ON DOUBTING SALVATION AND STRUGGLING WITH THE CHRISTIAN LIFE
Republished April 20, 2005 (first published December 27, 2003) (David Cloud, Fundamental Baptist Information Service, P.O. Box 610368, Port Huron, MI 48061, 866-295-4143, firstname.lastname@example.org; for instructions about subscribing and unsubscribing or changing addresses, see the information paragraph at the end of the article) -
I have heard from many people who doubt their salvation, and I always try to take time to reply to those e-mails in the midst of the deluge of mail that I receive. Recently I received the following. I have removed specific references to people, places, churches, and schools for the sake of anonymity.
Dear Bro. Cloud,
I am writing to you to help me clear up some things in my mind. For many years now I have had extreme doubts about my salvation. So much so that it cripples me at times. I am newly married with one toddler. These doubts cause me to shrivel up, and become useless to my husband and baby. I spend many days crying and reading my Bible, and begging God to help me.
The thing is, I have had many professions of faith. About five, and have been scripturally baptized. The last profession I made, I haven't been baptized, because I wasn't sure if God gave me assurance that I was already saved, or if I had just gotten saved. But the last profession is the one that was the most real to my heart. At that time I was in college and a preacher came by to preach in chapel about this very thing. About how he had doubts, and would have many professions and still no peace. He finally realized that he must trust Christ and his shed blood no matter if he was lost or saved.
I knew I had to talk to this preacher, so I went up to him after he preached, and he explained salvation to me that was the most clear I have ever heard. It was exactly what I have been hearing all along, but on that day it made the most sense. Maybe it was the Holy Spirit that was helping me understand? Anyway, he said that regardless if I was lost or saved, I needed to risk my soul on Christ's blood. Trust my most treasured possession to His care. He then showed me in the Bible that only Blood can cleanse away my sins, and I was guilty before God with my sins. When Christ died, rose again, and offered HIS blood on the mercy seat, God was satisfied for the payment of man's sins.
After we talked, I went to my dorm room and thought about all he said. He said a whole lot more, but this is what stuck in my mind. Finally I realized that if God was satisfied with Christ's blood sacrifice for my sins, then I knew I could be too. So I told the Lord just that. That I knew I was a sinner, but I believed that Christ's blood was sufficient to cover my sins, and I trusted Christ to save me by His shed blood. At that moment I had a very still quiet peace, and knew I was accepted as God's Child.
Then why am I doubting? Well, for one thing, there is a link on your web-site to a church where they have testimonies about people who thought they were saved, but were really lost.
One of the common threads of those testimonies is that if you pray, ‘Lord save me if I am lost’ that is not really admitting you are a sinner. Now I can see where that might be the case in some, but the last profession I really knew I was a sinner. And not just any sinner, but an ugly, abominable sinner, who had rebelled against God. That is why I told the Lord that if God was satisfied with what Christ did with my sins then I would be too. But you see, when I prayed that I didn't know 100% if I was lost, so I just trusted the Lord to save me if indeed I wasn't.
I contacted these people to ask them questions and they gave all sorts of ideas to do. One is, put everything aside and seek the Lord and have him revel to me if I was lost or saved. Bro. Cloud I would love to do that, but I am a stay at home mother, and I just can't put everything aside. I can put about an hour aside to seek the Lord.
They also push Lordship salvation very hard. I even asked for Bible verses that showed where Lordship salvation is a must. They only replied with it is written throughout the whole Bible. Nothing really specific. My pastor preaches that if one isn't absolutely sure that they are saved, and they keep having doubts, to come to the alter and make sure you are saved by getting saved. But these people at the other church say that is wrong. This is dreadfully confusing me, and this is why I am doubting.
I have talked with many respected people about this. They all say that these people at the other church are wrong. That coming to Christ and asking him to save you is admitting that you have a need for him.
My heart is heavy and sick every morning that I wake up.
