Last night at Millisle Baptist we were studying Matthew 7:21-23 together, and thinking through the very real dangers of self-deception when it comes to issues of salvation. Afterwards one of our members very kindly wrote to me, inquiring about how they could be sure that they have really understood the gospel and accepted Christ as Saviour. The following is an anonymised version of my reply, offered here in the hope that it might help others, or that others might help me further clarify my response to this most pressing of issues:
Many thanks for your email last night, for your encouragement, for sharing a little more of your own experiences spiritually, and for your questions which arise from a passage like Matthew 7:21-23.
I think that there are a few ways to respond to what you share. The gospel is such a simple message, and yet it can be so easily complicated. Our backgrounds, if they contained a lot of religion and not much relationship, can leave very confused feelings when we are confronted with the sheer face of the gospel. Also, a passage which urges us to avoid self-deception will naturally shake all of us out of any complacency about whether we have truly trusted Christ or not.
Because the past can be so hard to unpack I think that there are a few simple checks and measures that we can place on our spiritual lives. The following questions might be helpful to think through:
*Regardless of my past, regardless of how I may have misunderstood or misapplied the gospel previously, am I presently clinging to Christ alone for salvation?
*Have I repented of my sin, have I admitted that there is nothing that I can do to save myself, and have I come to Jesus asking him to forgive me and make me right on the strength of what he has done for me – with no additions or contributions from me?
*Am I trusting right now that my only hope of being saved now, and being finally saved in eternity, is Jesus’ death on the cross for me, and his risen power to save me?
If the answer to these kinds of questions is ‘yes’, then you can ground your assurance in the fact that you are presently trusting in Christ alone to save you. If the answer is that you’re unsure, or that actually you’ve never really taken that step, then it might be helpful to set aside some time to read the passage below:
‘No one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin. But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood – to be received by faith.’ (Romans 3:20-25)
Here are some key questions to ask of a passage like this:
*Am I in any way trying to keep the law so that I can be saved?
*Am I content that faith in Jesus alone is sufficient to make me right with God, give peace with him, grant me full and eternal salvation?
*Have I received what Jesus has done for me by faith alone?
My gut instinct is that you have come to God by faith alone in Christ alone, and if so then these verses should be hugely affirmative and encouraging to you. Trusting only in Him, you’re saved, and you’re now free to live life according to what God’s word says, in the power of His Holy Spirit. But if there is still a deep nagging ‘no’ in your mind about this, if you feel sure that you’ve never accepted Jesus Christ as Saviour by faith alone, then this is the time to make sure of that. Find a quiet corner, and simply come to God in prayer. You might want to pray something like this, weighing the words and making them your own:
‘Almighty God, I’m a sinner, I know I am. I’ve broken your law, I’ve sinned against you and against others. I’m bowing before you because I know that nothing I can do, nothing I can say, no works of mine, past or present can make me right with you. But Almighty God your word tells me that Jesus has died for sinners like me, and that his work on the cross is the full payment for all of my sin. So I’m coming to you now, asking simply for forgiveness, nothing in my hand I bring, simply to His cross I cling. None of my works, none of my religion past or present, nothing can make me right but what Jesus has done. I’m sorry for my sin, save me, forgive me, accept me because of Jesus’ death on the cross and His resurrection. And then give me liberty to live for you, not so that I can be forgiven, but because I have been. In Jesus’ name, amen.’
You might not need to pray in that way. Maybe the outcome of last night’s message is a confirmation that you have fully and finally trusted Jesus. I trust that’s the case, but I wouldn’t want to quieten that voice in your mind which is making you question until you’re sure that all of the above is your own.