“I Believe… Help My Unbelief!”
If you believe, but are struggling with unbelief, this is for you. If you believe, but have doubts of your salvation, this is for you. If you believe, but are nervous you might be considered lukewarm, this is for you. If you believe, but are terrified that if you died tonight Jesus might say “Get away from me, I never knew you!”, then this is for you.
See to it that you do not refuse Him who speaks. For if the people did not escape when they refused Him who warned them on earth, how much less will we escape if we reject Him who warns us from heaven? (Hebrews 12:25-26)
This post is very long, but then – you’ve been struggling for a long time, right? I can’t lead your heart in two or three paragraphs. So get comfy, get some tissues, and get ready. I know this is all still rough and skips around in places, but it probably never will be “perfect”. It’s a work in progress. Just like I am. Just like you are.
I plead with You on behalf of everyone who reads this message. You know which of Your sheep have strayed. You love them and have not abandoned them! You will leave the ninety-nine to find them. Draw them irresistibly by Your Spirit. Speak to them, and lead their hearts home! You have begun a good work in them – the good seed has been planted! I have confidence that You will be faithful to carry it to completion until the day of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:6). And that day is soon! You are near, even at the very gates! Plant an urgency in the hearts of Your lambs, may they turn from sin and self and towards You today.
In Jesus Name I pray,
“…but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. (1 Peter 3:15-16)
Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I ever did.” (John 4:39)
While the gospel is unchanging, God uses our individual testimonies to touch people in different ways. We are the hands, feet, and yes – mouthpieces, of God! Coming to saving faith is a process… many people plant seeds of the gospel in our lives, till the soil, water the sprouts, while the Holy Spirit does the beautiful work of regeneration in our hearts. If you are reading this, then you are not hard packed soil. The soil of your heart is tilled! Seeds have been planted! Sprouts have formed! And yet… have those sprouts come to full maturity? Dear friend, please keep reading and open your heart to hearing the Holy Spirit in your heart today!
Think over your life. When and where have seeds been planted and watered? Is there someone who has been praying for you?
I write my story because I can’t be the only one who has gone through the agony of wrestling with faith. Struggling with doubt – not doubt of the truth, but doubt of my own salvation. Maybe there is one person here who needs to hear this message! I want to share with you today what Jesus has done, and is doing in my life. While I can talk endlessly about Jesus today (as you will see!), this has not always been the case. Perhaps you can relate!
I was personally confident in the “facts” of Christianity, in my head. I had a loving, albeit emotionally distant, earthly father and didn’t struggle with the concept of God’s grace. Nonetheless, there was a disturbing disconnect that nagged at my soul. What I struggled with was internalizing the truth of Christianity in my heart.
Do you believe in the facts of the Bible, God, Jesus, salvation, and yet struggle with having these facts fully penetrate and possess your heart? Do you struggle with the concept of God being a loving, merciful Father?
It is this deep-seated disconnect between your head and heart that I hope to expose in you today, if it is there. You see, I do not want ANYONE reading this article to be lost. You are SO CLOSE! To being found. Your days of wandering in dry spiritual wilderness are coming to an end.
Not everyone goes through a vigorous head/heart struggle of faith, and far be it from me to cause anyone to stumble! But if this is you, if you have been struggling over and over again, I believe you can feel these words burning into your heart at this moment. I am praying for you. I believe God’s Spirit has led you here. If you have doubt in your salvation, God wants you to press on until He gives you assurance!
Pray With Me: Jesus, I believe in You. Help me in my unbelief! Open my spiritual eyes, that I might see! Speak into my heart and transform me from the inside out!
Examine Yourselves, To See if You Are In The Faith
Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test! (2 Corinthians 13:5)
Brothers and sisters in Christ – dear family – please hear me. I speak to each of you out of a heart of love! Please bear with me on the length of this article, but it is heavily upon my heart to write. It is so, so important to me that each one of you are secure in your salvation. It is out of deep care and concern that I pour forth my heart to you. The question I must ask you is this – are you confident that if Jesus called you home today, that you would go to heaven? I don’t want you to just say “of course I’m sure!”, but to really examine your heart. Test yourself!
Examining yourself to see if you are in the faith is an act of obedience! It is part of “working out your salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12). So here’s what I want to you to do. It doesn’t matter about the past. Are you trusting in Jesus for salvation, right now? Do you have peace in your heart that you are saved, right now? If you heard that glorious call home, right now, do you know you would be taken to the place Jesus has prepared for you? If you have momentary doubt, because I have shaken you in spirit, but then find that you are in the faith, that is “passing the test”. If you get a gnawing feeling in the pit of your stomach, your mouth goes dry, and you are filled with fear, that’s not passing the test.
Do your head and heart agree? Has your belief in Jesus changed you, from the inside out? Are you being transformed into Christlikeness? Are you abiding in Christ? Examine your own heart, not anyone else’s. Other people’s hearts are between them and God.
I did not used to “pass the test”. When I truly examined myself I knew deep down that something was wrong. I didn’t want to die because I wasn’t sure where I would go. What about you? In your heart of hearts do you have peace or dread? Test yourself before God, right now! Approach Him in prayer with a seeking heart.
Pray With Me: Jesus, if there is any doubt to my salvation, please reveal it to me right now. And if I am secure, please confirm it by Your Spirit!
I Don’t Really Have a Testimony…
In the past I was required to write a “testimony” to share with others. This was always a great struggle for me. Not only did I (and do I) hate public speaking, it was always a chore to think of what to write. As far as I was concerned, Jesus hadn’t done anything spectacular in my life. I didn’t come from a background of abuse, addiction, new age, witchcraft, or anything that made “an exciting testimony”. So I would look up examples. I would end up with this:
“I grew up in a Christian home. I asked Jesus into my heart at the age of 4, at a summer backyard club. I was terrified by the booklet which showed unbelievers clawing and screaming in the fires of hell! I want to go to heaven! I have never NOT believed in God and the Bible, so I don’t even know what that would be like. My family goes to church. We are pretty typical “North American Christians”. So… I guess that’s that.”
