Grace, properly understood, should leave us feeling assured of our salvation. However, it is common for people to doubt their salvation at some point after becoming a Christian. There are several reasons for this. One reason might be that as we learn, we realize how good God is and how bad we humans are. Being more aware of our sins may lead us to question how God could love someone as “bad as I am”. We feel there are sins we can’t overcome, we have thoughts we shouldn’t have, we keep failing, etc. We feel we are a failure as a disciple and therefore God will reject us.
Frequently bad theology is to blame. Some Christian teachers/preachers erroneously teach that each time we sin after becoming a Christian we have lost our salvation until we repent and pray to God asking forgiveness. A variation on this teaching is that we don’t lose our salvation every time we sin, but we lose our salvation when we “backslide”. The term “backslide” means to relapse into patterns of sinful behavior. Fortunately, the Bible does NOT teach these ideas of “intermittent salvation”. If the doctrine of “once saved always saved” is incorrect (and it is), then the opposite extreme of “if saved barely saved” is just as unscriptural.
The bible is quite clear that Christians can and should have assurance of their salvation.
How can we be sure?
Let’s look at three passages that should give us confidence.
(5)…make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, (6) and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, (7) and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. (8) For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. (9) For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. (10) Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. 2Pe 1:5-10 ESV
Reflect back to what you were before you became a Christian. Have you changed for the better since then? Are you slowly but surely becoming more and more like Jesus? If so, what would Peter say about the certainty of your salvation? Peter says that your salvation is certain if you are becoming more like Jesus! The “test” of whether or not you are saved is not how good you are. The test is whether or not you are growing! Those who are becoming more like Jesus by adding these virtues to their character are saved! In fact, Peter says “if you practice these qualities you will never fall.”
We will have setbacks and disappoint ourselves, but we are still saved as long as we continue to have faith and repent of our wrong doings.
We are “much more” saved now than before
(8) but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (9) Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. (10) For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. Rom 5:8-10 ESV
Notice what the Apostle Paul wrote to the disciples in Rome in the passage above. Jesus died for us while we were His enemies (sinners)! He accepted an enemy (us) who wanted to “switch sides” and He washed away all of our past, present and future sins. Having now been reconciled to God and no longer His enemy, doesn’t it stand to reason that we are “much more” saved? Paul says this is indeed the case. It’s so important he said it twice!
Don’t you love your spouse more now than when you were first dating? Don’t you love your children more now that when they were first born? So it is in our relationship to God. You may have been baptized long ago, but your salvation is more assured now than then. If you felt confident in your salvation right after baptism, you should feel even more confident now!
Later on in Paul’s letter to the Romans, he paints a picture of what it is really like to live a Christian life.
(15) For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. (16) Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. (17) So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. (18) For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. (19) For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. (20) Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. (21) So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. (22) For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, (23) but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. (24) Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? (25) Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin. (8:1) There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Rom 7:15-8:1 ESV
Anyone who has a been a Christian for any length of time will understand what Paul is saying in this passage. We want to do what pleases God, but all too frequently give in to temptation and commit sin. The spiritual side of you wants to do that which pleases God, but your fleshly side wants to please itself. Someone once said this internal struggle between our spirit and our flesh is like two fierce dogs who are fighting each other. Which dog wins? The one that gets fed the most!
The bible does teach that it is possible for a Christian to reject his or her salvation. However, we should take comfort knowing that God is a loving father who is patient with His children. We know from the teachings of the bible that we can be assured of our salvation so long as we have faith in God and continue to repent of our sins. In spite of this battle that we wage against our fleshly desires and all of our failings and imperfections, Paul says that we are still in Christ and therefore not condemned! Those who have no struggles with sin are those who are not resisting it. The fact that we are fighting and resisting sin, that our conscience bothers us when we sin and that we are trying to become more like Jesus is all evidence that we are still saved!
All Christians are completely saved all the time! Not just on our good days.
This series of articles is not meant to be a rigorous or complete study of the subject, but merely a starting point. For a much more comprehensive study on grace I highly recommend Jay Guin’s free book, “The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace.”