We all want to be forgiven. More importantly, we want to know that we are forgiven – not just of our past sins, but of our future sins as well. As we go through the messiness of life, we desire an assurance that we have been redeemed from every imperfection and fault. Furthermore, when it comes to the matter of eternity, who does not want to know that they are on the side of everlasting life? Assurance of salvation is one of the deepest longings of our hearts.
The gospels speak about our salvation with certainty and confidence. Salvation is a given fact for those in Christ Jesus. Our eternal salvation is God’s desire for our lives. God desires all people to be saved and come to a knowledge of this truth (1 Timothy 2:4). This is the very foundation of the life, the death, and the resurrection of Jesus.
So why do so many of us doubt this reality? Despite the myriad of scriptural assurances, many Christians doubt their own salvation or forgiveness. Sure, forgiveness may extend to everyone else, but sadly, they believe themselves incapable of redemption. They doubt God’s love for them; they fail to see God’s forgiveness and grace as applicable to their lives. Because of this, many live their lives of faith harboring a deep but secret insecurity. Is there a way to silence the critical voice of frustration and doubt? How might we fully accept God’s promise of salvation?
Here are three important questions to ask if ever we doubt our salvation.
1. Does Jesus Forgive Me?
Being a person of faith does not discount a perpetual struggle with sin. If we think this way, we simply set ourselves up for failure and discouragement. The fact of the matter is, we are imperfect people living in an imperfect world. Each of us, at times, succumb to our individual temptations and turn our back on the Lord. We see this constantly in Scripture, and we see it in our lives as well. This is part of what it means to be human.
These imperfections and sins, to which we are all prone, can cause us to question our salvation. Such questioning arises when we feel the weight of sin-bearing down upon us. Unfortunately, rather than going to God for our assurance, we conclude that our sins have been removed from God’s good graces. Essentially, we mistakenly believe that our need for forgiveness speaks condemnation upon us. If we were truly faithful, we think, then we would not need to be forgiven. Have you ever caught yourself thinking such things?
This completely twists the reality of our faith and the assurance of our salvation. Our salvation is not based on whether we have sinned or not. This is an important truth that needs to be understood. If salvation were based on the absence of sin, then no person would ever receive salvation. Salvation would be impossible.
The gift of salvation is rooted in the presence of forgiveness. John writes “if we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves, but if we confess our sins, [Jesus] is faithful and just to forgive our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:8-9). John is clear: we all sin. To assume otherwise is to deceive ourselves. The important thing for salvation, however, is whether we come to Jesus for forgiveness. Forgiveness is a constant resource for us. Christ holds no criteria, he is faithful and just to forgive, freely.
In those times wherein we question our salvation we can simply ask ourselves, “Does Jesus forgive me?” The answer to that question is a resounding “Yes!” Forgiveness is the fundamental way that Christ responds to our sin. Jesus is faithful to forgive, not because we have earned it, but because that is who he is.
2. Did Jesus Die on the Cross?
Despite everything written above, we can still harbor doubts. We may understand that the assurance of salvation is based on the forgiveness of sins, yet still doubt whether this forgiveness makes its way into our lives. If salvation is based on forgiveness, is there any assurance of our forgiveness?
The gospel of Matthew contains an account wherein Jesus declares forgiveness to a paralyzed man. Some of the teachers of the law reject his ability to do so and charge Jesus with the sin of blasphemy. In response, Jesus asks them “Which is easier: to say, “Your sins are forgiven”, or to say, “Get up and walk?” (Matthew 9:5). Jesus goes on to heal the paralyzed man as a testimony to his authority to forgive sins. Christ’s command over physical life points to his command over spiritual life.
The same principle applies to us if we doubt our forgiveness. On the cross, Jesus defeated the spiritual forces of sin and death. Jesus destroyed sin’s spiritual hold over humanity. Sin has no more power over individual life. This reality is physically manifested in Christ’s resurrection from the dead. The physical act of resurrection testifies to the veracity of Christ’s forgiveness. In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul writes: “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance, that Christ died for our sins” (1 Corinthians 15:3). It is Jesus’ death and resurrection that proves that he alone has the authority to forgive sins.
