We all doubt our salvation.
Sometimes people ask me what pastoral issues I’ve most often encountered in ministry. It is not a difficult question to answer.
By far, the greatest concern for most people in the church is the question as to whether or not they are truly saved. Assurance of salvation has trumped all intellectual doubts, ethical dilemmas (yes, even pornography) and even emotional pain in suffering. It seems odd, doesn’t it? After all, Christians believe the good news that Jesus has decisively secured the salvation of his people through his death and resurrection. So if there was any particular matter we would expect to be fairly sorted in the church it would be this one. Right? Wrong. It is far from sorted. The reality is that we all doubt our salvation at some point or another.
I’m very aware, therefore, that a little blog post like this is never going to be enough to assuage the complex and weighty fears that some may be experiencing. Instead, what I would like to do is point out some of the most simple and practical questions that are often overlooked in our self-examinations. It is important to realise that the following questions are not the most fundamental to consider interms of assurance. They are however the most neglected, which is why I want to start with them.
Are you physically healthy?
I realise that I am probably more pathetic than the average person, but I’m not exaggerating when I say that I struggle with assurance issues every time I get the flu…or even a heavy cold. Ask my wife if you don’t believe me.
God did not make us as segmented people. Our physiology, psychology and spirituality are all connected. So if you are physically unwell, or tired, you will feel the effects in your soul. It does not mean that our faith is doomed to suffer the same fate as our bodies. By God’s grace we can be inwardly renewed even though, outwardly, in our bodies, we are wasting away.
The answer to this is not simply prayer and bible meditation. The answer to these kinds of assurance issues also involves medicine and rest…as well as prayer and bible issues.
Are you mentally healthy?
Equally, if you are struggling with mental health issues, such as depression or anxiety, then it would be foolish to think that it is not going to have an impact on your assurance. It is important to realise that medicine may be an important part of the solution with mental health as well.
There could well be deep issues at the root of your anxiety and depression that only the gospel can cure, but if you are suffering from heavy depression or anxiety then you are not going to be in a fit enough state to confront those issues.
So go see your pastor, and your doctor, take the medicine and don’t feel guilty about it.
Have you been watching dodgy sermons on YouTube?
It is a little-known fact that if you type your symptoms into Google, whatever they may be, even if you don’t have any, you will be convinced that you are dying. Dr Google always thinks that you are dying. Don’t listen to Dr Google, go and see an actual doctor.
Searching online for the answers to personal spiritual questions is never going to yield satisfactory results. While you may end up reading a very good article or watching a great sermon on YouTube, this result is all but certain.
So go and talk to a real person who understands the gospel and will apply it to you with truth and grace.
Are you under church discipline?
The wonderful thing about being a Christian is that you don’t have to do it alone. The church is there to help. One of the most neglected and overlooked pastoral tools is church discipline.
If you struggle with assurance issues because of guilt over a particular sin or sinful habit then go and talk to one of the pastors (elders/leaders etc) in your church. If they hear you out and don’t tell you that you have to leave the church, then you are almost certainly over-reacting. If they have told you that you must leave the church unless you repent then you are almost certainly in serious spiritual trouble.
Obviously, this assumes that the leadership of your church uphold the theology and morality of the Bible. And of course, it is by no means an infallible system. However, submission to church authorities is a God-given pastoral tool designed to comfort and to warn. So if you have confessed to the pastors, and you are still a member of your church, then you should not have any reason to doubt your salvation.
More Important Questions
Remember, these are not the most important questions to ask, neither are they sufficient to make our calling and election sure. However, they are, in my experience, the most neglected. Next week I want to delve a little deeper into the question of assurance.