Question from a reader:
I’ve recently been questioning my faith even though I believe God is real. If you ask forgiveness and for God to come into your heart, does that automatically mean you’re going to Heaven? I once heard someone say that if you don’t know if you’re going to Heaven or you’re afraid of death or if you don’t follow God’s rules daily, then you’re not going. Therefore, I’ve been questioning my faith and if I’m really going to Heaven. I don’t know what to do at this point to get over those thoughts and to know without a doubt that’s where I’m going. I absolutely do not want to go to Hell.
Though I read the Bible every day, I sometimes avoid it because I don’t understand it. I’m in my twenties, and everyone I’m around says to prepare yourself because the Lord is going to be returning very soon even though I know we don’t know when. It could be tomorrow or years from now. I’m just trying to find any advice or help.
Answer from Doreen Button, EPM staff:
Thank you for reaching out. What you shared is similar to what I once wrestled with and I think it is pretty common to many believers’ experience. The enemy is really good at twisting truth in order to derail us. He loves to sidetrack us by suggesting thoughts he hopes will keep us reeling in the wrong direction.
The Bible is clear about how we’re saved: we put our faith (trust, hope, confidence) in what Jesus did on our behalf. We couldn’t save ourselves so He did. And what He did was final. The author of Hebrews, in 7:27 wrote: “Unlike those other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices every day… Jesus did this once for all when he offered himself as the sacrifice for the people’s sins.” We don’t have to repeat His sacrifice; we just have to believe it and lean into Him as our Friend, Counselor, Savior, and King.
“If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9, CSB). This is the confession that leads to salvation. Yet God is interested not just in our salvation but in an ongoing, honest, growing relationship with Him. If we only sinned once, Romans 10:9 would be enough. If we only sinned before salvation and never again, Romans 10:9 would be enough.
The Bible is full of examples of people whose faith wasn’t perfect. Every human fails, and Jesus died for every human failure. If you read David’s Psalms, you’ll “hear” a man who sometimes doubted and had questions about the struggles of life. The fact that the Bible includes such honest cries about what seems to us to be injustice or unfair treatment or allows such honest questions about where God is in suffering can be a great comfort to us. God is not put off by our sincere desire to know Him.
Because you want to trust God and you are actively pursuing Him, the enemy/accuser tries to turn that trust inward. He wants you to spend your energy worrying about you instead of focusing on what God has promised and what is true. “So humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come close to God, and God will come close to you” (James 4:7-8). The Bible records several promises that God never leaves or abandons us.
You’ve probably heard the example of telling someone not to think about green elephants. And of course green elephants then fill their thoughts. Instead of “trying to get all these contradictory thoughts out,” Paul, in Philippians 4 tells us what to set our minds on. First he tells us that God is near so we have nothing to be anxious about. Then he says to rejoice about everything—not, as Randy says, that God expects you to be happy if your leg is broken or you’ve lost your job, but to rejoice that you belong to Him and He knows what’s for your good and will work everything out for His glory (read Romans 8).
“Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, NLT). God’s Word always tells us what to do whenever He tells us what not to do. He doesn’t lay impossible demands on us then leave us in the dark.
Philippians 4:4-9 tells us to replace our anxious and troubled thoughts with: whatever is true, noble, pure, righteous, lovely, excellent and worthy of praise. To me that all sounds like a description of God. What could be more true than God’s word, or more noble and pure and righteous and excellent than Jesus?
It may sound overly simplistic to say “dwell on these things.” And there may be more things going on in your world that make it difficult for you to do that—you may want to seek out a godly mentor or biblical counselor to help you walk this new path of thinking and help you dodge some of the potholes and detours along the way.
We believers need each other and it’s always okay to ask someone (just as you reached out to us) if you can link arms with them through the rough patches, as they speak truth and listen well. They (or someone else) may need you to do the same for them at some point.
Ask the Holy Spirit to help you understand His Word; it’s His job to teach you His ways and will use the Word you’ve put in your mind to help you grow and heal. He can’t use what you don’t put there. Let Him “worry” about how to do that.
One of my favorite teachers, David Powlison, wrote: “James is unblinking about what’s wrong, but he never gives the mess last say: ‘God gives more grace’ (James 4:6). More than what? His goodness is more than all that goes wrong inside us. Confusion and bad stuff is exactly what he goes to work on.”
Flood your mind with Scripture. Find a Bible version that’s easy for you to read (I like the New Living Translation). Don’t worry about whether you understand it all. Worry accomplishes nothing good. Ever. It’s a trick of the enemy to get you to focus on yourself instead of on the One who alone is worthy of our thoughts and praise.
You might start with choosing a book of the Bible and reading it over and over for several weeks, perhaps in a variety of versions. (We love the YouVersion app.) Do you have a friend who would like to read the same portions so you can discuss what you’ve read together? Does journaling about what you read help you remember? Would watching some of the short explainer videos on Bible Project help you visually retain God’s Word?
I have a lot of favorite verses that I consciously bring to mind throughout the day as I battle the enemy for the focus of my thoughts. My all-time favorite passage that has brought comfort to probably millions over the ages since King David penned it is this—read it and let His comfort, direction and protection soak in:
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside quiet waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil, for you are with me.
Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil.
My cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
Jesus says “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:28-29, NLT).
He never loads us down with anything we can’t handle if we walk beside Him, trusting Him to get us through. None of us knows how long we have here. Things outside our knowledge and control include whether we have one more breath or thousands before we die or He returns. Jesus spoke many times about being prepared and watchful, but He never told us to worry about it. He does tell us to be thankful, rejoice, trust, and come to Him for rest.
He loves you! He has gone to prepare a place with Him just for you! (John 14:2). Rest in that.
You might also like to read this article from Randy: How Can You Have Assurance of Your Salvation?
P.S. I attended a virtual seminar last week from the church where I received my initial biblical counseling certification. At the 1:45:44 mark a young woman presented her story and it made a huge impact on me because I had wrestled with the same questions about my salvation in similar ways when I was younger. It’s my hope that you may find some consolation and maybe some new insight from this too.