Hi, my name is September, and I grew up in a Christian home. I "asked Jesus into my heart" when I was seven years old on the stairwell after a fire-and-brimstone devotional.
My crisis of faith hit much later.
"What if I'm not meant to be saved?" This is the question I asked all through junior high and most of high school. It's a scary and painful question, and I don't know if I ever heard a satisfactory argument against it.
Most Christians have probably stumbled across the "free will vs. predestination" argument at least once or twice. The types of arguments I've heard go like this: If God has already picked the people who are going to become believers, then our choice to trust in Christ isn't really our choice, because we've already been predestined to make said choice. Therefore, free will and predestination are mutually exclusive, and who wants to follow a God who strips mankind of his free will? However, at the same time proponents of the free will argument seemed to be almost trapped by their free will. You can choose to come to God and then you can choose to leave God and give back your salvation.
Honestly, neither option sounded appealing to me, nor did it seem like there was any way I would ever be able to figure out which one was actually true. If God is God, of course He would know who is or is not going to turn to Him. But does His knowing mean He's influencing our decision? If He was going to make us choose, then why didn't He just bring everyone to Himself? If it's free will, does that mean I need to watch my step or else I’ll wander away and lose my salvation? What if I died during a period when I didn't have my salvation? What if, what if, what if...
Suffice it to say, I was miserable. And scared. And confused.
There was one night at AWANA when the teachers were talking about validity of salvation. I grew up around a lot of talk about validity of salvation. This is understandable, after all, nothing is going to be more important than your eternal soul. However, as I got older, the constant questioning of this validity is what led me to ask this ask: What if I'm not meant to be saved?
I didn't want to read my Bible; it was boring. I believed full-heartedly that God and Christianity were (and are) the real deal, but I never felt a personal connection to God. Church was boring too. I was trying to do things well, but I kept getting this impression that if I didn't feel super-duper on fire, that I wasn't saved. So I asked Jesus to save me again, just in case it didn't work, or I "didn't really mean it" as a little girl. But I still didn't feel any different. Having been surrounded by testimonies of how God took the weight of sin off peoples' hearts the second they believed and how suddenly they were on fire for everything, I was left wondering, "What did I do wrong? Why wasn't all my pain instantly leaving? Doesn't God want me? Why doesn't He want me?
Free will didn't make it any better because I'm weak. I'm sporadic in my emotions and my thoughts and my desires. I didn't have the strength to choose to love God. I didn't have the strength to "really mean it" when I asked Jesus into my heart again and again because I didn't know what "really meaning it" entailed outside of a passion I didn't possess.
That was probably the most frustrating thing. Every. Single. Time. I talked to people about my salvation, I was asked if "I really meant it" when I repented. When I found out later that you need to repent and ask forgiveness for your sins, and not just "ask Jesus into your heart," I was like, "Oops! I got the formula wrong!" and tried again. Still nothing. And people still asked, "Did you really mean it?"
It took years, but eventually God, in His infinite, beautiful grace, began to open my mind and show me what He was really like and how I could really live without my fear. God gave me the strength to change perspective.
I studied other religions for a short period of time before officially claiming Christianity as my own, and it was then that I was truly and deeply hit with the absolute, stunning beauty of the Gospel of Christianity.
See, I was afraid that I couldn't "do the right thing" well enough to ever get salvation from God. Sure, people told me the Gospel was free. Sure, the Bible says we can only ever be saved if we repent of our sins and accept Jesus Christ as our Savior. Saved by grace through faith alone and not because of anything we've done (Ephesians 2:8-9). But then people defined true repentance exclusively as such an intense, emotional/spiritual experience (you know, if you “really mean it”), that it still felt like I was physically doing something wrong that had to change before I could access Christ's gift.
But that isn't true.
Through my studies of other religions, I was floored by how little sense they made. They are all works-based in some form or fashion—the struggle of mankind to hit just the right manner of living and piety to maybe make God happy. In none of them was there a guarantee of actual salvation. "Just be a good person" is so relative. How do you know if you're actually a good person? The person who stole a candy bar looks good next to the person who stole a car, and a one-time killer looks good next to a mass murderer.
But my God is different. "While we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." (Romans 5:6-8)
I can do nothing, feel nothing, pursue nothing, and be nothing good enough or right enough to access salvation apart from God's grace which He gave to me. He didn't place it on a pedestal and say, "Just make it to the top and it's yours." He extended His gift of salvation while I was still in the angry mud of my sin. All I had to do was reach out and take it.
The confidence for true salvation does not come from what we do. While good works are a result of our salvation (James 2:14-25), good works do not give us a shoe-in with God. Why? Because He's already seen us at our worst, and there is no way we can hide that fact, regardless of how “good” we are. True confidence in salvation comes from knowing the character of the God who promises to save us. Christians follow a God who is Unchangeable (Malachi 3:6, James 1:17, Numbers 23:19). When God makes a promise, God fulfills that promise. He doesn’t change His mind.
And our God has promised to rescue us from the depths of our depravity if we repent and accept Jesus Christ’s death on the cross and resurrection from the grave.
When all was said and done, my confidence for my salvation came not through myself, but through faith in God's character (a faith also granted to me by God’s grace alone). It required a conscious decision to trust Him. God hasn't given me a reason not to trust Him, instead He’s given me every reason to rely on Him fully.
To this day, I don't know at what point I "became a true Christian." I still don't really know how to do a lot of things "right." But that's not the point. I have confidence that my God loves me, and He loves me enough that He adopted me into His family as His daughter. The God of the universe is my Daddy (John 1:12-13), and He loves me enough to search and test my heart (Jeremiah 17:9-10). When I fall into sin, He'll show me and bring me back to Him (even if I’m kicking and screaming).
Now, I can say this with confidence: "For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 8:38-39)
(P.S. I don't care about the predestination vs. free will argument anymore either.)
September is an aspiring novelist, book
hoarder collector, and movie watcher. When not obsessively organizing her book shelves, she can be found in a coffee shop writing, editing, or webmastering; assisting in taxidermy; or at home annoying her cat, Jpeg. That, or staring blankly into space, contemplating some deep question she'll forget shortly.