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A Friend's Struggle For Assurance

He was known in the small town where he grew up for breaking the county high school pole-vault record. Strong-willed by temperament, he also had a reputation for being a troublemaker.

When he let it be known at the age of 17 that he had decided to become a follower of Christ, the community took notice. The ripple effect of those who followed him into his new found faith continued over the years to change the course not only of individual lives but of several generations of families.

Yet not long ago, this friend told me that in his enthusiasm for Christ he struggled for many years afterward with the assurance of his salvation.

After several conversations about what it took for him to resolve his doubts, I asked him if he’d write some of his story in his own words. Here’s what he said.

“A few years after my conversion I began studying and worshiping with people who took salvation seriously. We were convinced that just making a decision to accept Christ wasn’t enough. We looked for evidence of genuine change of heart. We focused on our sins, confessing and repenting in our minds and hearts until we felt we had turned from all that was wrong in our lives. Together, we thought we could have the assurance of our salvation only when we were sure that we had renounced all that was unworthy of Christ, and only when we were sure we were ready to follow His lordship completely.”

He went on to say,

“What we were looking for was holiness. We believed we needed to seek God ‘wholly’ until we were holding nothing back-no sinful or vain desire, no reservation, no jealousy, no anger, no bitterness, no selfish ambition, and no pride. Our goal was to be cleansed from the very nature of sin.”

One thing that is important about my friend’s story is that it shows what can happen among those who seem to be most serious about their faith. While some make the mistake of thinking that Christ will come into an unrepentant heart, his experience shows what can happen to those who try so hard to be perfect that they actually end up without any assurance of the grace of God.

This pursuit of perfection  turned out to be a side-track for my friend. While still in high school he had worked to develop his skill at the pole vault. But now, in the company of friends and teachers in the pursuit of “extreme righteousness,” he found himself with an even higher bar to clear. He goes on to say…

“Following Christ was very difficult. I remember as a young man, stopping one evening, my head hurting, with tremendous mental anguish-trying not to sin against God! This struggle took different forms. Sometimes I’d find myself plagued by the fact that I knew I had sinned. In those moments, I felt lost. I was no longer ready for His coming. I had separated myself from God again. On other occasions I would agonize, wondering whether I had been ‘good’ enough to show that my faith in Christ was real. Struggling so much with doubt and fear of losing my salvation I spent a lot of time ‘feeling my spiritual pulse’ to see if I thought I was doing enough for God to qualify for His grace.

“Looking back, one of the things I find most significant is that I went through periods of pride when I considered the list of things I had done to ‘keep’ my salvation. There were times I was convinced that I had kept my end of the bargain, so now God would have to keep His. I felt this was part of the deal. In those moments I felt that God and I were now ‘even’-and with this mutual relationship I felt I really didn’t ‘owe’ Him anything. I had paid my dues!”

“Those moments of pride always gave way to times of failure. While hiding my doubts and despondency from others, I knew I had to be honest with myself. Slowly, as I read the Scriptures and thought about them, I discovered that my friends and I had been adding our own theology to the ‘good news.’ I saw that while we said we believed in Christ as our Savior, we were trying to reach a level of ‘holiness’ that depended on our efforts. At first the answer came to me like a whisper. Then it shouted out to me from many places in Scripture. I would read verses like, ‘no man is justified by the works of the law’ (Galatians 2:16), and I would cry in relief.”

“After comparing my earlier thoughts to what the Bible actually says, I am no longer overwhelmed by my own inadequate attempts to turn from sin. Today the doubts about whether my faith is genuine and complete enough are gone. I now understand that faith is not achieving a high level of performance that qualifies me for God’s acceptance. Instead I know that faith means relying entirely on what Christ has done for me. I now rest in the awareness that His death on the cross made salvation a free eternal gift (Romans 6:23; Ephesians 2:8-10). And that by trusting in Him I am God’s child forever. Relying on what Christ did for me is my peace.”

“This new confidence doesn’t free me of my desire to live for God. Now I am actually much more aware of my indebtedness to the One who has offered grace to such a sinner. I am humbled again and again by the thought that Christ saves and keeps me eternally as His own. I serve Him out of gratitude for such mercy.”

One reason I wanted you to read my friend’s story is that, in our conversations together the last few days, we’ve been trying to balance one of the many healthy tensions of the Bible.

On one hand we’ve been looking at a grace of forgiveness that is so free that it sounds scandalous. In this grace, the worst of sinners can inherit the kingdom of God by entrusting themselves to Christ and accepting the free gift of what he has suffered for us on his cross.

