Doubt is Distrust

It is possible for someone to be a true Christian and yet to lack assurance in his faith. A man can be given a thousand pounds by a generous uncle, a boy can be adopted into a loving family, and yet it is possible for both to lack assurance of their inheritance. The man might doubt the money's genuineness out of a natural disposition to doubt, the boy might refuse to believe the new parents' willingness to accept him out of a false humility about his unworthiness. Yet the facts remain: that in Christ God "has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places" (Ephesians 1:3) that "you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the spirit of adoption" (Romans 8:15), and that "to all who receive Him, who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God." (John 1:12). The sadness is that Christians can miss the joy of "the riches of an assured understanding" (Colossians 2:2). The great American evangelist of the nineteenth century, D L Moody, remarked, "How Christians can live in an atmosphere of distrust is a mystery to me. Christianity without assurance is a lifelong burden and anxiety. It adds no joy to life, and affords no consolation in sorrow", and he continues, "compare such a life of distrust in God with the glorious confidence in His loving mercy and tender care. What a contrast!"

That it is God's will that every Christian should have this assurance or 'glorious confidence' is clear; it would be of no pleasure to the uncle or family to see their love and generosity doubted even though received, and it is of no pleasure to God to see His children unsure of their adoption. The Bible is full, therefore, of the offer and experience of assurance. In the Old Testament, Psalm 23 glows with such an experience of assurance, and even the suffering Job can assert, "I know that my Redeemer liveth" (Job 19; 25). In the New Testament, Jesus promises that "He who comes to me I will in no wise cast out" (John 6; 24), that "he who hears my word and believes Him who sent me has eternal life" (John 5; 24). And the purpose of a whole New Testament epistle, 1 John, is to speak of the assurance offered to the Christian; "I write this to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life" (1 John 5; 13).

A Christian, therefore, who lacks assurance is missing out on part of God's will for his life, because part of the riches of the Christian's inheritance is an assurance of his adoption as a son or daughter into the family of God.

Assurance not Presumption

But is not such an assurance presumptuous? Who are we to claim to be God's children? Assurance would indeed be presumption if it was based on our own excellence, effort or experience. But true assurance is based not on any merit in us but solely on the kindness of God. The adopted boy can be sure of his adoption, not because of his virtue, but because of his new parents' love; the fortunate nephew can be sure of his riches, not because of his worth, but because of his uncle's generosity. In neither case is the assurance presumption: indeed, on the contrary, the presumption would be in doubting for no good reason the good-will of the giver. For the Christian it is not presumption to accept God's goodness, and to know that He has accepted him: the presumption is in doubting God's goodness as though we consider Him not loving enough to be so generous. Such doubt can wear the cloak of humility but underneath can be more akin to pride. Awareness of our own unworthiness should make us marvel at God's graciousness to us, not doubt it.

Michael Griffiths in his book "Christian Assurance" sums it up: "If it depended upon our worthiness, then we could never have assurance, and any assurance would be presumption. But because it depends on His faithfulness, we may have assurance." If our assurance were based on our hold on God we should all despair, for our hold is not secure enough: through our weakness we should fall or drift away from Him. But true assurance is based on God's hold on us.

As Dan Hearne, the former England rugby-centre cites in his book "Crash tackle", Christian faith is being "sure but not cocksure": sure because our faith is in God, not cocksure because our faith is not in ourselves.

The Bible speaks of a false assurance or presumption, but in every case the assurance is false because it is based on man not on God. The Pharisee in the Temple, for example (Luke 18 verses 9 - 14) is confident because of his own goodness: and Jesus tells us that he did not return to his house right with God. In the Old Testament, the people of Israel were too inclined to rest their confidence in their own descent from Abraham and were lulled into complacency by prophets who cried "All is well," when all was not well (Jeremiah 6; 14). People who say today, "I will be okay because I have not done anyone any harm, and I was baptised long ago", are making the same disastrous mistake of resting their confidence in themselves and not in God. Their assurance is false.

But happily the existence of forged banknotes does not remove the value of genuine ones. The inadequacy of a cheque that draws on our insufficient resources does not destroy the adequacy of a cheque that draws on God's all- sufficient resources. As well as warning against false assurance, the Bible speaks often and warmly of a true assurance.

The foundations of true Assurance

True assurance is for the Christian based on three truths. We can be sure of our adoption as God's children because this is The will of the Father. "He desires all men to be saved" (1 Timothy 2; 4). He sent His Son into the world "that the world might be saved through Him" (John 3; 17).

Can we be sure that we are accepted by God? Yes, because that is the Father's will. But are we not too sinful? The Father knows our sinfulness: it was because of it that He sent Jesus.

The story is told of a small adopted boy being repeatedly teased by fellows as school, until he answered their taunts by saying, "My father chose me and he knew what he was letting himself in for: your father just had to put up with what your mother produced!" "The Father chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world" (Ephesians 1; 4), and we can assume He knew what He was doing.

But can we be sure that God loves us so much as to accept us when we have been hostile to Him for so long? And what of his justice that cannot condone or ignore our sin? Such questions bring us to the second basis for our assurance: The Work of the Son. " God shows His love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us" (Romans 5; 8), and not only does the Cross show the extent of God's love, it also shows God's righteousness, for on the Cross Christ "Himself bore our sins in his body" (1 Peter 2; 24).

The clear evidence is that God does love even us, and that He does not ignore our sin, but has dealt with it. And if we doubt that we can be sure of our acceptance before God, we are doubting the validity of the work of the Son. The presumption again is not in being sure, but in being unsure. "Our redemption is as sure as our Redeemer".

But there is a third, and perhaps most precious ground for the Christian's assurance. And that is The witness of the Holy Spirit. This witness, or evidence for our adoption as children of God, is rich and will vary from person to person.

Paul cites the cry of prayer as witness: "when we cry 'Abba! Father!' it is the Spirit Himself bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God" , (Romans 8; 15-16), and other indications are a love for other Christians, a concern to live for God's glory, a desire to know God better, a grief over sin because it grieves God, the gradual growth of the fruit of the Spirit..... The list is endless; the appearance of any one feature points to the witness of the Holy Spirit within. And such a witness is our third ground for assurance. All of these three foundations for our assurance are laid not by us, but by God: what He has said concerning His will, what He has done in the work of the Son, and what He is doing by the Holy Spirit.

But will not such an assurance for the Christian lead to a proud, self- satisfied indolence? Does an officer sure of his place in the team for the Army/Navy rugger match sit back and relax or spend the night before the game carousing into the small hours? It is, on the contrary, lack of assurance that leads to listlessness and carelessness: a true assurance leads to service, grateful service in thankfulness for what God has done, is doing, and will do for us.

"Assurance is not a spiritual luxury", writes the Bishop of Norwich, "but a real necessity for Christian service."

Or as D.L. Moody has asked, "what man can hope to convince the world of what he is not quite sure himself?" Moody adds, "Uncertainty disqualifies for work and usefulness in every sphere of life.... Confidence is essential to success... I do not believe that it is the will of God that any Christian should ever be in doubt regarding his condition. Undoubtedly it is the privilege of all Christians to know assuredly that their salvation has been achieved."

For a man rescued at great cost to say, "I think I have been rescued" is rude to his rescuer. For him to do nothing for that rescuer is ingratitude. Christian assurance is based on the love and activity of God, and it should lead not to proud apathy but to grateful service.

This article was written by the Reverend Henry Corbett

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