What I'm Doing

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Assurance and Salvation: My Story

I read a post earlier today by the Internet Monk called Sinning? Saved?, in which he says:
There is no doubt that the trust in outward means in many hyper-evangelistic environments winds up animating those who are, in fact, spiritually dead. Often they are deceived and may be entirely without faith in Christ. They are animated, not with spiritual life, but with one of its many imitations. We must place no trust in aisle walking or sinner’s prayers. Be concerned for one thing only: Does this person trust Jesus Christ as Lord to save, right now? Are they willing to rely, in every way that God asks, upon Christ as all-sufficient and all-satisfying?

Not one of us repents perfectly. None of us are saved by repentance or remain saved by persistence in repentance. Yet, Jesus called upon believers to “repent and believe the Good News.” To repent is to change one’s mind, orientation and “true north” from sin and self to Christ. This change of mind, if it is the work of the Spirit, will be evidenced in a change in life. That change will come from a knowledge of one’s one sinfulness rather than attempts at being righteous, and the works of righteousness will be the work of the Spirit, not the flesh. They may be unobservable, but they are real. They are not faith itself- for we are saved by faith alone- but they are vitally connected to faith. True faith does not ever exist alone, but brings along repentance, confession and evangelical obedience as companions. [emphasis his]
The statement in bold is, I think, the key to the whole question, in addition to the statement, "No one repents perfectly." I also like his definition of repentence, but that can be a topic for another post. For now, I want to focus on the question of assurance. I don't here intend to give any sort of great theological argument on the topic—I'm currently not sure whether I even still hold to "once saved, always saved" or not. Perhaps I can explore the issue in that manner in yet another post.

For now, I want to speak of my personal experience with the idea of assurance.

I grew up in a Southern Baptist church, where the idea of "100% assurance" was often stressed. The call would often go like this: "Are you 100% certain that, were you to die tonight, you'd go to heaven? You say you're 99% sure, but is that 1% a chance you'd be willing to take for eternity?"

Of course, through most of high school, there was no doubt in my mind that I would go to heaven. As I understood it, I was saved. My spiritual life was pretty much nonexistant, and, by my actions, no one would have suspected me of being a Christian, but I was saved, so it didn't matter. At the time that I now consider my conversion, I thought I was just "re-dedicating my life." It was around that time, when I started taking Christianity seriously, that I began to find that Jesus expected obedience from those who claimed to be his disciples.

After that time, I began to follow Christ as best I could. Everyone at school noted a change in my life. As one friend later said to me (as a compliment), "You started to get more religious last summer, but then, in the fall, it's like you just went overboard."

However, some months later, as the initial fire of zealousness began to wane, I found myself in a bit of a bind. I don't know what, exactly, brought this on—though I'm sure the settling down of that initial zealousness was a part of it—but I began to have doubts about my salvation. I would try to push them aside, looking to my conversion as evidence that I was, in fact, "saved," but the doubts persisted until I couldn't ignore them.

I eventually found myself in despair, not knowing what to do. I remember one evening that I stayed up late praying, fearing that I might die in my sleep and enter into eternity only to discover that I had, in fact, been wrong and was lost. Was 1% of doubt a chance worth taking? I was sure it wasn't, but I didn't know what to do about it.

I remembered being taught at church that Satan wouldn't make us doubt our salvation, because that tended to draw us closer to Christ and make us trust Him more. That made sense, I thought. My mom said that she thought it was Satan trying to immobilize me with doubt. That made sense, too. Niether of those ideas, however, were helping me. No matter what I did or thought, I couldn't shake that doubt that my faith wasn't, in fact, real.

I wavered between two courses of action: either I wasn't actually "saved," and I needed to be converted for real, or I was truly "saved," and I just needed to remember that I had nothing to worry about. Niether of these courses were working out. Then, after some days, a new course of action came to mind.

I finally said to myself, "I'm doing no one any good by sitting here in my despair. I don't have an answer to this right now, and there doesn't seem to be anything I can do about that. The only thing I can do is get up, serve Christ as best I can, and trust Him that I will be saved in the end, so that is what I will do."

I wasn't sure whether this was the "theologically correct" thing to do—I certainly don't remember this being presented as an option at church—but it was the only option I had, and I took it. To be honest, I don't think I've ever really settled that question, and my doubts have haunted me with it from time to time, but, instead, I am simply striving to commit myself to Christ each day, and, each day, to trust him to save me, not only from hell in the next life, but from my sins in this life.

I have received help about that question since then. Through Charles Spurgeon's devotional ("Morning and Evening") and sermons, I was reminded that I'm not supposed to focus on my faith, for it is not faith that saves us, but Christ. Often, we find ourselves trusting in our faith rather than trusting in Christ, and then doubts occur when we fear that our faith is insufficient. In Brother Lawrence's book, "The Practice of the Presence of God," I was encouraged by Brother Lawrence's testimony of having a similar experience, being riddled with doubt and fear of hell, and his coming to a similar conclusion that I did: simply entrusting himself to Christ, and serving him now as best he can. In talking with some Eastern Orthodox friends, I have learned that, apparently, they also hold a similar view. I have talked with some within my own tradition who have expressed similar concepts, as well. If I am in error in this, at least I know I have company.

So, this is how I have, for myself, reconciled the idea of "faith alone" and the Scriptural commands to obedience. So long as I am trusting and following Christ as best I can, I trust that He will make up whatever I lack, for "a bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not quench, until he brings justice to victory" (Matthew 12:20, ESV). I make my prayer the same as the father of the demoniac in Mark 9: "Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief!" If and when I stray, which I tend to find myself doing a distressing amount of, I strive to return to Christ as soon as possible, remembering that "the Lord is...longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance" (2 Peter 3:9, KJV).

So, that's where I stand today: a sinner, still learning to repent, still learning to trust in Christ alone for salvation, both in this life, and in the next. I'm not sure that I would recommend this course to everyone, but this is my story. I do hope that, somehow, this will serve as an encouragement to someone out there to keep in the race.


Anonymous said...

you do have company. as i was reading i was thinking of the same things of which you concluded. my faith rests not in the day that i decided to have faith, but in the crucified and resurrected Son of God. i was "saved" when i was 7 yrs old and was baptized shortly after at my old non-denomination church where i grew up. however, i did not really begin to grow and manifest my christianity until around the time i turned 16, the summer before my junior year. i lived my freshman and sophomore year in secret sin and rebellion towards God. i had no desire for God during this time and really didn't like church at all. by the shear mercy of God to hear my cries for help and see my tears of sorrow and shame, he pulled me out of the pit. i remember some of those nights praying, "God if i'm not saved, then save me, and if i am then help me to live like a christian ought to." at times i've wrestled with which night i was "truly saved" because if it was the latter then i need to "get my baptism on the right side of my salvation", but i have shrugged off worrying myself on that issue. i believe there was true repetenance and understanding that day when i was 7, so there's no need to get re-baptized. if someone begs me for a "day and moment" when i got saved, i'll say "when i was 7" just to get them to shut up. but as you and internetmonk, i've come to realize as i said before is that my faith rests in the crucified and risen Christ alone and nothing else. i cling to Him and trust the truthfulness of His promise and the goodness of His mercy to save me. Amen.


Kristen said...

Matt, that is the conclusion I have come to as well, as I'm sure you know. That is one of the things I've always liked about you, you just seem to get it. Thanks for posting this. Very well said.