I’ve known believers who have gone through dark nights of the soul. Periods of depression. Periods of doubt. At one time they strongly believed in Jesus, then went through a tragedy or fell into sin. As a result they questioned the reality of God, or slid into various “sloughs of despond” or struggled with doubts. I know someone who suffers with a bipolar disorder who for many years has wholeheartedly believed in and followed Jesus, but now at times is unsure if they will go to heaven. My own brother believed in Jesus and followed him for a significant period of time, then began to go through severe depression and doubts. Later, in his misery he took his life. Had he lost his salvation? Do others who doubt lose their salvation?
Let’s see what Jesus says:
Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life. (JN 5.24)
Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. (JN 6.47)
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (JN 3.16)
The disciple John stated his purpose in writing his gospel this way:
Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (JN 20.30-31)
When we believe in Jesus we HAVE eternal life. By believing we HAVE life in his name. We have passed from death to life. Once we have eternal life, we have it forever. We can’t lose it. We don’t pass from life back to death. We do not lose our eternal life if we struggle with doubts later.
John the Baptist clearly believed in Jesus. He said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (JN 1.29). Then he said: “I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.” (32–34)
John the Baptist CLEARLY believed in Jesus. He knew Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of God, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. He had visibly seen the Holy Spirit descend on Jesus in the form of a dove. John had everlasting life. Yet, when he went through a dark period of his life after Herod imprisoned him, John began to doubt. He sent messengers to Jesus saying “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” (MT 11.2). John was doubting. He was no longer sure if Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of God who was to come. Had John lost his salvation? No! For he had believed and passed from death to life. He had believed and so received eternal life the moment he believed.
I know this raises lots of questions—more than I can address in a blog post. But here is a simple principle for interpreting Scripture: Start with the clear, then move to the unclear. It is absolutely clear in Scripture that when we believe in Jesus we have eternal life. When we have everlasting life we can’t lose it. Even if we doubt.
If you struggle with doubt, I would encourage you to pray. Ask Jesus to increase your faith. Ask Jesus to help you with your unbelief. He has been tempted in every way we are, yet never sinned. But he was surely tempted to doubt. He’s anxious and eager to help us and he gives us faith and more faith.
(The main ideas of this post are taught in much more depth in Absolutely Free by Zane Hodges)
Mark Altrogge has been senior pastor of Sovereign Grace Church of Indiana, Pennsylvania, since 1982. He has written hundreds of songs for worship, including “I Stand in Awe” and “I’m Forever Grateful.” Mark and his wife, Kristi, have four sons and one daughter. Find out more on his blog, The Blazing Center.