I received the following:

My story is the one you have probably heard a million times, raised in church, believed in God from childhood, baptized at 6 or 7, never denied Christ with my mouth, but I went on to live a life that had almost nothing to do with Him; therefore totally denying Him with my life.

I am now 34 and I find that I am more worried of my salvation than I have ever been.  I am also the guy that answered the alter call 20 times and gave his life to Christ literally 100’s of times other than that. I realize that is impossible, but I have never been sure of my salvation.  I have never acted like I was saved.

I went through 20 years of heavy pornography and 15 years of heavy alcoholism and all the time I knew ‘mentally’ that there was a Christ; I just didn’t live like it. I now question whether I was ever really saved. I really don’t believe so. I can’t look back on my life and see any real fruit at all, not for longer than a month or two anyway and that was probably largely works. I am wondering if I was not saved or I was and committed the willful sins that pulled me out of the Lord’s hand.  My sins were willful, I knew what I was doing was wrong, but they did plague me. I felt like I was a slave in hell to them, but unfortunately there where years when I enjoyed them. Daily, for over a decade I felt shackled to porn and alcohol, crying out while selfishly returning, sometime leaving behind anything ‘God’ for months or years at a time. These days it is just a constant crying out to God for forgiveness and repentance. I am really not even crying much anymore, I am sure my heart is hard.  I am scared I am only trying to seek Him so I don’t go to Hell, I know that is a large part of the reason.   I am a physical virgin but I reached the very bottom of the barrel with porn …  That is just more of an explanation of how bad my mind is.

I have attempted heart felt repentance hundreds of times in my life only to head out and commit the same offenses; many times the next day. On one or two occasions I got into the Word and the sins were kept at bay for a month or so, but almost never longer than that; which of course makes me aware that it was false repentance. I loved these sins.

As I have been trying to work through this over the past couple of months I have experienced a new kind of fear. I read Hebrews 6 4-6 and it put the fear of hell in me, when I realized I could spend eternity in hell it became very real to me and panic spread; it is still present.

I have changed my outlook on many things as I am sure many do when faced with the reality of judgement. It now seems that nothing matters on this side of Heaven; money, status, popularity, etc. I believe that is a good sign, but I am now scared that I am falling into works. I have not fallen to alcohol in awhile and I am very in tune with doing anything wrong, but I want to make sure it is not me gritting my teeth and baring it. I run mostly off of feeling and I know that’s not good. When I feel like the Lord is working in my life it is very easy for me to want to read the Word and want to give the Lord my entire life, but when I feel depression the Word seems blank, although I still cry out and want to offer my life.  The Bible is becoming harder and harder to read; I don’t know if I am scared of it or if I have no interest due to my heart.  Many years of this sin was committed while I was studying to be a pastor.

One thing that scares me is I don’t know if I love Him. I want to so badly but I don’t know if I do. I want to do the right thing; He is God and deserves a lot more than my obedience. Sometimes my heart breaks for the poor and lost; sometimes not so much; maybe even indifference. I am just being thrown every way, not to mention that I have stuffed more study in the last 7-8 weeks than most of my life. That is another thing fear will do. I believe that Christ was/is the Son of God and died for the sins of the world, I believe that the Bible is the inerrant Word of God and I believe that those who put their faith in Him and follow His commandments will have eternal life.

What I do not know is if it is for me or I blew it; or if I am being manipulative concerning myself and I really don’t mean anything I say. I do believe I want to love God and others and leave the fruits of this world behind; they have done nothing but destroy my life, I was Romans 1. I feel dead inside.  I realize though that I am hard hearted; a life in rebellious and willful sin has caused severe problems.  I don’t know what to do.  It seems like reading the Bible is impossible.  I feel like I have been handed over. I am taking small amounts of medication and I am worried I will have to enter a hospital, but if they dope me I will not be able to feel Him pulling me.  I now feel that demons are invading my mind and not allowing me to sleep.

I have been reading some reformed theology lately and it seems that Repentance can only be granted by God and my time may have run out.  I am a mental wreck.  There are some better days now, but the next day will just be horrible and full of doubt.  Any advice would be greatly appreciated.  Could it be too late for me?  Could my heart be too hard?  I know that there is still a want to sin in me and I want it gone.  Is repentance a choice?