Also can you give me a clearer definition on repentance. I know that you say not many churches teach this anymore. How do you know you have repented? I have heard that you need to be so sorry for your sins that you are sick and tired of them. Well, Bro. Cloud, I am sick and tired of my sins, but I find myself still sinning the same sins. The worst I have is getting upset and impatient with my husband.
Also, I read of all these signs how to know if you are saved. Right now I don't have many of them, but I do remember a time that I had all of them. I was excited about serving the Lord, I wanted to save the world from hell, I loved God's people, I felt strongly about issues that you write about all the time.
But now, the flame is gone, and I don't feel like telling people about the Lord, God's people sometimes annoy me, and the issues that I felt strongly about, I feel like why bother?
I have been reading my Bible and studying it, when I can, and all I can find is that God wants us to turn away from our sins and dead works, and to believe on Him to save us.
Saying, that you must know 100% that you are lost seems like they are adding to salvations plan, but I am just not sure. My pastor says that if you are having doubts and are not really sure, make sure by getting saved. But these people say that is wrong. They say that you must know that you are lost before you can ever be sure that you will be saved.
I read your article on Lordship salvation, and how you said that people tend to look at their experience rather than the blood of Christ as evidence that they are saved is exactly what is happening to me. Like I said in my last profession of salvation, I did look to the blood of Christ. I have no doubt about that at all. But because I did that when I wasn't sure if I was saved or lost, I am wondering if it were really real or not? I hope I am making sense to you?
And I think that all the other ‘evidences’ that are not showing up in my life because I am in a continuous cycle of doubting. How can I grow if I am always doubting if I am God's child or not?
Now I will tell you that I do have concern for people's souls, I would rather be around God's people than the world, and I still feel that the issues that are important are still important, I just don't have that burning desire to stand on a roof top and proclaim it, like I once did.
I can also see God's finger prints in my life, but those people at that church said that God still leads lost people. Bro. Cloud, you have a very balanced view on the Bible, and this is why I am asking your opinion. Oh, these people also told me not to talk to people about my doubts, because they will only tell me what they have been telling me all along.
I am afraid of getting saved without an ‘awesome’ feeling coming over me. How does one know that they got saved? I was always taught that if I was sincere with the Lord, and meant it in my heart, I can rest upon God's word. But these people are saying that I should have this amazing peace, or some sort of physical sign that I am saved. So what do I do?
Please help me from the Bible!
REPLY FROM BROTHER CLOUD
Hello. I am glad that you took the time to write.
First, I need to know which church you are referring to that has the internet testimonies that you described, because I do not support what they are doing and I want to remove the link to them.
Now, as to your situation, I am not surprised when believers have doubts. In fact, I do not think that your situation is unique at all. I have heard from a large number of doubting saints. I have had my own doubts from time to time through the 30 years since I was saved. For the first year I had terrible doubts and I don’t know how many times I got “saved” that year! The doubts began to dissipate when I went to Bible school and began to learn sound doctrine and to understand salvation more clearly, but at various times through the years I have had to deal with doubts again. I am not therefore amazed or surprised about your situation.
The bottom line is this: Salvation is not difficult.
Jesus wants children to come to Him. “Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven” (Mat. 19:14). This is repeated in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, so it must be very important. Jesus even said that to be saved one must come as a little child (Mat. 18:3). Could salvation be difficult if children are invited, if, in fact, adults must in a way become childlike to do it?
Salvation is described as a gift. It is not difficult to receive a gift.
Salvation is described as drinking and eating (John 6). When the Lord Jesus dealt with the woman at the well, He offered her living water. It is not difficult to take a drink of water! One must simply be thirsty and open wide.
When I warn about "quick prayerism" or easy believism and about those who do not preach repentance, I am warning about a very specific thing. I am warning about those (and there are many) who get people to pray a prayer and then say they are saved even if they have NO interest in the things of God. I am warning about those who do not give sinners any idea that there will be a change in their life when they get saved. That is what I warn about. You, on the other hand, have many evidences of salvation and are not in that category. (Of course, I don’t know you personally, but I am taking you at your word.)
