SI: Last Sunday I began a 3 week sermon series on the doctrine of assurance.
The question of assurance is not:
“How can I be saved?” It is . . .
“How can I know I am saved?”
As I heard someone put it once:
“I know the promises of God are true, but how do I know they are true for me?”
The theme verse for this series is 2 Peter 1:10, on cover of bulletin.
Therefore, my brothers, be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure.
It’s a command. Assurance of your salvation, calling and election, to be pursued.
Last week I based sermon on 1 John 5:13
“I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God
so that you may know that you have eternal life.”
John thought believers could know they have eternal life,
and he wrote his letter so that they could get that assurance.
Today want us to consider why Christians sometimes doubt their salvation.
The title I’ve given the sermon comes from the Westminster Confession of Faith.
True believers may have the assurance of their salvation in many ways shaken, diminished,
Then is lists some of the reasons why Christians who have enjoyed assurance of
salvation at one time in their lives, sometimes find their assurance shaken,
diminished, or interrupted. We’re going to talk about those reasons.
You need to know the reasons so that you will know what to do for yourself
when you find yourself struggling doubts that you belong to God.
And, perhaps even more useful, this will help you understand hand help
your Christian friends who are going through this struggle.
INTRO: You may recall the parable I told you last week about a man crossing a
frozen lake—I want to tell you another parable, that I hope will help us get a
handle on the topic of shaken assurance.
A little boy awoke one night to the sound of someone shouting his name.
The moment he woke up, he knew something was terribly wrong—
the house was on fire. The flames were right at his bedroom door.
He was confused and he was scared.
Then he heard that voice that woke him up shouting his name again
and he realized it was his father’s voice, coming from outside.
So he ran to the window, there below, in the yard was his dad.
He held out his arms and said, “Jump, son!” “I’ll catch you.”
So the boy, trusting his dad, jumped. His father caught him, and he was saved.
But a few nights later, the boy had a nightmare.
In the nightmare he saw himself in his old bedroom.
And he saw the flames and he saw his father’s face and arms—
but you know how it is in nightmares, sometimes you can’t move.
He tried to jump but he couldn’t—and when he caught on fire, he screamed.
And that made him wake up. He was in a cold sweat and for just a moment he
was confused. He wondered. Did I jump? Am I safe?
Then wonderful assurance flooded over him.
It’s just a nightmare. I am safe, he did catch me.
As a Christian, you have been saved from hell and judgment.
The Lord shouted your name—Andrew! Billy! Wes! Tamara! Becky!
He woke you up out of spiritual death. You saw the danger you were in.
He called out to you to trust him, so you jumped, and Jesus caught you.
Nothing can ever reverse that. You are forgiven, you are safe in Christ forever.
But sometimes real Christians have a sort of nightmare.
Is it real? Did I put my faith in Christ or not?
Am I really saved or am I deluding myself? And for a time, assurance is shaken.
Sometimes assurance is shaken for a short time, sometimes for a long time.
Sometimes it comes back, but doesn’t seem as strong as it was.
I know there are some of you who the Lord has blessed with remarkable assurance.
You live in a perpetual awareness of the sunshine of God’s love.
You never expect anything less than good things from your heavenly Father.
You know that God loves you in Jesus Christ.
You are able to look at even your worse sins and say with depth of feeling—
I’m forgiven. He loves me. He will never let me go.
Spiritually speaking, you are almost never gloomy.
What an incredible gift. But you need to understand shaken assurance—
because the Bible addresses it, because you may have Christian friends,
even family members whose assurance is shaken, need to know what to say.
But I want to speak especially to those of you who know exactly what I’m talking
about—you have experienced, maybe currently experiencing shaken assurance.
You believe and know on one level that you are a Christian—
professed faith in Christ, repented of sins, grown in grace, times of closeness—
but find yourself doubting really saved, that God really for you.
What should you do when your assurance is shaken?
What should you do when you know God’s promises are true,
but doubt that they are true for you? Two things should do:
1. Identify the causes of your shaken assurance, if you are able.
2. Seek Christ and wait for him to restore you assurance.
First point will be longer than the second.
This is a topical sermon. I’m not going to look in depth at Peter’s story.
Simply wanted to use it as one example of a believer whose assurance
was suddenly shaken.
