Complacency, Doubt, and Assurance

February 18th, 2008

The sermon this week at church, the latest in a series on the person and work of the Holy Spirit, dealt with the subject of assurance. The pastor preached from Romans 8, with the central verse 15, “For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!””.

It got me thinking about a conversation I had a month or so ago, with someone who was not feeling at all assured. And then this morning, the book I’m reading touched on the same topic. So, I’d like to share from the book by Sam Storms, Signs of the Spirit: An Interpretation of Jonathan Edwards’s “Religious Affections”.  I found out about this book by listening to Storms’ appearance on Converse with Scholars, about which Carrie Hunter said, “He discussed the wonderful language Jonathan Edwards used to show how we as believers can see the true marks of the Holy Spirit in our own lives as well as in the lives of others.” I’m enjoying it very much; it’s edifying, concise, and quite readable.

As I was reading this morning, I came to a passage that deals with some elements of the false assurance felt by those whose faith is not authentic, and with why Christians may still struggle with assurance:

Merely having a deep and profound assurance that one is saved proves nothing about the authenticity of one’s faith.

[...] merely having an assurance of salvation and a confident peace of mind and heart is not an infallible proof that one is accepted of God. Those who loudly and without the slightest doubt declare the certainty of their relationship with God may be like the Pharisees “who never doubted that they were saints, and the most eminent of saints, and were bold to go to God, and come up near to him, and lift up their eyes, and thank him for the great distinction he had made between them and other men.”

The unregenerate heart is quite capable of self-deception, self-flattery, and a self-confidence that leads it to heartily assert its safety with God. True believers embrace the assurance of salvation with humility and caution, whereas the false assert it with a brazen confidence that borders on arrogant presumption. True believers, unlike hypocrites, are also keenly aware of their own sin and the potential it has for leading them into a false sense of security. It is also the case that Satan will leave the hypocrite undisturbed in his false assurance (and perhaps even embolden him in it), whereas he may constantly attack the born-again believer lest the power of hope in his heart strengthen his commitment to holiness and purity of life. The hypocrite “looks clean and bright in his own eyes” while the true saint is made ever more aware of his failings and corruption. (p. 70, bold added)

An important point: Sometimes, Christians struggle with doubt about their salvation because they struggle with sin. They are deeply aware of their own sin. This awareness comes from God, as we come to see him more clearly and to understand the radical, penetrating nature of God’s holiness–in comparison, we see how far we fall short. We see his righteousness, we see the high way of love that Jesus taught, and know, “I don’t love like that!” But even if this awareness comes from God, Satan may use it to attack our assurance of salvation: “You? A child of God? Hah!”

Do you struggle? Do you look at yourself and know that you’re not good enough? Do you question, and wrestle? Do you long to know assurance, because you know that without Jesus, you’re lost? Do you long for him to save you? Then know these things:

  1. The very fact that you struggle is an evidence of the work of the Spirit inside you. Paul said, “the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God”. (Rom. 8:7) If you had not been born again, you would be more content in your sin, hostile to God!
  2. It’s not the strength of our own faith that saves us. Our faith has no power to accomplish anything. When you seek security, when you question your salvation, don’t try to find the answer in the purity of your faith. Think about this: If you are complacent about your sin and your status, then you should fear, and turn to him. But if you are truly wrestling with doubt about your own faith, if you care so much–it’s because you know you need Jesus to save you! You’re relying on him! And God promises to save you.
  3. Jesus saves. God’s promise saves. Jesus intercedes for those who rely on him. Find your answer in his promise. Depend on that, depend on him. He does not fail, and gives to us the seal of his Spirit as a guarantee.

The answer to our fear is to remind ourselves: Yes, I am a sinner. I struggle. I fail. I hate that, and genuinely seek change. I want to put to death, to kill, to wage war on my sin. But I am not God’s child because of how lovely I am. By myself, I am lowly, not lovely. He adopted me–an ugly slave of sin. He loved me–a rebellious enemy. I don’t deserve his love, and I don’t deserve to be his child. And that is why his overflowing lovingkindness is so astounding and precious. Jesus came and lived and died and rose again, because I don’t deserve anything but justice and wrath. I’m not saved because I’m lovely; I’m saved because God’s Spirit is in me, teaching me that I am a sinner, showing me my need, and pointing me to Christ and what he did for me. I’m not saved because I’m good enough, I’m saved because Jesus is. The Father looks at me and sees him. I know that I need his sacrifice, and I desperately want him to save me. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned”.

Base your assurance on him, and his perfection. If you come to him in humble awareness of your need, he promises to save you. Rest in the promise of God, and know the undeserved gracious security of his love. Let his perfect love cast out your fear.

There are some more quotes I wanted to include–on judging by fruit, healthy self-examination, and working out our salvation in fear and trembling–but this is running long. So I’ll save it for later, and conclude with this:

As the host of the show Iron Sharpens Iron says, Christ is a far greater savior than you are a sinner.

For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. (Rom. 8:15-17)

“What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:31-39)

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7 Responses to “Complacency, Doubt, and Assurance”

  1. Gayle Bender says:

    Well said, Tim. I love hearing your thoughts and your receipt of our Dear Savior’s affection! We are most fortunate to be the recipients of such a great salvation.
    Blessings,
    Gayle

  2. mark says:

    thanks tim…good stuff!

    mark p.

  3. Martha Rasco says:

    It was a blessing to read your thoughts, Tim. I also love Sam Storms; I used to hear him in Kansas City back in the 90′s but had lost track of him. Glad to hear about his book. I love his beautiful heart, and what a wonderful teacher he is.You are doing great yourself!

    Blessings in Christ,
    Martha Rasco

  4. Tim says:

    Thanks, everyone! I appreciate your kind words.

    Martha: If you’re interested in finding more from Sam Storms, he has a website called Enjoying God Ministries.

  5. Thomas Visel says:

    Well thought out, Tim. Thanks for sharing!

    Thomas

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