As a disclaimer this is all written from my past understanding and instruction on scripture with a literalist / inherent view of scripture and a very Baptist like view of salvation. Salvation in my mind at that time was only there for those that understood the bible in same the way I did. I no longer hold these views, but I really have been exploring my past anxiety and fear around salvation. And I felt like it was necessary to approach it in this way.
How is a person suppose to know that they are saved? It’s a serious question one that I’ve been reflecting on recently. Trying to sort out my thoughts feelings and actions that occurred around the idea of salvation as a child and young adult.
I was promised that when I truly poured my heart out to god and prayed the sinners prayer or the elements of it that if I was sincere I would find salvation and peace with god. True peace and joy were to be found. I needed only to ask.
I’ve gone over this before, but I want to clarify that I was well aware of the elements of what I was praying. This was never a blind reciting of a trite passage, I my mind knew what god wanted of me. I was always clear to mention that I was a sinful human that I was incapable of dealing with that sin on my own. Being careful to also include that belief in Jesus’ death and resurrection was the only way I could have salvation and freedom from my sin. (These were all of the essential steps to salvation I was taught).
The promise I was told was that my sins and crushing guilt would leave me. Leaving me with a sense of peace and security. I would be given an eternal peace within the presence of god – knowing that I was saved.
I did everything I was asked to do in regards to salvation. Prayed diligently and many times for this salvation, but each time I walked away with the same guilt and fear. Maybe I didn’t pray exactly right. Maybe I didn’t REALLY mean it. I tried again and again to maybe feel a touch of that peace and heavenly reassurance I had heard in other’s testimonies. It just felt so out of reach.
Why was I so unable to find peace after I had asked for salvation? I knew I did it exactly as I had been instructed to by my pastor, Sunday school teachers, or visiting preacher. It nagged at me. My mind would bring up a sin I had committed, or a thought tucked within my mind. My guilt screamed at me, “Maybe you aren’t truly saved? You don’t feel any different. You certainly don’t ACT any different.”
I was promised peace. And told that the holy spirit would enter my life and provide me with comfort and security. Other Christian’s around me displayed bold confidence and certainly in their faith and salvation. And spoke openly about their peace found through salvation. Why couldn’t I find this same joy and peace?
“Finally, on March 18, 1990, I just couldn’t stand it any more and I asked Mother how I could go to heaven. She talked to me, helped me to pray, and suddenly I wasn’t scared any more! I knew I was ready to meet Christ — He paid for my sins to I wouldn’t have to be afraid to meet my Creator. Truly it was a wonderful peace I felt! I’ve never regretted the choice I made that night.”Hidden Wisdom Magazine
I heard sentiments in salvation testimonies like this all the time. Salvation was presented as a certain and secure thing, it had to be. This one prayer decided your eternal fate.
The amount of fear that was in my life during a particularly bad questioning teen period of my life was ridiculous. I spent many nights consumed with the fear that I wasn’t TRULY saved and that I would be sent to hell if I died. I would nightly repeat the sinner’s pray asking god for salvation. I wanted salvation and begged for it.
Salvation for me was very much centered on my worries about eternal damnation. And this was a very real and present worry in my life. It was also reinforced by the things I was hearing at church and at home.
I honestly was never able to find true peace on the topic. Socially within Christianity this isn’t an acceptable answer though. A lack of a solid and definitive answer is indicative of a lack of faith. Something I couldn’t portray within my church, and I desperately wanted to feel a sense of solidity in my faith. I found a solution by settling in on one of those many prayers for salvation and claiming it as the “true” one. Did I truly know or have any peace by committing to this action? No, I didn’t. But at least outwardly I had an “answer” when someone asked my for my testimony.
This didn’t heal my anxiety or fear though. The worries about salvation and eternal life followed me from my pre-teen years onward. I would worry and feel fear and finally pray another prayer of salvation, and so it continued.
My doubt was never settled. My fear of an eternity of hellfire and torment didn’t go away. Until I finally decided that I don’t need to know. And after that point I decided that I could let the idea of salvation go. When I walked away from that I left behind a lot of fear.
I know others have had different experiences and have been able to find peace within their faith. And it offers them a true sense of comfort. I don’t wish to take that comfort and security away from anyone. But I do want to caution that teaching a version of salvation with a sole focus on rescue from eternal damnation is not healthy. And it creates conversions that are solely based out of fear.