Yet in this grace, it is also possible to so ignore the ways of God that we end up being “saved” yet like a person who escapes a burning house with nothing but his life (1Cor 3:11-15). In this condition, we can fail to “inherit” (or practically experience and enjoy) the benefits of living under the loving rule of Christ now.

I hope we can keep comparing notes about this. Do you identify at all with my friend’s story?

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15 Responses to “A Friend's Struggle For Assurance”

  1. Gale L. Jarvis says:

    Good Morning everyone, Mart, I have read yesterdays thoughts, and i believe having the security that is ours through being Born Again is just that, the big word as far as us humans are concerned is the word ( IF ), if i have been Born Again, i am a child of God, as i have mentioned before God knows whether my desire is to be His child or not.
    I believe if i am a child of God’s this way of life will begin taking place whereby i will know i have been Born Again.
    It probably will take a good while before others will know for sure, and it may take a long time for a person to mature to a place where others will also know, and i believe just as in the natural life some never grow up.
    i believe as God tells us in 1st Corinthians 3 some may see their whole life burn up before them, but they will be saved so as by fire.
    God knows and will judge, God has not given me the job of judging another.
    I believe a person can be saved in spite of themselves, even if they do not believe in the security of the believer, but as your friend struggled Mart, there was no peace, and i believe this is the peace God offers that passes all understanding, not a peace that i can live how ever my sinful nature desires, but a peace that my new life desires to please God.
    God is God, and desires for me to ask, and know He will give me the desires of my heart that are in His will.
    Once again, i know in whom i have believed, and know He will keep that which i have commited to Him.
    Commiting to God is something we can know we have done, not just that He is, and not just desiring to escape Hell, but after coming to know God, and His way of life, desiring, and asking the Holy Spirit for help, to live a life worhty of the calling from God.

  2. hal.fshr says:

    I appreciate the blog article on the issue of assurance of salvation and trying to be “good enough.” Mart wrote: “One reason I wanted you to read my friend’s story is that, in our conversations together the last few days, we’ve been trying to balance one of the many healthy tensions of the Bible.” Certainly, the inner struggle between the desire to indulge evil desires and the desire to obey God are a central internal struggle for all believers.

    This struggle reminded me of a passage in Galatians. Here I quote it followed by a short excerpt from the Bible Knowledge Commentary.

    “16 I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. 17 For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law” (Gal 5:16-18).

    “Paul explained the need for a life that is controlled and energized by the Spirit. The explanation is found in the fact that each Christian has two natures, a sinful nature received at birth, inherited from fallen Adam, and a new nature received at regeneration when said Christian became a participant in the divine nature (cf. 2 Peter 1:4). Both natures have desires, the one for evil and the other for holiness. Thus they are in conflict with each other, and the result can be that they keep a believer from doing what he otherwise would” (The Bible Knowledge Commentary).

    Even walking in dependence on the Holy Spirit will not remove this internal conflict. But it does provide a way to live an empowered life that is more characteristic of Christ likeness.

    Thanks for your thoughts, Mart.

  3. Hephzibah610 says:

    Struggled? Oh yes…Coming in to true faith through a background of works based upbringing I have struggled with this. When first introduced to Christ it sounded too simple…believe. After a period of years I came in contact with a former pastor who began to try to explain “holiness” and the doctrine he embraced. It was confusing to me as I could see how some scripture could be interpreted in the way of holiness… He also mentioned that we need to keep the slate clean and we are always ‘checking ourselves” spiritually to make sure we are “okay”. I wrestled with these thoughts for days/weeks…until one day I cried out to the LORD; “LORD, I can’t do this!” Somehow in my spirit I felt like He said: “I know, that’s why I sent My Son.” And then the Holy Spirit reminded me of a couple verses: that He is the Author AND Perfector/Finisher of our faith….that He who began the work WILL complete it…and the verse in Galatians that speaks of being foolish enough to think that we can complete in the flesh the work that was begun in the Spirit and faith.

    It was a BIG “whew” for me as I prayed, thanking God that just as I was dependent upon Him to save me, I also was dependent upon Him to keep me….and I found rest in that revelation…

    Thanks for your article…it has brought back to my mind the wondrous grace and mercy of our LORD!

  4. yvetterjh says:

    As I read the article today, and looked back on the past two articles I couldn’t help but scream, WE OWE GOD! It’s the least we can do. Although we can never repay Him for the sacrifice He made for us, or for the grace He extends to us daily, I think it is vital to remember that we are indebted to Him always. We should get up in the morning with thanksgiving in our heart for another opportunity to show Him gratitude. Our own children could never repay us for all that we have given them, but the least they could do is honor and obey us. We even expect that from our pets. And that is exactly what our heavenly Father is saying.

