In the Bible it is written, “Give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall: for so an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” (2Pet 1:10-11) God encourages us to be diligent, to verify, to put forth an earnest effort to secure our eternal place in the kingdom of God. Even though God Himself is the One Who calls and elects us, He encourages each of us individually to ensure that He has actually done so, to be certain that He has called and chosen us to be with Him.
If we are in any doubt at all about our eternal destiny, we are commanded and encouraged to pursue Him until we are sure. And even if we already have absolute confidence in our eternal safety, He still calls us to verify and establish that our confidence is not mere presumption, that it is a wholesome confidence grounded in the written Word of God: “Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves.” (2Cor 13:5) Sadly, many who think they know Jesus Christ will be cast away in the end; they presume eternal safety through ignorance and arrogance … and it will not go well for them. (Mat 7:21-27)
Well-meaning teachers may try to convince us that such concerns are unimportant, that how secure we actually feel in God is irrelevant, that proving our eternal safety is impossible. They encourage us to ignore any doubts we might have about our eternal safety and just hope for the best. Is this because they remain uncertain of their own eternity and are unsure what to do about it? Rather than face their own brokenness, do they encourage us to neglect our own? Yet who can thoughtfully live uncertain of eternal life when God has plainly told us that it is ours if we but earnestly seek it from Him? (Heb 11:6, 1 John 5:13)
So what are some things we can do if we find ourselves doubting our relationship with God? How can ensure and verify that we are eternally safe, that our salvation in God is genuine and authentic?
To begin, perhaps it is good to define what it actually is that we are examining: our faith in God. What is faith? How do we recognize it, and how can we tell if we have it?
Faith is unquestioning belief that does not require further proof or evidence. (please see The Substance) Faith is a supernatural certainty that produces absolute confidence and assurance. (1Th 1:5) It is the complete absence of doubt about something; based on fact but requiring no additional proof. By definition then, if we are in doubt about something in particular then we lack faith about that particular thing — we are in a state of unbelief about it.
So if we are doubting our eternal safety then we are walking in unbelief about salvation, about the eternal state and destiny of our own souls, about whether we are bound for Heaven or Hell, and it is absolutely vital that we resolve these doubts in a healthy, biblical manner.
What we are after is a deep, settled, abiding confidence and assurance that we are eternally secure, a beloved child adopted into God’s family, forgiven of all of our sins … all past, present and future sin … and guaranteed an eternal inheritance and home in Heaven. (2Pet 1:11) Anything less than this will cause us to live in abject terror if we are honest with the facts, and this is certainly and entirely unacceptable.
In understanding what faith is, it becomes evident that this kind of supernatural confidence is a gift from God – we cannot produce perfect and complete assurance on our own. The fact that faith is a gift and not something we can control is not a fearful thing, but a very hopeful one. For if it is up to us to produce perfect faith and we have not already done so, and if we have no idea how to do so, then this is indeed a frightful condition: we find ourselves in desperate need yet no one can come to our aid. But if perfect faith is a gift from a benevolent and powerful God, then we can certainly seek faith from God, position ourselves to receive faith from Him, and expect Him to grant us our desire. We can obtain faith from God by pursuing Him until He answers us; He promises to reward those who do this, by giving them what they are seeking: faith in Him and a relationship with Him. (Heb 11:6)
A Holistic Context
The context of this kind of faith does not lie merely in an academic assertion to a set of facts, or a feeling of eternal security that stands alone, all by itself. The salvation of God involves an acceptance of and a devotion to the eternal Godhead as revealed in a divine Person, Jesus Christ, and an ongoing transformation of the soul to become like Him. Authentic salvation occurs when God gives us a new heart and a new life in our spirit and begins to write His laws, the commands of the Torah found in the Old Testament, into the inward fabric of our entire being, into our minds and hearts. (Heb 8:10) So no one has a saving relationship with Christ without also having a transformational relationship with Him, where He is working in them to obey Him, to will and to do according to His good pleasure. (Php 2:13)
It is in this sense that no one is saved apart from good works. Though good works cannot produce salvation, genuine conversion to Christ necessarily produces good works, a life trending in greater obedience and holiness. There are a number of things that accompany authentic salvation (Heb 6:9), qualities of life that are present in every child of God. If we claim salvation by faith and yet lack these evidences in our own life then we are deceiving ourselves; if we would but take the time to verify the legitimacy of our salvation from the Word of God we would quickly find that we still need to be saved.
