This topic vaguely reminds me of the old adverts in the US about the nagging worry over psoriasis. Like psoriasis, the possibility of temporary faith is no laughing matter.  Yet, the fear that we may experience a temporary faith is, by far, a bigger and more universal worry than psoriasis.

At some point, almost every Christian struggles with doubt.  ‘I think I’m saved.  But, what if I’m not?’  There are two broad schools of thought on salvation.  One is the belief in justification by faith and the opposing view is salvation via faith and works together.  But, where is the subjective (not objective, through Scripture and confessions of faith) assurance for us personally?  How do we know for sure?

The short answer is that we don’t really know for sure.  Some people lapse and come back to church, their faith strengthened. Others may say they are born again and go through all the right motions at church yet are truly reprobate.  So … what are we to think?  Where do we look for subjective assurance?

I’m no theologian, but what follows are my thoughts on the matter as I make my own Christian journey.  They may give you some ideas.  Am I:

– watching fewer films and reading fewer books about carnality and violence?

– turned off by coarse talk and foolishness? 

– uninterested in material goods, e.g. money and shopping?

– studying the Bible regularly and learning from Scripture?

– praying not just twice a day, but spontaneously throughout the day?

– willingly executing my responsibilities to my family and my employer?

– wishing to make good use of the limited hours in the day?

– helping to create or maintain a quiet and godly home?

– pausing to think before I act?

– becoming less dependent on an excess of food or drink?

– looking at events with objectivity instead of subjectivity?

– thinking that God has a plan for me and my family?

– reflecting on God’s guidance in my life?

– believing that Christ died on the cross for me?

– putting my trust in the Lord, no matter what?

– doing something good not because I am obliged (legalism) but out of a filial love for the Lord?

When things are going well, especially for a new convert, it’s easy to say ‘yes’ to many of those questions.  It’s when things stop going well — changes in employment or family circumstances — where life gets a bit trickier. We also need to look at the role our faith has played in our lives. Did we actively see God’s grace at work in shaping them? Did we pray sincerely?  Did we use the gifts of the Holy Spirit, e.g. wisdom and discernment? 

Yes, perhaps we have undergone temporary lapses in church attendance or in matters of faith.  If so, have we asked the Risen Christ — our only Mediator and Advocate — for help?  Or have we relied on ourselves and those around us in positions of power or prestige?

St Augustine alludes to the value of praying the Lord’s Prayer in Chapter 9 of his work, ‘The Gift of Perseverance’:

Now, moreover, when the saints say, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil,” [Matt. vi. 13] what do they pray for but that they may persevere in holiness? For, assuredly, when that gift of God is granted to them,–which is sufficiently plainly shown to be God’s gift, since it is asked of Him,–that gift of God, then, being granted to them that they may not be led into temptation, none of the saints fails to keep his perseverance in holiness even to the end.

He also wrote these words:

Love God and do as you please.

Meaning that when we truly love God, we automatically turn away from temptation and sin.  We don’t even think about them!

The first Anglican Bishop of Liverpool, John Charles Ryle, wrote in ‘Few Saved’ in the 19th century:

Leave no stone unturned in order to ascertain your own spiritual state. Be not content with vague hopes and trusts. Rest not on warm feelings and temporary desires after God. Give diligence to make your calling and election sure … Give God no rest till uncertainty has disappeared, and you have got hold of a reasonable hope that you are saved …

In ‘A Believer’s Assurance: A Practical Guide to Victory over Doubt’, John MacArthur gives us a Calvinist perspective on assurance:

Many people lack assurance because they do not understand that salvation is an utterly divine, totally sovereign operation. Assurance is built on the historical reality of what Jesus Christ accomplished. It is not a feeling without reason, and you will never have the subjective feeling of assurance until you comprehend the objective truth of the gospel.

You must realize that God knew you were a sinner, which is why He sent His Son Jesus Christ into the world to completely pay the price for all your sins–past, present, and future. The salvation Jesus offered was secured forever by the omnipotent power of God. It is irreversible. As Romans 11:29 says, “The gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.”

Dan Phillips of Pyromaniacs says in ‘The Struggle for Assurance’ (emphases in the original):

… my attitude has sometimes been, “I will believe that when I feel assured of it” — but do you see the trap in that thinking? Jesus told Martha that, if she believed, she would see the glory of God (John 11:40). Not the reverse.

So … my game plan is to bank on Jesus’ word of promise, regardless of my feelings, with no Plan B. He said come (Matthew 11:30-31). By grace, I came. He said, if you come, there’s no way I’m casting you away (John 6:37). I plan to take that one to the Throne. He said. Is there a better basisHe said!

And then I saw Romans 15:13 — “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” God gives joy and peace. Thank God. How does He give joy and peace? In believing. But wait — I’ll believe when I feel joy and peace! That will tell me I’m really a child, an elect child of God!

“No,” Paul would say to me, to you: “you have it backwards. You don’t get joy and peace, and then believe. Believe, and then you will know joy and peace.”  

I hope those truths are of some help to you. They’ve been lifesavers to me.

 

This is why Scripture is so essential to the Christian life.  Read it, know it, understand it.  And be assured of salvation.