But what is Jesus doing in your life?
“Uhhhh…. nothing? I dunno… I just have a regular life…”
Are you growing in your faith?
“I checked off reading all the books of the Bible…”
Did the Word of God come alive to you?
“Well, the NEW testament was fairly interesting… To be honest, the OLD testament was a chore…”
So how does your belief in Jesus affect your life?
“I try not to lie or steal or gossip… I feel guilty when I do…”
Are you a Christian?
“Oh yes, absolutely.”
Why are you a Christian?
“I’m terrified of hell. I want to go to heaven.”
As a young child, as far as I knew, I legitimately loved Jesus. I sang to Him, prayed to Him, trusted in Him to help me. As I entered the pre-teen years, I began to be drawn away. In my teen years, I never “stopped believing”, but I certainly was looking to the world to fill the empty place in my heart. I may not have battled addiction, abuse, or false religion, but I did wage a long and bloody battle with my own heart. My friends, I do not know when the law “sprang to life” in me. I do not know when exactly I was saved. But in the end, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that I am saved NOW. I am trusting in Jesus alone for salvation TODAY. And that is what matters for you, too!
Pray With Me: Jesus, help me to let go of the past. I choose to trust in You TODAY. From this day forth, I will walk with You. Show me the path!
I would pray the “Sinner’s Prayer”, and “sign the card” many times over the next few decades, following the “4-step plan” and the “Romans Road”. Never feeling entirely secure in my salvation. Sure, I had experiences of ups and downs in my spiritual journey. Times when I “felt” close to God, and (many more) times when He either “felt” far away or I didn’t really notice what our relationship felt like because I put Him on the sideline.
When I got a little bit older, in my late teens, I realized I needed to expand my testimony. It now went something like this:
“I had this deep emptiness, this deep longing inside of me. I wanted to feel loved, accepted, secure. I wanted to have purpose, direction, meaning. This could only be filled by Jesus…”
But the truth of the matter was, I STILL HAD THAT DEEP EMPTINESS. I *wanted* to say that Jesus had filled it. But the truth was, He hadn’t. If I would have been honest, my testimony would have looked more like:
“Guys, I’m unhappy. At times I’m downright depressed, anxious, and miserable. Sometimes I feel like I don’t know what’s real and what isn’t. Sometimes I think about suicide. But I don’t know if I’d for sure go to heaven. I want to feel loved, accepted, and secure. But I don’t. I’ve looked for it in many places, but everything has come up short. I want to have purpose, direction, and meaning. Being a “type A” personality, I’ve tried to find meaning through accomplishing – getting good marks in school. But I was never “good ENOUGH”. I’ve tried finding it in popularity and acceptance, in dating and in men. But I was used, humiliated, betrayed. I tried finding it in marriage, but unfortunately this has turned into a daily struggle. I tried finding it in my career – getting diplomas and letters behind my name. I even tried finding it at Bible school. That year was one of the most miserable of my life! It was all empty, a chasing after the wind.
I envy the people who seem to effortlessly have a relationship with God. Who are secure in their salvation. Who have peace and joy. I don’t have either. I am told that people admire me for persisting in the faith despite not “feeling” God. I don’t feel worthy of admiration. I feel like a fraud. I play the part of Christian on the outside, but inside I feel completely dejected.
I know in my head that the Bible is true. I believe in God, Jesus, the salvation plan, all of it. I was raised in a Christian family, went to church, backyard clubs, Christian camps, missions trips. But I am still miserable. When I look at the fruit of the Spirit, I don’t have ANY – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, self control. The more I try to force this fruit to grow in my life, the harder I fall. Intellectually I know I’m a Christian, but in my heart, I sure don’t feel like it.”
So, are you a Christian?
“Oh yes, absolutely.”
Why are you a Christian?
“I’m terrified of hell. I want to go to heaven.”
I believe this “yo-yo” or “rollercoaster” Christianity is best explained by the parable of the soils:
Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. The ones along the path are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. And the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe for a while, and in time of testing fall away. And as for what fell among the thorns, they are those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature. As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience. (Luke 8:11-15)
I wrested so long and so deeply with my heart – my heart would wane from enthusiastic, to wandering, to doubting. At times, I was swept up by emotional experiences. I would fall away when the “good feelings” were replaced by hard times of testing my faith. My faith would “ebb” and “flow”, but I resisted committing wholeheartedly. I couldn’t maintain passion as my foundation was on the “sandy land”. I sprung up quickly when hearing a good sermon or testimony, or singing a touching song. But I was easily swept away. The cares of this world choked out cares for eternity. I was actively involved in the church from time to time, but my root motive (if I was honest) was friendship/belonging and trying to prove my salvation to myself.
I think my experience was best described as the weedy and rocky soils. Remember that these soils send out sprouts (emotional experiences, re-dedications, intellectual training, etc.). The sprouts end up either choked by weeds (the cares and concerns of this life) or can’t be anchored by roots and fall away. Look guys, the weedy and rocky soils are “doing Christianity – the religion – in their own strength”. We absolutely can have warm and fuzzy feelings, emotional experiences, and intellectual assent without being saved. These experiences also occur in cults and false religions! We absolutely can do good works, have moral behaviors, and follow religious disciplines on our own… for a while. Again, see other religions and cults as an example – they have many devout followers!
