Michael Buckbridge, Grantham, England [SEE PROFILE BELOW]
I lay awake one night as a teenager with the darkness pressing in and the panic rising: ‘Was I saved, or heading for the blackness of hell?’ Eventually I opened my Bible; relief came as it opened at the words, ‘Fear not: for I have redeemed thee, I have called thee by thy name; thou art mine’, Isa. 43. 1. Sometime later, a similar thing happened and again the Lord comforted through His word. The third time, however, there was nothing. I think my mum can still remember that night as I struggled! Some days after, Hebrews chapter 11 verse 6 hit me, ‘But without faith it is impossible to please him’ and the realization dawned that God would not always give me a fresh assurance because He had already given me plenty; it was up to me to simply believe what He had already said.
A lack of assurance – lack of confidence – in one’s salvation or a doctrine of the faith may affect many believers and there will be a variety of questions that trigger it. For example:
- Is the gospel / Bible true? Is it really the only way?
- I prayed so hard but it did no good; doesn’t God care?
- Why didn’t God work differently?
- Am I saved? Did God really do a work in my life?
- Why is there not more of an impact made? If God is so powerful, why is there not more of a difference in the lives of those who claim to be saved?
The following lines of thought have helped me when doubts come knocking.
The nature of faith
‘And being fully persuaded that, what he had promised, he was able also to perform’, Rom. 4. 21. Faith in the scriptures always has a foundation upon which to build. It is sad that our dictionaries have seen fit to add a definition of faith when it comes to ‘religion’ which ends by saying, ‘based on spiritual conviction rather than proof’.1 Under this heading I like to think about:
The assurance of History
Our God has left His footprint clearly on the page of history. The argument of Paul in 1 Corinthians chapter 15 is clear; the gospel is rooted in verifiable historical events. Paul states that if the resurrection didn’t take place then, rightly, we would be the most miserable of men, v. 19. However, he, along with many others, could bear witness to the triumphant truth that ‘now is Christ risen from the dead’, v. 20. This changes everything for, this being so, our faith is not in vain and we can be ‘stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord’, v. 58.
Thus, faith responds to what it does not know, on the basis of what, or more importantly, who it knows, Heb. 11. 1.
The nature of God
When doubts come, there is the temptation to look inward and try to muster more faith. However, the Lord was clear; faith as a grain of mustard seed can accomplish great things. Why? Because it is the object of faith that is the determining factor. To know God, therefore, is to provide protection against doubt when we do not understand. Job’s repentance was not sparked by an answer from God but a revelation of God, Job 42. 5, 6; the question of Martha and Mary was not answered by an explanation of the delay, but an understanding of His power and sympathy, John. 11. 25-27, 33, 35, 40. How does God primarily reveal Himself?
The assurance of His word
‘So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God’, Rom. 10. 17. Although I wasn’t entirely wise in just reading where my Bible opened, I was on the right track. Because Christianity is, at its core, a relationship, our faith is in a person and it thus follows that doubt is doubt about Him. It must prepare us for the darts of doubt from the devil to know what He has told us about Himself.
To trust someone entirely, we would want to know at least:
- They will not let us down, Heb. 10. 23; 13. 5b.
- They will be consistent, Heb. 13. 8; Jas. 1. 17; Mal. 3. 6.
- They can help in all circumstances; no power is too great for them, Isa. 40. 25, 26; Rom. 8. 35-39; Heb. 4. 16.
- They know what’s happening, even if we don’t, Isa. 40. 13, 14; ‘Jesus knowing’, John 13. 1, 3; 18. 4; 19. 28.
- They have our good at heart, Heb. 12. 5-10; 1 Pet. 5. 8; Titus 2. 14; Eph. 5. 26, 27; Rom. 8. 31
How good to remember that it is our ‘great God and Saviour’ who has saved us by His power, Rom. 1. 16; 1 Cor. 1. 18 and who keeps us by His power, 1 Pet. 1. 5, ‘ready to be revealed in the last time’. When it comes to care:
‘No one ever cared for me like Jesus;
There’s no other friend so kind as He.
No one else could take the sin and darkness from me;
O how much He cared for me’.
