Why are so many people who have prayed prayers, professed Christ, and thought they were born again still unsure whether they are saved or not? Many are the people I speak to, who, despite the promises of God’s Word that they can know they have everlasting life (I John 5:13), have no such assurance. They aren’t living for Christ, and they don’t feel like they belong to or with Christ. What can be done to help them? What course should they take? That all depends on what happened to bring them to this point in life.
I see two possibilities in the Bible. The first is that they never belonged to Christ in the first place. I John 2:19, warning about some opponents of Christ, says, “They went out from us, but they were not of us: for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us.”
There are far too many people who parroted a prayer without understanding the gospel or genuinely believing it. There are too many who for social, political, or personal reasons claimed to be Christians, but never actually came to Christ in humble faith. When these turn from Christianity or obviously fail in the Christian life, it isn’t because they lost something – they never had it.
Does this mean that every person who doesn’t feel saved, remember being saved, or act like they are saved was never a Christian in the first place? Or is there another possibility in the Scriptures?
There is. Peter describes another situation in which people are not living for Christ, and though they have been saved, they have forgotten their cleansing. II Peter 1:5-9 tells us that people who do not diligently grow in Christlikeness become blind, unable to see what is in the distance, and they forget that they were purged from their old sins. They were purged – they are saved. But they forget it. They forget the knowledge and assurance of their salvation because they do not live in the knowledge and assurance of their salvation. They don’t live it out, so they lose their confidence within. We actually find assurance of our standing in the way we walk. When we walk away from Christ, we can so easily forget that we stand in Him.
So when I encounter someone who had an experience, prayed a prayer, but still doesn’t know whether they are saved or not, I know it can be for two reasons. They may never have genuinely trusted Christ in the first place. Or they may have ceased to live in that faith and so lost the confidence of it.
Unfortunately, since I can’t see their heart, I don’t know which condition applies to which person. Fortunately, God does. And if they want to know where they stand with Him, I believe He will show them. The Holy Spirit reproves the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment (John 16:8); the Holy Spirit bears witness within believers that they are the children of God (Romans 8:16). He can bring the lost to faith, and He can bring the saved to faithfulness – if they are willing to hear Him.