During a women’s Bible study session, Sally shared about the flood of doubts she’d been experiencing concerning her salvation. She testified to accepting the Lord at an earlier time in her life, but now she wasn’t so sure. “But do I really believe?” she said to the group. “Am I really in? Sometimes, I just get so scared.”
One woman in the group could not relate to this at all. Another woman nodded her head. “Yes, I’ve experienced that, too.” Though you’d never know it by her communication with her Father. She always takes us so beautifully to the throne of grace through her prayers.
I was one of those who could relate to Sally, even though I’d acknowledged my sin and its penalty (Romans 3:23; 6:23); believed that Jesus died and rose again for me (Romans 5:8); and received Him as my personal Savior (Romans 10:9, 10, 13).
Satan knows exactly how to use our particular and peculiar weaknesses against us, fueling our flesh and turning up the volume on the world’s messages. He’s a master of manipulation and lies.
But the God who dwells within us is greater than the world, the flesh, and the devil (1 John 4:4). He has helped me in the area of spiritual doubt in so many ways over the years. Perhaps the following can help you, too, if you struggle or have ever struggled in this area of your Christian life.
Understand what the gospel is. According to 1 Corinthians 15:1-4, the gospel is the death, the burial, and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Godhead (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, each playing His part) provides for and secures our salvation. Because of God’s mercy and grace, the Holy Spirit invites us to receive His gift of salvation (John 16:8). We bring nothing (no good works), just ourselves, kneeling in humility at the foot of the cross. Our redemption is based on God’s work alone (Ephesians 2:1-9). We simply receive what He’s provided as our own (John 1:12).
We acknowledge the following to God in our own words as an expression of our heart’s desire.
I am a sinner and deserve hell (Romans 3:23; Romans 6:23).
Christ died on the cross to pay for my sin, shedding His blood to provide forgiveness (Romans 5:8-9; Hebrews 9:22).
Christ rose from the grave to secure my eternal life (Romans 10:9).
I choose to believe in my heart that He died, was buried, and rose again for me and confess Christ as my Savior and Lord (Romans 10:9-10, 13).
Belief takes place in the heart; confession takes place with the lips.
Once we have believed the gospel and received Christ as our Savior and Lord, we are forgiven and sealed by the Holy Spirit for all eternity. He lives within us! God’s wrath towards us has been satisfied in Christ. When He looks at us, He sees the righteousness of Christ. Nothing we do or don’t do can ever change that! We are part of God’s forever family (Ephesians, chapter 1). We don’t receive Christ by faith and then try to keep ourselves by works. The good we do, we do out of love for Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:14-15; Colossians 2:6-7).
Other helps when dealing with the issue of doubting salvation . . .
Focus on Jesus, not on faith. When I try to look within and determine if I have enough faith, it’s a dead-end street. I only end up more frustrated. When I look to Jesus and what He did on the cross, faith follows, without my realizing it.
A.W. Tozer addresses this in his book, The Pursuit of God. He writes, “Faith is the gaze of a soul upon a saving God . . . . believing is directing the heart’s attention to Jesus. It is lifting the mind to ‘behold the Lamb of God,’ and never ceasing that beholding for the rest of our lives. At first this may be difficult, but it becomes easier as we look steadily at His wondrous Person, quietly and without strain . . . . (it begins) with one great volitional act which establishes the heart’s intention to gaze forever upon Jesus. God takes this intention for our choice and makes what allowances He must for the thousand distractions which beset us in this evil world. He knows that we have set the direction of our hearts toward Jesus, and we can know it too, and comfort ourselves with the knowledge that a habit of soul is forming which will become after a while a sort of spiritual reflex requiring no more conscious effort on our part . . . faith is occupied with the Object upon which it rests and pays no attention to itself at all. While we are looking at God we do not see ourselves—blessed riddance” (pp.82-84).
Thus, faith is simply the gaze of the heart at God.
Distinguish between Satan’s accusations and the Holy Spirit’s conviction. The enemy of our souls wants to tear us away from God. He tells us what we are not. He raises questions in our minds: Are you sure you’re really saved? But you don’t really have enough faith. You didn’t pray that prayer good enough. You’re not good enough. God doesn’t really love you; look at all you’ve done wrong. Forget it, you’re hopeless. Satan focuses on the negative. He’s bent on destroying you. His words will sound plausible. Don’t stick around and argue with him. You will not win. Give his accusations immediately to Jesus. “Yes, I’m not good enough; yes, I deserve hell, but Jesus paid for my sin and forgives me. He is my eternal life. Take it up with Him!”