    However, In relation to your friend’s story, I agree that we cannot allow the pursuit of holiness to become an idol itself, but instead find a humble balance. There is a line between adoration (reverence), and reality and flesh. The Holy Spirit will guide us along that path that is pleasing to Him, but we must be willing.

    So often I have seen the extremes of both sides. There are those, like your friend, who hit the ground running for hopes of being recognized as perfect, God’s favorite. Then there are those who take the attitude that perfection, holiness, righteousness is something that could never be achieved here on earth, therefore why try- “God knows my heart”. There is a whole denomination running on this “all have sinned and fall short” theory. I cannot tell you how much I despise this statement. It’s a cop out. It is a way that Satan has used to shut us down, and miss out on the inherited kingdom that God has for us today. We must try, and continue to try for God’s pleasing, because we owe.

    Everyday God shows us something that He has given us that we don’t deserve. We owe! Paul states ” I press toward the prize of the high calling which is in Jesus Christ (Phil 3:14) Let us continue to press, and not allow the enemy to distract us from our responsibility.

    Be Blessed

  5. daisymarygoldr says:

    This struggle is universal to all followers of Christ even as we relate to Paul’s cries of frustration in Rom 7: “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but do what I hate to do. I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? Thanks be to God- the answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord!”

    As long as we reside on this planet we’ll be always subjected to the earth’s gravitational pull. Thanks to the Wright brothers for discovering the law of aerodynamics that helped to set us free from the law of gravity…enabling us to overcome the earthly pull and soar to unreachable heights far above in space! “For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and death” (Romans 8:2)

    Therefore, as followers of Christ we can rest in the firm assurance that nothing can separate us from the Love of Christ (Romans 8:38-39) and nothing can ever pluck us from the hands of our Heavenly Father (John 10:28-29)!

  6. pegramsdell says:

    When I realized that Jesus was truly alive and had not died on the cross, I was so happy and shocked. I realized that it was true, I got a witness way deep down inside of me and I was truly set free. I felt different, acted different, couldn’t wait to tell everyone about it.
    I had such peace and love in me, everything was beautiful and everyone was beautiful.
    Then as the years went I let the cares of the world and my family pull me away, and I thought there was no way back, that God would never forgive me again.
    But, thank You Jesus, He did. I went through a lot of changes and struggles where I tried to “do” everything right also. I can so relate.
    Thank you for your friends story and God bless you Mart.

  7. desert rose says:

    I have found what everyone wrote interesting and true.

  8. Elaa says:

    I may be wrong, but I think the struggle for assurance comes with the territory of being a believer!

    Personally, I don’t ‘struggle’ to make sure I qualify – I know for a fact I would never make it by my works. My struggle though -when I do struggle- is that ‘am I still in?’ So it’s not, ‘have I been good enough to stay in?’ It’s ‘have I so missed it that I’m out?’ It doesn’t help that God has His own formula for answering prayers. So, I tend to think, He’s not answering because I am out.

    But I can imagine the struggle. My latest nightmare is that my sister, who was an ordained minister of God has become a muslim! She has been seperated from her pastor husband for some years now, and is in the process of getting a divorce. It’s a touchy matter, so we are not talking about it. But I can imagine that she didn’t think she qualified as a divorcee. Islam on the other hand, does not frown on her being a divorcee and she can even remarry. I’m a believer married to a divorced believer but I guess she didn’t feel we qualified. So, I have a sister who is a minister-turned- muslim.

  9. cerenity says:

    When you struggle with any problem, no matter how big it seems, remember God is bigger and he knows what you are going through. Keep your head held high, and smile, and say over and over again to yourself. “Walk by Faith, Not by sight everything will turn out right.” Say it everyday before you leave the house. Say it like you mean it!
    Then wish everyone you meet, I hope you have the best day ever. When someone asks you How are you? Say Blessed, thank you. Say it with conviction! God hears you, He might not answer you right away, but He does hear you, God gives us what we need, not what we want.
    Everyday you are upright is a good day!
    You see I can say this because this is my story:
    Several years ago my husband and I moved from Arizona to North Carolina, we sold everything we had at a yard sale including our home. So with walkie talkies, a truck filled with the things we wanted to keep, and me following behind in a car with our dog we set out, not knowing if we would have a home, or jobs. We set out and 2300 miles, I kept repeating walk by faith, not by sight everything will be alright. Playing the song He keeps his eye on the sparrow. When we arrived, within 2.5 months we had a 3 bedroom 1.5 bath home in a nice neighborhood, we both got jobs we like, and being 55 years old, and my husband being 72 we have a better life now then we ever had in Arizona. God Blessed Us Good, and He will Bless you too. All He wants you to do is to turn your problems over to Him, and don’t take them back. If you take them back they will never disappear, they will only get worse. Let Go and Let God! Simple to say yes! Hard to do? That’s up to you.
    May God Be with this day and everyday. I hope everyone can turn their problems over to the care of God as we understand and need Him. Let God know He is loved by you today. If you can’t think of a short prayer here’s one: God I hope we both have a good day today, and thank you for all you do in my life, and I hope I do something to make you smile.

