I get the question from Christians a lot: “How can I know for sure that I’m saved?” So often, in fact, that I wrote a book addressing it: Stop Asking Jesus Into Your Heart: How to Know for Sure You Are Saved. I wrestled with the question a lot, and I was shocked to learn how common my struggle was.
Many Christians experience their spiritual lives as a roller coaster of emotion. Some days they feel like they really understand the gospel, but other days it doesn’t sit right with them—either because of sin in their lives, or unanswered questions, or the fear that “I don’t really know Christ” … or even because of a bad night’s rest! These believers don’t usually doubt Jesus, but they wonder if something is missing. Shouldn’t things be different? More pointedly, shouldn’t they be different?
One of the most important things to do when struggling with assurance of salvation is to surround yourself with other believers. Get in a small group (or something similar) and air your struggles. You can read book after book, but there is absolutely no substitute for sharing concerns with someone who knows you. As we often say at the Summit, “Discipleship happens in relationship.” Your Christian friends can help make the truth of the gospel personal and relevant, helping you discern the difference between a legitimate red flag and a false alarm.
Within our communities, I’ve found two truths that help reinforce the experience of assurance. These aren’t comprehensive, but if we keep these two truths in front of us, then we really can rest in what God has done to save us:
1. Don’t feel your way into your beliefs; believe your way into your feelings.
In those moments when we aren’t feeling like true Christians, it can be easy to despair. Why am I still struggling with this sin? Why does God feel so distant? What do I do with all of these doubts? If we trust our feelings as our guide, we will head for disaster. Assurance that rests on feeling might burn brightly for a while, but it can never last. Our feelings are far too fickle for that.
Feelings do not drive our faith. The fact of Jesus’ death and resurrection drives our faith. That means that feelings are the fruit of faith, not the source of it. So when your feelings waver, retreat to the stronghold of faith. Don’t feel your way into your beliefs; believe your way into your feelings.
Are you wavering in your faith? Are you unsure of your salvation? Keep believing the gospel. Keep your hand on the head of the Lord Jesus Christ. No matter how you feel at any given moment, how encouraged or discouraged you feel about your spiritual progress, how hot or cold your love for Jesus, the answer is always the same—exercise faith in the gospel.
On your very best of days, you must rest all your hopes on God’s grace to you in Christ. On your worst of days, it should be your refuge and your boast. Your posture should always be one of dependence on it.
Feelings come from assurance; they are not the basis for it. Assurance is based on the fact of Christ’s finished work; our “feelings” of being saved come from faith in that finished work.
2. Remember: Your present posture is better proof than a past memory.
Here is how many Christians think of “getting saved:” You realize you’re a sinner and you need Jesus to save you. So you approach him and ask. He says, “Yes,” writes your name in the Lamb’s Book of Life, and gives you a “certificate” of salvation. If you begin to doubt whether or not you are really “saved,” you go back and replay the moment of your conversion.
There are a couple problems with this. First, many people have a hard time remembering this moment, especially if they were young children. Second—and more importantly—that memory just can’t hold up to the actual experience of the Christian life. How can you be convinced you were sorry enough for your sin? Did your life change enough after that point? Did you really understand the gospel way back then? If we rely on a past memory, we’re setting ourselves up for re-dedication after re-dedication. (And I would know: I’ve got four baptisms to prove it.)
Rather than thinking of salvation like a certificate, imagine it more like sitting in a chair. When you first got saved, confessing Jesus as your Lord and Savior, you “sat down” in the chair. Later on, when you begin to doubt, you don’t need to recall the memory of sitting down. You need to just look down and see that you are currently sitting. Your present posture is better proof than a past memory.
Where are you resting the “weight” of your life? Belief is resting your weight on Christ’s finished work, and that is something you never stop doing. The way you know you are doing it now is not by remembering when you first started doing it, but by reflecting on the present posture of your heart. So the question is not, “Can I remember praying a prayer?” or “Was my conversion experience really emotional?” The important question is, “Are you currently resting on Jesus as the payment for your sin?”
And when you do start to go back toward your sin—which we all do!—remember just how gracious and forgiving God actually is. The great men and women of faith in Scripture were not those who never sinned. (King David, for instance, slept with another man’s wife and then had him killed to cover it up. Not a good track record.) But the Bible calls these people believers because despite their repeated failures, they continued to repent and believe the gospel. As Proverbs says, “The righteous falls seven times and rises again; but the wicked stumble in times of calamity” (Proverbs 24:16).
Those who follow God aren’t immune from sin. But they continue to get up and trust in God’s grace again. As one person who met Jesus cried out, “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24). Are you wavering today? Do you feel your faith wearing thin? Are you unsure whether you’re even a Christian? Call out to Jesus, who hasn’t changed. Place your weight on him and say, “I believe; help my unbelief!”