The Holy Spirit draws us to God. Through His convicting, reproving work, He points out a specific step we can take in obedience to God’s Word. He directs us to the Savior, focusing on the positive. He pulls us out of ourselves into Christ, if you will. He doesn’t beat us over the head with our sin; in love He shows us our sin and the consequences, but then quickly guides us to the remedy.
Give Jesus the faith you do have. A wise counselor once stopped me in my “boo-who” tracks and said, “Okay, you’re concerned you don’t have enough faith; give Him the faith you do have.” Oh, okay, I can do that, I thought. Just like the man in Mark 9:20-24 who brought his son to Jesus for healing, we can say, “I do believe; help me in my unbelief.”
Get up each morning and reaffirm the faith you do have. Ask yourself: What do I believe? And how can I act on that belief today? I often stand in front of the mirror, breathe deeply, and verbally say, “Jesus is my Savior and Lord. He is my peace. I am chosen; I am adopted by God; I am forgiven; I am lavished upon by the riches of God’s grace; I am sealed by the Holy Spirit.” You can make your own list of statements to rehearse each day, multiple times if needed.
Refuse to hide in your doubts. Let’s face it, doubt can sometimes be an attempt to run away from the realities of everyday life. Doubts become like old friends we turn to when we don’t want to face difficulties. We nurse them; indulge them. Don’t. Instead, turn quickly to the Father. Talk to Him about what’s going on in your life. Be honest with Him. He knows all about it anyway. Ask the Holy Spirit to help you, show you the root of your doubt, and graciously change you to become more like Christ. This will take courage, but what blessing will follow if you stand your ground and refuse to let doubt take over your life.
Cling to the Word of God. This powerful sword of the Spirit slashes through every one of Satan’s lies, if we will apply it. God has used so many precious Scriptures to help me, too many to include, but below are a few. Collect your own arsenal of passages to draw upon.
Fight the good fight of faith; take hold of the eternal life to which you were called, and you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. 1 Timothy 6:12
But the Lord is faithful, and He will strengthen and protect you from the evil one. 2 Thess. 3:3
Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Faithful is He who calls you, and He also will bring it to pass. 1 Thess. 5:23-24
But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name. John 1:12
All that the Father gives Me shall come to Me; and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out. John 6:37
My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them; and they shall never perish, and no one shall 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. I and the Father are one. John 10:27-30
The book of 1 John and Ephesians, chapters 1 – 3 are also wonderful for providing assurance.
Turn every doubt into a thank you prayer to God. When you receive a gift, you say “thank you.” Thanking God for saving you shows that you have faith, that you have received His gift. Thank Him when you wake up, when you go throughout the day, when you retire at night. You will soon find this a way of life that lifts you out of doubt and fear and spills over into how you view the rest of your life. It can literally change your behavior, too!
Strengthen your will, not your emotions. In Hannah Smith’s classic, The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life, she explains that our emotions are like unruly children who need to be reined in by their mother, the will. Like children, emotions may put up quite a fuss, but you don’t need to follow them. Like mom, your will is in charge. Your will directs your course, and this is what God honors. Over time, your emotions will follow the direction of your will. State plainly in the face of disturbing emotions that Jesus Christ is your Savior and Lord. “I choose to follow Him!”
Share Jesus with someone else. Even when your emotions scream otherwise, hold fast to the truth. Sharing the gospel will affirm its truth in your own life even as you light the way for another. You may feel like a hypocrite, but you are not. You have chosen to believe and receive Christ as your own. God honors your choice. When you obey the Holy Spirit’s prompting to speak to someone about Christ, He gives you the courage to follow through. What joy results in following His lead!
Be aware that some doubts arise out of weakness of personality. This is not to be used as an excuse for allowing doubts to fester and take over, but rather as awareness. Sometimes, doubts can be a symptom of deeper issues. In my case, obsessive-compulsive tendencies rooted in childhood trauma present themselves in all forms of checking. Check the stove, just one more time; check the door lock; check my salvation. Checking shows up in all areas of my life. Since I know this about myself, I can more easily defuse the accusations. Sometimes it helps simply to minimize the thought, recognizing that it’s coming from an obsessive-compulsive tendency, a weakness, that if left unchecked can become a besetting sin in my life (Hebrews 12:1). Again, the remedy is to quickly turn my eyes on Jesus, the author and finisher of my faith (Hebrews 12:2).
