Repeat This Prayer After Me
“If you’re not 100% sure you’re saved, I’m 100% sure you’re lost.”
“If you were to leave here tonight and get hit by a bus, are you absolutely positive you would be in heaven?”
“Do you know that you know that you know that if you were to die tonight, you would spend eternity with Jesus?”
Every time the pastor said “do you know that you know”, I became less sure that I knew that I knew. I was about 99% sure I was saved, but apparently that one percent gap meant I was headed for hell. And I really didn’t want to go to hell, especially by bus. I knew what hell was like from the judgment house that one church always did. It was hot and dark. There were strobe lights and scary music. And from best I could tell, Satan and his demons were not there to party.
So I did what I had done many times before. When the pastor asked people to repeat the sinner’s prayer after him, I tried my hardest to repeat the right words and be as genuine as possible. “This time, I’m doing it for real,” I thought to myself.
But it wouldn’t be long before that little voice in my head said, “Are you really sure it was really real?” So I ended up asking Jesus into my heart many times as a child and teenager. I just couldn’t figure out how to be sure he was actually in there.
I thought I was weird. I thought I was the only one who did this while every other Christian was totally confident of their eternal destiny. But I specifically remember hearing a guy say as we walked out of a revival service, “That pastor really wanted one of us to come forward, but I’ve prayed that prayer about a hundred times, so I know I’m good.” He said it jokingly, but I knew he wasn’t kidding.
Since then, I’ve encountered many people who struggle with the assurance of salvation. I think many Christians, if not most, will at some point ask the question, “Am I really saved?”
The good news is that I believe God wants every believer to be fully assured of their salvation. He doesn’t want us to continually doubt and question our standing with him. In fact, God makes it clear that he desires this for us in the New Testament letter, 1 John. One of the main purposes of this short book is to assure believers that they are saved.
1 John 5:13 says, “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.” That’s what I wanted. To know that I had eternal life. But what I found is that I was looking for that assurance in the wrong place.
Here was the turning point for me: I stopped looking for assurance in myself and started finding it in the finished work of Christ.
All along, I was trying to find assurance in myself, in something I had accomplished. Did I pray the right prayer? Did I feel the right feelings? Did I do the right things? But I will never find assurance of salvation in myself. Because salvation is not based on myself. It’s not based on something I did or didn’t do. It’s based on what Jesus did.
1 John helped me to focus on Jesus and rest in his finished work for my assurance. 1 John 4:11-12 says, “God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.” John doesn’t overcomplicate things. Eternal life is found in Jesus. Trusting in him is all we need because whoever has the Son has life.
J.D. Greear’s book on assurance has been helpful to me in putting all the pieces together. I highly recommend it to anyone who struggles with assurance. You can buy it here.
One of Greear’s main points in his book is this: rather than focusing on a past prayer, we should focus on our present posture. It’s not the prayer that saves you. We are saved by repenting of our sin and trusting in Jesus. If repeating a prayer was the goal, then we would go door to door, put a gun to people’s heads, have them read the sinner’s prayer, and then say, “See you in heaven!” The prayer is simply a way to express the posture of our heart. So I do believe in inviting people to respond in prayer after hearing the gospel. I believe the gospel demands a response, and prayer is the way to express the decision we make on the inside. But just because someone once prayed a prayer does not mean they should be assured of their salvation.
Since I was saved at the age of 7, as I got older I began to doubt the validity of my decision. My salvation wasn’t a dramatic experience like some had experienced with crying and a radical life change. I simply knelt in my bedroom and prayed with my parents. I don’t remember how I felt. I don’t remember the date. I don’t even remember exactly what I prayed.
This bothered me for a long time. How could I know I’m truly saved if I don’t even remember my conversion? Was I actually converted at the age of 7? Or was it that time at youth camp when I began to really feel the weight of what Christ did? Or was it the other 10 times I rededicated my life?
When it comes to assurance, the Bible never directs us to something we did in the past. But rather, it directs us to what Christ did in the past. His sacrificial death and resurrection are our only hope for salvation and assurance. So if we are presently trusting in Jesus and his work, then we are saved.
Greear uses this helpful example in his book. If you are sitting down right now reading this post, then there was a moment in time when you transferred the weight of your body from your legs to the seat. You may not remember that exact moment, but the fact that you are presently seated shows you that it happened. Your present posture of repentance and faith in Christ proves that you are saved.
The opposite is true as well. If you are not presently, right now trusting in Christ to save you, then you are lost. It doesn’t matter what you prayed in the past or if you were baptized or if your name is on a church membership roll. If your present posture is not one of submission and surrender to Christ, you don’t know him, and you never have. You need to repent and trust in Jesus.
I believe one of the biggest ways Satan attacks believers is by causing them to doubt their salvation. He loves to point us to ourselves and away from Christ. He points to our weaknesses, our struggles, and our guilt and reminds us of our inadequacy for salvation. But like the song says, “When Satan tempts me to despair and tells me of the guilt within, upward I look and see Him there, who made an end of all my sin.”
Assurance is found in resting in the finished work of Christ. He came. He lived. He paid. He died. He rose. He ascended. And now he reigns. So when you doubt, move your eyes upward, not inward. Focus on Jesus, not yourself.