The fact that there are so many teachers out there pointing people inwards for security and assurance of salvation, creating a subjective gospel based on “experience” – that breaks my heart.
That good-hearted people are duped into thinking that spirituality is defined by feelings instead of by reality – that breaks my heart.
When a born-again Christian goes through a spiritual low spot in their life and concludes that they were “never really saved” because, if they were, they would simply “have more faith” – that. Breaks. My. Heart.
Folks, I gotta warn ya, there’s a lot of plain ol’ crap being spread in American Evangelicalism today about the mechanics of salvation. The consequence of this crap is that thousands of baptized Christians are regularly questioning whether they are “saved” or not. This is especially manifest in the revival culture that we see in Southern Baptist, Pentecostal, and Charismatic-type denominations – though I’ve even seen more than a trace in Reformed Baptist circles as well.
It goes something like this:
You go to Church where you are taught that you will “know” when you are saved because a) you will get a feeling from the Holy Spirit – be it speaking in tongues, a tingling in your toes, or a burning in your bosom, b) you will desire to “accept” Jesus into your heart and “accept” His sacrifice for your sins, and/or c) you will “experience” new life and regeneration.
All is well for a period of time, but after a while, you begin to question: a) “was that really the Holy Spirit I thought I felt so strongly – or just indigestion?”, b) “did I really accept Jesus and His sacrifice, or did I just think I did?”, and/or c) “have I really experienced new life and regeneration? After all, I’m still sinning like a pagan, I was angry with my mom, I couldn’t stop myself from coveting my friend’s car, etc. If I had new life and was regenerate, wouldn’t I be a better person now?”
At this point, one of two things happens. 1) The person decides they need to “re-commit to Christ” – this can be through attending a revival meeting (that’s the essence of a revival, trying to get people to “re-commit to Christ”), forcing themselves to read the Bible more, trying to become “hyper-spiritual” with praise music and the like, or sometimes even getting baptized again (since the first time they obviously weren’t saved). Or 2) they lose all hope of ever having a true conversion and give up altogether. Often #1 takes place at least once, then several times more (how many exactly depends on the individual), and then inevitably #2 follows.
What is wrong with this picture?
I want you to notice a couple of things about the progression above. For starters, the paragraph on the evidence of salvation/regeneration (blue) contains no objective measures, only subjective ones! How on earth can subjective measures be a reliable indicator of anything? They simply can’t provide security, which is why in paragraph 2 (green) the obvious questions are asked: i.e. did I really feel what I thought I felt? Inevitably, since you are asking about transient feelings the answer will be, “I’m not sure!” Thus, not being sure, the person in question decides to take action to obtain some assurance (red paragraph) – problem is, they are just repeating the subjective, experience driven process that got them in this mess to begin with!
What does this mean? It means that we can never have what we so desperately long for, assurance of salvation, by looking inwardly – which is by definition subjective. No, what we need is an external, objective standard.
And what might this objective standard be? Not in navel gazing, asking “did I really commit or not?” The question is never about whether or not you have done something, but about whether or not God has done something, for you.
The answer is that God has done something for you: He has drowned the Old Adam in you and raised the New Man in the waters of Baptism – that’s what makes you born again, not some passing feeling. He has scourged His body and poured out His blood for the remission of your sins and to seal His covenant promise to you – that’s what justifies you in God’s sight, not “accepting” Jesus and His sacrifice. He tells you about all of this in His own eternal Word – not in some sinner’s prayer you recite to “invite Jesus into your heart”.
Friends, you will go through times of spiritual famine, of that I can assure you. Just look at Elijah, or Jacob, or Moses. For crying out loud, look at the Psalmists, who in what seems like every other psalm cry out to God wondering why He is so far away. Look at the Apostles, who even after Jesus ascended had their own low spots in the road – and who wouldn’t as many times as they were jailed and beaten? Why the heck do you think Paul wrote so much about encouragement in his letters, because all the saints were just overflowing with faith every minute of every day? I don’t think so.
For all the spiritual valleys you will inevitably encounter, God’s promises do not change. In Matthew 28:20 – when Jesus promises to be with His disciples always, was there any contingency clause attached? Any, “I will be with you if…”? No.
In the words of Paul, even if we lack faith, “He is faithful.” 2 Timothy 2:13 Why? Because “He cannot deny Himself.”
You see, it’s not a question of how much faith you have; it’s a question of how much faithfulness He has. It is infinite, therefore you have no fear, for He cannot deny His own faithfulness.