So while we are not saved by works, we cannot actually decouple the salvation experience from the affect it necessarily produces, a life of obedience to God and a pattern of increasing holiness. If a geometric figure claims to be a right triangle, it will necessarily possess certain properties that can be tested. If these properties do not hold then the claim is invalid. The only faith that saves the soul is one that also transforms the soul, and results in or produces a life pattern consistent with such a salvation. So even if we think we have assurance of salvation, we do well to ensure that this is not mere presumption or ignorance; we ought to diligently establish and verify that the reality of this transformational aspect of salvation is plainly evident in our own personal experience.
Why We Doubt
Next, perhaps it is good to understand why we might be in doubt about our relationship with God, and examine the possible root causes.
If this past hour had been our last … and we are not certain that we would be present with the Lord in Heaven right now (1Co 5:6-8), our uncertainty must lie in one or both of the following areas:  we think there may be something we need to do to in order to be saved which we have not yet done well enough, and/or  we think there may be something God needs to do in order to save us which He has not yet done well enough. There can be, by definition, no other options.
The first option is where most people seem to find themselves, and this is actually the easiest one to dismiss. As long as we think our salvation from sin actually depends in any way upon what we do, — what we have done or can do or will do — we will never have the kind of confidence of Heaven the Bible describes. (Rom 10:1-4) We can never be good enough to be sure of Heaven because  we have no way to accurately measure our own goodness and  we have no way to define the minimum level of goodness required in order for us to be safe. This route, called legalism, is thus a quick dead end … so we might as well abandon it before we even get started. No amount of time traveling down this road will suffice to give us the assurance of eternal life we need. Don’t even bother.
So if we seek a supernatural assurance of Heaven our only option is the second condition above, so this is where we need to camp out; if we are not saved it must be because we aren’t sure if God has done enough to save us. Whether we are doubting the goodness or faithfulness of God, or His ability, or we are informed in the basics of gospel but we are still doubting and unsure how to move forward, or whether we are of the rest … the masses who are entirely ignorant of God and His salvation … whatever our need we ought to fully understand and openly acknowledge it.
Now if we are experiencing this kind of doubt should we consider it a healthy thing? Perhaps a sign of humility? Just think about it for a second; would a good God encourage us to live even one minute of our lives without being absolutely sure that we know Him in truth and that we are safe in Him? Would He actually intend for any of us to live in perpetual doubt, racing headlong into an uncertain eternal fate? Of course not: there is no humility in unbelief. When we live honestly and soberly in this kind of doubt, the thought of any minute possibility of spending eternity in the fires of Hell produces a debilitating terror that shatters the mind and cripples the spirit. (2Cor 5:11) This is not God’s design for the human machine; in such a state it is impossible for us to live as God tells us to. (Lk 12:32) If we are doubting it is our own fault, not God’s; He has made Himself available to us and we have not sought Him out. “These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God.” (1Jn 5:13)
If we want to know God, and to know for sure that we know Him … we can; He invites us to seek Him out and find assurance of eternal life. (Rev 22:17) He says to every single one of us just as He did to Thomas, “Handle me and see!” (Lk 24:39) God is inviting us to pursue Him because He delights in revealing Himself to us. “That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ. And these things write we unto you, that your joy may be full.” (1Jn 1:3-4) We can deal rationally and completely with all of our doubts through a study of Scripture and an earnest pursuit of God. It might not be a quick fix, surely, but being secure in our salvation is achievable if we but want it in earnest, and this pursuit is certainly a worthy one.
Do you believe? If not, are you done with your doubting? Are you unwilling to live any more in this kind of insanely careless negligence, ignoring any remote possibility of your own immanent eternal peril? Is there anything else more deserving of your time and energy? If you are ready to settle this, the following should be practically helpful. If it is not, let’s discuss it and perhaps we can improve on it together.
Pray for Faith
When we find the thought of stepping out into eternity unsettling and fearful, perhaps the easiest and most obvious thing we can start doing is following the pattern of the desperate father in Mark 9:24: “And straightway the father of the child cried out, and said with tears, Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.” When we lack faith in God we can start crying out to God to help us believe. (Lk 17:5) It is not a question of whether we have ever believed before or not; the problem is that we lack faith now, and this needs to change. We should seek faith from God until He hears us, not being willing to take “No” for an answer.
