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On the Relationship Between Assurance and Perseverance

16 Dec

Here’s a helpful, encouraging, and challenging talk on the relationship between assurance of salvation and the necessity of perseverance by Tom Schreiner of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Part 1

Part 2

[HT: Resurgence]

Cultivating Distrust in the Certainties of…

2 Nov

Justin Taylor posts this blogpost about the importance of cultivating distrust in the certainties of despair/depression. He quotes John Piper, who makes a very good point based on the life of William Cowper:

We all [must] fortify ourselves against the dark hours of depression by cultivating a deep distrust of the certainties of despair. Despair is relentless in the certainties of his pessimism. But we have seen that Cowper is not consistent. Some years after his absolute statements of being cut off from God, he is again expressing some hope in being heard. His certainties were not sureties. So it will always be with the deceptions of darkness. Let us now, while we have the light, cultivate distrust of the certainties of despair.

Though Justin Taylor (and John Piper) uses this to stress the importance of cultivating distrust in the certainties of despair/depression, I believe that the same could be said about doubt. Doubt is relentless in the certainties of his uncertainty. But for those who struggle with doubt, by God’s grace, there are moments of clarity in which the warmth of full assurance melts away the cold ice of doubt. It is not consistent. Therefore, “let us now, while we have light, cultivate distrust of the certainties of doubt.”

How to Lovingly Guide Those Who are Struggling with Condemnation as a Result of Doubts

18 Oct

A few introductory remarks:

First, this topic is very near and dear to my heart because this is something that I personally experienced. That is, over a year ago, I experienced what many have called the “dark night of the soul” (coined by John of the Cross in the 16th century). I went through an intense season of intellectual/spiritual doubts (though, I have learned since then that they’re more connected than one might think). The reason I mention this is because this post is birthed from personal experience, not simply theoretical knowledge.

Secondly, this entry has been the product of much reflection (and mistakes made). In terms of reflection, I have filled nearly two entire Moleskine notebooks on the subject ever since I started going through it, making note of my thoughts and reflections on some resources I had come across. But more than that, I have made many mistakes, as well, in that when God put several others who were struggling with doubt in my path, I made some serious blunders in an attempt to “help” them – for which I am still having to remind myself of the Gospel for.

Thirdly, I know that this entry is not – by any stretch of the imagination – a completed work. And so, therefore, I invite any correction and constructive criticism (grounded in Scripture) that would help bolster this – for lack of a better word – “guide.” However, I felt that this was a good time to write something down so that I could not only reflect further as I write, but also, if God would be pleased, that this would be used by others not only for their personal struggle with doubt, but also in helping others who do.

Fourthly, I want to reiterate and emphasize that this is primarily designed with those who actually struggle with either conviction (from the Spirit) or, perhaps, even condemnation (from the Enemy) in mind. This assumes that the one who doubts is actually troubled by their doubts (rather than blatant unbelief where someone wouldn’t even be troubled by the subject).

With that said, here are a few suggestions to lovingly guide and help those who struggle with a sense of conviction/condemnation as a result of intellectual/spiritual doubts:

1. Empathize With Those Who Doubt: It is one of the worst feelings to open up to someone when you’re struggling with an issue (not least, doubts!) and be met with hostility, indifference, or confusion. If you’ve never experienced or struggled with doubt (which is altogether consuming and debilitating), I’m not saying you should go ahead and lie; rather, I am suggesting you say something that lets the one who doubts know that you understand that this particular struggle (though you’ve never experienced it) is difficult. Say something like, “It must be so hard. You must be so tired from this.” Though this is not the ultimate solution, empathy goes a long way for someone who is struggling with doubt.

2. Don’t Sugarcoat!: This is important! Telling someone who is dealing with intense conviction or condemnation because they are doubting to “Relax” or “Try to forget about it” or “Don’t take it so seriously” is unhelpful at best, and destructive at worst. Remember, the reason they feel so bad in the first place is because – no matter what you tell them – their consciences are telling them that they are in sin (Rom. 2:14-16). In other words, they already know that this is sin against God.

So, in order to help them, tell them what they already know to be true! Namely, that doubting is sin (I’ll explain why in point 3). I believe that it’s only when we tell them what they already know to be true, lasting healing can begin. Because otherwise, essentially, what you’re doing is communicating that they don’t have to repent and believe the Gospel (which is ultimately what they really need, not just a superficial sense of peace).

