Salvation Doubt

Did you pray the right prayer? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

One of the worst kinds of emotional doubt a Christian can go through is the doubt over their salvation. Many a Christian has gone through this and are relieved to find that it is a common doubt in fact. (Yes. Even I have gone through this kind of doubt and in fact am glad I did since it ultimately got me into apologetics.)

Gary Habermas has said he’s collected statistics from people on how many times they’ve prayed the prayer. Top place goes to a lady who prayed for her salvation over 5,000 times. Second place went to a police officer who prayed over 3,000 times. As said, this is common and while maybe not that severe for some people, it is still a troubling doubt.

Much of the problem with this doubt is that the person who is doubting doesn’t “feel saved.” Of course, the Bible never tells us what it’s like to feel saved, so it is a wonder how someone could know what it is supposed to feel like. Also, this is based often on the silence of God, yet it is not realized that the Bible rarely has God communicating with people. These people are a select few and the speaking is clear and rare both. The concept we have is a modern concept foreign to the Bible.

Yet this doesn’t answer the question. What is a Christian to do who is doubtful that they prayed the prayer right and is worried that if they died in their sleep or in some accident or something, that they’d be in Hell forever?

Here are my suggestions.

First off, keep in mind that the fact that you are even concerned about this is a sure sign of your salvation. People who do not care about the things of Christ do not worry about if they are saved or not. If you are worried you are not right with God and did not do things right, consider it evidence about how much God means to you, which is again, evidence of salvation.

Second, if you still have any doubt about certain behaviors, just take care of them. For instance, in the Restoration churches, it is held that baptism is essential for salvation. I do not agree. What do I agree with? Baptism is a command of Christ, so go ahead and do it anyway! (By the way, for all interested, I am hydrophobic with a steel rod on my spine. Getting baptized was quite frightening for me, but I did it anyway)

If you are concerned that you did not pray right, then just pray. Aren’t you supposed to be praying regularly anyway? If you are concerned about a sin in your life, then work on giving it up! Aren’t you supposed to be doing that anyway?

Third, realize that God cares more about salvation than you do. He’s the one who initiated the whole thing, and that’s something Calvinists and Arminians both can agree on. We do love because He first loved us and apart from His act through the work of the cross and the empty tomb, no one would be saved. God is the initiator.

If God is doing the work to make sure salvation is available, then realize it matters to Him. God is not looking for reasons to send people to Hell. He’s looking for reasons to get them into His manifest presence. That includes you. God is not one who gets sheer delight out of the thought of condemning someone but wishes to bring them to salvation.

Fourth, look at what you believe. Ask yourself these questions. Do you believe Jesus is fully deity? Do you believe He died for your sins? Do you believe He rose from the dead? Do you believe that He is Lord? Sounds good to me. Now if you have doubts over questions such as the resurrection and the deity of Christ, this is the time for apologetics. This is the time to go to your library and get the books and do the reading to answer those questions.

Fifth, there are many debates that ask if we can lose salvation or not. That debate is useless to this question. After all, if you think like an Arminian you can say “I lost it.” If you think like a Calvinist you can say “Never had it and not one of the elect.” Instead, take a stance that both sides will say is essential for salvation. Just ask yourself if you’re trusting in Christ. As long as you keep trusting in Christ in fact, the whole debate really won’t matter in the long run.

Sixth, go and listen to what others are telling you in this case. Chances are, you would not ever tell someone who is in doubt over their salvation like this that they do not have it. In fact, it’s not just being nice. You wouldn’t say it because you don’t believe it. (Which it usually is good to try to think through doubt as if you were a third party listening in.)

Doubt like this is usually just a way to shut you down and keep you from living with the joy of salvation. For those skeptical, this is not just for you, but what I had to do with my own doubts. You might think I might not be taking your salvation as seriously, but I am definitely taking mine seriously, and I would not give you advice I do not think would work in my case. (This is said simply for the person who is ultra-skeptical. My real reason in writing this is of course great concern for those who do suffer with this, having been there before.)

Next time, we’ll look at more emotional concerns.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

What if?

What is a sign of emotional doubt? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

Imagine you’re a Christian with some background in apologetics. Now you have someone who is coming to you who’s also a Christian and is doubting and you present a case to them and make it clear throughout that this is where the overwhelming evidence leads. The person you’re trying to help agrees that all that evidence is extremely strong, but ah, here comes the objection.

“But what if?”

This person isn’t disputing all the evidence you’ve brought forward. They have no argument against it. There’s just this little thing in the back of their mind that says “Yeah, but what if all of that is wrong?” When this happens, you can be sure that you are dealing with an emotional doubter.

It has been said that emotional doubt is the most common kind of doubt. Based on my experience, I agree with it. Men and women can both be emotional doubters. For women, they have the advantage that they usually know that. Men are more stubborn and wanting to say “It’s not my emotions. It’s not my emotions.” I have encountered a number of men telling me their doubts are intellectual and I’m listening to them and hearing all the warning signs with my mind telling me “Emotional doubter. Emotional doubter. Emotional doubter.”

