Here is some counsel I gave someone who is a true and beautiful believer but who is having trouble, perhaps because of some bad teaching in their past, accepting that their faith in Christ is true:
When Jesus died and said “it is finished”, it was finished. It is not dependent on some change in you. It doesn’t matter if you soften your heart or change your thoughts or believe it in some perfect way. You either reject His offer or accept it. If you are seeking these things, if you are not saying “No! Jesus go away!”, you accept Him. I am giving you permission to say, “I believe, I truly believe.” Because you DO truly believe.
The voices telling you that you don’t believe are wrong. None of this would matter to you if you didn’t. And what you believe is a humdinger, because simply by not rejecting Him, you have believed in the One who eternally saves you. You are completely and utterly safe. It isn’t a safety of your own crafting. It is a safety that He has established for you as a gift by grace.
You begin by not rejecting His finished work that He already accomplished. Your fruit will roll out from that very simple trust, and if it doesn’t, or it takes its sweet time, it still doesn’t really matter. You are forgiven everything. Forever. Your past secret shame is forgotten; He refuses to remember it, and everyone who might do so is a sinner too and has no right. You are eternally loved. You are really really safe. By the simple belief in Christ that you already have, you are the bride of Christ and dearly cherished by Him. He Himself longs to hear your prayers and He Himself dearly loves you.
So, take heart, you are really His child, and everything is going to work out beautifully. He is on your side. He loves you.
Adding to Jesus’ Work
I wanted to post this here to give it a little bit of analysis. If we add anything to what we must do to be saved besides belief in Christ, we create a work. Belief is key, because it says I trust in a world and a work and a significance and a rescue that someone else created. I didn’t invent it or craft it, because I have given up on being my own God. I simply receive it. It is important that your idea of saving faith be stripped bare of any task on your part, because you do not save yourself. Jesus saves you. If you add to His work you taint it and ultimately disqualify yourself, because Jesus + Anything = Nothing. If I say, Jesus saves me for my past sins, but if I commit adultery in the future I will lose my salvation, then it is no longer Jesus who saves me. It is my avoidance of adultery which saves me. This does not mean that I condone or even overlook adultery. It means my mind is not set on not committing adultery because I am not precluded from the favor of God because of my lack of success with sexual purity. Rather, it is the help and favor and pleasure of God for me and my belief in it that helps me against my immoral proclivities. The mind set on the flesh is death, and the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace (Romans 8:6).
Assurance and Confidence
We have assurance and confidence in our salvation because of this. If I thought, I am saved by Jesus + successful fruits and/or sanctification and/or discipleship, then I am making my salvation hinge on what I do instead of on Jesus’ work. “Jesus plus” theology says I forge my own salvation with Jesus’ help, in other words, and thus if I screw up a la Romans 7:14-25, I lose my confidence not only in my own authenticity of faith, but in Jesus’ power to save. His saving power was supposed to cleanse me but it didn’t – if you add to mere belief in His death for you. However, that is not the nature of our confidence. Our faith is that Jesus saves sinners while they are yet sinners by dying for them (Romans 5:8). So when I say I believe in Christ, I am saying that I do not save myself. I am saying that Jesus, and only Jesus, saves me. I cannot undo His work or break His power over me to save. I have confidence in the day of judgement because I have come to know and believe the love that God has for me in Christ’s propitiation.
This kind of pure faith in Christ, that He alone saves you without any help or success from you, is the free-gift salvation that alone produces true fruits. The fruits are quite secondary to faith, however. Once you realize the degree of forgiveness and freedom you truly have in Christ, His love is intoxicating and absorbing. Suddenly you find that you are excited about it all the time. You dwell on it mentally. You abide in Him, and He in you. You start to have a tremendous love for others despite their imperfections, because you have tasted the power of grace. If you take away from the notion that the blood of Jesus washes us from all sin, and add some kind of personal task into that as having a cleansing power, you destroy the true hope that inspires genuine purity (1 John 3:3).
Forgiveness is the Power
People want to take a statement like “the blood of Jesus washes us from all sin” (1 John 1:7) and make a work of it. They want it to mean, if you believe in Jesus, you better prove it by not sinning. Or at least sinning less, or not having any “habitual” sin. However, in context, it is set as the root of a community which sins and maintains authenticity and confession about their sins. (1 John 1:5-10) It means, an overarching and enduring forgiveness. People hate the idea that salvation only means forgiveness. People want it to result in works and fruits, they must have human skin in the game. “God may love you enough to forgive your sins, but He loves you enough to want you to forsake your sins too.” This is a none-too-subtle backdoor to works salvation. But once you make the cleansing that the blood accomplishes more than forgiveness, you have suddenly changed the gospel so it has no power of salvation, and no anchor for the confidence and hope that inspires purification. Salvation really does mean a strong and enduring forgiveness, an unbreakable unconditional love. Salvation means that, however Romans 7:14-25 is playing out for you, there is always, right now, NO CONDEMNATION. None. Not one shred of condemnation. That means you are always in a current state of 100% forgiveness. Right now, the slate is wiped clean for you because you believe the blood of Jesus cleanses all sin. You can start all over with your 1,000,001st chance to walk in the Spirit instead of the flesh. This is what He wants. He is the author and finisher of your faith (Hebrews 12:2).
The Destroyer of Relationships
Jesus + Anything theology is a destroyer of relationship. If you notice, the community of people who nullify grace are regarded in 1 John 1:5-10 as the darkness, as pretenders who don’t hold the blood of Jesus as powerful and therefore have no fellowship and no place to confess or to experience cleansing. There is only a platform for faking righteousness and posing. Jesus + Anything theology places the same “anything” on everyone else’s head that the person pretending success under it holds. So the “anything” stands as a judge and an ender for truly honest and authentic sinners. Proponents of Jesus + Anything kinds of theology cannot embrace fellowship with sinners, because their standards of successful sanctificatory justification stand as the basis of imperfect love which dismisses people in the spirit of Cain the murderer, not as perfect love which persists in relationship with the imperfect. Since they don’t really believe in a substitutionary sacrifice for themselves, they don’t believe in it for anyone else. This is all really terrible, because no personal holiness or success in sanctification matters at all if it does not foster love for our sinning brethren. If you are not attracting sinners and tax-gatherers and prostitutes then you are not really operating in the spirit of Christ, who loves sinners and died for them. Belief in God’s pure unconditional grace fosters this kind of love!
The Simplicity of Belief
There is no feeling or fervor or euphoria or even gratitude you must muster up to make your faith real. There is no love for sinners that makes your faith real either. You must simply know and believe in the love God has for you in Christ’s propitiation, whether you are feeling it or not. Since you are an ignorant rotten sinner, you probably aren’t feeling it most of the time. You are not the one who makes it real. He didn’t wait until your successful sanctification and fruits of salvation and euphoria over your forgiveness and then say, “It is finished!” He said it is finished just as He died on the cross. It is finished! Believe it! Rejoice!