Learning to See Yourself as God Does
Your struggle with assurance is a struggle to see yourself rightly—specifically, to exchange your perspective of yourself with God’s perspective of you. It involves settling your mind not on certainty but on trust.
A struggle with assurance is about self-perception. Behind the question “How can I know that I am saved?” is the broader question “How do I know anything about myself?”
You could call this an identity question. Personal identity can be described in two parts: perception and reality. Perception is who you think you are. Reality is who you actually are. Learning to see the distinction between the two is part of maturing as a person and as a Christian. It means acknowledging that how you see yourself may or may not line up with who you are. Actually, a better way to say that might be: how you see yourself in part lines up with who you are and in part does not. How do you know the difference?
This short book encourages doubt-filled Christians with the truths of Scripture—shifting their perspective to see themselves as God sees them, comforting their hearts with the abundant love initiated by God, and teaching them to receive this love through the gifts Christ has given them.
Ultimately, you can only know the difference by learning to listen to the God who made you. He alone knows you as you actually are. Assurance comes from learning to submit your subjective perspective of self to God’s objective understanding of you.
This guidance takes place over a lifetime of learning to listen to what God says about you. This is how the gospel addresses both the reality of who you are and your perception, how you see yourself. God uses both Scripture and fellowship with other believers to align our perceptions with reality. In Scripture, we have God’s own words, which display his heart toward sinners and sufferers of every stripe. You’re no exception. In fellowship, we see other believers model the right kind of self-perception: humble confidence that God really is as generous to undeserving people as he claims to be. They have to figure themselves out no less than you do. You’re no exception there either.
But here’s what may be the hardest part of the assurance question—and really any identity question. The only reliable answer will come not as certainty but as trust.
The desire for certainty is the longing to know beyond the possibility of doubt. It’s the desire for knowledge so absolute you possess it on your own. It can never be questioned or reconsidered. In other words, the desire for certainty is the yearning to know something objectively as it is. But the problem with this desire is that you are wanting to know something in a way only God can know (Deut. 29:29; Ps. 139:6).
As a creature, your knowledge of things is limited. But God the Creator has no limits on his knowledge. You know some things imperfectly yet truly. But God knows everything perfectly and fully. Your ability to know is dependent, while God’s is independent. What that means is only God can attain the kind of certainty that someone who struggles with assurance might be obsessing over. If you think you can only settle your mind if you know you are saved beyond the shadow of a doubt, then your mind will never be settled.
This is actually good news. God did not design you with such an unattainable standard of knowledge. What is attainable to people, however, is knowledgeable trust. It’s a knowledge that is dependent on what God says about his heart toward sinners and sufferers, including you. Your local church is full of such people who have to depend on God in the same way.
Assurance comes from learning to submit your subjective perspective of self to God’s objective understanding of you.
Knowledgeable trust is the correct standard of knowing. The apostle John describes this trust tenderly in his letter to uncertain Christians. The letter is filled with the phrase “By this we know,” referring to one’s personal standing with God (1 John 2:3, 5; 3:16, 24; 4:2, 6, 16; 5:2). But perhaps the two most prominent expressions— like two lookout points on a mountain that give you a sweeping overview—are found in 1 John 3 and 1 John 5. Consider the first lookout point:
By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him; for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything. Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God. (1 John 3:19–21)
Here John acknowledges that Christians— who objectively belong to God—can subjectively experience seasons when their view of self doesn’t line up with the reality of who they are. He gives two contrasting phrases: “whenever our heart condemns us” and “if our heart does not condemn us.” Both are possible for a genuine believer. Now, what is the solution to those times when our perception of self condemns us—that is, when we see ourselves as outside salvation? John makes a simple theological contrast between God’s knowledge and ours: “God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything.”
This means God knows, better than you do, who you are—everything about you. The ugliest thoughts, the sickest fantasies, the cynicism, the hate, the emotional chaos, the corrupted motivations. He knows better than your own heart knows how undeserving of salvation you are. Yet, there he is, reminding you how Jesus defends sinners like you (1 John 2:1–2), how fear melts away as you realize that God’s love came before yours ever could (4:18–19), and how confident you can be of God’s generous heart when you approach him (5:13–15). God knows better than you how undeserving you are. This is true of every sinner equally. Yet he insists on proclaiming his love to anyone who will listen. Including you. This is how John compels you to knowledgeable trust in the one who knows all things as they are.
The second lookout reiterates the same point. These words close John’s letter:
And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life. (1 John 5:20)
Where does your understanding come from? The Son of God himself has come and has given us understanding. Your understanding of yourself is not independent certainty, not settled fact that you possess in yourself. No, your knowledge, even of yourself, is dependent on the Son of God coming to earth to give access to knowledge you don’t have on your own. John drives this point home by reminding you of the contrast between you and Jesus: “He is the true God and eternal life.” The true God is the only one in the universe whose knowledge doesn’t depend on anyone else’s. You can’t say that about yourself. Your view of yourself depends on his view of you.
So, how can I know . . . ? It is a struggle to base your confidence not on an internal sense of sureness but on the claims of another. You cannot know with independent certainty. So stop trying to get it by obsessing about your salvation. Stop criticizing yourself for not being able to reach it. Stop panicking because you assume other Christians have it. Stop trying to know things in a way only God can. Instead, trust that when the Apostle John penned these words, God knew your eyes would eventually read an English translation of them. Be willing to bank everything you believe about yourself on what God says about himself—that his heart toward sinners and sufferers is as generous as he claims.
This article is adapted from How Can I Be Sure I’m Saved? by Jeremy Pierre.
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