The nature of testing
There is a brilliant answer given in the film ‘God’s not Dead 2’, to a teacher who is complaining that she can’t sense God’s presence in the trial she is going through: ‘You as a teacher ought to know better than anyone else that the teacher is always silent in the test!’
The assurance of His care
Romans chapter 8 verse 32 is a monumental statement of this: ‘He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?’ Love does not always step in at the first sign of difficulty, for it has the ultimate good of the loved one at heart. Time and again scripture shows how God dealt with the difficulties of His people, or we admire them for their God-given courage to face death. We forget, however, that their stories are finished whereas ours is not and, while we feel the power of their stories, we get frustrated that God isn’t acting for us because we lose the perspective of time. Joseph’s story is just a few pages long and yet involved years of suffering. At other times, we lose the perspective of eternity. How could Peter sleep the night before his execution? Because he knew that nothing, not even the sword, could separate him from the love of God. Death was not ‘the final curtain’, but rather the entrance to an ‘eternal weight of glory’, 2 Cor. 4. 17.
The nature of truth
Consider three questions about truth:
- Does it contradict itself?
- Is there other evidence for it?
- Can I see it work in my experience?
It is entirely logical to conclude that, if there is an all-powerful, all-knowing God who loves us, then we can be assured that He can and will keep His word. The empty tomb is powerful supporting evidence. What about in my life?
The assurance of His life within
John writes his first Epistle so ‘that ye may know that ye have eternal life’, 5. 13 and, ‘that your joy may be full’, 1. 4. David and John would agree that fundamental to that joy is His presence, Ps. 16. 11; 1 John. 1. 3, 4. Note the concern of the son when he was in the far country as he considered himself only worthy to be a servant, not a son; the distance from the father engendered a lack of assurance of his place in the family. Just as mutual confidence in earthly relationships demands effort, John, desiring us to know this joy and assurance, challenges us in the following ways:
- Are we seeking fellowship with God, 1. 3? This will involve walking ‘in the light, as he is in the light’, 1. 7, and actively abiding ‘in him; that, when he shall appear, we may have confidence, and not be ashamed before him at his coming’, 2. 28. ‘The joy that Jesus gives is the result of our disposition being at one with his own’.2
- Are we walking in obedience to Him? 2. 3-5; 3. 19-24. I was asked recently, ‘How do I know that I am trusting Him’? The simple answer is obedience. Faith doesn’t think about faith, it demonstrates its existence by doing what God says. James is blunt, ‘faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone’, Jas. 2. 17-26.
- What is our relationship with the world? We cannot love it and expect to enjoy the assurance of the love of the Father, for, ‘if any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him’, 2. 15.
- How is our relationship with other believers? To have fellowship with God we must abide in the light; the one who hates his brother ‘is in darkness even until now’, 2. 9. One way ‘we know that we have passed from death unto life’, is ‘because we love the brethren’, 3. 14.
- How sensitive are we to sin? John pulls no punches, ‘Whosoever is born of God doth not commit [habitually] sin’, 3. 9; also 4. 20; 5. 18.
- What do we confess? ‘Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God’, 4. 2.
The key to Doubting Castle
Bunyan’s Christian, having spent many days beaten by Giant Despair in the dungeon of Doubting Castle, remembers something, ‘What a fool, quoth he, am I, thus to lie in a stinking dungeon, when I may as well walk at liberty! I have a key in my bosom, called Promise, that will, I am persuaded, open any lock in Doubting Castle’.3
The woman with an issue of blood ‘felt in her body that she was healed’, Mark 5. 29. The Lord wouldn’t leave assurance to her feelings but rather gave her a word of promise, ‘thy faith hath made thee whole’, v. 34. God’s purpose is to bring many sons to glory, but in His ways glory always follows suffering. There will therefore be times when we will have to remember that truth is truth regardless of our feelings and when a God who cannot lie makes a promise, then faith will be ‘confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ’, Phil. 1. 6.
1 Accessed at https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/faith.
2 Chambers. Accessed at https://www.bible.com/reading-plans/1041-oswald-chambers-joy-strength-in-the-lord/day/24.
3 J. Bunyan. Accessed at https://www.ccel.org/ccel/bunyan/pilgrim.iv.vii.html.