A few years ago, a young man in our youth ministry asked me a stunning question. It was stunning because it just wasn’t a question I had prepared for. It wasn’t controversial, hotly debated, or impossible to answer – it was just different. I believe it was after our Wednesday night Bible study, and we were talking about spiritual matters when he asked me, “Is it a sin to doubt your salvation?”
He struggled with the assurance of his salvation at the time, and so he asked me if it was a sin to doubt your salvation or to have no assurance of salvation. You may have wondered about this as well. So, is it a sin to doubt your salvation, or to struggle with assurance?
The answer: It depends. It really depends on what brought about the doubt in the first place. What places doubt into the category of being a sin is dependent on what is causing the doubt itself. In other words, to determine the sinfulness of doubt, you need to find out where the doubt is coming from. The Scripture does command and imply that we should seek out assurance of our own salvation, and to rest in that assurance (John 3:36; 5:24; 8:31-32; 10:28; Hebrews 6:4-6; 1 John 5:11-13). If we are not discovering and believing those truths, we are being blatantly ignorant of the word of God. So in that sense, it would be sinful to doubt salvation which you already have because you are failing to seek out those Scriptures which concern assurance, and then gain assurance by reading and believing them.
However, if your doubt arises from a noticeable contradiction in your Christian life—then that is a good doubt to have! That is, if you see no evidence of salvation in your life whatsoever, then that’s a logical and good doubt to have. If you are doubting whether or not you are truly saved because you see no evidence from your life of salvation, then truly your doubt is good! If there is apparently no life change, then you have great reason to doubt your salvation. Why would you believe you are healthy when your body demonstrates that you are sick? And why would you believe you are saved when your life demonstrates that you are not?
Consider what the apostle Peter says in his second letter. In the first chapter, he lists off a range of godly qualities that should be present in our lives, if we are true believers. He names things such as “self-control, godliness, brotherly affection, love,” and many others (vv. 5-7). And listen to this—Peter says that the reason we should see these godly qualities in our lives is “to make your calling and election [salvation] sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall” (v. 10, KJV). In light of this, I then said to the inquiring young man, “The life you’re living should be enough evidence to confirm your salvation. If you see no transformation, you never had salvation.”
Keep it in mind that sometimes true believers do backslide – true believers fall into a backslidden state time and time again, but never totally nor finally. For those that believe, they will persevere until the end, never losing their salvation (John 6:37-47; 10:27-30; Rom. 8:28-39; Eph. 1:13-14; Phil. 1:6). And just as true is the fact that believers lapse in and out of certain sins from time to time, which may cause a true believer to have doubt or lack assurance. Thankfully, God will give us grace to move forward on His path as we seek His strength and power to do just that. But if you don’t see any transformation in your life, if you see no evidence that you have tasted and seen that the Lord is good (Psalm 34:8), then you can be sure you have no salvation.
Assuredly, it is no such sin to doubt a salvation which you do not have – perhaps it is the Holy Spirit convicting you of what is your own reality. It is a good thing to doubt a salvation if you have no reason to believe you have it! But it is certainly sinful to doubt a salvation which you do have. If you are a true believer, your life will demonstrate that. If you are doubting, endeavor to discover the reason for your doubt. Is it personal sin causing doubt? Is it lack of time with the Lord which is causing doubt? Is it ignorance of Scripture’s teaching on assurance?