation is something many Christians struggle with. It’s normal that a believer might enter a period when they doubt their salvation. We still sin, and if a person sins repeatedly, it’s also normal to wonder if the Lord has sealed the Spirit in us and that we’re actually saved for the day of redemption. It’s normal that a believer might have a (short) period of performing besetting sins or as known in the Christian culture, “backslide”. We often feel in life that we are not making progress (like the Pilgrim in John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, who also slid down the hill at times).
The Holy Spirit is sealed in believers and if a person possesses the Spirit, He will not allow the believer to continue to sin. His ministry is to sanctify. Persistent sin in a believer would be at odds with that progress, so if a person does not allow conscience to prick their heart and repent, eventually the Spirit will make Himself known more strongly- either through a bigger conscience prick, or sending someone to confront you, or raise certain Bible verses to you, or even a mishap in life to knock sense into us.
In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation—having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of the promise, (Ephesians 1:13)
Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. (Ephesians 4:30).
Sinning grieves Him, so He does something about it. He will discipline us,
For the moment, all discipline seems not to be pleasant, but painful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterward it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness. (Hebrews 12:11).
You will know you’re saved if:
–You care about sinning against a holy God,
–You wait too long to repent and you’re disciplined,
–You see a bountiful harvest of righteousness afterward.
Most Christians do go through periods of wondering, but don’t let the wondering go on too long because that is a sin in itself. I heard someone call it “spiritual navel gazing” and it’s a sin because it puts your mind on yourself rather than looking to Christ. Wallowing in self-doubt, self-pity, self-absorption are sins because…”self”.
It’s similar to an athlete, as Paul used to compare us at times. We run the race. But if a doubting person decides to put himself on the sidelines, out of the race and sits on the bench, wondering endlessly “Am I running well? Is this the course? Am I even in the right race? Maybe I’m not even IN the race…?” and the coach is yelling at you “Get back in! You’re in the race!” but you continue to sit on the bench, wondering anyway, you’re not being useful to God. So the coach sets the bench on fire to get you running again, lol.
The bench is no place for a Christian. Doubting one’s salvation for too long or too often will dilute our effectiveness.
There is another side to the assurance story. Tragically, many people think they are believers but are not. Matthew 7:21-23 tells us that.
“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; LEAVE ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS.’
It happens because well-meaning workers in a Vacation Bible School or Youth Camp did an altar call and a child walked up and was asked “Do you want to go to heaven when you die? Do you want Jesus in your heart?” and the child of course says ‘Yes’. They are told to mimic a prayer and are – tragically – pronounced saved. Or a well-meaning pastor told a person seeking membership in church they were saved, without an interview or watching for fruit. It happens in lots of different ways, but it happens.
Then as the hapless lost person who thinks he is saved but isn’t, begins to strive for Jesus, he notices it’s hard, way harder than it is for others. He notices he doesn’t have the same joy as others do. He notices he hates reading the Bible when others enjoy it. He begins to wonder, “Am I really saved?”
He asks a friend or a pastor or a deacon, and is – tragically – told “Oh that’s just satan lying to you. Of course you’re saved”. But he isn’t. In the case of false converts, it is legitimate to wonder and ask one’s self “Is it real?” If you are one of these people truly wondering and deeply feeling something is ‘off’ with your salvation, there are resources at the bottom for you. If you’re a Christian and a friend comes to you, wondering, don’t dismiss his concerns. It may be his conscience rearing up ready to actually receive Christ at last. The resources at bottom can be shared with him or her.
Now to genuine Christians again. Here is how we can be assured we are saved, if we wonder from time to time.
The Ephesians verses above speak of the Lord sealing us with the Holy Spirit. God puts the Spirit into us at the moment of justification. Of course, it is not a moment that we feel or see. But we notice something is different after a while. From that moment on, from the moment He seals the Spirit in us, we cannot lose our salvation.
Can man undo what God has done? No. Can puny man unseal something God has sealed? No. How do I know this for a fact and not just intuitively because it’s ridiculous to think man can overthrow God’s power? From John we know this.
My sheep listen to My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give them eternal life, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. (John 10:27-29).
No one will come along and snatch a sheep from the Father. We also know this from Revelation. Using the seals metaphor again, we read,
I saw in the right hand of Him who sat on the throne a scroll written inside and on the back, sealed up with seven seals. And I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and to break its seals?” And no one in heaven or on the earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it. Then I began to weep greatly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it. And one of the elders said to me, “Stop weeping; behold, the Lion that is from the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has overcome so as to be able to open the scroll and its seven seals.” (Revelation 5:1-5).
No one in heaven or on earth could break the seal. Only Jesus who has overcome, is worthy and powerful enough to break the seals.
Now we know from scripture that if a person has the Holy Spirit put into them at justification and is saved, he cannot lose his salvation. It is assured the Lord will persevere that person to the end, no matter how few or many days after salvation he lives on the earth. The question becomes then, WILL Jesus cast out a saved person? We know we can’t do anything to cause a loss of salvation. But will HE cast us out? The answer again is no. From scripture:
Everything that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I certainly will not cast out. (John 6:37).
As Derek Thomas concludes his assurance article (linked below) he offers this verse from 2 Corinthians 5:14a…
For the love of Christ controls us…
…and he notes that the word ‘controls’ means to press in on every side, to hem in, to surround. Wallowing in self-doubt of assurance, after a quick healthy scan, (2 Corinthians 13:5, 2 Peter 1:10-11) is benching yourself from the race. Christian, if you are bearing fruit, abiding in Christ, obeying Him, enjoying union with Him, you are saved. His love surrounds you on every side and you rest in His hand. There is no safer, more wonderful place to be. Examine yourselves from time to time, then move on in the race.
Founders – Can a Genuine Christian backslide?
The Cripplegate: When Assurance is Lacking
Ligonier’s Derek Thomas: Evidences of Salvation: 4 ways of knowing