You are going to have to trust the Lord and stop listening to what men say. If you talk to 10 different people about doctrine, you can easily get 10 different answers, and that is true even if all of them attend independent Baptist churches. Forget what people are saying and trust God’s Word. You have been to Bible college. You have learned something of God's Word. You have learned how to read it and study it for yourself. It is good to get wise counsel, but in this situation I would advise you to forget what people are saying and trust God’s Word.
Salvation is a gift. Thirteen times in the New Testament it is called a gift. Jesus Christ paid a great price for it. He offers it to every sinner. It is received by faith. Faith is "the hand of the heart" that reaches out to take God's wonderful gift. A gift means it is absolutely free and it will never be taken away. If I had to earn it in any way, it would not be a gift. If I could lose it, it would not be a gift. I understand that Henry Ford used to give away automobiles to employees when they pleased him, but he would take the automobiles back if they got out of his favor. That is not a gift and we can praise God that He is not like that. There are no “strings attached” to His blessed Gift.
Yes, you have to truly acknowledge that you are a sinner as the Bible says and must be ready to turn your life over to the Lord. That is repentance. Repentance is “a change of mind that results in a change of life.” Repentance is not a hard thing. If it were, a child could not do it, a slow or retarded person could not do it. Repentance is a change of direction from the heart. From what you have said, I have no doubt that you have repented and trusted Christ.
One more thing. A gift is supposed to be enjoyed. Stop worrying and fretting and looking at your self, and instead look at your Saviour and enjoy His gift. You can rest in Christ. The Lord knows all about you and your situation and He wants you to enjoy your salvation. You are a young wife and mother and have a small child. That means that you are under a lot of pressure from life. God does not expect more of you than you can give. He is not a cruel, unfeeling taskmaster. He is a tender, loving Father. You won’t always feel saved when the kids are crying, and your female hormones are working overtime and you don’t understand yourself, and your young husband is not very sympathetic, and money is tight, and perhaps another child is on the way when you haven’t even gotten over the last one, and living space is limited, and the supper is burned, and you feel like you are getting sick, and the car is broken, and the dryer overheats, and the mother in law is complaining about something, and a loved one was just diagnosed with cancer, and you are running late for church, and you can’t seem to organize anything, etc. etc. etc.
That is life. As they say, "life happens," and feelings are allusive in the midst of it all. They come and they go. You can feel saved today and lost tomorrow, feel that God loves you today and that He hates you tomorrow, feel that prayer and Bible reading are the most wonderful things in all the world today and feel like that are the dullest drudgery tomorrow. The feeling itself means nothing.
Salvation is faith from beginning to end. It is “from faith to faith” (Rom. 1:17). And faith is not sight. “For we walk by faith, NOT BY SIGHT” (2 Cor. 5:7). “For we are saved by hope: but hope that IS SEEN IS NOT HOPE: for what a man seeth, why doth he yet hope for? But if we hope FOR THAT WE SEE NOT, then do we with patience wait for it” (Rom. 8:24-25). Salvation is not seeing or feeling; it is believing God’s promise in Jesus Christ. Romans 8:18-25 describes the Christian life in terms of suffering. The Christian experience in this life is not always pleasant. In fact, it can be extremely difficult at times. We are dragging around a dead body (Rom. 7:24). That is not very pleasant. We are waiting and longing for the fullness of our promised salvation, but we don’t yet have it, and waiting is difficult. We have the Holy Spirit, the earnest of our inheritance (Eph. 1:14), and we have wonderful benefits in this life; but we don’t yet have our full salvation in an experiential way. We are children of God, but we do not yet enjoy the full benefit of what that means. We are children of the great King but we do not yet bask in that glorious kingdom. We look forward to the glorious by and by but we are living in the nasty now and now.