“The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.” (Romans 8:16)
If this is God’s job, I realized, surely He is good at His job. Why then, did I feel such unease in my spirit? Why did I not have assurance of salvation? Why did I doubt? Well meaning people assured me that it was just the enemy’s attacks. Trying to rob me of joy and peace. Was it? Or was it God’s Spirit, nudging me, telling me to examine myself, to see if I was in the faith? I did not have this inner witness, this peace of assured salvation. It was this I struggled with for decades.
“Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Can’t you see for yourselves that Jesus Christ is in you–unless you actually fail the test?” (2 Corinthians 13:5)
Was I failing the test? Was Jesus Christ not in my heart?
I could look the part, say the right words. I had a healthy conscience, was basically moral, hung around the “right people”. I just couldn’t seem to get close to God, other than sentimental experiences here and there. Don’t get me wrong – I genuinely believed I was seeking God when I would commit to reading the Bible or praying with others. But with God, it always comes down to the heart. It comes down to the WHY, not the what.
Did I read the Bible because I loved God and wanted to hear from Him, or because I wanted to tick off all the chapters and books and feel good about having read the whole Bible? Did I pray because I knew I should and it was right, or because I genuinely believed that God hears and answers prayer? Was I seeking *God*, or warm and fuzzy feelings? Did I do good things because I wanted to show Jesus my love for Him, or because I wanted to prove to myself I was saved – because “good things” are what “saved people do”?
Did I want to be delivered from my sins, or did I want to “go to heaven”?
To be honest, I didn’t have a lasting passion for Christ. I couldn’t maintain a commitment – I would try for awhile (sprout), then give up and focus on LIFE (entertainment, work, buying things, hobbies) (wither/choke out). Even though I had grown up “Christian”, I struggled with not having boldness to share my faith – or even to admit I had faith when people were openly mocking Christianity.
When a very close uncle and cousin were killed in a motor vehicle accident, I was very angry with God for allowing it to happen. Shortly after this, I was walking with several co-workers, who were talking about the Christian religion. One said, “If they truly believed in that life after death stuff, they wouldn’t get all upset when one of them dies.” I didn’t respond. How could I? Touché.
Pray With Me: Jesus, please show me the true condition of my heart. Am I seeking heaven? Blessings? Emotional encounters? Experiences? Belonging? Or am I truly seeking You and You alone? If I have no special feelings or encounters, will I hold firm to faith in You? Reveal to me the beliefs of my own heart.
DO I Have Saving Faith?
I finally wondered, DO I have saving faith? I had intellectual assent, I had emotional experiences, I wanted salvation (or did I? I knew I wanted to go to heaven), I had “prayed the prayer”, I was even baptized as an adult – I was *IN*, wasn’t I???
Then, why didn’t my head and heart agree?
People assured me over and over again that I was saved, quoting scripture to prove it.
This verse terrified me:
Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord’, will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ Matthew 7:21-23
I wondered, could I be a “Christian” all my life and yet not be a Christian???
Oh, you guys, this was such an agonizing process for me. Many people don’t have to go through all this, and I’m so glad. But for those of us who do, you know what a struggle it is! I like quick fixes as much as anyone else. But I have had to wrestle through these issues of faith to the point of exhaustion. Why, when others seem to “get it” so easily? I’m not sure. Maybe it’s my personality (type A perfectionist, like to control and analyze everything), or maybe it’s just God’s chosen path for me. Maybe it’s so I can write this to help those who are on that same path.
Pray With Me: Jesus, do You know me?
Wait, I Think This Is Actually Real
Several years ago, our family went through some big changes and trials. I prayed to God for a fresh start – a time of spiritual awakening. I prayed for it for several years. And I committed to wrestling it through. As always, there was temptation to be pulled away. But this time, I pressed on anyways in dogged determination. I kept quoting:
“You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” (Jeremiah 29:13)
I would repeat it to God in my prayers – “God, you say in the Bible that I WILL find You if I seek You with all my heart. I’m holding You to Your word. I WILL keep seeking You until I find You.”
It wasn’t a fast or easy process. It was very much ongoing – day by day, week by week, month by month, year by year. From the time I started praying for spiritual renewal until I was finally granted assurance of salvation, was approximately five years. I hope it doesn’t take that long for you! I will share how it happened for me.
I had asked God to give me a time of spiritual renewal after we made a big move. Two months after said move, my grandma passed away. During her funeral, a portion of Don Piper’s book 90 Minutes in Heaven was read. For the rest of the funeral, my mind was spinning. The Holy Spirit used that reading to prompt me to consider that heaven is actually and truly real. Surely, I had always believed this on an intellectual level. But for the first time, I think my heart caught a glimpse of what that really meant…
I was left with two choices (as we always are when faced with the Holy Spirit nudging us). I could ignore it, or I could explore further. I chose to confront the following questions:
1. Do I really believe there is a spiritual realm? Not just, yeah, of course. But really? Deep down?
Well, I had to answer yes, mainly because as a young child, I had repeatedly seen (literally, with my open eyes) an image of a demonic face. (Note, my sister had also seen “spirits” when she was a child, and my daughter has also seen a demonic manifestation). So, despite this being a very negative and terrifying experience, it definitely convinced me that there is a spiritual (usually unseen) realm. And, while I would have much preferred to see a (good) angel, pretty much everyone in the Bible’s response to seeing one of those is also falling on their face in fear. If there is an unseen, spiritual realm that is REAL, then something (outside of humanity) has to explain it.