Confess our Brokenness
As we pray for faith, we should begin to confess that our ignorance and unbelief in God is an awful thing: when we find ourselves in any measure of doubt about an infinitely loving, infinitely benevolent, and infinitely good Being, this is terrible, an insult to Him and a great harm to ourselves and others.
There is no point in sugar-coating it; we all have been lied to about God, and we have all been in that place where we were believing these lies, at least in part. When we are doubting Him must not try and hide this from Him, but acknowledge our brokenness before Him as we ask Him to help us.
One of the conditions of being successful in seeking God is simply believing that He is good, “that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him.” (Heb 11:6) And intrinsic to most all doubt and disobedience is a failure to apprehend the infinite goodness of God. If we do not really believe that God is good, He must first help us with this.
If we are starting here, at square one, at the very beginning, where most all of us need to start, asking God to help us believe that He is good … we should begin looking earnestly for evidence that He is good. Seeking God without knowing He is incredibly good is painful at best; being honest and vulnerable before someone you don’t trust can be extremely difficult. It may not even be possible for us to earnestly seek God Himself until we are convinced of His goodness: “He that cometh to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him.” (Heb 11:6)
And the very first thing we must be careful of here is the trap of being wary of God, distrusting and suspicious of Him, or even angry with Him, because of what He allows rather than for what He actually does. If you are angry and/or distrustful of God in any manner it is most likely that you are blaming Him for what others have done to you and those you love rather than what God Himself has done.
This is one of the great deceptions of the enemy, to suggest that we blame God for what Satan and his followers do: people and devils are evil, not God. It is true that God allows evil to be evil, just as He allows you and me to be evil, but being angry with Him for not stopping all of the evil, trauma and injustice in the world is misplaced and ignorant. God has a glorious purpose in allowing evil and sin and catastrophe or He would not do so; we must be angry with evil doers … but not with God for allowing them to be evil. We must trust God, blindly at first if we have to; being angry with Him for what others have done is simply arrogant, ignorant and selfish. The very first thing we must do is admit the foolishness of resenting God for the way He is running His universe, ask Him to help us submit to Him as the sovereign God, and give Him thanks for being Who He is.
Focus on God Himself
In getting past this initial trap we must start looking at God Himself, focusing on what He is like and what He has actually done. For example, notice the absolute perfection of His design of our own bodies, of the beauty and intricacies of His Creation, and at the splendor of His universe. Read again the stories of Jesus in the Gospels and behold Him, ponder His teachings. Look through His laws and study His ways as He has revealed them. When we look at them honestly they are awesome, perfect in every respect. (Ps 19)
Ponder God’s willingness to even send his own Son to the cross to be tortured and put to death for us, for us rebels and sinners, how He offers Himself to bear the punishment of our own sin and shame. How can we even measure this kind of benevolence and lovingkindness? It is unfathomable. If God cannot be implicitly trusted, no one can. God is good … and that is an incredibly vast understatement.
Even if you can’t see any goodness in God just yet, just ponder the alternative for a bit. If God is not actually good … nothing else matters. If God is untrustworthy or sadistic or unjust, if He is not genuinely benevolent and reasonable … how are you going to escape Him? Then nothing we or anyone else can say or do or think matters in the least. We lose our very definition of good and evil, all conscience is then a sham, a trick, a lie. We lose all hope of everything – nothing remains; no truth of any kind exists anywhere. This is plainly not the message of the Bible or of Creation; we may safely trust in the inherent goodness of God, even if it is merely a blind trust for now. No other option is a sane one.
Yet real hard evidence of God’s infinite goodness abounds; position your mind and heart to receive the knowledge of His goodness as you ask Him to give it to you. This is life changing at the core of our being … which is what we want, to walk more and more in light and truth rather than in darkness and lies.
And as we are praying to God for help to believe in Him, to thank Him for who He is and the way He is, we should also begin to submit to Him by beginning to thank Him even for bringing our terrible heart condition to our attention so that we actually can “give diligence to make our calling and election sure.” Seeing our own brokenness and being concerned about our own eternal safety is certainly not a bad thing – let us see even this growing awareness as a gift, as the loving hand of God working in us to draw us to Himself, moving us to seek Him more fully, depend less on ourselves, and leading us to find a secure foundation in Him. Once we are settled here we can be a real blessing to others, helping them find the same. It is truly an awesome privilege … to be genuinely concerned about our own souls. Giving thanks to God is wholesome and good, even in the midst of such a struggle.