For instance, my former roommate and I once regularly met with someone who was agnostic and tried to answer his questions, to which I think we did successfully. At one point, we were out having lunch with him and his Christian wife when he said “I know in the end you two are just going to fall back on your feelings and experiences to confirm Christianity,” to which both of us immediately went “NO!” It is a kind of approach we both couldn’t stand and still can’t. He was quite surprised at that not knowing how to handle it.

So what is to be done with this kind of doubt?

First off, it can happen to anyone. Being an atheist does not make you less emotional. Being a Christian does not make you more emotional. There are emotional atheists and unemotional Christians. There are Christians who believe for emotional reasons. There are atheists who disbelieve for emotional reasons. To be clear, I consider it wrong to believe or disbelieve for those reasons.

Second, when one is in a state of high emotion, it’s not the time to be making decisions that are major, including choosing to follow a religion or abandon it. Around our house, when one of us is in a state where we know the emotions are taking the lead, it’s important to let the other person be the surrogate frontal lobe as it were. Let the person whose mind is not clouded at the time speak and help the other. Of course, this is still resisted to a degree, but it is an important step. If you can’t trust your thinking at one time due to emotion, then talk to people you do trust. At times, this could be a wise professional counselor as well.

Third, realize that this does not mean emotions are bad things. We should be thankful we have them. I do have a friend who is actually a sociopath. Not in the sense that he’s a vicious murderer or anything, but in the sense that he really feels no emotion. When he has lost loved ones in the past, he has not felt anything about the event. I am quite thankful I am not like that. I have a friend who is in ministry who has said that the relationship I have with my wife is unusual on the spectrum and says I should thank God every day that I am a lover. Sometimes I forget, but I try to give thanks every day. It’s a good thing!

Fourth, remember the parable in Luke 14 of building a tower and the king going to war. The choice for Christ is best not to be made as a sudden decision, although growing up in the church many of us did that. One should really consider what one is getting into (Or in the case of apostasy getting out of) before one decides.

Fifth, trying reason might not work. That is, arguing against yourself. It can often be best to realize this is a season and it will pass. Let your emotions die down. You don’t stay on edge forever. Until you’re not on edge, you can always rely on others.

Next time, we’ll look at more about emotional doubt and dealing with it.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

What Is Emotional Doubt?

What is the problem being discussed today? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

Yesterday, I wrote about intellectual doubt. Emotional doubt is a different animal, but one that can be closely related. Emotional doubt usually likes to hide behind intellectual doubt. No one really likes to admit that they are an emotional doubter. Thus, the presence of an intellectual question does not preclude emotional doubt. I would like to spend some of this series looking at various objections raised by emotional doubters and ideas on how to handle them, but first, we must discuss what the problem is.

I used the example of phobias yesterday. A phobia takes a fear that has a slight bit of truth to it and magnifies it out of proportion. The effect does not fit in with the cause well at all. Is it possible that the plane could crash. Yes, it is, but statistically you are safer in the air even more than when you are driving, and most people don’t panic as much about driving as they do about flying.

Emotional doubt works the same way and can come about for all manner of reasons. It could be because one is sick with something and their thinking is not as sound. It could be one is in a personal crisis in their life and in an unbalanced state is examining truth claims. It could be one just hasn’t got sufficient sleep or has an insufficient diet. It could be hurt feelings from an event or comment of someone else.

A way you can usually recognize these is that they get presented with a solid intellectual answer and then ask a “But what if?” You can answer that and you’ll get a “But what if?” The chain of “What ifs” never dies. There is no reason that it should. This kind of person wants to have absolute 100% certainty on everything that they believe.

This doesn’t just have to be about the truth of Christianity. One can be absolutely sure that Jesus rose from the dead and still be unsure about one’s relationship to Him. “Maybe when I prayed the prayer to accept Christ, I didn’t say the right thing.” Fortunately for many Christians, they can take comfort in that doubt about salvation is extremely common. This also doesn’t depend on if you’re a Calvinist or Arminian. People on both sides of that fence can doubt.

Thus, as we look at emotional doubt, we will not be looking at answers for questions so much as what is causing the questions. What is the emotional root that needs to be plucked in order for the person to be able to access the question on their own? Also, none of us have perfected these techniques as each person is prone to emotional difficulties from time to time. I personally still have to practice the techniques that I am going to be recommending to you. As the old adage goes, those who can’t do, teach, and those who can’t teach, teach gym.

Let’s hope it’s not entirely like that. With the techniques I am giving, the problem is not going to be them themselves, but our inability to follow through on them. When we learn to practice good control of our emotions, we will find ourselves better able to reason.

One final note. None of this should be seen as anti-emotional. Emotions are good, but they are to be in a balance. Too often, it is the cart that is pulling the horse.

In Christ,
Nick Peters