Some helpful resources that address root issues in our lives are Healing for Damaged Emotions workbook, Healing of Memories, and Putting Away Childish Things by Dr. David Seamands. Wounds That Heal: Bringing our Hurts to the Cross by Stephen Seamands is also a good resource.
Be aware that some doubts result from a sinful action or lifestyle. This is a case where self-examination can be beneficial. When we commit a sin or persist in sin, we sometimes question our salvation. This self-assessment can be a good thing. If in our soul search, the Spirit identifies a sin, then confess it, receive His forgiveness and move forward. God will not rub your nose in your mistake. He delights in cleansing you and restoring you to fellowship with Him (1 John 1:9). However, the relationship has always been in tack. Nothing, nothing can destroy that! You are part of God’s family, just like you’re part of your earthly family. You can’t NOT become a part of it. You belong, even when you blow it! Run back to the Father, just like the prodigal did. He’s waiting with open arms for your return (Luke 15).
Sometimes doubts follow a mountaintop experience or a period of intense spiritual growth. Often Satan is waiting to pounce after a spiritual high (a meaningful conference where you’ve made a life-changing decision; a victory over a certain area; a witness to someone; or more active involvement in exercising your spiritual gift, for example). You wonder what’s going on! I was so on top of things spiritually. And then, crash, boom! You’re in the depths of despair, having succumbed to Satan’s evil suggestions: Come on, you didn’t really mean that decision; you may have victory today, but it won’t last. Etc. etc. etc. On it goes . . .Don’t listen! Turn the intrusive thoughts over to Jesus at once. He is your advocate with the Father (1 John 2:1).
Sometimes doubts stem from a lack of direction or purpose. Most have floundered at some point in their lives. All have experienced times of grief, loss, transition, and change. During these seasons, we can be susceptible to doubt. Ask the Lord to help you know what step to take. Spend extra time talking with Him, reading His Word, and gathering with other faithful believers. Watch for where He may be leading you or how He may want you to use your interests, talents, time, and spiritual gifts to build His Kingdom. Have courage to teach that class, witness to that neighbor, lead that small group, or work on that character quality that needs tending in your life.
Restructure your view of the heavenly Father. So much of our concept of God the Father is rooted in our childhood experiences with our parents. Even good parents parent imperfectly. As a result, we may picture God as a bully, a Santa Clause, or a distant being who really doesn’t care much about us. As the youngest in my family of much older siblings, I always felt as though I was on the outside looking in. The little child lost in grief over a brother who died all too soon by human standards. A little child who didn’t know how to deal with that grief and whose parents were baffled, too. No one wanted me to feel what I felt. Loving parents want their child to be happy and content. But I lived with a dark cloud over me that I couldn’t quite shake. Even when I came to Christ at age eight, the problems did not disappear. It’s taken a lifetime of godly counsel from others, Christian books and tapes, the body of Christ, the Word of God, and my own interactions with the Lord to help me sort through the pieces of my particular healing journey to press deeper into the love of the Father as demonstrated through Christ.
But oh, how worth the effort! To catch a glimpse of His great love keeps us on the path of pursuit. Knowing Him and being known by Him! So many Scriptures speak to His love. I John 4:18 tells us that love is the antidote for fear. Focus on the Father’s love, and He will dispel all fear.
If we doubt His goodness, we need only look at the Cross, Joni Erickson Tada, quadriplegic, once said. Isaiah, chapter 53 is a powerful testimony to this fact. Jesus Christ was wounded so that we might be healed—in every way!
Read Psalm103 for a rich glimpse of all the LORD has done for us! Savor it; take your time. Pray it back to the LORD. He has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor rewarded us according to our iniquities. For high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His lovingkindness toward those who fear Him. As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us. Just as a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear Him (verses 10-13).
Another resource I’ve found beneficial that addresses this area is Into Abba’s Arms by Dr. Sandra Wilson.
My prayer for you, dear reader, is that you will look to the One who has done everything in His power to love you, rescue you, and restore you. He died for all your sin, all your weaknesses, including fear and doubt. Continue to press deeper into the grace and knowledge of your Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Dive deeply into the great ocean of the Father’s love for you (Ephesians 3:16-21). You have all of eternity to know and enjoy God. And that eternity begins when you repent of your sin, turn to God, and receive Jesus as your Savior and Lord. You simply say, “Yes, the best I know how, I receive your gift of salvation. Thank You! I choose to live for You.”
So, keep your eyes on Him, the One who drew you to Himself in the first place and continues to work in you for His good pleasure (Philippians 1:6).
A resource that can help provide assurance and spiritual strength . . .
Breathe Deeply God's Grace devotional