Many of God’s people doubt their salvation at some point during their lives. In fact, article 11 in the fifth head of the Canons of Dordt states that God’s people will suffer from various carnal doubts in this life. However, the article does not stop right there; that would not be comforting for God’s people. Instead, the article keeps going and says that God will not leave his people in the misery of not knowing if they are his children. Therefore those who are at a time like this in their life must not despair. They can look in their lives to find the fruits of the Spirit that prove they are children of God, and rest assured that they can once again gain comfort in the assurance of their salvation.
This type of doubt arises in the mind of a child of God when he looks at his life and sees that he is not very holy. He notices how incapable he is of serving God the way he commands. He sees a lack of faith in his life and a lack of assurance in his heart. Instead of focusing on the fruits of the Spirit in his life, he sees only his faults and sins, and sees them as proof that he cannot possibly be saved. He starts to wonder if perhaps the promises of God’s word are not for him after all. When caught up in these terrible thoughts, a child of God may start to fear that he is in fact reprobate and doomed to eternal damnation. He becomes terrified at the mention of hell and begins to despair because he fears that is his end, rather than everlasting life with God.
If you are a child of God going through doubts like these right now, do not despair. You can find your help and strength in God’s word. It is at this time in your life when God’s word comes to you in Matthew 11:28: “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” What beautiful comfort! The rest that one receives when he puts his trust in Christ his Savior is true, blessed rest. You need not be afraid then. You need to redirect your thoughts and stop relying on what you can do. Rather, look to what the word of God and the Canons say about an elect person.
First, an elect person has true faith in Christ. Basically this means that a person finds in himself that he truly does believe in Jesus Christ and in his sacrifice. You can know that you are a child of God if you believe in Jesus Christ and all the work that he did on your behalf. No reprobate person will ever find a belief in Christ in his heart. Rather, a reprobate man is capable only of hating Christ.
Another mark of a child of God is that he has childlike reverence and fear for God. This childlike reverence is called filial fear, and it is the way we fear God as our Father. It is the same with an earthly child. An earthly child looks up to his father and respects and loves him. The same is true of an elect person. He sees God as his Father through Christ. He does not, however, view him as a kindly old gentleman, as some people in the world would have it. No, the child of God truly respects and loves God as his Father.
A third mark that a child of God may find in his life is that he has true, sincere sorrow for his sin. Notice that I did not say sorrow for the consequences of sin. There is a difference between being truly sorry that you sinned before God and being sorry because you are being punished for your sin. An elect child of God will always, to some degree, feel truly sorry that he sinned against the most holy God.
A true child of God will also find in his life a hungering and thirsting after righteousness. There is a reason that a child of God does not run with the world in sin and live in whatever way he chooses. The reason is that all God’s people, whether they are assured of it or not, have a desire to be more holy. None of God’s people actually desire to live in sin unrepentantly. Instead, they have within them a desire to flee from the sins that cleave to them and a desire to live as God commands.
Finally, a person may know that he is truly elect if he finds that he longs for heaven. The child of God longs for heaven because it is a place of perfection. It is a place in which we will no longer have to fight against the sins that we battle daily in this life. A child of God would give anything to be holy and to no longer feel guilty, and that is what awaits him in heaven, so he longs to go there to be with God everlastingly.
All these are sure signs that a person is elect. So, child of God who is doubting: search your heart and life. Do you find these marks present? If so, you may be assured that you are most certainly saved. There is not a single reprobate person living on this earth who will find even one of these marks in his life—not that a reprobate would even be looking. If that is not enough to convince you that you are indeed a child of God, consider the fact that you are even worried about not being saved. Once again, no reprobate person spends his time worrying that he might not be saved.
Aside from seeing evidence in your life that you are a child of God, there are many things that you can do to strengthen your faith and once again gain that assurance you crave. First, whatever happens, you must continue to use the means of grace. That is, continue to go to church and listen to the preaching. Prepare yourself for church on Sunday so that you can be edified. Even if you do not feel that it is helping, keep going to hear what God has to say.
Another thing that can help is reading God’s word and meditating on it in personal devotions. Do not slack in your personal relationship to God. God’s word is your defense against the seeds of doubt that the devil plants in your mind. He has given you his word as your sword for the battle. Do not go to battle and leave your weapon in its sheath—use it! You cannot expect your prayers to be answered if you do not spend time in the word. Instead, you will again start to feel his presence only when you search his word and spend time with him in prayer. Bring your spiritual needs before him in prayer and ask him for the grace to strengthen your faith. I would also encourage you to read through the Canons during your personal devotions, especially heads one and five. They have much to say on the matter of election and perseverance and are meant to comfort God’s people in their times of need. Also, do not be afraid to seek help from your minister or elders. They are there for a reason: they are to see to the spiritual needs of the flock. As members of the flock, we as young people must feel free to talk to them whenever we are struggling.
Finally, child of God, do not lose heart. God may not answer your prayers right away or in the way that you expect. Despite this fact, you must continue to wait upon God, as the psalmist says in Psalm 27:14: “Wait on the Lord: be of good courage, and he will strengthen your heart: Wait, I say, on the Lord.” These words are written for you. Wait upon him and trust that he cannot and will not change the promises of his word. They are for you! Realize that God will not allow you to fall away from your salvation. God’s saints will always persevere. You can be assured of this because the Bible says that God will not let you be tempted above that which you are able to handle, nor will he leave you with no way of escape.
It may be that you are not at a point in your life in which you struggle with knowing that you are saved. Continue in your personal devotions with God and in listening attentively to the preaching every Sabbath. However, it may be that you are at a point in your life in which you are struggling with these doubts. Do not despair! Wait upon the Lord, and humbly wait upon him for a season of richer grace. He will not leave you in that pit of doubt forever. He will give you what you need to be assured once again that you are his child.