When I was 16, I had a spiritual nervous breakdown.
I had just had a glorious experience at our church youth camp, had met God in a unique way, and was riding high on love for Jesus, too little sleep, and the belief that all the girls loved me (the first two were undoubtedly true…the third, not so much).
Assurance of my salvation and peace with God was not even on my mind.
And unlike most kids after a high school retreat, I didn’t do a slow slide into an apathetic malaise over the coming weeks.
No, I immediately and violently crashed and burned, Sully in the Hudson River style.
Within a week or so, I had absolutely zero assurance of salvation. I got caught up in some weird hybrid of spiritual attack, obsessive compulsive thinking, and straight up anxiety.
I began to wonder if I was going to Hell. Maybe my recent experiences were nothing more than hysteria. Maybe I didn’t really love Jesus. Maybe I was deluding myself, afflicted with spiritual hallucinations.
Maybe I was one of those people to whom Jesus would eventually thunder, “Away from me, I never knew you.”
It was an awful time and I walked around under a cloud of constant, crushing dread and depression.
Now, to be clear, I really was a born again believer. Looking back, I can clearly see that. But my vision was clouded and I searched in vain for clarity.
I did all the things that were supposed to give a person assurance of salvation. I repeatedly read the promises of God. I “recommitted” my life to Jesus multiple times to ensure that at least one of them stuck.
I read books that were based on 1 John and the “evidences” designed to give assurance of salvation. (Incidentally, I don’t think that book is really intended to be used for that purpose.)
Nothing worked. Nothing brought me out of my hyper-anxious state. Nothing could break through my muddled, panicked thinking. I was terrified that I was sliding straight to Hell on a demonic toboggan.
If something didn’t change, it’s quite possible I could have ended up in a home for crazeballs who get secret government revelations.
But something did change. Something did pull me out of my nosedive. I’m not the same person I was.
God helped me understand two incredibly freeing things that gave me a rock-solid assurance of my salvation:
- I’m a colossal sinner
- Jesus is my only hope
Assurance of Salvation #1: I’m A Colossal Sinner
My primary problem as I desperately searched for assurance of salvation was that I was looking in all the wrong places.
I was looking inward, into the depths of my soul, trying to find clues that I was saved. I thought that if I could see enough “fruit” of salvation (see Matthew 3:8) in my life, it would give me the assurance of salvation I so desperately craved. I knew that true Christians bear fruit for Jesus, and I assumed that I could find assurance if I found that fruit.
But the deeper I dug inward, the worse things became. It was like excavating a mausoleum – on the outside things were polished and presentable, but the inside reeked of decay.
The more I looked at myself, the more I despaired. I saw how painfully selfish I was. How little I served others. How my love for Jesus jumped and crashed like a heartbeat monitor. It was obvious to me that I was a sinner through and through, and this didn’t help me feel any assurance of salvation.
When you weighed my Christ-likeness against my sinfulness, it wasn’t even close. The weight on the sin side was so heavy the scale broke. It was like weighing a two-ton bull against a teacup poodle, except infinitely worse.
Looking inward only increased my despair. Things were much worse than I thought.
It took me a while, but I finally realized that if I kept trying to find assurance of salvation within myself, I’d never get out of my loop of despair. Instead of encountering the joy that comes in the morning and the peace that passes understanding, I would only feel hopelessness and fear.
The good news is that I was beginning to realize what Martin Luther meant when he said:
In other words, the profoundly painful recognition of my own sinfulness began to drive me away from myself and to Jesus alone.
Assurance of Salvation #2: Jesus Is My Only Hope
What eventually rescued me was the realization that I was looking in the totally wrong place for assurance of salvation. I was looking inward when I should have been constantly looking upward and outward to Jesus.
I was looking for fruit on the tree when I should have been looking at the gardener who planted the tree in the first place.
In his memoirs, Robert Murray M’Cheyne said, “For every look at yourself, take ten looks at Christ.”
I had the formula backward. I was taking ten (more like 100) looks at myself for every one look at Christ, and the result was misery. As a result, I was trapped in a carnival house of mirrors, with my gaze infinitely refracted back upon myself. The more I looked to myself for assurance of salvation, the more terror I felt.
When I began looking to Christ alone as my rock and hope of salvation, things began to slowly, almost imperceptibly change. I began to grasp that my assurance of salvation was only and always rooted in Christ and what he accomplished on my behalf.
I started holding fast to rock-solid promises like:
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast (Ephesians 2:8-9).
While spiritual fruit could give some anecdotal assurance, it could never be the rock I needed. I needed something solid and unchanging, something that never wavered like my fickle love for God.
It turned out that what I needed was exactly what God had provided: a Savior to the uttermost.
On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand.
The beauty of the gospel is that Jesus takes up residence in the mausoleum of our hearts, and it’s his residence that’s our salvation, not the degree to which the corpses are removed.
Once I got my head around this peace-giving truth, my doubts began to dissipate. The infection began to heal in the heat of the sun.
Are You Struggling With Assurance Of Salvation?
If you find yourself staggering through the desert of doubt, let me encourage you to put the mirror down and look full upon Jesus’ wonderful face.
The more you stare at yourself, the more terrified you’ll become. The sign over your soul says, “Abandon hope, all ye who enter here.”
On the contrary, Scripture gives us numerous assurance of salvation verses.
Jesus says, “Come to me all you who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.”
He says, “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”
He says, “For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
Notice that none of these scriptures points to you. They all point upward. Salvation comes by coming to Christ, believing in him, calling on the name of the Lord.
Don’t look for some sort of feeling of peace to give you assurance of salvation. Don’t trust your “sweetest frame”, nor the fear that you may feel. Don’t look inward for some sort of proof that you’re saved.
Rather, only look to Christ.
If you need strength, look to Him who lived a sinless life on your behalf.
If you need rest, take shelter in the shade of the cross.
The truth that saved me can also save you: In Christ alone, my hope is found, he is my light, my strength, my song.