2. If yes, then what best explains it?
After studying how Jesus fulfilled so many Bible prophecies, the only religion that made sense to me was Christianity (did you know that over 25% of the Bible is prophecy? And that they have always been fulfilled – except the ones that are yet to come? It continually is self-validating). No other religious book has the track record of archeological and historical proof that the Bible does. And while we can’t explain everything yet, new evidence keeps coming forth in favor of the Bible. Intelligent as we are, I think it’s a pretty big stretch to say that mankind “knows it all”! If Christianity explains the spiritual realm (an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-present God who is actively involved in loving and disciplining His creation as a loving Father), then God is *actually* REAL.
3. If the Christian God is real, then because the Bible is His Word, it must also be true. If the Bible is true, then what implications does this have for how I live my life?
I decided I better start reading the Bible again. I began by reading the gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John). At this point, I hadn’t really read my Bible (or attended church) in years. It is amazing how just reading the Bible for yourself, praying for the Holy Spirit’s guidance and understanding, clears up so many misconceptions and answers so many questions. For the Bible to “speak” into my life evidences to me its’ power as the Word of God. It was written 2000 years ago (and some of it as much as 3500 years ago) and can still represent society and the hearts of humanity today.
Pray With Me: Jesus, I ask that You would open my eyes to see spiritual realities today. I understand the truths of heaven, hell, and the spiritual realm in my mind, but let me know and understand it in my heart.
I Think I’m Lukewarm!
Previously, when I did pursue God, I would give up if I didn’t seem to get what I wanted (a feeling of closeness, answered prayer, etc). I now believed God was worth pursuing relentlessly, that what the Bible said about Him and eternity was true.
At this point, I spent a few months reading through the gospels and John MacArthur’s The Gospel According to Jesus by flashlight at night while everyone else in the house slept. Through this, God showed me that I was holding out on Him. I was horribly convicted that I was one of the “lukewarm”.
I wanted to add Jesus as a “part of” my life. A comfortable part. The part that would send me to heaven when I died, avoiding the whole lake of fire thing. The parts about dying to self, making disciples of all nations, and being persecuted for my faith….not so comfortable. I remembered praying as a teenager for a boyfriend/spouse – for someone who was a Christian, but certainly and definitely not a missionary or a pastor. Oh please, I prayed, don’t ask me to be a missionary.
[sigh. This was a terrible prayer, by the way. God answered it, and I married someone who wants nothing to do with Him. And now it is me who is begging God to let me be a missionary. I now believe that all who follow Jesus are missionaries – ambassadors for Him – wherever we are at all times. We are just cleverly disguised in our roles and careers…]
Jesus doesn’t work that way. There is no Jesus-Lite. With Jesus it’s all or nothing – if I’m not FOR Him, I’m AGAINST Him.
Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters. Matthew 12:30
Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. (Revelation 3:20)
Jesus is a gentleman; He didn’t force his way inside my life. If I ignored Him, He went away.
You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. Jeremiah 29:13
ALL my heart. Not just a bit of my heart. Not just most of my heart. ALL my heart. That is where I had gone wrong for so many years. I was keeping Jesus on the porch, trying to entertain him through the screen door. Never did I step aside to let him come in past ME. To make any kind of progress, I had to decide to open the door and let him in… All the way.
I was scared to invite God to examine the dark corners of my heart. I was scared to look myself – afraid of what I would see! When I consciously volunteered my heart to God – his forgiveness was so freeing!
God’s light consumes our darkness, but only if we let it in!
In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. John 1:4-5
At one point, we choose faith in something. Whether that’s another god, or the wisdom of mankind (including our current understanding of scientific and historical discoveries), or the God of the Bible.
And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. Hebrews 11:6
I had worked through a belief in heaven and the supernatural. I had committed to seeking God until I found Him. I had confronted my heart, and the fact that I had been keeping Jesus out on the porch.
Pray With Me: Lord, I am horrified that I might be counted among the lukewarm. I’m sorry that I didn’t consider You worth seeking until I found You, I’m sorry for always giving up! I believe that no matter if it takes my whole energy and lifetime to do so, You are worth seeking until You are found. This time enable me to persevere in the faith until the end. I repent today of not following You with my whole heart – from holding back and keeping You out on the porch!
The Pendulum Swings
With my new-found conviction about being lukewarm, I threw myself right over the narrow road into the other ditch of legalism. Again, this is very typical of my personality – I’m not one to do anything half-heartedly.
I had confronted my beliefs intellectually. I had examined my heart. I had chosen God. These all led to “emotional” experiences, of feeling my heart and head lined up temporarily. But I KNEW I didn’t get something still! I had no idea what it was.
I knew I desperately wanted to be saved. I wanted Jesus to be my Lord. I knew my head and my heart still didn’t agree. But I still didn’t react right. I thought, okay, I’m going to convince my heart to believe like my head. How many times have we been told “act as if”? Such as, “Smile and you will start to feel happy?” Well… that may work with confidence and good feelings, but I can tell you it doesn’t work with salvation.
Now that I had decided I wanted to wholeheartedly be saved – that Jesus was right, and I was wrong – I wanted to control the process. I decided, okay, I want to be saved, so… I’m going to choose to be saved then. The Bible tells us what saved people look like, so I’m going to do all the things that saved people do. I’m going to make myself think like saved people think. I’m going to talk like saved people talk. I joyously threw myself into God’s work. I didn’t consciously do these things to try to earn salvation, but because I wanted my actions to line up with what my head believed. I was trying to “make” my heart believe, by “acting as if”.
Remember when I said that when I examined my life, I saw no “fruit of the Spirit”? I struggled with depression and anger. I had no joy or peace. I wasn’t particularly loving. I held these up, and decided I wanted to force these fruits in myself. So I went about with checklists and Bible studies on the fruit. I purchased some tzitzit (the tassles Jewish men hung on their clothing) to wear as bracelets to remind me to choose goodness and holiness. I wrote on my arms and hands to desperately try to curb my angry outbursts at my then-toddlers. I plastered verses on my mirrors and in my cupboards. I started fasting regularly. I tossed out things that weren’t “true, right, pure, good, or lovely”. I stopped celebrating secular holidays and learned about the Feasts of the Lord.