God bless,

Believing that there is a God is a far cry from truly believing in Him as Savior. The message of Jesus Christ is that He is the Christ, the One God sent to be a Savior, both to save this world, and to save individuals in this world. He is the Son of God. This does not mean that He is God’s little boy, but rather that He is the representative of God, God in human form. He died on the cross for our sins, He was buried, and He rose again the third day. All who believe on Him are forgiven of all things, even those for which the law offered no forgiveness. See I Corinthians 15:1-4 and Acts 13:38-39. Ephesians 1:13 says, “13. In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise.” This tells us that it is upon believing that one is “sealed” in God’s sight as belonging to Him. It is not doing anything else but believing that produces salvation in God’s sight.

I appreciate that you were raised in church, always have believed there is a God, was baptized, and so forth. These things are “good” from a religious standpoint, but they mean little or nothing in the sight of God. The outward show of religion is empty, as you have found out. Included in that is going forward, or dedicating your life to Christ. When you went forward it didn’t do it, and those you went forward to could not help you.

Ultimately, only God can save you. It sounds to me like you are focused far too much on yourself in this. You are trying to estimate yourself and your own condition. You test the waters of your own life to see if you are acting like a believer. You look over your history and try to judge if God would still want to save you. A wise man once said something like, “If you look at the world around you, you will be overwhelmed. If you look inside yourself, you will be in despair. If you look at Christ, you will find joy and peace.” That is really what you need to start doing.

The question you should ask is not if you are savable. That involves looking inside yourself. You know you are a sinner, and you know you need a Savior. Now, the question is, is Jesus Christ the Savior you need? Instead of asking if you are worth saving (and who is?) ask yourself, “Is Jesus Christ able to save me?” Is He sufficient? Can He do it? Do you really believe that He is able to save you? Look at Him, and then make up your mind. Instead of asking if you are worthy, ask if He is? If He chose to save you, would God accept His sacrifice, or reject it?

The truth is that when you question whether or not you can be saved, you are not really questioning yourself, but the Savior. If I was sinking in quicksand and a little tiny woman threw me a rope and tried to pull me out, I would not be questioning my own ability to be saved. I would be questioning her ability to do it. She does not look like she has the strength to drag me from the sand. So you must come to see your own situation. You are utterly incapable of saving yourself. That you have learned and demonstrated for many years. But do you not see that it never did depend on you? You were helpless from the start, and so your need was never the issue. The point is whether or not you believe in the One holding the other end of the rope. Is He able to save you, or isn’t He? You seem to doubt this. But He is able to save you. He can lift you out and set you on a rock. He can even erase the quicksand from existence. You do not need to doubt His ability to do this.

I have attached a pamphlet by a man named Otis Sellers, whom I respect. Read it, and consider what he suggests of reading again the Gospel of John. What you really need is to believe in Jesus Christ. Really believe in Him as your Savior. Stop wondering if you can do it. Let Him be your Savior, and trust completely in His ability to save you. Decide if He doesn’t save you, then you will be lost, but you are going to trust everything to Him. He really is the Savior you need, and He really is the One Who can save you.

A changed life is the best way to get assurance that one is truly in the faith. However, you may be looking far too much at yourself throughout all of this. By constantly examining yourself to see if you measure up, you end up trusting too much in yourself in seeking to find salvation. You will never get to the point where you feel like, “Ah, now I’m good enough to be saved.” God saves us in spite of who and what we are. The Lord Jesus Christ cleanses us from all sin. It is by looking to Him, not by looking at yourself, that you will find assurance.

Well, I don’t think it will necessarily make you feel any better, but I do agree with you. You are a terrible person, and don’t deserve to be saved. Now why don’t we just get that out of the way altogether and stop worrying about it. Whether or not you deserve salvation is an issue you have long since settled. Now the only question is: is Jesus Christ sufficient to save even an undeserving person like you? I would suggest to you that the answer is: yes, He is.

Romans 5:6-11 explains to us how this works.

6. For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. 7. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. 8. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. 10. For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. 11. And not only that, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation.

Jesus Christ is God Himself. When He died for you, His death more than paid for your sins. He is the Creator Himself, as John 1:1-3 tells us. Therefore, His life is worth more than all creation…more than all of us put together. When He set out to save us by paying the penalty for our sins, He was more than sufficient to do it. His life was so much more precious than ours, that there was just no question but that it was sufficient to pay for ours. Our sin is so small and insignificant next to the price He paid to redeem us that every wrong thing we have ever done is washed away by His blood. You do not have to stare at yourself for months and years and cry and wish and despair. The Lord Jesus Christ IS the Savior of sinners like you. He DID pay for every sin you have ever committed or will commit. When He is your Savior, you WILL be forgiven and you WILL have life. Considering Him and Who and What He is, there can just be no doubt of this.

