I am writing this post today in hopes of it being helpful to someone out there.
Anyone who knows me well, knows that in the past I greatly struggled with assurance of salvation. I guess I should give a little background first. When I was five, my best friend at the time told me that to become a Christian, I had to ask Jesus into my heart. I even remember where we were standing. It was after school got out and we were right outside the bookstore at Grace Community Church. I had never known a time when I did not know who Jesus is. I was attracted to everything I knew about Him. Why would I not want to be a Christian? Of course I prayed the prayer with her. Was I saved at that time? I don't know for sure. I can't remember what I thought about sin. I knew I was a sinner, I knew that Jesus died for sin on the cross, but I don't remember having an understanding of repentance and turning from that sin.
I'm also not sure when I started doubting whether I was truly saved, but I think it may have been sometime in Junior High. That's when I started having a "quiet time." (Time reading the Bible and praying.) I did this with a very legalistic mindset though. I felt that I needed to spend some time reading the Bible and then I could watch TV the rest of the night. It was mostly a duty to me, although in High School I know I started enjoying reading the Bible. But I remember lying in my bed at night, wondering if I should tell my mom that I was scared to die. "If I tell her", I thought, "she will be so upset to find out that I may not be a Christian." I'm sure I said "the prayer" over and over.
Well, fast forward to September 11, 2001. My family was in Hawaii on vacation. (The only time I've ever been to Hawaii.) It was my senior year of High School. I remember that morning that I spent some time in the Word and I sang a few hymns on the balcony of our hotel looking out at the water. I felt pretty good about everything. Then my dad got a call from his boss at work and he told us to turn on the TV. The first thing I saw was the World Trade Center on fire with the words, "America Attacked." To say it kind of killed our vacation is an understatement. From that moment on I was TERRIFIED. I did not want to get on a plane to go home for fear that terrorists would take over our plane as well! (However unlikely that would have been.) I was extremely afraid to die. So what did that have to say about my salvation?
For years after that I struggled. I started doubting everything, including whether or not God existed. I desperately wanted to believe that He did, but I just wasn't sure. How could I be saved if I was doubting even God's existence? Sometimes I couldn't eat. I thought that if God determined from the beginning of time who would be saved, and He had decided not to save me, then what was the point in living? Except I was terrified to die so suicide was definitely not an option. I felt scared and trapped and deeply depressed. Things only started turning around when I poured out my heart to God and spent time reading His Word.
Can I say that I think every person raised in the church needs to deal with these questions at some point? It's not enough to say that if we have Christian parents we are Christian's. No one is born a believer, we are all born sinners, hating God and loving our own sin.
I remember later on that year, my High School Bible study leader asked to hear my testimony and at the end he said, you didn't mention anything about your sin. This sent me into waves of terror again, but it was a good question. I knew I was a sinner but did I really understand that it was so awful that I was deserving hell because of it?
In college I really wrestled with this concept of sin and a new worry was forming. Was I sorry enough for my sin? I rarely cried over my sin. Did I hate it enough? Did I really repent if I wasn't constantly in tears over it?
I found this quote sometime in college and it's been in a notebook of mine ever since. I read it in Saved Without a Doubt by John MacArthur. The main quote is from Ironside. I don't know his first name, I just have Ironside written down. :) It goes like this:
"Test yourself in this way. You once lived in sin and loved it. Do you now desire deliverance from it? You were once self-confident and trusting in your own fancied goodness. Do you now judge yourself as a sinner before God? You once sought to hide from God and rebelled against His authority. Do you now look up to Him, desiring to know Him, and to yield yourself to Him? IF you can honestly say "yes" to these questions, you have repented...and remember, it is not the amount of repentance that counts; it is the fact that you turn from self to God that puts you in the place where His grace avails through Jesus Christ. Strictly speaking, not one of us have ever repented enough. None of us has realized the enormity of our guilt as God sees it. But when we judge ourselves and trust the Savior whom He has provided we are saved through His merits. As recipients of His lovingkindness, repentance will be deepened and will continue day by day, as we learn more and more of His infinite worth and our own unworthiness."
And John added to that, "Do you see the impulses of the new nature in your life? If so, that's indicative of salvation. If God's will has become your highest joy, and submission to His lordship your greatest delight, you are indeed a child of God - no matter how strong the pull of sin."
A few years later I was still struggling when I was at the Resolved conference. One night we sang "Rock of Ages" and it became one of my favorite hymns.
Here are a couple of verses:
Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in Thee;
Let the water and the blood,
From Thy riven side which flowed,
Be of sin the double cure,
Cleanse me from its guilt and power.
Not the labors of my hands
Can fulfill Thy law's demands;
Could my zeal no respite know,
Could my tears forever flow,
All for sin could not atone;
Thou must save, and Thou alone.
John MacArthur has another saying that I have always loved, "It's not perfection, but direction."
These things were all helpful but I think the thing that really helped settle me was dwelling on God's love for me and what Jesus did on the cross. I finally realized that good works did not come from trying really hard. Good works can NEVER save you. That's super comforting because we can never do enough good works. God saved me by His grace alone. He gave me faith in Him. And because of that faith and that joy that comes from that knowledge, I am a new person. I want to obey! It's from the heart! It's not perfect. Go read Romans 7. But that new heart is there!
A recent joy has been studying 1 John at Every Woman's Grace. This book, like no other, has deepened my assurance. That's why it was written! (1 John 5:13 - "I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life.") A true believer believes that Jesus is the Son of God, they obey Him and they love others. It's as simple as that. Is that obedience and love perfect right now? No, but it's there and growing and one day will be made perfect when we see Christ face to face!
I love what Andrew Gutierrez (the previous High School pastor at GCC) would often say:
Something like, "When we are saved the rest of our life we live in obedience as a big 'thank you' back to God."
I'll end with "Blessed Assurance"
Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine!
O what a foretaste of glory divine!
Heir of salvation, purchase of God,
born of His Spirit, washed in His blood.
This is my story, this is my song,
praising my Savior all the day long;
this is my story, this is my song,
praising my Savior all the day long.
Perfect submission, perfect delight,
visions of rapture now burst on my sight;
angels descending bring from above
echoes of mercy, whispers of love.
Perfect submission, all is at rest;
I in my Savior am happy and blest,
watching and waiting, looking above
filled with His goodness, lost in His love.
If you're reading this and you don't truly know God or you are doubting whether or not you do, please please please talk to someone who does know Him!
One last thing. (Okay I guess I didn't really end up there.) I am so thankful for the body of Christ, the church. God gives us fellow believers to comfort, strengthen, lovingly rebuke and encourage. There are SO MANY people over the years that really helped me with all this and I feel like I have to mention them!
My High School small group leader, Holly. I must have driven her crazy with my constant questions and concerns, but she was so patient and loving. Christen, one of my best friends growing up. My college roomie and High School friend, Melissa. My college Bible study leader and his wife, Clint and Kim. They had me over one night to their place and gave me many verses and helped me think through things and they talked with me other times too. Heather. She talked with me at a college retreat once and wrote me a super long email that I still have to this day somewhere. Beth, one of my Junior High teachers and later I had her in college too! She talked with me in her office one day. Glenna, Nicole and Mariejtie. All three of them discipled me in and after college. My pastors and the many helpful sermons they preached, John MacArthur and Rick Holland. And most of all my parents and sister. They put up with everything for years! And they were so patient and loving and helpful all the way through. There are so many others. God used each of you in my life and I am so thankful.