Doubt and the ever-debilitating “what-if” have ways of sneaking up on us, even in the sweetest moments of our lives and walks with the Lord. The most debilitating form of doubt a Christian could possibly face is likely doubting one’s own salvation. Those nagging, gnawing questions: “Does God really love me?”; “Am I really saved?”; “Am I truly forgiven?”; “Is my faith actually strong enough?” The overwhelming anxiety that captivates us, the fear that ensnares us, and the depression that lays us out soon follow. And the worst part is that we feel certain that no one else at our church or in our small group would understand.
I am no stranger to feelings of doubt, worry, and the host of “what-ifs” that can plague any believer and put them in a state of uncertainty regarding their salvation or the validity of their faith. If I’m honest, I feel like to some extent, I’ve been doubting as long as I’ve been believing. The most genuine prayer in my book is, “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24). This can often be the state of affairs for the genuine believer, trusting that Jesus’ shed blood and free forgiveness is for them. Yet they are lacking in that joyous “Blessed Assurance” because they are prone to worry—“was it really for me?”
Through the years, I’ve come to know myself well enough to realize that the first step in overcoming doubt is a little bit of personal diagnosis, asking the question with the Psalmist (and hopefully with a trusted friend or pastor),“Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me?” (Psalm 42:5,11). The more I’ve asked this question, the more I’ve come to realize there are three feelings that lead me to doubt my salvation.
1. Doubt feels natural.
Doubt can easily feel natural because not only our souls but our bodies are affected by the fall of humanity into sin and therefore liable to suffering. Doubt can, therefore, be the result of depression, anxiety, or other forms of mental health issues. Personally, anxiety has a history in my family; it is not the source of all of my doubt, but it certainly compounds it. Doubt can feel natural because worrying might be our natural disposition. If this describes you, then doubt and worry are almost impossible to parse. Whether it is a problem in our faith or a problem in our mental and emotional functions makes little difference practically. The first step in dealing with this feeling of doubt is to allow yourself the freedom to ask for help.
God does not desire for you to go through this alone. This can mean seeing your doctor or mental health specialist about treatment options. It can mean asking a friend to join you on walks in the evening or to be your workout buddy at the gym. It can mean drinking herbal (caffeine-free) tea with your spouse or roommate on the back porch after dinner. This might all sound a bit too “not spiritual enough” for some, but these moments are not only helpful for the physical side of our doubt, they are the moments and conversations in which we “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2).
2. Doubt feels right.
Another reason for our doubt, especially doubting our salvation, is it feels right. That is, it feels like the right thing to do. We easily reason that because conditions in this world are the instrument of choice to ensure right behavior, God must operate his kingdom in the same manner. Conditional thinking keeps me from speeding (too much) on the highway, eating too much at the table, or spending too much on Amazon (I am a millennial after all). A healthy dose of fear seems like the perfect ingredient to keep me from going overboard in any of these realms, and, therefore, it makes sense that God must make us holy with a dash of fear and doubt over our state as the beloved. That is our nervous intuition and thankfully it is not true! God’s cure for our sin is not to keep us at arm’s length in a state of uncertainty. Rather it is his unconditional love, grace, and acceptance. “For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace” (Romans 6:14).
3. Doubt feels safe.
Closely related to doubt feeling right, is another feeling that keeps us on the hamster wheel of doubt: it feels safe. It not only feels right, but it also feels like the safe way to ensure our spiritual health. It happens to me like this. I think, “Okay, grace tells me that Jesus is my salvation from start to finish. His blood and righteousness are all I need. His love and grace are sufficient. I can enjoy the freedom he has won, but what if I’m wrong?" Doubt must keep me on the straight and narrow right? Fear is a great motivator, right? Actually, Jesus has come to “deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery” (Hebrews 2:14). Jesus has come to set us free (John 8:36).
Good news for those who doubt their salvation
Anyone who is prone to worry and doubt their salvation knows that the exhortation to “stop worrying” is about as useful as a hole saw in the hull of the Titanic. With this exhortation we become more and more aware of the lack of assurance that we possess. The good news from Hebrews that meets us in our many forms of doubt is simply this: the strength of God’s gospel promises is not dependent on you. He wrote,
So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us. We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul… (Hebrews 6:17–19a)
You see, while I hope you find a little more freedom in understanding why you doubt your salvation, the real freedom is in this: God is the one who guarantees and accomplishes the promises of grace that he makes to us. Your doubt cannot undo his faithfulness. God does not leave it up to us to fix our own doubt. He simply doubles down on his promises of unconditional love, grace, forgiveness, righteousness, and embrace. All of this, he does for you even though you doubt it.