It sounds like you are trying to do a work only God can do. How does one attempt heart felt repentance? If you feel it, you do not have to attempt it; and if you attempt it, you are not feeling it.

I hate to get too deeply into theology here. It sounds to me like you are floundering in facts and ideas, and are spending far too much time analyzing what you are doing and not enough time focusing on the Savior you need to believe in. However, I feel I must deal with this matter of repentance, since you seem to be working off the idea that some have that makes this everything.

First of all, consider that the words “repentance” and “repent,” (at least the most common Greek words that are translated this way,) “metanoia” and “metanoeo,” occur only 24 and 36 times, respectively. Many of these times are either related to John the Baptist, or speaking of John the Baptist. The words “faith” and “belief,” both translations of the Greek word “pistis,” occur 228 times, and the vast majority of those are in Paul’s epistles. Paul explains it this way.

8. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, 9. not of works, lest anyone should boast. Ephesians 2:8-9.

He mentions both faith and repentance together in Acts 20:21.

21. testifying to Jews, and also to Greeks, repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.

So repentance toward God really IS faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ. The two go hand-in-hand.

Now most have the idea that repentance is a Godly sorrow. Yet this cannot be, for II Corinthians 7:10 says:

10. For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death.

How can godly sorrow produce repentance if godly sorrow IS repentance? Repentance cannot produce repentance. The two cannot be the same thing.

The word so often translated “repentance” in our Bibles is the Greek word “metanoia,” as I said above. This comes from two words, “meta” meaning “after,” and “noia” meaning “mind.” To “repent” in Greek actually meant to have the aftermind. This does not make sense at first in English, but we need to consider what this means.

For example, if I decide I am going on a picnic this weekend, that is my mind now. However, if this weekend I find that the weather is rainy, I may change my mind. In this case, my aftermind is not the same as my foremind. However, if you called upon me to make up my mind RIGHT NOW either to go on a picnic or not to go on a picnic, rain or shine, you are calling upon me to have the aftermind. In other words, you want me to make up my mind, so that whatever happens afterwards, my mind will not change. I have the aftermind already.

The marriage vow is a great example of a promise to have the aftermind. When you say, “For richer or poorer, for better or for worse, in sickness or in health,” you are saying that you don’t know what is coming up in life for you, if it will be good or bad, sick or healthy, poor or rich, but whatever it is, you are making up your mind RIGHT NOW that you will stay married to this person no matter what. Of course, that is a promise, and it is up to you to keep that promise. If you do stay married to that person, you prove that you really did have the aftermind. If you do not, then you prove that your promise was an empty one, and you really only had a foremind, and not an aftermind at all.

The best English word I could think of to substitute for repentance is “submission.” That is really the idea of an aftermind. If I say I am going to serve and follow God NO MATTER WHAT, that I am going to believe His Word NO MATTER WHAT IT TEACHES, that I am going to give Him my life NO MATTER WHAT PRICE I HAVE TO PAY, then I am saying that I am submitting my life to Him, and no matter what comes after, I am going to keep serving Him. Nothing will change my mind. No difficulty will make me falter. I am going to do this. That is an afterminded attitude.

Now the reason I am saying all this is that it sounds like you are searching for some experience whereby you feel a genuine sorrow for the wrong things you have done, and all of a sudden a watershed moment happens and you suddenly no longer want to do the sins you have done before, and in that moment you know you are saved. You are working as hard as you can trying to generate this feeling or bring about this moment. You are pleading with God to bring about this moment. Then you are judging your feelings to see if this moment has happened yet. You get excited and emotional one time, but then later you test yourself to see if you still have any desire to sin, and when you do, you decide it wasn’t real.

The problem is that needing to generate such a moment was never the issue. You are just trying to save yourself again with an emotional experience. You need to give up on manufacturing such a thing. What you really need to do is submit to God. Stop looking for some magic moment, give up your endless quest, and just believe the record God gave of His Son. As John said in John 20:30-31:

30. And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; 31. but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.