Stepping It Up
Get Into His Word
As we ask God for faith, thanking Him for who He is and what He does, we should begin to position ourselves more and more to receive faith from Him by exposing ourselves to His Word: “Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.” (Rom 10:17) God must quicken our spirits to receive and believe His Word, so as we ask Him to help us believe Him it only makes sense to expose our minds and hearts to what He says in His word as deeply and as frequently we can.
Reading, hearing, studying, and memorizing parts of the Bible dealing with justification and salvation is where we want to be living for now; texts like Isaiah 53, John 1-3, Ephesians 2, Romans 4 and 5, and 1 John 1, to name a few. We should memorize texts like this that seem to speak to our hearts and encourage our faith in God, and meditate on these texts daily. As we are asking God for faith, seeking to understand the nature of the work of Christ and how He has died as a substitute for those who believe, it makes perfect sense to be soaking our minds and hearts with these divine words. The entrance of His words gives light (Ps 119:130), so meditating on the Word of God is one of the best things we can do when we find ourselves in darkness.
Repent and Obey
And as we are seeking faith from God, in order to walk with Him and serve Him in spirit and truth, we ought to deliberately turn away from any and all sin that we can. If we say we are seeking the light and yet we are willingly choosing to walk in darkness we are deceiving ourselves. It makes no sense to seek a gift from God while we are thumbing our nose at His Laws and ways. God is good and His laws are for our good. Repentance and obedience will not earn salvation for us, we will never be good enough for God to accept us, but if we are seeking Him we should at least be trying to walk toward Him and not continuing to sprint full speed in the opposite direction.
All sin wars against the soul (1Pe 2:11); any sin is a hindrance to faith, separating us from God, deceiving us and bringing us into spiritual bondage. (2Tim 2:25-26) In the immediate context of our introductory verse above, God explains how those who are lacking in virtue, knowledge, self-control, etc. are blind and have forgotten the basic truths of the gospel. Pursuing a virtuous life is enabling to faith; in seeking God it is vital that we begin exercising our will to return to Him in every way that we can.
Repentance and faith are very closely interrelated; a close and mysterious connection exists between them, and between disobedience and unbelief. Some sins are obvious, like ignoring or neglecting God in our daily life and being unloving toward others, but any violation of the Law of God is a sin. (1Jo 3:4) There may be things we think are sin that aren’t, and vice versa. Getting the definition of sin correct is important if we are to walk with God and live in holiness, so it makes sense from the very first to look at God’s laws so that we may properly understand His definition of sin. For a summary of God’s laws that we can obey today, please see All Thy Commandments.
Whether they are outward sins or inward sins, turn away from any sin you become aware of that you can control; any law of God that you are breaking – stop breaking it as much as you can. There may be some sins you don’t know how to stop, like pride or greed or lust, or that you don’t have the strength to turn from now, like fornication or drunkenness or hatred, but start with the ones you can stop. God has given us some very simple things that we can do to start repairing our souls, things like refraining from working on Saturday, avoiding ham and bacon, learning to observe and honor His feast days … these are mechanical things we can all do. They may not seem that important to us or to others, but all sin is important to God because each one nudges us farther away from Him.
Both obedience and rebellion yield compounding returns; it is called the law of sowing and reaping: “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.” (Gal 6:4) You can think of it like this: we reap what we sow, we reap later than we sow, and we reap more than we sow. The life of sin brings bondage, unbelief and darkness, and the life of obedience and submission brings freedom and faith and light. The less we sin, the less sin has a hold and dominion in us and the more we can believe and live in God. It is an ongoing process of transformation, a spiritual journey toward God. If we want to know Him better we will get started on this journey immediately and stay on it.
Once we have dealt with all of the sin we can, and while we are asking Him to help us keep the commands we can’t obey just yet, we might look through God’s laws and pick one we aren’t yet obeying that we think we could obey and ask Him to teach us how. Take it one step, one law at a time. Baby steps are just fine here. It isn’t as much about measuring ourselves as it is about going in a direction, being on a journey. There will always be sin in us, and the closer we get to God the more we will realize how dreadfully sinful we really are, but at the same time we should be able to see progress in holiness, that there is less brokenness and more wholesomeness in us today than there was yesterday. It may seem to us like we are actually doing this on our own, but make no mistake: we can’t overcome a single sin, not one, without the enabling grace of God. (John 15:5) But as we act on what we already have, God will always give us more.