I had fully submitted myself to the realization that if Jesus was my Savior, He was also my “master”. (“No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.” Matthew 6:24). Either I am following Self or I am following Jesus. The Bible doesn’t leave any room for a middle road. It’s either the narrow one that leads to life, or the broad one that leads to destruction.
I pleaded with God to expose in my heart any and all sin, that He would convict me and make me holy. Now, friends, these were all good things in and of themselves. But remember, with Jesus, it’s all about the heart behind them.
I was struggling with letting go of control.
I was trying to good-works my way to proving my salvation to myself. Are you trying to get close to Jesus by being good, or are you approaching Him through the cross of mercy?
I kept searching and reading articles about salvation by “faith alone”. These suggested that if you believe you need to have good works to demonstrate salvation, then you are trying to earn the free gift of God. Trying to earn saving faith (through works, penance, donations, sacraments) is in essence stating that Jesus’ finished work on the cross wasn’t sufficient. Our works can’t add to or maintain salvation – I might do enough good things to build a great toboganning hill… Mother Teresa built a Mount Everest of good works… And neither of us could reach the Moon.
This verse came to mind:
All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags. Isaiah 64:6
Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. John 15:2
This was a rocky time for me. My inner dialogue went like this:
Faith without works is dead, but if we work for our faith Jesus will say to us “I never knew you”
Saving faith results in works, so if I don’t do the works, I’m not saved.
Either I am trying to add to Christ’s finished work by heaving filthy rags at it, desperately trying to prove how much I yearn for salvation, or I choose not to do good works and get pruned off and burned.
It was no-win.
Being convicted and repenting when we sin is good. After being born again, though, sin no longer is held against us in a judicial sense. Ever. Even if we don’t repent of it. Jesus’ blood pays the full tab of our salvation past, present, and future. We don’t have to, and can’t, maintain it ourselves. If we had to, we couldn’t and we would all be lost!
Pray With Me: Jesus, I keep trying to heave my filthy rags at what You have already done for me on the cross. Oh, please Jesus, open my heart to understand what You truly meant when You said – “It is Finished”!
The Enemy And His Foothold
The enemy is never happy when people are earnestly seeking God. He works hard for his footholds, and he doesn’t give them up lightly. You may have noticed that the more effort you put into trying to seek or follow Jesus, the more trouble seems to be thrown your way. For me, this came in the form of stumbling across an evangelical-Christian-turned-atheist’s website. It was very well written. Reading his story was very compelling. He had wrestled with some big issues, and his conclusions led him away from God. I believe the enemy led me there in my weakness, attempting to lead me down the same path he had led this other man.
Now listen. Throughout the history of mankind, there have always been two competing voices in our spiritual ears. We know this. It’s the battle of good and evil for our hearts. We even make cartoons about it! We have God’s Holy Spirit convicting us on the one side, and satan’s hiss on the other. Both sides want to be “found”. Our free will allows us to CHOOSE which one to listen to.
My faith was slammed up against the wall. It wavered. A lot. I saw stars and dots for a day or two. I faced a choice. Would I choose God, or would I choose doubt?
I stubbornly kept God’s promise in front of my blurry eyes and held Him to it – “You WILL find Me *if* you seek me with *all* your heart”. I deliberately CHOSE GOD. I chose to keep seeking until He gave me assurance of salvation.
You want to know why I didn’t give up this time? In the end it came down to another conviction. From watching all the signs going on in the world around us, I believe that our time is short. Many signs indicate that Jesus will come back – SOON. As much as I was tempted to spin the hamster wheel one more (or many more) time, I honestly didn’t know if I had that “luxury” anymore.
Guys. We are in the sunset of this age. God has given many signs so we can prepare our hearts. How much harder does He have to shake us out of slumber?
Pray With Me: Jesus, there are many voices competing for my attention. Conflicting thoughts run through my head. I confess that I’ve entertained the idea of following some of those voices and thoughts that lead to doubt, away from You. Today, I choose to take those voices and thoughts captive. I choose to trust You and Your Word. Develop my spiritual ear to hear Your still small voice.
Just… Stop Already
Now, I say I *chose* God. Perhaps the correct way to state this is that God allowed me to “choose” Him – God’s Holy Spirit must enable us to see His truths.
The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. 1 Corinthians 2:14
In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 2 Corinthians 4:4
While we can’t open our own spiritual eyes, we can certainly choose to close them – we don’t see what we don’t want to see. Faith, like love, is a CHOICE. We all put our faith somewhere. I am consciously CHOOSING to put my faith in God, trusting that He will take it from there.
There are two main errors in the (physical) church that are most significant, in my opinion:
1) Jesus PLUS. This suggests that a heart belief in Christ is “not enough” to be saved OR to maintain salvation. It is focused on human works. It believes true salvation can be lost, if we sin or aren’t good enough. It focuses on what humans have to do, not what Jesus has done. Very common in “religious” circles.
2) Intellectual assent or emotional experience salvation. This thrives on going from experience to experience. If someone assents to a belief in God or a general belief in Jesus and the Bible, they are reassured of salvation despite not having a heart experience of repentance, TURNING from sin/self and TOWARDS Christ. In this category we have word of faith, lukewarm, half-hearted, etc.
There are two ditches, and the narrow road in between is the Truth. Both extremes of following the words of Jesus through Paul ONLY versus not following the words of Jesus through Paul AT ALL are in greivous error. I am praying for both sides to be convicted by the Spirit of Truth!
