During my teen years, I had almost no assurance of salvation. However, over time the Lord began to change my heart. I couldn’t point to the exact day and moment that I felt confidence in my salvation. I don’t have an incredible conversion story like I heard and read about from others. I just knew I believed in Jesus as my Lord and Savior.
Yet I had no idea if that was enough to be truly saved. I felt like I needed to do more, and hated whatever sin I saw within myself, believing it was evidence that I couldn’t possibly be saved. I’d spend every night kneeled in agonizing prayer beside my bed—sometimes for hours—confessing and repenting of every sin I could remember. I’d rack my brain trying to remember anything I’d done wrong, or any good I’d failed to do. And while prayer brought some relief, it wouldn’t be long until the doubts and fears arose again. Was I saved? Was there any way to know for sure? Would that knowledge even comfort me?
Assurance in the life of the Christian is the knowledge that our salvation in Christ is certain and true. This leads to joy, courage, and boldness to daily live for Jesus, continually comforted by the fact that he’s with us, moment to moment. The one who lacks assurance is liable to spend much of their time anxious, riddled with fear, confusion, and doubt.
The famous Reformer Martin Luther struggled with this anxiety for a time himself. He would spend hours upon hours confessing every sin he could remember. After hours of repentance and confession, he would feel some semblance of peace. But inevitably, he would forget one sin or quickly go commit another, and suddenly the peaceful respite would turn once more to a raging tempest in his soul.
Maybe you can relate to Luther. It’s a scary thing to question your salvation. But it is possible to have assurance. Here’s how:
1. We must remember that we’re saved through the finished work of Jesus Christ and not through our own works.
Part of Luther’s struggle was that he couldn’t recognize that his own good works—or lack thereof—could never contribute to his salvation. Deep down, he thought that by doing much good and repenting enough, he could earn his way into heaven. Many people still believe this today. But Luther’s entire life changed when he came to understand Romans 1:17b: “The righteous shall live by faith.” The heavy burden was lifted from his shoulders. He came to recognize that the sinner is justified (declared righteous before God) by faith in Jesus Christ alone.
Since Jesus fulfilled the law of God perfectly during his life, he could rightfully proclaim from the cross, “It is finished!” (John 19:30). Having fulfilled the law on behalf of sinners, he then exhausted the wrath of God against us sinners upon the cross. Every droplet of God’s wrath was handed to Jesus in a goblet, and he drank it fully on our behalf. His resurrection is the proof that the Father was satisfied with the work of the Son. Now all who repent of sin and trust Jesus by faith have their debts satisfied before God so that they can experience his love.
2. We must remember that, because we’re saved by faith alone, it’s the object of our faith that saves, not the intensity or extent of our faith.
One of the questions I often receive is, “How do I know my faith is strong enough?” The problem with the question is that it takes our eyes off Jesus (where they should be) and fixes them firmly upon ourselves (where they should not be). Our faith isn’t strong enough to save, which is why it’s the object of our faith—Jesus—and not the amount of our faith that saves us.
As Ephesians 2:8-9 promises, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Notice that we’re saved primarily by God. Salvation is his gift and is never a result of works. But there’s another aspect to this that we can’t gloss over: We’re saved by God’s grace through faith, and neither is our own doing. The faith that has Jesus as its object is a gift from God. Faith can’t originate within the creature. People are completely unable to trust in Jesus on their own, apart from God’s grace (Rom. 3:10-12). Even the faith that trusts in Jesus is the Lord’s gift to the saint!
3. We must remember that the Christian life is one of daily repentance and pursuing holiness.
It’s true that Christians should be broken-hearted by their sin. If you’re troubled by your sin and want to be holy as Christ is holy, there’s good evidence you have in fact been saved. Those feelings come from the Holy Spirit.
The apostle John explains that, though Christians continue to struggle against sin, there’s forgiveness through Christ when we repent (see 1 John 1:7-9). He sets our eyes upon Jesus and shows how we can know that we’re saved in him: “And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments” (1 John 2:3). This obedience to Jesus consists of loving God, loving his people, being filled by the Holy Spirit, and abiding in him and his word (1 John 2:5-11). These things aren’t the basis of our salvation, nor do they keep us saved; rather, it’s the strong hand of Jesus that keeps us secure (John 10:28-30). But obedience to the commandments of God is the necessary fruit that those who have been planted and rooted in Christ—the true vine—will bear (John 15:1-4).
4. We must remember that God can grant assurance through prayer and the Word.
This may seem simple, and it is. Prayer and the Word are ordinary means through which God works extraordinary grace. If you lack assurance, pray to the Lord. If you doubt your salvation, read your Bible. And remember, “By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him; for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything” (1 John 3:19-20).
When you have this assurance of salvation through Christ, you are freed from worry, fear, and anxiety. When doubts spring up, you can simply return to these truths once more. Ultimately, assurance will enable us to love God more faithfully (rather than continually doubting his love for us), fulfill his commandments with joyful hearts rather than fearful hearts, and live in the comfort of a Savior whose love for us is secure.