To say that my world had been rocked after the events that occurred during the “Car Ride that Changed my Life” was an understatement. (This is a follow-up discussion of that post, so if you haven’t read it yet, please take a moment to do so!).
I had just experienced a major paradigm shift. Don’t get me wrong, on one hand it felt as though new life had been breathed into me, and there was this incredible sense of wonder and joy and excitement!
But on the other hand, suddenly everything I thought I knew to be true about myself was called into question: I had really thought I was a Christian. I thought I knew Jesus. I thought I was “saved.”
And yet now I wasn’t so sure.
My logical mind scrambled to make sense of the past few decades. How was I to understand and categorize all those years spent believing I was a true believer when maybe, in fact, I wasn’t?
I struggled to comprehend the nature of salvation.
Is salvation something that can be neatly divided into two clear-cut categories: “saved” or “unsaved?” The logical conclusion of that line of thinking was extremely uncomfortable, because it would mean that perhaps I had not been “saved” for the past thirty-ish years.
And what if I had died prior to that car ride? Would I have been turned away from the gates of heaven, doomed to an eternity of agonizing separation from God? That seemed unthinkable and cruel, given that I had honestly believed I was a Christian, and had followed Jesus to the best of my ability.
But thankfully, these distressing ruminations were cut short when the Lord gently reached into the whirling spiral of my mental chaos and spinning thoughts, pulled me out and placed me on the solid rock of His word, where I found peace and comfort.
The 12 Disciples
God showed me that what I was experiencing was something Jesus’s own disciples had experienced: the transition from one form of belief to another.
Belief vs. belief, if you will.
I realized there was a certain point where it was clear the disciples themselves didn’t truly believe Jesus was who He said He was. Their lack of true belief was evident at the time of His arrest, when they fled and Peter infamously denied even knowing Him. When push came to shove, they could not choose alignment with Jesus over their own lives. They didn’t really believe in their heart of hearts.
But then, their actions changed dramatically! They went from fleeing and denying association with Jesus to proclaiming Him and His gospel boldly and without regard for their safety or lives. Almost all of them died as martyrs for their faith.
Something had happened that changed their belief into belief; something that drove their belief from their head or heart down deeper into their heart of hearts. They met the “Risen Jesus,” and suddenly, they believed.
So I was in good company. It was immensely comforting to realize I was not so different from Jesus’s own disciples, and I could see my own journey of knowing and belief reflected in their stories.
If the disciples, who had lived with, walked with, and left everything they had to follow Jesus had yet to be fully committed in their hearts, then perhaps I didn’t need to feel so surprised or condemned about my own history and struggle.
Perhaps the past could be likened to the time the disciples spent with Jesus before his death. They were as committed to Him as they possibly could be at the time, but there was still a deeper level to be attained. One that required an encounter with the Risen Jesus.
True Salvation: Believing in Our Hearts and Encountering the Risen Jesus
The Bible says this regarding salvation:
“If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, and you will be saved.” Romans 10:9
According to this verse, there are two things we must do to be “saved:” (1) confess with our mouths Jesus is Lord, and- here’s the one I want to emphasize- (2) believe in our hearts God raised him from the dead.
The first is relatively easy to determine whether it’s been completed. The disciples certainly confessed that Jesus was Lord, but prior to his resurrection, they were incapable of believing in their hearts He had been raised from the dead… because it had not yet happened!
Likewise, to truly believe in our hearts, we must meet Jesus in a way that we are utterly convinced He has risen from the dead.
In light of these Biblical examples and truths, and my own personal experience, I’ve concluded that it is possible to in a way know Jesus, spend time with Him, and have Him work in our life, without really knowing or believing in our heart that He is the Risen Jesus.
I am beginning to suspect that in everyone’s life who is searching for the truth- regardless of whether they grew up in the secular world or the Christian church- there comes a time when the Risen Jesus unmistakably reveals himself.
For people with a secular upbringing, this meeting is usually more outwardly dramatic and obvious, because they’ve never really had any previous encounters with Jesus or knowledge of Him.
