A few years ago I was attending a camp where the guest speaker was waxing eloquently about his journey of faith. He was humorous and shared compelling stories, then spoke of personal salvation.
This is intentional and I was praying God would use this man's message to be more than a man's message. Believing God's Holy Spirit initiates salvation and draws people to Himself, I was confident that God was working.
Then. . .well, it turned a corner.
Suffice to say, I left this camp thinking this speaker's new title should be "Minister of Doubt." Based on what he said and how he said it, I would guess that eight of ten people in the room questioned their relationship with Christ following the meeting.
Some will argue that doubt is good. Really? It's good to be stalled in your faith journey because you cannot seem to get out of the starting gate?
Doubt is real.
Even Ralph Neighbour, in his best-selling new Christian's Survival Kit would say that often believers will encounter doubt of their salvation. Yet, doubt is not a desire. It often comes in the "working out one's salvation" (Philippians 2:12). In the case of the youth camp, it felt more like a man's working to increase numbers of "decisions" for a newsletter or website in order to secure future engagements.
I guess I shouldn't sugar coat it, huh?
Nevertheless, there are doubts that truly arise in one's journey of faith. As a pastor, I do not want to create doubt, but believe as a shepherd is to feed, lead and protect the flock, under Christ's leadership, I am to help those under my care to know and have assurance of salvation.
In my personal story, I suffered for years of doubt. I had a hard time believing that salvation was truly a free gift. I guess the Puritan work ethic ingrained in me led me to believe I must work for, not work out, my salvation. Then, if there ever was a sinful thought or action (and oh, there was) I questioned how that could be, if I truly were a child of God.
In hindsight, I know, without a doubt, that I surrendered to Christ's call and rescue as a child in Sunday School. I did not have the entire story of the Bible figured out. I did not understand all the nuances of the Gospel and had not yet read a systematic theology book. What I did know was simply this:
- God loves me
- I sin
- God hates sin
- The penalty for sin is death and eternal separation from God
- Jesus is God's Son
- He came to earth, lived a perfect life and died on the cross
- He did so to glorify the Father and to pay the penalty for my sin
- If I believed in my heart that Jesus did this and confessed with my mouth that Jesus was my Lord, I would be saved
I surrendered that day. God initiated the relationship. I accepted the gift.
Yet, doubt came years later.
I have met many others who struggle just as I did. In an attempt to not create doubt, but offer assurance as well as not to over-simplify things, I offer these thoughts as to why you, if this is your story, may be doubting your salvation.
- You question a decision you made as a child to follow Christ.
- You question your decision to surrender to Christ because it was really your parents (or other adults with influence) making the decision for you.
- You may have surrendered to Christ, but never have followed through with believer's baptism. This step of public acknowledgment of new life has not yet happened. (Matthew 10:32-33)
- You have something in your past you are ashamed of and do not want anyone else to know. (Proverbs 28:13)
- You hold unforgiveness or bitterness toward someone else. (Matthew 6:15)
- You have a present sin or habit in your life you are unwilling, or unable, to give up. (Psalm 66:18, Hebrews 12:1)
- God is calling you to serve in a specific way or area, and you continually reject Him.
So, if you doubt you are a Christian, here's a brief review to help bring assurance or clarity:
- Did you pray and surrender to God?
- Did you confess your sins to God and seek His forgiveness?
- Did you trust Jesus and His death on the cross as payment for your sins?
- Do you have a new way of thinking about sin now?
- Did you make your decision to follow Jesus known? Did you tell others?
- Did you follow through with believer's baptism, the symbol of new life, after your surrender?
- Did your life change? (I didn't say, did life get easier. It may not get easier, but there will be a change.)
Regardless of your past, you can know you are a child of God and put away all doubts forever. Many people have struggled with this issue over the years, so you are not alone. God offers us tremendous grace when we enter a right relationship with Him.
If you have surrendered to Christ, you can have confidence that you are still in relationship with God today.
However, and this is a reality, if you have not surrendered, the clarity that comes is that you do not know Him. You can today! Don't delay.
Remember, no one can say "I've been a Christian all my life." It doesn't work that way. There must be a moment of new birth.