Not only does the cross testify to Christ’s authority to forgive, but it is also the enacting of forgiveness. On the cross, Jesus proclaims forgiveness over sinful humanity. If we ever doubt our forgiveness, we simply need to look to the cross as a reminder of this assurance. Jesus’ death on the cross is the physical proof that his words assuring our forgiveness are trustworthy and true.
3. Does Jesus Love Me?
Questioning the love of God was the basis of the serpent’s temptation in the Garden of Eden. In tempting Adam and Eve to eat the forbidden fruit, the serpent causes the two to question the loving goodness of God. The serpent cunningly plants the idea that God was working from a position of self-interest, rather than selfless love. In that moment, Adam and Eve doubt the love of God and eat the forbidden fruit. This exact temptation plagues us today. Despite our enthusiastic singing of “Jesus loves me”, we can far too easily question the reality of this love. Does God truly love us?
The scriptural answer to this question is a resounding “Yes!” Yes, God loves you. These words are simple to write and simple to sing, but their meaning is profound. Every book within Scripture declares, in one way or another, the resounding love of God for us. It is out of divine love that God crafted humanity in God’s own image; God lovingly provides for wayward Israel as they journey to the Promised Land; God’s love is proclaimed through the prophets in the unyielding invitation to return to covenant relationship. In love, God promises to come to God’s people in salvation and redemption.
What is truly magnificent, however, is that God’s love is not something merely declared, it is incarnated. The love of God is an embodied love. In the most astonishing of ways, God lovingly wraps God’s self in human flesh and enters our world in the most vulnerable of fashions. In love, Jesus walked and taught and healed. He ate and drank with tax collectors and sinners, those considered beyond redemption; he touched the lepper, he loved the foreigner, he embraced women and children. Jesus moved with a heart of love toward all people. In the end, and in the greatest display of love ever known, Jesus died on the cross so that all could enter the life-giving love of God.
We may not fully understand this love; that is ok. Love is not meant to be understood but received. Christ’s continual invitation to us all is to step deeper into his love and to experience this love as the very foundation and identity of God. The book of 1 John discloses this truth; “God is love” (1 John 4:16). Love is fundamental to who God is. If God, somehow, did not love us, then this would mean God would stop being the God disclosed in Scripture. This is an impossibility. God cannot be anything other than who God is. God is faithful. God is just. God is forgiving. God is loving. We can be assured of these truths because this is how God has revealed God’s nature and identity.
Salvation Is Not about What You Do
When we question our salvation, we place undue weight upon our own actions or ability. Either we believe we have not done enough to earn Christ’s love, or we believe that our actions have contradicted Jesus’ sacrifice of the cross. This can be easy to do given that we live in a world of deserving and earning. After all, the world puts forward such condemning slogans such as “you earn your keep,” “you get what you deserve,” or “what goes around comes around.” In this ethic, we will always find ourselves wanting. If we believe we need to earn our salvation, we will always doubt the reality of salvation in our lives.
The fundamental truth about our salvation is this: salvation is not about what we do. We never earn our salvation. Eternal life is a gift of God in Christ Jesus. This is a biblical fact, not written in ink, but written in the very blood of Christ. We are forgiven because Christ chooses to forgive us, plain and simple. Jesus went to the cross, not to condemn us, but save us. Jesus loves us because love is the foundation of who Jesus is and what he does in our lives. The answers to the above questions lead to the glorious assurance of our salvation because they are rooted in who God is, not in who we are.
The book of Revelation, which closes the Scriptures, ends with a wonderful invitation: “Come! And let the one who hears say “come!” Let the one who is thirsty come! And let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life” (22:17). This is Christ’s invitation to us all. Salvation is free and available to all. Of this, we can be assured.
Reverend Kyle Norman is the Rector of the Anglican Parish of Holy Cross in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. He has a doctorate in Spiritual Formation and is often asked to write or speak on the nature of the Christian community, and the role of Spiritual disciplines in Christian life. His personal blog can be found here.