You do not need some great emotional experience. Just believe in the Savior Who is able to deliver you, and you will be saved.

Now you are getting afraid of the “unpardonable sin,” as it is called. I do not want to go into a long exposition of this passage. Ultimately, I believe that this involves a person who actually tastes of the miraculous gifts of God such as being healed or seeing miraculous signs, and then rejects and refuses to believe in Jesus Christ anyway. This was something unique to when the disciples were going around working miracles. I do not believe that it is anything that anyone has to worry about today.

If you think you have committed the unpardonable sin, don’t worry about it. I would just point to you Jesus Christ. He is the God Who is able to forgive sins. Whatever you have done and however bad it is, He is big enough to forgive it. You might think it is “unpardonable,” but give it to Him, and let Him take care of it. He is able to forgive everything you have done.

You are still spending all your time worrying about and measuring yourself. You are rating your feelings, rating your thoughts, rating your responses to things. You are caught up in yourself when you should be caught up in your Savior. Don’t you know that the problems that are so overwhelming to you are nothing compared to Him?

Ephesians 1:19-20 declares, “19. and what is the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to the working of His mighty power 20. which He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places,

The power of God toward us who believe is the same mighty power that He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand. This tells us that God’s mighty power, that He worked to resurrect Christ, now works in us who are believing in order to produce that faith within us. It is not a small amount of power that it takes to produce belief in a sinner’s heart! Yet that God has the power to do it is demonstrated in the resurrection of Christ. He DOES have the power to save you, He DOES have the power to make a believer out of you. How pathetic you find yourself to be doesn’t matter in the slightest.

Follow His commandments? What about this one?

John 6:28. Then they said to Him, “What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?”
29. Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent.”

God commands you to believe. This is THE work of God. This is THE commandment above all commandments that you need to be following. You know, don’t you, that Jesus Christ is the Savior? Do you believe that He is YOUR Savior? Do you really believe that He can save you? Or do you think that yours is the one case in history where somehow He fell short, and He will end up shrugging His shoulders and saying, “Oh, well, I guess I wasn’t able to save _______ after all”? If you do the work of believing that He requires, He WILL save you. He is ABLE to save you. You need to stop freaking out about yourself and let Him do it. Trust Him to do it. Stop trying to produce it somehow, someway, with some experience. Let go of all this other religious garbage and doctrinal hoodoo you have collected and cling to Him as your Savior. Let Him save you. Trust Him to save you. Fall into His arms, and give up every other prop and every other method and every other experience you have sought or tried or had. Give Him sole and complete right to save you, and give up all right to save yourself. Let Him do it, or else you will be lost, but you do not worry about it anymore. Just make Him your Savior. He is able to fill the role. He is able to do the job. Stop grabbing at straws when you could be standing on Him.

Again, you focus on yourself, and not on Christ. You really do make a lousy savior. Why are you doing this to yourself? You already know you can’t do it. Give up all this and let Jesus Christ save you. He is the Savior you need. Read the book of John, and pay attention to what John says about people believing. This needs to be you. You won’t find everyone there having some huge, life-changing emotional experience. Instead, you will find many examples of people believing, or negative examples of them not believing. The believing one needs to be you. This is your relationship with God. This is your faith in Him. But this is all about Him being big enough to be your Savior, not you somehow living up to Him saving you. Give this up and trust Him. Believe in the One Who can save you.

Let me turn your questions around. Could it be too late for Jesus Christ to save you? Could He be unable to melt your hard heart? I do not believe for a moment that this is so. Jesus Christ has saved millions before you, and He is still able to save a sinner like you. You do not have to worry about His ability to do it. Stop searching for “the moment” when some experience called “repentance” happens to you, and instead look to the Savior Who has been offering Himself to you the whole time. Don’t you know He died on the cross for you? Don’t you know He rose from the dead in victory? Don’t you know His sacrifice on your behalf was already accepted? Why then do you waver? Why do you doubt, and refuse to believe that He can be and is your Savior? Remember Peter when he walked on the water. While he was looking at Jesus, he walked on the water fine. He sunk when he looked at the wind and waves.  You need to stop looking at the wind and the waves and look at Jesus Christ. He is sufficient to save you. Submit your life to Him. Decide that, come what may, He will be your Savior. This is the response from you that He is looking for.

I will pray for you. Feel free to write me again. I am interested to hear how you are doing, and if anything I have said makes sense.