One of the questions that often plagues people is, “Can I really be sure about my salvation?” Most people who are serious about their faith have confronted this question at some point in their journey. Sometimes they have struggled with it more than once. Is it possible for us to really be sure that our faith in Christ is genuine? The Gospel of John says definitively yes! Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. John 20:30-31 (NIV)
Struggling with our faith is not a negative thing. It can be a very positive part of the refining and maturing of our faith. Throughout my life I have had times of significant spiritual doubt and struggle. As I worked through those times God refined my faith and made it stronger. Here are a couple of things I have learned along the way.
Trust God and take Him at His word. The beginning place of faith is trusting in the character of God. God has revealed his character to us through the Bible. It teaches us that God is faithful, compassionate, just, merciful and trustworthy. By nature God cannot lie or He would cease to be God. The Apostle Paul begins his letter to Titus with an affirmation of the trustworthiness of God. Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ for the faith of God's elect and the knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness-- a faith and knowledge resting on the hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time, Titus 1:1-2 (NIV) If indeed God does not lie, then we can trust what He tells us about our salvation.
In the book of Romans Paul tells us that if we put our faith in Christ we are saved. That if you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. As the Scripture says, "Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame." For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile--the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved." Romans 10:9-13 (NIV) He reminds us in Ephesians 2:8-9 that our salvation is not something we have to earn or be good enough to deserve. Our salvation is a free gift from God, which we receive freely by faith. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God-- not by works, so that no one can boast. Ephesians 2:8-9 (NIV)
Don’t confuse doubt with unbelief. Everyone has doubts from time to time. We doubt our ability to accomplish certain tasks. We doubt our ability to love another person fully. And we doubt our faith. People get nervous when they begin to doubt because they think that doubt is the same of unbelief. We read James’ admonition to pray and not doubt and we think that our doubts mean we don’t have faith. James is referring to the kind of doubt that calls into question God’s character; God’s ability and/or willingness to act on our part. True faith believes that God can and will act even when we struggle with the circumstances of life. And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him. Hebrews 11:6 (NIV)
The difference between normal doubt and unbelief is the direction that it sends a person. Normal doubt leads to exploration and examination of our faith. It often causes us to rethink our understanding of God and how He works in the world. God uses doubt to refine our faith. Unbelief is a rejection of God and His truth. It is saying that I refuse to accept who God is or His claim on my life. Unbelief pushes us away from God and makes us calloused to spiritual things. If you are struggling with doubts and truly desire to know the truth about God you are headed in the right direction.
John tells us that we don’t have to live in doubt about our relationship with God through Christ. When we put our faith in Jesus Christ we are secure in Him. We have passed from death to life. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life. I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life. 1 John 5:12-13 (NIV)
Keep moving in the right direction. The greatest assurance that we can have of our faith is to see the transforming work of Christ in us. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! 2 Corinthians 5:17 (NIV) When we put our faith in Jesus Christ we embark on a life-long journey of spiritual transformation. We begin to see our world through new eyes; eyes that see from God’s perspective. This is a process that continues throughout our lives. Often what causes us to begin to doubt our faith is our inability to see the progress we have made. At those times we need to stop and review where we have come from and where we are headed.
Several years ago our family drove to California. As we approached the Rocky Mountains they looked right in from of us. “We will be there any minute,” we thought. But we continued to drive and the mountains didn’t seem any closer. We felt like we were making no progress at all. We made a stop and when we got out of the car we made an impressive discovery. We had indeed made progress. As we looked back the way we had come we could see the land dropping off back down to the plains below. Although it didn’t feel like it we had been climbing all along.
On our spiritual journey the summit of life in Christ looms large in front of us. We begin the journey with great enthusiasm feeling like we will soon attain the heights. What we discover is that we are going up and down through the spiritual foothills. We get discouraged because we feel that we have made no real progress. But if we will take the time to stop and reflect we will see that we are indeed farther along than we thought.
The struggles and challenges of life can cast a shadow of doubt over our life. The demands of life can cloud our vision and confuse our thinking. At those times it is good to go back to the basics. What do you know that is true? Examine the scriptures and see what God has to say to you there. Don’t take other people’s word for it; check it out for yourself. You may not have all the answers but you will discover a solid foundation. The old hymn said it well. “I don’t know about tomorrow. I can’t seem to understand. But I know who holds tomorrow and I know who holds my hand.”