A friend asked for some advice sorting out her past relationship with God. As a child, she begged God for salvation, but it never seemed to “stick.” She never felt at peace about it. She thought her doubts were evidence that she wasn’t saved. Not only does this weigh heavy on her today, but she also feels awkward when people ask for her testimony. I think many of us can relate to these fears, so I’m sharing my (edited) response here.
These are heavy things to work through. I’ve been there, done that with the doubting my salvation thing.
Let me tell you something that’s both terrifying and freeing: you can’t judge your own salvation. Nobody can judge it. You’ll go crazy trying to figure out if you were saved at this time or that time or at all, because salvation isn’t a one-time thing.
Salvation is a healing process. The word “salvation” comes from the Latin word “salvus,” which means “safe, well, unharmed, sound, saved, healthy.” The early church developed their soteriology off this health metaphor.
Think about how health and illness work: sometimes you’re feeling strong and capable, ready to run and dance and persevere. Sometimes you’re curled up on a couch suckerpunched with the common cold. Sometimes you contract terrible illness, and you wonder if you’re going to survive. But your immune system is still working throughout all of this. You’re always in the process of getting well and getting healthier. Sometimes you seem closer to that goal, and sometimes you seem further.
And that’s okay! That’s normal. That’s how salvation works. Salvation isn’t just a one-time thing — BAM, you’re saved, end of story. Salvation is a process. Salvation is a healing. Salvation is a past, present, and future thing: you have been saved, you are saved, and you will be saved.
We’re also told that you shall know a tree by its fruits. The Spirit of God brings about good things. Your desire to be saved — that’s not from the devil. Your desire is so great that you’re willing to face up to all your doubt and work through it. That’s from God. That’s good fruit. As Thomas Merton prayed,
…the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road…
Friend, God is a merciful God. Trust in his mercy. Be certain of his mercy rather than of your own salvation, if that makes sense. He promises to save those who call on him. It’s not complicated. It doesn’t have to be perfect or doubt-free. It’s not your believing that saves you, but God’s mercy. Be certain of his mercy, and these doubts will go away (and come back again at another time, and then go away…). You don’t need to fix yourself or pray another prayer or “be saved”: you just need to find him again, find his mercy again. It’s a lifelong process, and it will be awful and wonderful, just like getting and staying healthy.
And about sharing testimonies — don’t worry if yours doesn’t wrap up into a neat little story with a beginning, middle, and end. Your entire life is a testimony. Your love, your struggles, your existence. Personally, I don’t have a lot of tied up ends right now. There are lots of gaping holes in my “testimony.” I talk about what God has done and what I wish he would do and where I’m at, but what God’s doing in my life is so massive and complicated that I could never shrink it down to a five minute soundbyte. Plus, probably the best things God’s doing in my life are the things I don’t even know about yet.
What further advice would you give my friend?