For many years I struggled with my assurance of salvation. Looking back it seems to have been because of various things, some good reasons to have doubt, others not. But some of the reasons that caused me to doubt are as follows.
I didn’t know when I was converted. Where I grew up it seemed that many had the same salvation experience, heavy conviction over sin and fear of Hell, struggling for a time with salvation, coming forward at a church meeting, and receiving peace while up front. I had a similar experience when I was eleven years old at Vacation Bible School, but after looking back on the years after that experience as a young man, it seemed like a big part of my life was lived just like other non-Christians. This led me to doubt whether I was really saved when I was eleven. And if I wasn’t saved when I was eleven, when did I become a Christian? Shouldn’t I know?
I didn’t understand how “calling on the Lord” and “believing in Jesus” related to each other. They seemed to be in opposition. Did I need to “call” on God to save me, begging, and pleading until He did so, or just simply trust Him, trust what He said, and rest in Him?
Had I “searched for God with all my heart”? Passages like Jeremiah 29:13, “You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart” (NASB), disturbed me. Was I supposed to cry out to God all night or longer for God to have mercy on me, or simply trust His promise that He would save me if I believed in Jesus? How did these two truths come together?
At times I was tempted to think that my day of grace was gone, that it was too late for me. Because of past sins at times I thought I had possibly committed the unpardonable sin, committed the sins that the Hebrews warning passages tell of, and it was too late for me. I was tempted to believe I was like Esau.
If salvation was by simply believing in Jesus, where do feelings come in? Shouldn’t I feel something, or have a great experience, or maybe go through many struggles, like others? If it was that I should simply believe in Jesus, shouldn’t I have great emotion as others had when they were saved? Shouldn’t I struggle for weeks, months, or even years before I came to Christ as others had?
I was blessed to have a number of experiences with God, but I would soon begin to doubt their reality. The Lord blessed me with experiences and assurance at times, but I would usually soon go back into doubt, almost forgetting what God had done for me.
Above were some of the causes of my doubts, but God has helped me overcome them. Let me set forth truths that God used to help me that I hope will also help you.
No, I am not able to pinpoint exactly when I believe the change happened in my life, but God never makes that a test of salvation. In fact, many Christians have similar testimonies including John MacArthur, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, and Jonathan Edwards. If God the Holy Spirit can be compared to the wind, going where He wants to (John 3:8), then He can work in people’s lives differently (all saved by grace through faith still). Though it can be comforting to think back to when you believe you were saved, the truth is some people will not know, and that is the way God wants it. You would think me foolish to question if someone is physically alive just because they cannot remember when they were born. They don’t have to know when they were physically born to know if they’re alive, because they have life in them right now! In the same way, you don’t have to know when you were spiritually born, because if you have spiritual life, shown by the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23), you can know you are spiritually alive. The question is not necessarily “Do you remember when you trusted Christ for the first time,” but, “Are you trusting Him right now to save you?”
I found that “believing in Jesus” is a “calling on the Lord.” Even if no words are uttered, if a person simply believes in Jesus in their heart, that is a calling on Him to save them. Romans 10:6-11 makes it clear that we are saved by faith alone in Jesus. Romans 10:12-14, though it speaks about “calling” does not contradict verses 6 through 11. Calling, in a sense, is believing in Jesus. Believing, in a sense, is calling on the name of Jesus. In Romans 10:14, it describes believing as coming before calling. However, this is not saying you must come to saving faith in Jesus and then begin to call on His name. The “believing” spoken of in verse 14 is not a “saving faith” but only a general belief of the truths about Jesus. The “calling” spoken of in verse 14 is more like a “saving belief” in other places in the Bible. For example, the Gospel of John was written so people might have eternal life in Jesus. But nowhere in the Gospel of John is “calling on the name of the Lord” spoken of, but believing in Jesus is repeated many times. If you have trusted your soul to Jesus in childlike faith, you have called on the name of the Lord.