But for those of us who grew up knowing about Jesus from the earliest time we can remember, I think it gets much trickier to know if we’ve really met the Risen Jesus and what we actually believe about Him in our hearts.
Because of my own experience, and the implications of Matthew 7:21-23 (the key verse from my previous post), I can’t help but wonder if there are many more people than we realize within the church itself who have not met the Risen Jesus.
It’s a sobering thought.
So What Do You Believe? What Jesus do You Know?
Now I’m not saying if you grew up Christian you don’t know Jesus or experience Him in your life… I think the crucial question though is do you know Him in a way that you are convinced, without a doubt, that He died and was raised to life by God? In a way that completely changes how you live your life and interact with the rest of the world? In a way where you are so sure of this truth, that you would stake your life on this belief?
Ultimately, I’m hoping this post and this part of my story will inspire you to be honest with yourself and God about where your heart is at.
Don’t skip over the crucial and difficult phrase of believing in your heart, and please don’t take this lightly. I know facing these questions can be very uncomfortable and take a lot of courage, because most of the time we are not where we would like to be, or where we think we should be as good, long-time Christians. But on such answers our eternity hinges.
If you find yourself bristling or taking offense at my words, I implore you to soften your heart and take this opportunity to examine yourself. Faith that can’t withstand personal examination and scrutiny cannot be expected to endure the persecution promised us as believers. (Might I add that if we’re not experiencing any persecution…this likely indicates a problem).
A Final Word of Comfort and Encouragement
As I said, I know how terrifying this kind of ruthlessly honest assessment of our hearts can be (although truthfully I think rather than a one-time thing, it’s an ongoing process in which we should constantly be engaged).
So I want to leave you with comfort: there’s grace in the journey. Take comfort in the character and love of God. If He loved you enough to send his only son Jesus to die for you, He loves you enough to lead you to a place where you can truly accept that as truth and believe with your whole heart.
A beautiful example of the extent of God’s love and the lengths He will go to help us arrive at true belief is how Jesus responded to Thomas’s doubt regarding his fellow disciples’ testimony of Jesus’s resurrection.
Thomas declared he would not believe Jesus had risen from the dead until he touched the nail marks in Jesus’s hands and put his hand in His pierced side. Jesus didn’t say “Too bad Thomas- because you lack faith you’re out of luck! Sucker!” He didn’t even rebuke him. He met Thomas where he was at, in the midst of his doubts, and gave him the opportunity to experience what he said he needed in order to believe.
In the midst of my despair, confusion, and questioning regarding how to categorize the past 32 years of my life- “saved” or “unsaved”- what emerged as ultimately important and gave me peace was this:
God is sovereign.
He knows the days of my life- the first to the last. He knew I was seeking him to the best of my ability, and He was leading me on a journey to find Him. He knew I would have that car ride experience, that I would live until then, and He brought me to a place of deeper belief.
Likewise, be comforted.
God knows all of your days. – the first to the last. If you are seeking Him to the best of your ability, be assured that you will find Him.
If you are not at a place of true belief, He already has encounters planned for you, and He will direct your steps toward Him. If there are doubts lurking in the dark, hidden recesses of your heart, bring them before God, who is exceedingly gracious and merciful. For according to 2 Peter 3:9:
He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.
And as it says in Jeremiah 29:13:
You will seek me and find me when you seek me with your whole heart.
Our job, therefore, is to seek with our whole heart, and if we do, we will find Him. But to whatever extent our hearts are bound to secret doubts or unbelief, it will be that much harder for us to wholeheartedly pursue Him and find the truth and unwavering belief we desperately desire.
So there you have it, my follow-up reflections on salvation as promised. I’m not a theologian (obviously), and the ideas and conclusions I shared in this post are mainly based off my own experiences, observations, and interpretations about what I’ve read in the Bible, and from what I’ve gathered from various sermons and teachings.
But what do you think? If you are a Christian, what has your experience been regarding salvation? If you grew up in the church, does what I wrote align at all with your experience?
If you didn’t grow up in the church but became a believer later on, can you relate with what I’m saying, or how has it been different for you? I’d love to hear from you, so feel free to leave a comment below!