So, if a doubter who is struggling with conviction/condemnation comes to you for help, then tell them in a loving, compassionate way that they are, in fact, in sin. Or, using an illustration that John Piper used in a sermon: it’s much more compassionate for a doctor to tell someone they have cancer so they can start implementing the treatment right away, rather than not telling the patient at all until it’s too late. Which brings me to my third point.

3. Be Sure to Tell Them Why Doubting is Sin: When actually talking with someone who struggles with doubt, there doesn’t have to be such an artificial distinction between #2 and #3. But nonetheless, this point is important enough to warrant its own point.

For this, John Frame was an extremely helpful resource. As I mentioned here and here, for some reason, it never crossed my mind that sin affected my ability to reason, as well (I know, right?).

Since then, I have learned that theologians have called this the “noetic” effect of the Fall. In other words, according to Frame, ever since the Fall, every single one of us mistakenly think that we “have the right to seek knowledge of God’s world without being subject to God’s revelation (i.e., His Word!).” (Frame, Doctrine of the Word of God, 15-16).

Simply put, we don’t trust God when He says something to be true. Adam and Eve did it when they didn’t trust God when He said to not eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen. 3). And we do it everyday when we don’t trust God when He says something in His Word. And this is sin.

And so, for example, when someone doubts their salvation in Christ and doubts that there is “therefore now no condemnation for those in Christ” (Rom. 8:1) then, instead of trusting God and what He says, they are ultimately trusting in either their own reason that tells them, “That’s too good to be true” or Satan when he says, “Did God actually say…?” (Gen. 3:1).

Or, for someone who doubts, let’s say the historical, bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ, then instead of trusting God when He says that He raised Jesus from the dead (Acts 2:32; Rom. 8:11, etc.), they try to find assurance that such an event actually happened ultimately outside of God’s inspired Word (e.g., historical studies, philosophical arguments, etc.).

Now, that’s not to say that one shouldn’t do historical or philosophical studies (not at all!). On the contrary, because God’s Word is true, trustworthy and ultimately the only perfect description of reality, then we shouldn’t be surprised when historical studies and philosophical arguments line up with the reality that the Word of God already so perfect describes. These things are helpful and important.

But, the question is Where does one ultimately find a sense of assurance or certainty about the historicity of the resurrection? If it’s not ultimately in God’s Word, then wouldn’t that, in essence, be trusting our own reason without being subject to God’s Word? Or, to put it another way, wouldn’t that be judging Scripture by our autonomous reasoning, rather than the other way around?

I believe Scripture calls that the essence of sin – namely, substituting oneself in the place of God, trying to make sense out of God’s world without being subject to God’s Word.

And so, doubting is sin ultimately because we don’t trust God and His Word. And, in order to let them know fully what they already know to be true and to make their God-granted repentance deeper, tell them why doubting is sin – we don’t trust God and His Word.

4. Remember Who You’re Talking To and Give Them Hope!: It’s easy when you’re agreeing with their evaluation of themselves that they are in sin (#2) and explaining to them why doubting is sin (#3) for these people with sensitive consciences and who are struggling with condemnation to revert to hopelessness, that they have “no hope and [are] without God in the world” (Eph.2:12). It is at this point that I’ve personally failed in the past. That is, for whatever reason, I didn’t offer the hope of the Gospel to those who were struggling with doubt.

We must remember who they are and thus, remember to offer them hope! Ask yourself, “Is God’s grace in Christ Jesus big enough to cover their sin of doubt (i.e., not trusting God and His Word)?” Or does God’s grace go only so far, and then stop? Absolutely not! This is the scandal of the cross, is it not? That Christ became sin (Rom. 8:3-4; 2 Cor. 5:21) for us in order that we might become the righteousness of God? Absolutely! And so, we must remember first of all, that there is hope and secondly, we must remember to offer it on behalf of Christ! If this isn’t what we’re doing as counselors, pastors, communicators of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, then what are we doing?

So, even for the one who doubts [and is convicted by the H.S. or is being condemned by the Enemy that they are in sin because they don’t trust God and His Word)], we are to offer them the hope of the Gospel! We are to remind them that God’s grace in Christ extends even to them!