While we are seeking God it is generally wise to involve our spiritual community, if we are so blessed to be a part of one, as others are seeking God in the same way. Letting God speak to us through others, as they challenge and encourage and pray for us, can be life changing and powerful. Perhaps it is helpful to point out that in our initial context all of the pronouns are in the plural: you and your and ye are all plural (singular is thee, thine, thy).
Ideally, the spiritual life is designed to be lived out in community with others journeying together after God and helping each other out along the way. God calls us to ask others who are mature in the faith and love us to pray for us to grow in faith, challenging them and letting them challenge us. Others can often see our sins and weaknesses much better than we can see our own. In humility, let us ask for and receive their discernment as keys to unlock our own prison doors and set us free, praying for them and letting them pray for us. This is the primary reason that believers are to meet together. (Heb 10:25) If this process isn’t at the core of why we are coming together as believers, we are meeting for the wrong reason.
Where we are struggling with a particular fault or sin, we can confess it to someone we trust and ask them to plead with God for us that He will give us grace to overcome. There are some sins God will not deliver us from until someone else prays for us. “Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.” (Jas 5:16)
Be Humble and Transparent
As we seek God there is no point in hiding or evading, either from Him or from ourselves. We must ask Him to help us see our own hearts more and more clearly, so that we are not deceived about who we really are. Our greatest sin is pride, failing to see ourselves in truth and thinking of ourselves more highly than we ought to think. (Rom 12:3) “God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble.” (Jas 4:6) There is no point in pretending we are seeking God while we are persisting in self-conceit, arrogance and pride. Being sorrowfully honest with God about all of our brokenness is healing in itself (2Co 7:10); anything else puts us in an adversarial relationship with God and moves Him to resist and oppose us.
We should be growing in more and more awareness of what we already believe to be true about Him and ourselves, constantly comparing what we find within us with what the Word says. Where we don’t believe His Word fully yet we should be asking Him to help us believe these specific truths. Memorizing and meditating on texts that appear to contradict our beliefs, dispositions and attitudes, and asking God to renew our minds and spirits to believe what He has revealed is intrinsic to seeking God and cooperating with Him us He heals and sanctifies us.
As we have noted, as we pursue God through obedience and prayer we must do so with proper knowledge; we must be careful to remember that we are not trying to earn salvation. There is no hope of eternal life if it depends upon us, upon our works or obedience; we must lose all hope of earning salvation by our own righteousness. (Rom 4:4-5) Perfect righteousness is the requirement, and the only way to be perfectly righteous is to be counted so by faith in Christ. (Ge 15:6, Rom 4:3) Assurance is only found in coming to understand — down in the bedrock of our souls — that Jesus Christ died for us in our place, bearing our sin and shame, perfectly satisfying the Father’s righteous demands on our behalf. This must be our only hope of eternal life: that Jesus Christ took our place and died for us, taking our sin and giving us His perfect righteousness as a free gift.
This kind of faith is the only possible way for us to have the kind of assurance God describes: if we are lost it must be because the death of Christ on our behalf was insufficient (which is then ultimately God failing, which is impossible), or that He has not yet died for us. There can be no other explanation in our hearts, because we have no other grounds for our relationship and right standing with God. When we focus rightly here, on the finished, effectual, sufficient work of Christ as our only hope of eternal life, and as God reveals to us that Christ actually has died for us personally and perfectly, shedding His own blood as a payment for our sin, there can be no room for doubt.
To get to this place of absolute confidence in the finished work of Christ we are seeking a miracle from God: He must give us a new heart and spirit to believe in Him. He must make us spiritually alive, raise us from spiritual death, and help us trust Him and love Him. (Eph 2:1) He must start writing His laws into our minds and hearts and giving us a desire to obey Him, honor Him and fellowship with Him. (Heb 8:10) All of the fruits of salvation, the things that accompany salvation, will be become apparent in our lives as we are established with grace in this regenerated state.
Do you believe? As we seek to answer that question with integrity, as we give diligence to make our calling and election sure, God bless all that pursue Him with unshakable faith, and a transformed life, to His glory and eternal pleasure. (1Cor 15:58)