As for sin the Christian life, it is a reality. When God saves us He does not take away the old nature. There is a struggle between the flesh and the Spirit (Rom. 7:18-19; Gal. 5:16-18). This is because God wants us to live by faith. The victory is not in leaping or flying up above the struggle (a second blessing, entire sanctification, etc.); it is growing in Christ. Growth describes something gradual, not all of the sudden and immediate. 1 Peter 5:10 is a promise that has meant a lot to me through the years, beginning when I was a brand new Christian in 1973 at age 23. “But the God of all grace, who hath called us unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered a while, make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you.” Periods of suffering precede spiritual establishment. This is not true just for the beginning of the Christian life but for the entire process until death.
We go through periods or seasons of suffering and struggling followed by strengthening and perfecting. It is like the cycles of plant life. The tea plants, for example, are grown in the mountains where we live in South Asia. Those plants go through amazing cycles. They spread and bear leaves and those leaves are cut off, and then the plants are pruned severely so that you would think that they are dead, but they aren’t. They are just going through a necessary stage in the production of tea. The Christian life is like that. We go through periods when it seems that the spiritual life is almost dead and the discouragement is so severe that we wonder what is happening and where God is. But those periods aren’t permanent. God, the Great Husbandman, is just pruning us and preparing us for more fruit (John 15). Our part is to remain faithful through it all, to keep our faith in Him, and when we do we will eventually understand the truth of Romans 5:3-5, that trouble, when endured patiently in faith, produces experience (learning more about Christ and the Christian life), which results in increased faith, which results in an increase in spirituality.
3 And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience;
4 And patience, experience; and experience, hope:
5 And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.
This process doesn’t happen overnight. In fact, it can take years and even decades for God to work various things into our lives.
My maternal grandmother was one of the godliest Christians I have known. I am confident that her prayers had a lot to do with my salvation after I had gone so far out into the world. She only lived a couple of years after I was saved, but I got to spend some time with her before she passed on to Glory. I had SO many moral scars and struggles because of all of the foolishness of my former life. Several months after I was saved I asked her, “Granny, do you still have any struggles with sin?” I was hoping that she would tell me that those struggles had ended decades before and that it had been only smooth sailing after that, but she replied, “Oh, yes, Dave, there are still many struggles.” She was 79 or 80 years old and had walked with Christ for more than 60 years, but there were still struggles. The only time the child of God escapes the struggle with sin is when he leaves this veil of tears.
I would recommend that you memorize some Bible promises about salvation, and use them to defeat the devil's lies. He sends fiery darts of unbelief, and the victory over them (the only victory over them) is the shield of faith (Eph. 6:16). Faith comes from only one source, and that is the Word of God (Rom. 10:17). You can’t work faith up by trying to believe. You can only have faith by resting in God’s Word. Two promises that have helped me in times of doubt are John 3:16 and Matt. 11:28. Think about Matthew 11:28.
“Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”
What a wonderful and simple promise. The only thing that is required of me is that I labour and am heavy laden. If that fits you, all you have to do is take Christ at His word. The rest of salvation is a gift. Then verses 29-30 speak of the rest of service.
“Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
That is the Christian life. That is discipleship, following after Christ, serving Him. After receiving Christ’s gift, I have something I must do. I must take His yoke and learn of Him. I walk with Him and serve Him. But even that is not done in my own strength but in His and He wants me to find rest in His service. If the yoke of Christian service is not easy and light, we are doing something wrong.
That is Christ’s own word about true salvation and Christianity. Don’t let anyone tell you different.
In closing, I would like for you to meditate upon the following excerpt from one of my articles. Let me know how things go.
In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,
THE ERROR OF CONFUSING REPENTANCE WITH “LORDSHIP SALVATION.”
By David Cloud
An Excerpt from “Repentance and Lordship Salvation”
The complete article is at the following link: http://www.wayoflife.org/fbns/repentancelordship.htm
We do not support any idea of “Lordship Salvation” that teaches that an individual must make Jesus Christ absolute Lord of every area of his life before he can be saved. Salvation does not produce perfect obedience nor does it require perfect understanding of theology. A genuinely born again Christian can be carnal. The Bible plainly teaches this (1 Corinthians 3).
