My last post discussed how to talk to your children about salvation. I mentioned that I spent some time at a Christian camp in southern California working with children. During my time there, I developed a worksheet that we gave to the junior camp counselors each year. This worksheet dealt with counseling campers who were doubting their salvation.
Doubts about your salvation are like the “check engine” light on an old vehicle.
Last year, a friend presented me with a generous gift: a scan tool to use on my truck. I drive a beautiful 2000 Ford Ranger. (Ok, it’s not all that pretty, but it’s beautiful to me.) When something goes wrong on my truck, a simple “check engine” light appears on the dash. This light alerts me to the fact that there is a problem. What is the problem? I don’t usually know until I plug in my handy-dandy diagnostic tool. The tool spits out a code I can look up online to find out what’s wrong.
Just like the check engine light on my truck might be caused by any number of issues, doubts as to one’s salvation may be caused by any number of spiritual issues. Because of that, it is very important when counseling someone who is struggling with assurance to properly diagnose the problem.
This list is designed as a check-list of things to look for when counseling someone who is doubting their salvation. It is of special value when working with children and teens who grew up in a Christian home, as this is a common issue that they deal with. Each step in the list is in the form of a question that the counselor should seek to answer. Questions proceed from the most basic to the more complex and should be dealt with in that order.
Much prayer and careful investigation is needed when counseling for assurance. Remember to use Scripture.
Question #1: Does the individual understand the gospel?
- If yes, move on to question #2.
- If no, he/she is probably not saved. Explain the gospel.
Question #2: Does the individual have a “testimony” of salvation?1
- If yes, move on to question #3.
- If no, investigate further. It is possible that he/she is still saved, since we are saved by faith and not by praying a prayer. However, it is also possible that the individual’s consent to the gospel has been merely intellectual, and that he/she has never personally trusted in Christ.
Question #3: Does the individual show signs of growth in Christlikeness?
- If yes, move on to question #4.
- If no, investigate further. A lack of fruit could be a sign that the individual is not genuinely saved. However, it may also be that he/she is a Christian living in sin. Christians living in sin often struggle with assurance. In fact, it seems that God uses lack of assurance as a tool to bring His children back to Him (see 2 Pet 1:9).2
Question #4: Is the individual simply failing to trust God?
- If the individual understands the gospel, has a testimony of salvation, is growing in Christlikeness, and still doubts his/her salvation; there may be a problem with trusting God. This was me when I was a child. I was plagued with doubts as to whether I prayed the right words or “really meant it” (whatever that means). Ultimately, I was trying to turn faith into a work! The person struggling with these types of thoughts needs to recognize that salvation is not based on the strength of my faith but upon the faithfulness of my God (see Rom 10:13; John 6:37)!3
- If you have come to this point in the conversation and still haven’t discovered the root of the problem, leave the situation, pray a lot, and come back to it again later with more Scripture.
Assurance of salvation can be one of the trickiest spiritual problems to counsel. However, with God’s grace, we can help lead our children through this potentially confusing struggle.
In other words, does their way of life (i.e., words, actions, etc.) reflect the change true salvation brings? ↩
For a helpful resource along these lines, check out, “11 Biblical Tests of Genuine Salvation, by John MacArthur (taken from the book of 1 John). ↩
It may be helpful at this point, especially with younger children, to ask some thought-provoking questions to point out their lack of faith. For instance, “There are a lot of people in the world. Do you think God is really strong enough to save everyone?” “Do you really think that Jesus paid for all of your sins on the cross?” There are a lot of people praying to God all the time. Do you think that God heard you when you prayed to Him?” “Are you sure God would want to answer your prayer to be saved? Do you think there is a chance that He would ignore you?” Etc. ↩