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.