I’ve been thinking a lot about something you mentioned in a sermon a few weeks ago. You said that you went through the motions of “Christian activities” for years, but that you weren’t saved until you finally realized that the gospel was about a personal relationship with Jesus.
The more I think about this, the more this frightens me. I feel as if I’ve done everything the Bible says is necessary for salvation, but I can’t be quite sure if my relationship is personal enough. It’s not that I doubt Scripture or doubt God (I don’t), but I wouldn’t define my relationship with God as intimate or close. A lot of my friends have had these intense emotional experiences…but I never have. Am I missing something? Shouldn’t things be different? And the more I look at my heart, the less it seems like I really love God for his own sake. Shouldn’t I be different?
This fear is driving me crazy. It makes me feel like a hypocrite just singing songs in church. It makes me hesitant to evangelize, because even though I believe the gospel, I can’t shake the feeling that I might be missing something essential. It makes Bible reading and prayer seem more confusing and overwhelming than comforting and encouraging.
I don’t know what to do. Please help.
This is an actual letter. Well, it’s a compilation of letters, emails, and conversations that I get all the time (and they have only increased since the release of Stop Asking Jesus Into Your Heart: How to Know for Sure You Saved). Having struggled with assurance of salvation for years, I know first-hand how gripping these questions can be. In reading some letters of John Newton (author of “Amazing Grace”) recently, I came across a surprisingly candid answer to questions like these. Here is a slightly modified excerpt of Newton’s response to similar questions from his friends:
I have been sitting perhaps a quarter of an hour with my pen in my hand, and my finger upon my lip, contriving how I should begin my letter. At length my suspense reminded me of the apostle’s words, ‘Ye cannot do the things that ye would’ (Gal 5:17). This is an humbling but a just account of a Christian’s attainments in the present life, and is equally applicable to the strongest and to the weakest.
The Lord has given his people a desire and will aiming at great things; without this they would be unworthy the name of Christians; but they cannot do as they would. It would be easy to make out a long list of particulars which a believer would do if he could, but in which, from first to last, he finds a mortifying inability. Permit me to mention a few, which I need not transcribe from books, for they are always present to my mind.
I would willingly enjoy God in prayer. I know that prayer is my greatest honour and privilege. In this light I can recommend it to others, and can tell them that by one hour’s intimate access to the throne of grace, you may acquire more true spiritual knowledge and comfort, than by a week’s converse with the best of men. But alas! How seldom can I do as I would! How often do I find this privilege a mere task, which I would be glad of a just excuse to omit? And the chief pleasure I derive from the performance is to think that my task is finished.
The like may be said of reading the Scripture. I believe it to be the word of God: I admire the wisdom and grace of the doctrines, the beauty of the precepts, the richness and suitableness of the promises. Yet it will require some resolution to persist in reading a portion of it every day; and even then my heart is often less engaged than when reading a pamphlet.
I would willingly have abiding, admiring thoughts of the person and love of the Lord Jesus Christ. Yet I cannot do as I would. What trifles are capable of shutting him out of our thoughts, of whom we say, He is the Beloved of our souls, who loved us, and gave himself for us.
It were easy to enlarge in this way, would paper and time permit. But blessed be God, even these distressing effects of the remnants of indwelling sin are over-ruled for good. By these experiences the believer is weaned more from self, and taught more highly to prize and more absolutely to rely on him, who is appointed unto us of God, Wisdom, Righteousness, Sanctification, and Redemption. The more vile we are in our own eyes, the more precious he will be to us; and a deep repeated sense of the evil of our hearts is necessary to preclude all boasting, and to make us willing to give the whole glory of our salvation where it is due.