But some might say, “What if they continue to doubt?” My response is: Is this particular sin somehow different from all the others (e.g., lust, anger, etc.)? Is it not possible that God’s call for all to live a lifestyle of repentance and belief in the Gospel (Mk 1:15) includes doubt? I believe so. Otherwise, what we communicate to those who struggle with doubt is that they must overcome their intellectual barriers through their own power and strength and believe! – which, in the end, is (a) impossible, (b) a subtle, yet deadly form of works-righteousness, and (c) ultimately hopeless.

But, the Gospel bids us to turn (in hope!) from our doubts (i.e., not trusting God and His Word) and trust God afresh! That’s why God in Proverbs 3:5-8 says:

5 Trust in the LORD with all your heart,
and do not lean on your own understanding.
6In all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make straight your paths.

7 Be not wise in your own eyes;
fear the LORD, and turn away from evil.
8It will be healing to your flesh
and refreshment to your bones.

Because of the Gospel, rather than hearing this with a tone of “You better do this or else!” we can now hear this call to repent of our autonomous human reasoning and trust God with a tone of fatherly, tender, affectionate, loving, encouraging patience. Our Father who loves us (because of our perfect Christ, not because we have perfect faith) encourages us to confess our sin and try again and again and again whenever we fail.

So, we must remember who we’re talking to and offer them the hope that is found only in the Gospel!

5. Give them Practical Suggestions (i.e., Homework): Though ultimately, we should believe because we trust God and His Word, that does not mean that that precludes doing anything else. So, in addition to having them employ the more well-known means of grace (e.g., reading Scripture, pleading with God through praying I.O.U.S., meditation, prayer, involvement in a healthy, Gospel-centered local church, etc.), have them do some studying!

**** Now, I want to make clear at this point that if one is a new believer – or is one who is not familiar with any of the authors (or their ideas) that I will mention below – and is trying to help someone who struggles with doubts, the Gospel is sufficient!

In the end, regardless of all of the intellectual questions and barriers that one might bring, it really is a moral issue in that we don’t trust (or, more accurately, don’t want to trust) the One who is altogether worthy to be trusted (see point #3 above). So, in that sense, reminding them of the Gospel is all that is necessary (and, I would even argue, the goal). As a matter of fact, this is the grace that God showed me through Linda when I was going through my dark night of the soul. When I went through some really dark times, Linda was there to remind me of the Gospel of grace and it made the world of difference.

So, yes, if one is a new believer and/or is not familiar with any of the authors I mentioned below (or their ideas), then the Gospel is sufficient (thanks Francis!).****

With that said, I do still think that having an intellectual framework by which to address questions that are hostile to the faith is beneficial. And so, some helpful resources for me included (but are not limited to):

It’s good to let those who doubt know that though there are good questions, there are good answers, as well. These resources provide some good answers. But warning: DO NOT give them all of this information at once. DO NOT! They’ll become overwhelmed and hate you (just kidding about the hate… or am I?). And so, go through a chapter a week (or a sermon a week) with them and reflect through it togetherlittle by little.

6. Check In on them Regularly: Doubting is an insidious disease that, in my opinion, needs much time for the Holy Spirit to heal. And so, even though you might have gotten across to someone struggling with doubt once, chances are, something they heard or read or even their own consciences might have triggered it again. And because they are prone to believe the lie that they have to be perfect, they’re not going to openly tell you, for fear of shame or more condemnation.

So, be sure to check in on them regularly and ask them gently but pointedly, “How’s your struggle with your doubts?” Like I said, chances are, they’ll still be struggling with it. Be sure to love them, and remind them of the Gospel – again and again and again and again! Because more than more information to help them “overcome” their sin (which is still important!), they need to be reminded of the Good News that someone else has already overcome it. Give them hope.

The Supposed "Problem" of Unanswered Prayer

6 Jun

Matt Perman, on his blog, posted this quote from J.I. Packer’s Knowing Christianity that was particularly helpful for me.

We need not be discouraged by the problem of supposedly unanswered prayer. I say “supposedly” because I challenge the supposition.

While God has not bound himself to hear unbelievers’ prayers, his promises to answer the prayers of his own children are categorical and inclusive. It must then be wrong to think that a flat no is ever the whole of his response to reverent petitions from Christians who seek his glory and others’ welfare.

The truth must be this: God always acts positively when a believer lays a situation of need before him, but he does not always act in the way or at the speed asked for. In meeting the need, he does what he knows to be best when he knows it is best to do it.

