What should we do if someone says they have lost their faith?
The first thing we would need to do is establish what the person means by stating that they have ‘lost their faith’. It might indicate that they have lost the assurance of salvation and they now doubt whether they were ever saved. On the other hand, they may be admitting that they no longer have any interest in spiritual things. These two issues are very distinct and therefore our response will be governed by whichever one reflects the condition of the informant.
The loss of the assurance of salvation might derive from several different causes including physical or mental illness. Many readers will be familiar with the hymn, ‘O for a closer walk with God’; it was written by William Cowper. Cowper suffered severely from depression and in those dark moments he had many doubts about his salvation.
Another cause for doubting salvation can be the way the gospel message is presented. An imbalanced emphasis about holy living might cause the listener to think that if they have sinned they cannot be saved. Equally, the constant challenging of the audience as to whether they can recall with clarity the moment of conversion can contribute to a genuine believer feeling insecure if they are not able to remember an exact time when they trusted the Lord.
One group of people who often have anxiety about the reality of salvation are those who have been brought up in a Christian home. Many of these heard the gospel from their infancy and were converted whilst still quite young. As a result they were preserved from much sin and, consequently, conversion brought no significant change in their behaviour. Because they had no ‘Damascus Road’ kind of change, doubts often arise and much loss of peace is suffered even though the validity of their salvation could not be challenged.
Much wisdom and care needs to be shown by any who would seek to help believers who need reassurance of salvation. For some, the restoration of assurance might be quickly achieved but for others it may be far more protracted. Whilst verses that clearly teach the security of every believer should be brought to their attention, it will also help to show them from the scriptures the features that mark every true believer. John’s 1st Epistle is particularly relevant in this respect and it will encourage them if they can be assured that they are displaying those characteristics. In addition, a presentation of the all-sufficiency of the work of Christ as being the only ground by which anyone can be saved should help them realize that salvation is not based on feelings but on what He has done. Above all, we should pray with and for them and encourage them to ask the Lord to enable them to regain the joy of knowing that they have passed from death unto life.
An altogether different situation arises when someone admits that they no longer have any interest in spiritual things and, in that sense, they have ‘lost their faith’. They have no desire to attend the assembly meetings, no interest in reading the word of God and their focus centres on things on the earth and not ‘on things above’. Whilst expressing sadness at hearing of this condition our response then might be to challenge them as to whether they were genuinely converted, reminding them that the scriptures teach that ‘the friendship of the world is enmity with God’, Jas. 4. 4.
If they renounce their profession of salvation and admit that they no longer believe the Bible then we should regard them as being not saved and tell them that. However, this ought not to be done in an aggressive and vindictive manner nor should we treat them contemptuously. A far better response would be to maintain contact with them and assure them of our prayerful longing for their salvation.
For others this ‘losing their faith’ indicates a temporary loss of spiritual desires. Maybe the world has been allowed to sap them of their appreciation of the scriptures, but, whatever the reason, our God is ever willing to recover those who have failed. In these situations we ought to do all we can to help them regain their walk with the Lord. The words of Cowper are apposite, ‘What peaceful hours I once enjoyed, how sweet the memory still! But they have left an aching void the world can never fill’.