To require that a sinner make Jesus Christ Lord of every area of his life is an impossibility and would be the greatest form of works salvation ever devised. This false doctrine is taught by some independent Baptists, but we do not support it. It is a very dangerous doctrine that causes people to look inside themselves and to examine their experience rather than to look solely upon the Lord Jesus Christ and to trust solely upon His shed blood.
We believe and are sure that salvation changes a man’s life, and we preach this boldly. One of the Way of Life booklets is entitled “Does Salvation Make a Difference?” The answer is YES! If a person says he is saved but he has absolutely nothing to prove it, he is deceived (2 Corinthians 5:17). To continually examine oneself, though, and to continually look at one’s experience as the basis for determining if one is saved, is extremely dangerous. Even the Apostle Paul, who, in our estimation, was the most dedicated Christian who ever lived, said of his own experience, “For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not” (Romans 7:18). That is the experience of every born again child of God. The old flesh is still there even after salvation.
I know I am saved today because I have trusted the Lord Jesus Christ for my eternal salvation, and “I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day” (2 Timothy 1:12). My faith is exclusively in Jesus Christ, not in myself and my changed life and my Christian experience. My Christian experience is lousy when I compare myself with what the Bible requires of me. The Bible requires PERFECTION. “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). “But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation” (1 Peter 1:15). I don’t live up to this perfect standard. I am perfect only in my position in the blessed Lord Jesus Christ. If I don’t keep my mind and heart focused on my perfection in Christ, I become extremely discouraged. I become tossed about like a bottle upon the waves of the sea. I lose my anchor (Heb. 6:19).
To preach a “lordship salvation” that requires that sinners make Jesus Christ absolute Lord of every area of their lives in order to be saved is to confuse position and practice, justification and sanctification. This is similar to the error made by many Pentecostals and Charismatics who believe the child of God can lose his salvation. An excellent testimony about the danger of this false teaching is in the book “Holiness: The False and the True” by the late Harry A. Ironside (Loizeaux). (This important book is available at the Way of Life web site under the Charismatic section of the Apostasy database and also in the Fundamental Baptist CD-ROM Library.) As a young preacher, Ironside was involved with the Salvation Army. He was taught that he could have an experience, a “second blessing,” whereby he could obtain perfect victory over his old nature. As all genuinely born again people do, he earnestly desired such an experience. He agonized over his sinfulness and spiritual imperfection. He diligently sought the “blessing,” praying, fasting, crying out, striving, believing. Finally he thought he had obtained “it.” He stood in the testimony meetings and joyfully told the people that he had “it,” that his struggles with sin were over. Of course it wasn’t long before he realized that he had been deceived and that the struggle with sin was still within him. At that point he became so discouraged and disheartened that he had to be hospitalized in a mental ward. He was so disillusioned that he had determined to leave the Christian life and return to his old loves, feeling that it would be vain to attempt to seek the things of Christ any further. In the hospital, though, he met some saintly Christians who patiently taught him the simple and lovely truth of biblical sanctification, and through this ministry of the truth he became anchored in Christ and went on to have a long, fruitful preaching ministry. It was the truth that set him free (John 8:31-32).
We have noted in many independent Baptist circles a serious lack of sound teaching in regard to justification and sanctification, position and practice. Shouting and huffing and puffing and a constant diet of nothing but duty, duty, duty will not ground God’s saints in the truth. Read the book of Ephesians, and see if you can conceive of Paul screaming and yelling and pounding his fist while preaching that. (Don’t get me wrong; I am all for strong, plain, pointed preaching, but that is not all that we need.) Without such teaching new converts are left to struggle with the flesh without a proper understanding of the positional stability and victory they possess in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Salvation is not difficult. A child can trust Christ and be saved; a weak-minded person can trust Christ and be saved. “But Jesus said, Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 19:14). Jesus invited all who labor and are heavy laden simply to come to him and receive His gift of rest (Matt. 11:28-29). He likened salvation to eating and drinking (John 6:35). Salvation is not difficult, except in the sense that the sinner has to humble himself and acknowledge his sinful condition and turn to the one true and live God from his idols (1 Thess. 1:9).