As a child, I was never a good sleeper. I remember lying in bed and jumping out to check if anyone was in the room. I’m not exactly sure who I was looking for, but the thought of some intruder being in my room kept me up at night. I would look in the closet, under my bed, and then jump back under the sheets, thinking about this mythical person, who never once showed up in my room. Eventually, I would fall asleep.
Clearly, I had some issues, and sadly there weren’t melatonin “sleepy gummies” for kids available in the 1980's. Now as an adult, who puts my own children to bed, I have a different set of things I think about at night: decisions for my family and the church I pastor, how to navigate through a pandemic that has altered life for us all, presidential elections, and how my New England Patriots are going to play without Tom Brady leading the team. Unless you are like my wife who falls asleep the moment her head hits the pillow, many of us have thoughts that keep us up at night, or, at the least, pop into our minds before we fall asleep.
Thankfully there is one major question that never keeps me up at night or causes me to lose even a millisecond of sleep, and that is the question of where I stand in my relationship with God. I have complete assurance of my salvation. I know that my standing with God is secure because of the work of Jesus Christ on my behalf. Those who have placed their faith in Jesus Christ and have repented of their sins should never lose a moment of sleep, wondering about the status of their salvation. Unfortunately, there are too many people who aren’t able to experience the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, which guards their hearts and minds (Phil. 4:7). There are others who have a false assurance, hedging their salvation on matters the Bible doesn’t prescribe for saving faith. It is very common in evangelical circles to focus on one having the certainty of assurance regarding one’s salvation. This is important, but has caused a deemphasis on the warning against possessing a false assurance, where one believes that are saved, when in fact they are not. Our very lives depend on not getting matters of eternal significance wrong. We must know without a doubt that we are in Christ and forgiven of our sins.
The majority of people I encounter are not atheists. Often, they are vague theists. They believe in a very generic god who resembles anyone from a divine Santa Claus figure to a distant force or moral compass. This generic god is not the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, who has revealed Himself to us through the Scriptures and ultimately through Jesus Christ. Rather, the idea that there is a God and that it matters somehow for the afterlife lingers in minds and subtly haunts people. Attend any funeral and almost every single time you’ll hear that the deceased is in a “better place” as friends and families share stories and memories of a loved one. We are not told what that better place is or how one qualifies to be there, but it is simply stated and assumed.
There are others who certainly believe in the God of the Scriptures, but live their lives wondering, “Am I good enough?” and “Have I done enough?” There are many people living with “Catholic guilt,” and it is common for those who grew up in a conservative Christian home to have “rededicated” their lives at a church service, youth retreat, or revival service to make sure they are “okay” with God, just in case.
According to the Scriptures, it is clear that God does not want His children lying in bed at night wondering where they stand with their Creator. Sleepless nights concerning this are a problem of belief, not behavior. There is a type of apprehension that is appropriate and needed. If one believes their relationship with God, and eternal life, changes by the day based on personal moral performance, sleeping smoothly doesn’t make very much logical sense. There isn’t a pillow soft enough to ease the uncertainty of whether one has been good enough for God that particular day or in one’s whole life. God wants us to have real assurance, not a faulty one, but one where believers can walk in confidence knowing that their redemption has been accomplished and certified as guaranteed by the seal of the Holy Spirit.