The parable of the unjust judge shows that God’s word to his elect concerning the vindication for which they plead is “wait” (Lk 18:1-8), and he may say “wait” to other petitions as well. Christ’s word to Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness,” when Paul had sought healing for his thorn in the flesh (2 Cor 12:7-9), meant no, but not simply no. Though it was not what Paul had expected, it was a promise of something better than the healing he had sought. We too may ask God to change situations and find that what he does instead is to give us strength to bear them unchanged. But this is not a simple no; it is a very positive answer to our prayer.

I remember a scene from my childhood. As my eleventh birthday approached I let my parents know by broad hints that I wanted a full-size bicycle. They thought it was too soon for that and therefore gave me a typewriter, which was in fact the best present and became the most treasured possession of my boyhood. Was not that good parenthood and a very positive answer to my request for a bicycle? God too allows himself to improve on our requests when what we ask for is not the best.

Spurgeon on Doubts

3 May

It would seem that in some mysterious work of God’s providence, spiritual doubt is plaguing many brothers and sisters in Christ. Lest we fall into the temptation to think that spiritual doubt is somehow a temptation that “real Christians” never experience (and therefore don’t feel the need to show grace to those who doubt), hear the words of Jude: “Be merciful to those who doubt” (Jude 22).

I recently listened to this sermon by C.J. Mahaney entitled, “When Someone Doubts.” I would suggest that anybody who is doubting or knows anybody who is doubting listen to this sermon. In it, Mahaney referenced the following quote from Charles Spurgeon on the issue of doubt. I pray that this will provide some comfort to those who may be struggling with this particular temptation.

It seems as if doubt were doomed to be the perpetual companion of faith. As dust attends the chariotwheels so do doubts naturally becloud faith. Some men of little faith are perpetually enshrouded with fears; their faith seems only strong enough to enable them to doubt. If they had no faith at all, then they would not doubt, but having that little, and but so little, they are perpetually involved in distressing surmises, suspicions, and fears. Others, who have attained to great strength and stability of faith, are nevertheless, at times, subjects of doubt. He who has a colossal faith will sometimes find that the clouds of fear float over the brow of his confidence. It is not possible, I suppose, so long as man is in this world, that he should be perfect in anything; and surely it seems to be quite impossible that he should be perfect in faith. Sometimes, indeed, the Lord purposely leaves his children, withdraws the divine inflowings of his grace, and permits them to begin to sink, in order that they may understand that faith is not their own work, but is at first the gift of God, and must always be maintained and kept alive in the heart by the fresh influence of the Holy Spirit.

You can read the entire sermon here.

“We are not saved by the strength of our faith, but the object of our faith.” – Tim Keller

Evidence of the Resurrection in a Nutshell

20 Apr

The folks at Relcaiming the Mind have put out this very helpful blogpost detailing the internal and external evidence for the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

The resurrection of Jesus Christ, along with his crucifixion, together make up the most important event in human history. And it is one that must be carefully considered and the implications thought through.

C. Michael Patton organizes the blogpost by first explaining the internal evidence:

Internal Evidence:

  • Honesty
  • Irrelevant Details
  • Harmony
  • Public Extraordinary Claims
  • Lack of Motivation for Fabrication

And then secondly, the external evidence…

External Evidence:

  • Preservation of the Documents
  • Archeology
  • Extra-biblical Attestation
  • Survival in a Hostile Environment

Click here to read a thorough, yet concise description of each point.

Trusting in the Midst of Doubts

7 Feb

Michael Kelley:

Tim Keller, in The Reason for God, argues why it is profitable to trust in Christ even when you don’t have it all figured out.

This is good news for the doubter, for at one time or another, all of us, even those who call ourselves “Christians,” come to a point in life where we wonder if everything we think we believe is real. According to Keller, our faith can co-exist in the midst of the doubts, so long as we have faith in the right thing:

The faith that changes the life and connects to God is best conveyed by the word “trust.” Imagine you are on a high cliff and you lose your footing and begin to fall. Just beside you as you fall is a branch sticking out of the very edge of the cliff. It is your only hope and it is more than strong enough to support your weight. How can it save you? If your mind is filled with intellectual certainty that the branch can support you, but you don’t actually reach out and grab it, you are lost. If your mind is instead filled with doubts and uncertainty that the branch can hold you, but you reach out and grab it anyway, you will be saved.


It is not the strength of your faith but the object of your faith that actually saves you. Strong faith in a weak branch is fatally inferior to weak faith in a strong branch.

Let’s not make the terrible mistake of believing in our ability to believe. That is weak branch indeed.