Many Christians struggle with doubting their salvation or with doubting the sincerity of their faith. In this struggle there is a subtle trap, the danger of examining the strength of your faith rather than focusing on the strength of your Savior. Focusing on how strong His grip is on you, rather than how strong your grip is on Him is a key to persevering in the faith.
In Philippians 3:4-14 Paul shares some of his testimony and experience of the gospel. He is certainly sure of his salvation! But this assurance doesn’t lead him to a passive rest. Rather it leads to a confident striving forward. How can we strike the balance between a sinful presumption on God’s grace on one hand and on a legalistic I have to work hard to keep myself saved mentality on the other? Both of these are sinful “ditches” of error to be avoided as we mature in trusting in Christ.
Paul knew that he was not sinlessly perfect. None of us will be until we are glorified in heaven. But the fact that sinless perfection is not attainable in this life did not cause Paul to give up all hope of any sanctification. Rather, he was seriously devoted to pursuing practical righteousness in any way possible. He wanted his day to day righteousness to be conformed to the righteousness of Christ that was legally credited to him by faith. We should too. I often pray, “Father I want to be as sanctified as is possible in this life.”
What is important to notice in this passage about perseverance is the foundation of Paul’s striving. He doesn’t say, “I’ve worked so hard to get this far I don’t want to turn back now.” He knew that the only way he (or anyone) had any hope of sanctification and glorification was on the sure foundation of the finished work of Christ. Christ’s love for us is the foundation of our love for Him. Christ’s pursuit of us is the impetus for our pursuit of Him. If you flip the two in your mind, you have ruined the truth of the gospel.
Most Christians doubt their faith at some point in life. Some seem to doubt their faith much more either because of their personality or upbringing or possibly some sin in their life. Regardless of the cause of your doubt, the answer is always the same. Repent of your sin and trust in Christ. Whether you are repenting and believing for the first time or for the trillionth, that is the path forward spiritually.
Maybe you haven’t truly trusted in Christ yet. Or maybe you have, but you are just struggling badly with sin like David in 2 Samuel 11 or Peter on the night Christ was betrayed. Either way, the answer is the same. If you aren’t a Christian or you are a backslidden Christian, the answer is: Repent and believe the gospel.
I have a friend who asks a great question to those struggling with assurance of salvation. Rather than asking, “If you aren’t a Christian would you want to become one now?” essentially he says, “Let’s assume you aren’t a Christian, are you ready now to fully surrender to Christ as Lord and fully trust Him as Savior?” That may not be the best question for someone that has been struggling with doubts on and off for twenty plus years. But it can be helpful to clear away unhelpful issues such as I'm not exactly sure of exactly when or where I trusted in Christ. It cuts to the heart of the issue: Will you repent now? Will you trust in Christ now? Will you persevere?
Maybe the greatest and yet most subtle danger when someone is doubting their salvation is the temptation to turn inward and overly examine their own faith. Paul does exhort professing believers in the church to “Examine yourselves to see whether you be in the faith.” (2 Corinthians 13:5). But even this is best done in a community of the body of Christ where mentors can best help you discern the genuine quality of your faith.
If you are left alone to examine your own faith for too long, it can lead to a deadly sort of navel gazing. Walking alone through the corridors of your own mind trying to determine the reality of your thoughts and feelings about Christ can turn into a house of mirrors where everything becomes distorted. Even the strongest Christians have weaknesses in their faith. Poking and prodding at ourselves and the substance of our faith can have troubling results. It can lead us further down the rabbit hole of doubt, fear, worry and “What if?”
Rather than spending so much time praying, thinking and questioning ourselves alone about the nature of our faith, there is a better path. We ought to spend much time looking away from ourselves and focusing on Christ. We ought to meditate on the blood bought “alien righteousness” (as Martin Luther says) that Christ has gifted to us. Our faith is weak. But Christ is still strong.
We have a two story fort in my yard. My kids like to climb on the roof. When they were young, I would climb up first to help them. They were nervous and their hands sweaty. I would tell them to let me grab their wrist so that I could wrap my whole hand around their small wrists. They would say, “I don’t feel as secure like that because I can’t wrap my hand around your wrist.” I'd respond, “It doesn’t really matter how tightly you are grabbing onto me. What matters is how tightly I'm holding on to you. Think about how tightly I'm clinging to you and that will make you feel safe.”
In John 6:37-44 Jesus portrays salvation as a hand-off between the Father and the Son. Much of our daily life should be devoted to meditating on Their strength and love. They never fumble!