When passages speak about seeking God with all your heart, they aren’t necessarily speaking of fasting and praying for days to be saved. What then is it speaking of when pertaining to salvation by faith? It appears to me that it means you give your entire heart to God. You do not hold back anything, but wholly submit yourself to Him. When you simply trust Jesus to save you, at the same time, you give yourself fully to Him.
The fearful passages in Hebrews and passages that speak of the unpardonable sin frightened me. How could I know that I had not committed these sins? It is understandable to think that if a person wants forgiveness, then they have not sinned in this way. If a person had committed the unpardonable sin they would not truly want the forgiveness of God, nor would they want to truly know Him. But there is more help. 1 John 1:9 says if we confess our sins He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. Attached to this verse is no exception clause, “unless they have committed the unpardonable sin.” No, it says all who confess their sins will be forgiven. Period. Romans 10:11 says, “Whoever believes in Him will not be disappointed” (NASB). Did you see that? It says they will not be disappointed. Period. If you believe that Jesus is the Son of God you will be saved. If you can repent and believe in Jesus, then you have not committed these sins. How do I know? Because the person who repents of their sin and trusts Jesus will be saved. Do you have the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22-23)? Then you have not committed these sins because if you have the fruit of the Holy Spirit then He lives in you. Do you love God? Then you must not have committed these sins because those who love God (the One true God) have the Holy Spirit. If you will turn to God, God will have mercy on you. True repentance is the gift of God (2 Timothy 2:25). If you have true repentance, it has been given to you by God, and God will not deny what He has given to you.
It is true that there have been a number of people who have gone through great trials and anguish of soul before they were saved. At the same time there have been a number of remarkable conversion experiences. Does one have to come to Jesus like this? No. The way to salvation is repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 20:21). If you have experienced these, you are saved, regardless of what you have or haven’t felt or gone through. Feelings are essential to the Christian life, don’t misunderstand me. But different people experience different feelings and at different times. Every conversion experience is not the same. Martyn Lloyd-Jones said:
Your business and mine is not to stir up feelings, it is to believe. We are never told anywhere in Scripture that we are saved by our feelings; we are told that we are saved by believing. “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved.” Never once are feelings put into the primary position. Now this is something we can do. I cannot make myself happy, but I can remind myself of my belief. I can exhort myself to believe, I can address my soul as the Psalmist did in Psalm 42: “Why art thou cast down O my soul, and why art thou disquieted within me? Hope thou”…believe thou, trust thou. That is the way. And then our feelings will look after themselves. Do not worry about them. Talk to yourself, and though the devil will suggest that because you do not feel, you are not a Christian, say: “No, I do not feel anything, but whether I feel or not, I believe the Scriptures. I believe God’s Word is true and I will stay my soul on it, I will believe in it come what may”. Put belief in the first place, hold on to it.
We must be like the royal official in John 4:46-53, who saw no signs from Jesus, but when Jesus told him his son lived, he believed what Jesus said and went on his way (John 4:50). When Jesus speaks, let’s believe what He says, “Whoever believes in Him [Jesus] shall not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16 NASB).
The experiences that God blessed me with that I was prone to doubt, I simply began to believe them again. This may sound simple (and it is) but Jesus frankly told people not to doubt in the Gospels, “Reach here with your finger, and see My hands; and reach here your hand and put it into My side; and do not be unbelieving, but believing” (John 20:27 NASB, emphasis mine). Yes, we shouldn’t believe every spiritual experience that everyone speaks of (including our own) but this shouldn’t make us forever skeptics (I hope in the future to write more about the positive signs of true Christianity that we can judge ourselves by and not just things to avoid, though this can be of great help in the Christian life. We do need to know the false things to stay away from when trying to help with the assurance of salvation, but we also very much need the true things that we can judge ourselves by, too).
Scripture quotations taken from the NASB.
 D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Spiritual Depression (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1965), 116-117.