  10. cerenity says:

    If money is your problem, this is what I have done:
    First I made a sign and taped it to the wall where I could see it no matter where in my favoirte room I sat. The sign says: SPIRIT OF DEBT DOES NOT AND WILL NOT HAVE A HOLD ON MY LIFE DEBT FREE IS WHAT I WILL BE!
    Then on my white board I wrote:
    God’s plan is for us to pray to be debt free and perservere-I will not rob peter to pay paul-Interest will go in my pocket not theirs.
    Debt free is what we will be!
    Remember walk by faith not by sight everything will turn out right. say it, belive it and it will happen if you want it bad enough.
    Bills will begin to disappear. Your living on cash not credit. I wish you well. Easy no! Worth the pain, YOU BET! I wish you well!

  11. Ted M. Gossard says:

    Helpful testimony. His testimony reminded me of some folks I knew as a young Christian.

    I was raised in a tradition that believes in “conditional security” though not long after I became a Christian as a teenager I became convinced of “eternal security.” Now I’m more in the “conditional security” belief again. Though I don’t like either phrase.

    I’ve seen too many cases of “once saved always saved” meaning one accepts Christ and then go out and sin left and right but think they’re eternally secure. Well, only God knows their heart and what’s going on. As you say, and I wonder about that interpretation of “inherit the kingdom of God”, they at least are not enjoying their salvation.

    It’s all grace, and I believe God works in his children so we persevere, but it’s all of grace. I don’t get worried when I inevitably sin or struggle with sin. Though I should worry if I don’t care anymore and no longer bother with confession of sin, and repentance. The grace of God is at work to help us in that way.

    I see from the Scripture the idea that a Christian, yes a Christian can apostasize, turn their back on God and no longer care. Something of what Hebrews talks about when one despises the blood of the covenant by which they were sanctified and does despite to the Spirit of grace, and crucifies the Son of God all over again. If this interpretation is true, I also think it’s not easy to get there. I know this sounds like foreign language to you in the other camp.

    But I think we need both the truth of grace, it’s all of grace, but also the truth of ongoing responsibility of us to persevere in the faith and continue in the grace of God. Scripture passages on both sides of that, I believe.

  12. sjd says:

    Romans 12:1 (NIV)
    1 Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God–this is your spiritual act of worship.

    In view of all that God has done for me(everything), the only right response is, “Go ahead, keep doing it through me. This is your body, any attempts that I make myself, in my own power are worthless. Thank you for not only dying for me, but also for being my life! I no longer live, you live through me!

  13. daisymarygoldr says:

    Cerenity, you are so sweet. It is refreshing to see such immense faith during these present times of “see and believe”!

    Ted M. Gossard, though we perceive things differently we all belong to the same “camp” or “fold” or “body” of Christ. If Christians ‘turn away’ or ‘drift away’ from God they will forfeit their privilege of fellowship (i.e. to enjoy as Mart likes to interpret “inherit”) but not their relationship with their Heavenly Father. I can get mad at my earthly father and not speak to him (enjoy his fellowship) for days but nothing will forfeit my right to be called his daughter. In Hebrews, Paul is warning us not to underestimate the finished work of Christ on the Cross by living an unrepentant sinner’s lifestyle thereby subjecting Christ to open ridicule. Can a Christian deny God and still continue to be His child? Yes, Peter denied Him thrice! Can a follower of Christ not truly be a Christian? Yes, Judas was very much one among the chosen 12 but really was not of them (1 John 2:19). A true Christian will not live a continually sinful lifestyle (1 John 3:6) but will humbly repent, confess and resume “enjoying” the secure salvation of the grace of God.

    Elaa, God’s abundant Grace is greater than all our sins and once inside the ‘ark of Christ’, we are sealed and secured for eternity- there is no coming out and going in. Praying for you and your sis…

  14. paul bishop says:

    God in His mercy, doesn’t give us what we do deserve,

    God in His grace, gives us what we don’t deserve.

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