If you often lament the weakness of your faith, ask yourself, “Do I believe that Christ is who He says He is, and that ‘He is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him’ (Heb. 7:25, emphasis added)?” Lift your eyes away from your faith and fix them instead on Christ—that’s what faith is for.
2. Fruit in Our Lives
The second side of the triangle of assurance is the evidence of fruit in our lives. Beale writes that believers find assurance “as they look back at their former life and see the changes that have come about since they became a Christian.” Those with dramatic conversion stories can look back and mark the enormous difference between who they once were and who they are now.
Those without dramatic conversion experiences can feel unsettled when they try to “look back at their former life.” First, they’re usually not able to put their finger on a watershed moment sharply dividing the person they “once were” from the person they “are now.” Second, they can easily disparage the degree of change in their lives as small compared to that of someone who started much farther from the Father’s home. “She went from atheism, drug addiction, and promiscuity to becoming an amazing Christian mother and passionate witness to Christ. If I grew that much, shouldn’t I at least be Mother Teresa? Could this be a sign I’m not actually saved?”
It can help to remember that the New Testament not only gives us the example of Paul, dramatically converted from a persecutor of the church to become the great missionary to the gentiles, but also of Timothy, growing gradually in his faith since childhood (2 Tim. 1:5, 3:14–15). If Paul’s journey was like that of a man who began at sea level, but ended with him standing atop Mount Everest, then Timothy’s was like that of a Himalayan Sherpa, born in the high mountains and trained from childhood to scale the peaks that he called home. The fact Timothy began his life in the high mountains didn’t make him any less of a climber than Paul. And the same is true for covenant children, for whom it should be considered a great privilege, not a source of regret, to be have been brought up on the slopes of Mount Zion (Heb. 12:21–22).
This does not mean covenant children are free from struggles and slips and perhaps seasons when storm clouds hide the heights of God’s grace from view. But it is not uncommon for covenant children, through it all, to have an abiding sense that the majestic peaks of the Father’s love have always surrounded them, echoing with the words, “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours” (Luke 15:31). Rather than regret their lack of a dramatic conversion experience, they should rejoice that God has made the grand drama of the covenant of grace, flowing from one generation to another generation, to be the defining backdrop and heartbeat of their lives.
Looking within their own hearts, they should see changes that, though smaller and more gradual than the Prodigal’s dramatic turn, are nonetheless real. Over time—years and decades—they can discern gradual changes in their attitudes and actions stemming from a gradually growing view of God, of His grace in Christ, and of their own sin. This brings us to the third and last side of the triangle of assurance.
3. Feeling Our Own Sin
Many people doubt their salvation under the constant weight of this thought, “I don’t know how I can be a true Christian if I’m still discovering and fighting against so much sin in my life!” They imagine a true Christian would have an easier time with sin than they do. If that’s you, I have good news for you—this weighty thought may be one of the surest signs that you’re a Christian.
G.K. Beale writes, “When Christians think or do unholy things, there should be immediate conflict and dissonance with the indwelling Spirit.” Notice Beale’s well-chosen words: “When Christians think or do unholy things . . .” Jesus didn’t teach us to pray daily, “Forgive us our debts” (Matt. 6:12), for show—He taught us to pray that from an ever-growing sense of the holiness of the Father’s name, producing in us an ever-growing sense of our sin.
It is critical to remember that only the regenerate child of God grieves and hates sin as sin. The unbeliever may grieve and oppose particular sins or the consequences of sin. But to be filled with a sense of “the filthiness and odiousness of his sins” as something “contrary to the holy nature and righteous law of God” (Westminster Confession of Faith 15.2)—that’s a sure mark of true salvation.
So if you find yourself thinking, “I don’t know how I can be a true Christian if I’m still discovering and fighting against so much sin in my life,” you may need to rephrase that and say, “I must be a true Christian since I’m still discovering and fighting against so much sin in my life!” And don’t forget: it won’t last forever. Complete freedom from sin awaits us in glory, and you are one day nearer to glory than you were a day ago.
If you find yourself doubting your salvation because your faith seems so weak, your fruit seems so little, and your sense of sin seems so great, it may be that you’re correct about all these things but are misreading their significance. These are, contrary to your doubts, the signs of one who is safe in the arms of Jesus. And never lose sight of the fact that the most dramatic aspect of any believer’s salvation is the drama of what God has done to bring all of His elect to salvation: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).