Despite how much I wanted salvation, it still eluded me. Why did I have to think about it so much? Why couldn’t I just lah-di-dah in faith, carefree, as many seem to be able to do?
And I sobbed – Who am I to know my heart? My heart is a fickle thing, full of deceit and selfish motives. Even if I think I’m following the Holy Spirit’s leading I still keep getting it ALL WRONG.
And gently, but very clearly, God told me to STOP.
I remember the moment clearly. I was sitting in the bathroom, telling God that assurance of salvation was just too hard for me. I didn’t get it… I never would… and I was yelling in my head – “I have tried EVERYTHING…and NOTHING has worked!!!”
And that was God’s point exactly.
*I* was trying.
*I* was ensuring I believed the right things.
*I* was trying to force fruit to form.
*I* was doing good works as “proof”.
*I* was striving for assurance. (I finally got that the purpose of salvation wasn’t heaven, but I still hadn’t gotten that the purpose of salvation also isn’t “assurance of salvation”.)
And God told me to STOP.
I couldn’t save myself.
I knew this intellectually, of course. But I had to know it in my heart. Our human tendency is to want to add on to Jesus’ finished work in some way, even if it’s trying to force timing or assurance.
God told me – stop throwing your gross dirty rags my way. Just – Rest. Rest in the finished work of salvation. Only then will your works be “a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God” (Phil 4:18).
So, I did. I reflected on the Sabbath, and how Jesus came to fulfill the Law so that we could rest from striving for salvation. Salvation isn’t about heaven. It’s not about blessings or comfort or even about assurance. Salvation is simply about Jesus. Being reconciled to Him. Resting in what He has done. Becoming immersed in Him, filled by Him, abiding in Him.
The faith to believe in one’s heart is a free gift of God – sometimes He just gives it, sometimes we must ask. Sometimes we must ask, and ask, and ask, and ask… Like the persistent widow (Luke 18:1-8).
Finally, I got it.
It was as clear as day, like a light turning on. Salvation is the finished work of Christ. When we see how far short we fall of God’s glory, when we realize our utter inability to do anything about it, when we desire to clothe ourselves with Jesus’ blood and righteousness, when we TURN from following ME to following HIM, we are saved. We don’t have to SAY or DO anything. It happens in our hearts – it doesn’t even have to be a prayer.
Our heart clicks into alignment with God. We are utterly, and completely, helpless to do anything about our own condition. We throw ourselves at God’s feet, acknowledging we are wretched, poor, blind and naked. “I can’t do anything, God! Please do it for me! It’s too big for me – I need YOU!” We agree that our way is the wrong way, and we choose to follow His way, with Him in control.
(It sounds so easy, but for those of us who like to be in control, perfectionists who like to analyze and understand everything, who like to follow a set of well-written instructions and check them off – the heart is a terribly tricky thing!)
Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 18:3
It’s exactly as Jesus said, we must become like little children. Salvation is described as being “born-again”. When we are born, we are babies. Helpless, dependent. Like little children, we have faith that our Father will take care of us (and our heavenly Father does so perfectly). He says what He means, He means what He says, and we choose to obey Him because we trust and love Him. If you are a parent, you know how much easier life works if your children choose to trust and obey you (ideally because they love you) – even if they don’t completely understand your rationale.
My head and my heart have found peace and salvation. The closer I get to God, the more I am aware of how far I am from God’s holiness. How undeserving I am of His love and sacrifice. But that’s exactly it. I never was, and never will be deserving. And I can’t do a single thing about it. It is only when I truly stopped myself, died to self, crucified myself, that I found out how to live.
I have been crucified with Christ, and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me. (Galatians 2:20)
So this is the part where you may be stuck. It’s easy in concept but we can make it very complicated. This is where something needs to click. What happens is that the Holy Spirit convicts you. You realize you are lost, and you want to be found. But now you actually have to get found and have that blood of Jesus applied to the doorposts of your heart so God’s eternal wrath will pass you by. In the court of God’s law you will then be declared innocent – ransom price paid in full. This doesn’t even take words! It doesn’t take any action. It’s more like an inaction… A surrender. A letting go. Of control, of your future, of yourself, of your way of thinking, or your goals, of your dreams, just a complete and total letting go and falling into God’s arms. Giving up YOU for HIM. Whatever that will look like. STOPPING striving. STOPPING religion and works and trying. J ust…. Stopping… And letting go.\
Listen, folks. It’s all about Jesus.
When it comes right down to it, it’s about the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. It’s about the precious Name above all Names – Jesus Christ. The Name at which every knee will bow, every tongue confess that He is Lord.
Have you been washed in His blood? There is no other way. No other path. No other gate. There’s only one door to heaven.
The way is steep, the gate is narrow and few find it. Jesus is the Door. He’s the bread of life, the living water, the way, the truth, the Word. He’s the Good Shepherd. He’s calling each and every one of you. Come into His flock.
If you are struggling on the precipice of decision, don’t let it go. Choose today whom you will serve – yourself, or Jesus.
It’s about allowing yourself to die and be reborn in Christ. It’s all about the heart and not about the words.
Pray With Me: Dear Jesus, please forgive me for writing salvation as something to check off on my to do list. I want it. I yearn for it. I believe all the right things. And yet it eludes me. I have DONE all I can think of to DO. Jesus today I erase the box off MY checklist and put it on YOURS. This is a task that ONLY YOU can do. Save me, Jesus. Please, save me. It’s in YOUR hands, not mine. I relinquish control. Amen
A Quick Recap
Let me be clear upfront that we can’t earn or maintain our salvation in any way. There is nothing – nothing at all – that we can do to “deserve” salvation. We don’t deserve it, and we can’t earn it! We deserve God’s wrath, both now and forevermore!
