How Mustard Seeds Dislodge Mountains
Dr. Foster has recently taken on the issue of assurance. He says some good things.
A few years ago a friend of mine told me that every Sunday when his pastor publicly led willing souls in the "sinner's prayer," he prayed along with it. He did this every Sunday. I asked him why. My friend has been a believer for a long time, and everyone who knows him knows he's a mature Christian and a respected lay leader in his church. So why would he feel the need to repeat the sinner's prayer every week?
He is not a man attacked by doubts, or even fears, for his eternal salvation, but an aspect of his humility before God led him somehow to say the "gettin' saved" words every time. He said he did it "just in case."
I told him I never met an unsaved person who was worried about his salvation, and that the very fact that he was concerned about his salvation was proof in itself he was saved. He later told me that since I said that he hadn't repeated the prayer any more.
Now, let me go on record at least in saying Christians "new" and "old" need the Gospel every day. You and I will need saving faith in Jesus as much on our last day of living as we did on the first. In that sense, confessing our sins in a spirit of repentance and expressing faith in the saving life and work of Jesus Christ is something we ought to do every day, not just every Sunday.
But at the same time, we need not do it for fear we somehow "lost" it between prayers. In fact, we should continue to cling to Jesus like first-time converting sinners not because salvation is tenuous but actually because the salvation of Jesus is sure.
This is one of those neat paradoxes, I think, where our lack of confidence in ourselves drives more into the arms of Jesus. Our doubts and fears, in this sense, are actually the biggest expressions of faith, because we know there is nothing that can cure or repair our desperation other than the saving love of Jesus Christ.
Christians, be confident in this -- when you are most concerned about your salvation, your faith is much stronger than you realize.
I know; it doesn't make sense. "If my faith is strong, why do I doubt it?" you ask. "If I am really saved, why don't I feel like it?"
The answer to the first question is this: When you are doubting your own faith, you are in the blessed position of realizing you cannot save yourself. It is that moment, believe it or not, the moment when you are thinking most less of yourself (if you follow what I mean) that Christ most increases in you. Look, strong faith is not always about supreme confidence in your own Christianosity. ;-) It is actually about your recognition of your own deficiencies and your inabilities, and thereby about your recognition that you really, really need Jesus because you just don't know if you can make it on your own.
The second "assurance of salvation" becomes about feeling great and feeling confident and feeling empowered (or whatever), it has become more about you and less about Jesus. It is not for nothing the Bible says "He must increase, I must decrease."
That sort of responds to the second question -- "If I'm saved, why don't I feel saved?" -- but a follow-up answer to that common question is this: Find feelings in the Scriptures as a reliable barometer of spiritual strength and you will have cause for despair. Let me know if you find it, but until you do, forget judging how much God loves you by how much you feel loved.
This is how much God loves you: He sent His only Son to die and rise again so that anyone who believes in Him won't die but will rise again to eternal life. It doesn't matter how you "feel" about that. It's a done deal. You either believe it or you don't.
And I got news for you on that note too: Even if you have a hard time believing it, it was still done.
Your doubts and fears are instrumental in your discipleship. They aren't fun, to be sure, but neither are suffering and persecution, and Jesus promised both of those things too. The great news of all of it, however, is that Jesus has you covered. He didn't just die to cover your lies and malice and greed and jealousy and all the other obvious sins -- His blood is powerful enough to cover your doubts and fears too.
And that is how you can have assurance even when you struggle with it. Not by pulling your attitude up by its boot straps, and not by suddenly feeling great about some words of inspiration and hope. But by realizing your doubts and fears are the very atoms of faith. Doubts and fears are faith on the elemental level. Unsaved people don't worry about salvation . . . unless they are in the beginning stages of conversion. So when you experience that peculiar "lack of assurance," be assured -- you are on the cutting edge of the Gospel yet again. It may not feel great, but it can be a great place to be. Anything that makes us throw ourselves at Jesus is worth it.
Do you see now how faith as small as a mustard seed can say to a mountainous system of religious rites and duties "go drown yourself," and it will happen?
Most all of us are familiar with the story of Peter's wet and wild adventure with the walking-on-water Jesus. The lesson of faith in that story actually lay not with Peter's walking on the water nor with his sinking. No, the real difference in that story is that Peter jumped out of the boat in the first place. Whether he strolled or sunk, Jesus was there to lift him up.
Remember that while it is through our faith we are saved, that it is by grace we are saved. Don't worry about worry. Grace covers that, as well.