We have several youth in our church, by God’s grace, who are finally following the call of baptism/church membership. They are all in the middle school/high school age range. Other youth are contemplating. There are other adults who attend our church who are contemplating the call to baptism as well. The one hang up for many of them–either what has caused them to delay baptism until now or what is causing them to delay baptism still: they are not sure if they are a Christian.
It is an issue that seems foreign to the NT (not struggle for assurance, but a struggle at the front end of the Christian life to know if one is a Christian at all). I have several guesses as to why this phenomenon might be happening. I will just focus on one reason why this is a strange phenomenon, and one reason why I think this is happening, and one way to remedy this:
Why this is a strange phenomenon:
To say “I’m not sure if I’m a Christian” is a lot like saying “I’m not sure I’m a human” or “I’m not sure if I’m American” or “I’m not sure if I like ice cream.” The only way those questions would be valid questions, respectively, is if you did not know what a human was, if you did not know what was required to be an American citizen, or if you did not know what true pleasure was! In other words, for someone to not know if they themselves are a Christian, there is a lack of teaching in the home, a lack of teaching in the church, an over-thinking of the individual, or a combination thereof.
One major reason this phenomenon happens in the U.S. in particular:
There is too much emphasis on personal, free will. Period. Too much emphasis on me believing, too little on God saving. Too much emphasis on my personal decision, too little on God’s decision to save by electing, calling, justifying, and sanctifying. Too much emphasis on my experience of conversion, too little on the work of the Spirit in blowing where He wishes. Too much emphasis on me coming forward when I’m ready, too little on God calling me. If I am focused on my experience of salvation rather than the Jesus Christ of salvation, it will always be shaky.
One way to remedy this:
Trust the means of God’s grace to save. Then trust the God of all grace in salvation. Trust the preaching of the Word, the right administration of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, and the faithful practice of church discipline. Trust that God uses those to save and sanctify.
Then trust God will keep His promises to His sheep forever. For instance, God promises a new heart. So when someone can walk through our doctrinal statement and say “yes, yes, yes, yes,” but then turn around and say “I’m not sure if I’m a Christian,” I then appeal to their new heart and ask, “what do you want?” Instead of focusing on the solidity of their faith (which those with weak consciences will never feel solid) by asking, “what do you believe,” I would rather test their affections: What do you love? What do you think of Jesus? Will you follow Him? Will you repent of this or that? It is a matter of getting individuals focus off of themselves on onto Christ.