We must understand that we do, truly, deserve God’s wrath. God does not consider sin lightly. When Jesus hung on the cross in agony, tortured and beaten almost beyond recognition, He was not taking your sin upon Himself lightly. How “Christian” do we have to be, to be saved? The short answer is, ALL THE WAY, ENTIRELY Christian. We either are FOR God or AGAINST Him. There is no partway. Being partway (having some Christian-like beliefs, values, or behaviors) can be a step in our journey towards salvation, but it is never an endpoint. It is not-quite-there-yet.
Once we understand what we deserve, sometimes we don’t like that helpless feeling of not being able to earn or maintain their own salvation, so they add traditions and works in an attempt to “measure up”. They want to feel as if they have some control over the process (if I do X and Y, then I’m “good enough”; conversely, if I do NOT do X and Y, I am NOT “good enough”). Thus, they think they need to suffer a little bit – or maybe a lot – before they are worthy of “rescue”. There may be a deep-seated unconscious desire to pay for their badness. This felt need for punishment often has its’ roots in childhood.
What about you? Can you understand that God saves you *in spite* of your badness? Can you comprehend His mercy through the blood of Christ, which will withhold His eternal punishment upon you?
My loves, we have no control. We are completely, utterly, totally, helplessly dependent upon Jesus for salvation. No amount of suffering, trials, tribulation, or even a martyr’s death, would make us worthy!
…but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. (Romans 5:8-9)
In your head I’m sure you know the steps and agree with them. But in your heart… Do you want to be worthy, to show you are worthy? Were you raised in a strict home, or a religious home, where you had to prove your worth?
You weren’t worth of salvation.
You aren’t worthy of salvation.
You never will be worthy of salvation.
You can’t get close to God by acting any certain way, in fact it will always lead to failure.
You were made for a purpose. There is a reason why you are here, in THIS time and in THIS place. You aren’t accidental. All those parts of you that don’t feel whole but want to be whole, that’s because you were created for a purpose, to have meaning. But you haven’t found it yet! So you’ve probably tried many things to fill it… As most of us do…. And here you are. God made you. He called you into being. You are “fearfully and wonderfully made”. He has a plan for your life and He WANTS you. He wants to be in relationship with you. Not in a begging pleading kind of way, but He made you to be in His family and basically you won’t feel whole until you are.
Your purpose is to KNOW God. Imagine that you are a compass. When you are a baby your compass points to your parents. They are your beeping home base, so you know where you belong, who you are, what to do. As you grow up and become a teen, your compass is swirling in a tornado. You don’t know which way is up! Your compass wildly tries to find TRUE NORTH but can’t.
You cling to anything with a weak “you belong” signal. Friends, alcohol, boyfriends/girlfriends, sex, drugs, parties, whatever it is. But…those make terrible North’s as they aren’t true… so each time one fails you your compass is spinning and swirling on end again trying to find a stable beeping home base.
But… You can’t quite figure it out. You try to be a “good Christian” but it “doesn’t work” for you. It seems like the harder you try, the worse you fall. But the thing is, TRUE Christianity isn’t a religion. And that’s why it’s hard to figure out on a purely intellectual level!
It’s not something you follow – a list of to dos, to not dos, and traditions. It’s someOne you follow.
And unless Jesus opens your mind and heart to see Him, you actually cannot become a Christian by trying. It’s nothing a human can do. Becoming a true Christian is something God has to do, to us.
I’m sure you’ve heard the terms, but it’s called being born again. We can’t birth ourselves. So there’s really no point in trying to get saved, because we can’t and we won’t. I mean, the morals are good for everyone around us and ourselves too, because it’s a rational and loving way to live. But following Christian teaching doesn’t save us. It doesn’t get us to heaven. It doesn’t save us from hell. And the point of being saved isn’t actually going to heaven or avoiding hell. The point of salvation is Jesus.
My sweet friend, have you internalized that God’s love for you, unlike human love, is truly unconditional – independent of what you do or do not do? If not, please consider reading I Have Loved You With an Everlasting Love. We are only able to love God because He loved us first (1 John 4:19).
Jesus paid the price of your death penalty. He didn’t just pay part of the tab – He paid the full tab. All that remains is whether or not you accept that payment to be applied to your account. If you keep trying to pay part of it, you don’t truly understand the grace of God! Nor do you understand your total depravity – your complete and utter unworthiness. You do not have anything to offer God that remotely compares to what Jesus has done for you.
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)
Salvation is the gift of God given by grace, through faith. God’s mercy withholds the punishment we do deserve; God’s grace gifts the salvation we do not deserve.
“I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24)
True salvation results in a changed life.
Salvation is all about Jesus and what He has done for us. Sanctification is all about Jesus and what He is doing in us. Always, Jesus is the focus, not us. It’s not about our feelings. Salvation is a deep seated trust, knowing in your heart that you are a child of God because you believe God’s Word is true.
It comes back to purpose. The purpose of your life is to live with JESUS as your compass. That’s the purpose for every single human. HE alone is True North. A compass pointed anywhere else will result in emptiness and eternal lostness. There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death. There is only one way, one truth, one life – Jesus. You were made to live a life in harmony with Jesus. To walk with Him, to talk with Him, and to base your worldview upon His Word.
Those who are truly saved will be convicted by sin. If we have been crucified with Christ (born again), we no longer live, but Christ lives in us. We have free will to cooperate or to grieve/quench the Holy Spirit, but if we persist in disobedience then God will discipline us. He wants us to be holy, as He is holy. The motivation for our obedience is from the inside out, driven by our love for Him. The spirit of the law (inside out) rather than the letter (outside in). With God, it’s all about the heart.
