Can a true believer struggle with troublesome feelings of doubt about their salvation? Absolutely. Depression, failure to mortify sin, stagnation due to the neglect of spiritual disciplines, and unhealthy comparisons with other believers are all factors that can contribute to a lack of assurance. 2 Peter 1:8-11 states that believers who are not growing in grace may become so blinded by sin, apathy, and neglect that they forget that they have been cleansed from their former sins and given new life in Christ. In fact, the text seems to indicate that believers should anticipate struggles with assurance when they are not progressing in the faith.
God intends for His people to enjoy the assurance and joy of their salvation. The ministry of the Spirit (cf. Rom 8:15-17) and promises of the gospel were provided so that believers can know beyond any doubt that they are fully and forever “accepted in the Beloved” (Eph 1:6). Assurance of salvation is “the birthright and privilege of every true believer in Christ” (John MacArthur). Yet, many Christians wrestle with nagging doubts about their standing with God.
In this article, I would like to define what assurance is, explain why Christians might lack assurance, and offer counsel for those who are struggling with worries about their salvation.
There is a false assurance that people can have about salvation. Sadly, many who are not actually Christians feel quite secure about their standing with God. Commenting on Matthew 7:21-23, Tim Challies notes, “When the final judgment comes, there will be many who will be shocked to learn that they are not true believers. They will go to the grave confident that they are saved, but come to the judgment and find that they are to be cast out of Jesus’ presence. This ought to be sobering for all who consider themselves Christians.”
True assurance is the inward sense of peace believers experience as they appropriate gospel promises and blessings. In other words, the more Christians rely upon the promises of gospel, the more assurance they experience about their salvation. The opposite, of course, is true as well.
Before moving on, it is important to note that assurance of salvation is NOT the same thing as eternal security. The doctrine of eternal security teaches us that God eternally justifies, saves, and keeps those who are His children (ex. John 3:16; 5:24; 10:28; Rom 8:38-39; Jude 1:24; I John 5:13, etc.). This truth is an objective, factual, unchanging reality. Assurance, however, is internal, subjective, and therefore susceptible to change.