Doubts about our relationship with God plague most of us at some point. The reasons for questioning our salvation are many. Some reasons are valid; some are not. This article will explore some common reasons people question their salvation and offer biblical solutions for ending those tormenting thoughts.
We must first define what salvation means as it pertains to eternity. Before we can know whether we have reason to question our salvation, we need to be certain we understand from the Bible what it means to be a Christian. A good definition of salvation is “the deliverance, by the grace of God, from eternal punishment for sin granted to those who accept by faith God’s conditions of repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus.”
1. The first and most obvious reason some people question their salvation is that they are not truly saved. False assurance of salvation is one of Satan’s best tricks to keep us from a true relationship with God. But even false assurance can desert us in crisis, in the middle of the night, or when we encounter a Spirit-filled Christian and are suddenly faced with the shallowness of our own assumptions. Second Corinthians 13:5 commands us to “examine yourselves. See if you are in the faith . . . unless, of course, you fail the test.” So self-examination is a good thing as long as we are honest with ourselves and use God’s Word as our standard.
2. Another reason some people question their salvation is that it is an incredibly extravagant gift. We cannot earn it, and we know we don’t deserve it. Just as loving parents give Christmas presents to children before those children are able to do anything worthy of such gifts, so our heavenly Father gives salvation to us when we are at our worst (Romans 5:8). We have difficulty understanding the concept of grace, and we often have a hard time accepting gifts we know we don’t deserve. A full pardon from a holy God seems wrong to us. We want to clean up our act first. A person committed to “earning one’s own way” may question his or her salvation; the gift of grace is too humbling to accept. With salvation, there are no markers to tell us when we have arrived. No price tags. No ledgers that tell us when we have achieved a goal. Those who struggle with the grace aspect of salvation must identify what they are basing their salvation on and whether, according to Scripture, they have accepted that gift. The book of Galatians was written to a church struggling with grace and can be an encouragement to those also caught in the grace vs. works debate.
3. Another reason some question their salvation is due to the inner voices they choose to listen to. People with introspective temperaments may be more prone to doubting their salvation because of their rich inner lives. God’s voice, Satan’s fiery missiles (Ephesians 6:16), and their own thoughts can get caught in a tangle, and they don’t know how to sort them out.
We must learn the art of taking our thoughts captive (2 Corinthians 10:5). If a voice in our head does not line up with the truth in God’s Word, it did not come from God. We are to be the policemen of our minds, on the alert for trespassing thoughts or ideas (Proverbs 4:23). We see an intruder, and we take it captive, march it to Jesus the judge and ask, “Is this one of yours?” If we’ve placed our faith in the finished work of Christ and are following Him to the best of our understanding, then doubts of salvation are intruders and do not belong in a transformed mind (Romans 12:1–2). By developing a habit of evaluating and managing our thoughts, when we recognize an enemy’s lie, we can dismiss the thought and overcome the habit of questioning our salvation.
4. Misreading Scripture is another reason some people develop doubts about their salvation. Even those who have walked with God for long seasons can become disillusioned when they run across a verse that seems to contradict their understanding. Misinterpreting certain passages has allowed Satan to place a foot in the doorway of some believers’ souls. Hebrews 6:4–6, Matthew 7:21–23, and other jarring passages, misunderstood, can cause weak believers to fear that what they thought was a secure salvation was actually at risk.
We stay balanced and assured of our relationship with God when we consider carefully “the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27). Interpret unclear verses in light of clear, easily understandable verses. If one verse causes undue fear, keep studying and see what God’s Word as a whole says. Consult godly teachers. Research sites like this one. But keep it always about Jesus: who He is, what He did on our behalf, and what our response to Him has been. Paul wrote, “I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2). We must bring all our questions back to Jesus and remember that He wants to save us more than we want to be saved. Salvation was God’s idea, and He will never withhold it from someone who diligently seeks Him (Jeremiah 29:13; Luke 19:10; John 6:37).
5. Besetting sins can cause us to question our salvation. When particular sin habits reassert themselves or refuse to leave, we may doubt we were ever saved at all. Romans 7 can be a comfort to those battling fleshly temptations. It helps to know that even the apostle Paul wrestled with his flesh. Hebrews 12:1 encourages us to “lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.” We do this by considering ourselves “dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Romans 6:11). Our flesh no longer gets a vote on our decisions. It is to be treated like a toddler who wants to play in the street. A wise and loving parent will look out for the child’s best interest and do whatever is necessary to redirect the child to safety. Doubts recede as we gain the victory over sins that once enslaved us. The God who lives in us is greater than the sin that tempts us, and His power makes us “more than conquerors” (Romans 8:37; cf. 1 John 4:4).
6. Dry seasons of the spirit may also cause us to question our salvation. Seasons of dryness are part of any believer’s journey. There are times when our ability to perceive the presence of God is far greater than at other times. We talk about feeling “close to God,” but feelings are not trustworthy barometers. James 4:8 says, “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.” God draws near to us whether or not we feel Him.
The Holy Spirit does not leave us (Hebrews 13:5). We walk by faith, not by sight or feeling or mood (2 Corinthians 5:7). We tend to question our relationship with God when we are experiencing a spiritual dry season, but those seasons can actually help us dig deeper, obey anyway, and learn to endure (Revelation 14:12; 1 John 2:3).
We stop questioning our salvation when we choose to take God at His Word (John 3:16–18). We are saved by faith, nothing else. If we have faith that Jesus is who He claimed to be (Matthew 16:16), and if our lives are an ongoing demonstration that He is our Lord, then we should have the assurance that we belong to Him and that nothing can pluck us out of His hands (John 10:29; 1 John 3:1–9). A. W. Tozer wrote, “Faith is the least self-regarding of the virtues. It is by its very nature scarcely conscious of its own existence. . . . The man who has struggled to purify himself and has had nothing but repeated failures will experience real relief when he stops tinkering with his soul and looks away to the perfect One. While he looks at Christ, the very things he has so long been trying to do will be getting done within him.”
NOTE: If you have a clear understanding of salvation and have attempted the helps provided above and yet still find yourself plagued with doubts, it might be helpful to meet with a professional Christian counselor or pastor. Sometimes continual doubts are an indication of a deeper issue. Sometimes continual doubts are related to medical issues. It is good to seek the personal care you may need to help you better rest in the truth of Christ.