When we focus on our outward behaviors, we miss working on aligning our hearts with God. If we focus on aligning our hearts with God, the outer behaviors will change more effortlessly. While outwardly we are wasting away, inwardly we are being renewed day by day. It’s about an heart transformation from the inside out, and that is the hard thing to grasp in “religion” which is focused on the outside. Same with authoritarian parenting if we were brought up strictly, it can be difficult for us to focus on the heart rather than on the behavior outwardly.
You guys, Our eyes will all get pulled off of Jesus for one reason or another. It is then that we stumble…. We look to Jesus the author and finisher of our faith, as our guiding compass point. When we let our compass get bonked we reset our needle to the Source.
Following Jesus isn’t about rules. We love to obey His rules because they are good and right and holy and lead us into good and moral living, they pay off even for unbelievers. But we don’t follow them as if they are a law into themselves. Keeping your eyes on Jesus is another way of saying abide in Him. Or another way of saying pray continually. Or another way of saying whatever is true right pure and lovely, keep your thoughts on these things.
My sweet friends, subsequent to salvation we absolutely do want to obey Jesus. We are to be transformed into His likeness as we abide in Him, and walk by the Spirit.
Finally, in my own life, I was ready for full surrender. I accepted that God’s plan and purpose for me was the same as it is for you – to love Him and serve Him wholeheartedly. He has prepared you, your personality, your talents, your gifts, for a specific time and place just as He has prepared me.
When I cried out, Here Am I, send me! He has sent me, He is using me. All glory to Jesus. When you cry out – “Here am I, send me!” – He will! Keep asking.
I long for the day when we hear the call to come home. Because this walk, this place is so hard, every.single.day. But we occupy until He comes.
I hope this helps you on your own personal journey. If this has touched you, I’d love to hear from you. If you still need help, I’d love to hear from you. Please message me, or comment below!
You have broken God’s rules and are considered a sinner – “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).
Even one wrong thing carries the death penalty in God’s eyes. You are lost, dead in your sins – “For the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23).
Seeing yourself as lost and wanting to do something about it, is called “repenting”. The Holy Spirit has convicted you. You realize you are lost, and you want to be found.
You can’t save yourself. You aren’t worthy, you can’t be worthy, you will never be worthy. The only way to do anything about your condition is through Jesus Christ – Jesus says “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through me.” (John 14:6)
The Bible makes it clear that every sin has to be punished by death and paid by the penalty of innocent blood. Jesus lived a perfect life on Earth – though He lived as a man under God’s Law, He never broke the Law. This qualified Him to take our sins upon Himself to become a perfect sacrifice. Jesus died on the cross to take our punishment for us. His blood paid the price required by God for our sins.
“But God demonstrates His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)
It doesn’t end there, though. On the third day, Jesus was raised to life, to a new eternal body. When we join God’s spiritual family, we, too, will get a new eternal body someday.
“the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ, our Lord” (Romans 3:23)
Are you with me so far? You’re the sinner, He’s the Savior. We chose to sin and Jesus chose to be a “sin-bearer” and take God’s wrath for us. God offers an all-inclusive “forgiveness slip” to every human on earth. If we believe what God has said about us (we are totally lost and have no hope of saving ourselves), and what He has done to fix it (Jesus is the only way as a Savior), we can obtain this “forgiveness slip”. We can ask God for Jesus’ payment to be applied to our account. This allows us to be declared innocent and sin-free in God’s Eyes – the debt we owed for our crimes is paid. Salvation is a change in legal standing before God – from “guilty” to “not guilty”. Jesus didn’t just pay PART of our debt, or even MOST of it, leaving some on the tab for us. He paid our ENTIRE debt.
“If you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord”, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.” (Romans 10:9-10)
When you say Jesus is Lord, this means you believe He is God and as your Creator, He deserves to be Lord of your life. When you believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you accept that what the Bible teaches about Jesus is true and that His death paid the price for your wrongdoings.
“For by grace you are saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God; it is not from works, so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)
Now, if you are stuck, this is where you have to actually get found and have the blood of Jesus applied to the doorposts of your heart. It doesn’t take any action. It doesn’t take any words. It’s more like an inaction – a surrender. A letting go. Of control, of dreams, of self – just a complete and total letting go and falling straight into the arms of God. It means stopping striving. Stopping religion and works and trying and proving.
Say something like this to God (called prayer):
“Jesus, I long for You. I believe in You – help my unbelief! I want to let go, of everything. All my striving, all that I am and all that I have, my whole heart. I offer it up to You. It’s all I have to give! I have broken Your rules and I’m so sorry. It is against You, and You alone, that I have sinned! I deserve Your eternal wrath. But while I was lost You came here, died, and rose again to pay my death penalty. Please apply that forgiveness to me! Put Your blood as a covering over me, and wash away my sins! Fill me with Your Spirit. Make me new in You today. I want to be part of your family! I want to live my life with my compass centered on You and You alone. Take away my desires that don’t please You. Change me from the inside out, starting in my deepest darkest places. I fling open the doors of my heart wide to You! Come in, fill it with your light and love! Clean out the skeletons and the cobwebs. I’m ready to let go and be changed! Teach me to follow You. Help me! I want my life to be a fragrant offering of sacrifice to You from this day forth. I want to love You with all my heart, soul, mind and strength. Be my first love! Help me now to walk with You until my very last breath.
In Jesus’ Name I pray,
“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1 ESV)
If you asked God to forgive you, and have chosen to follow Him, you are now part of His family. Your adoption has been finalized and you are “born again”! God has given you a clean slate. It’s now time to learn more about Him, grow your relationship with Him, and choose to obey Him. It’s like any relationship – it takes time and dedication!
For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. – Romans 10:13 ESV