Going to refer to a number of
passages, especially Psalms.
MP#1 Identify the causes of your shaken assurance, if you are able.
I say, “if you are able” because sometimes it is hard to identify the causes
because there are so many, occur in combinations that are hard to sort out.
But in those portions of the Bible that deal with shaken assurance,
identifying the causes is an important part of regaining assurance.
Let’s you know what facing, in itself can give you some hope, how to pray.
Let’s look at six causes—not exhaustive list. Some easier to identify.
1. A sin that wounds the conscience and grieves the Holy Spirit
There’s a common view you hear expressed among Christians that all sins equal.
That’s very misleading.
It’s true that all sins break God’s law, but all sins are not equal.
Some sins in themselves are more heinous in God’s eyes than others.
For example, certain circumstances make sins more heinous.
Sin in a position of leadership, number of other people harmed by sin,
how long the sin went on, if confessed or were caught—you understand.
When a Christian commits a heinous sin, it inevitably shakes his assurance.
One of the qualities of assurance, peace of conscience—knowing right with God.
When your conscience at peace, you go through the normal confession
of the Christian life, confess sins to Lord—at peace, happy.
Heinous sins wound your conscience. When your conscience is wounded,
your prayers of confession make you feel more miserable.
You wonder if God has really heard you.
Heinous sins also grieve the Holy Spirit. Paul talks about this in Ephesians.
The Holy Spirit is the one who gives you assurance.
Testifies with our spirits that we are sons of God, enables you to cry Abba.
Part of his preserving your assurance of sonship, is guiding you in obedience.
The Holy Spirit sets up hedges to warn you—Don’t go there!
Shows examples of what happens when fall, people in life to hold accountable,
little ways, little circumstances, promptings, lets you know he is with you.
When you are walking in step with him—not perfectly, daily sins—
but with sincerity, confessing, dealing with sins when he prompts—assures you.
Heinous sin tramples on Holy Spirit’s promptings. He withdraws assurance.
Paul mentions grieving him, even quenching him.
Tim Keller: When Christian college student says—I don’t know if I believe, doubt.
So, who are you sleeping with? Salvation doubts, unrepentant immorality.
But even after you have repented, do not be surprised if your assurance is shaken
for some time afterwards. Soul has been wounded, will take time to heal.
Might suffer from shaken assurance more after you have confessed, than before.
Psalm 51, David’s song of confession:
“Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me.”
“Restore to me the joy of your salvation.”
A man who is describing shaken assurance—feeling like had been cast away,
feeling like Holy Spirit had been taken, feeling no joy of salvation.
2. Persistent neglect of or denial of the means of grace
“The means of grace” is a convenient short hand way of referring to all
the ordinary pipelines of blessing that God has established for Christians.
The Bible—preached, read, studied.
Prayer—private, family, church
Worship—the Lord’s Supper, singing, all the other aspects of corporate worship
Fellowship—time spent in body life with Christians, particularly in your church.
These are the ordinary ways the Holy Spirit impresses on you
the truth of the Gospel and assures you of eternal life.
If you neglect the means of grace—in time your assurance will be shaken.
You are going to start wondering if you are really a child of God.
Talking to friend recently with spiritual struggles. Into travel baseball.
Week after week, month after month, substituting baseball for church.
When that becomes the place you spend the Lord’s Day, any wonder doubts.
It doesn’t have to be willful neglect, it could be that you are denied means of grace.
Imagine a young mother, lots of little children, often sick—misses church often.
So exhausted unable to read Bible, barely pray, conversations with Christians—
might find assurance shaken.
This was apparently the main reason writer of Psalm 42 was struggling.
For some reason, unable to go to worship in Temple—especially missed singing. He was miles away from Jerusalem, unable to get there. Was he a captive?
Wants God but says to God, “Why have you forgotten me?”
If you have neglected, or been denied the means of grace for a long time—
should not be surprised if assurance is shaken.
3. Accusation by Satan
Now we are getting into one of those causes harder to identify, but real.
You have an enemy. He can’t take away your salvation, so he tries for the next
best thing, to throw you down into a miserable condition of doubt.
“How can you call yourself a Christian?”
“You are a pathetic example of a Christian father, husband, minister.”
“Your faith isn’t real. Look at yourself. Who are you fooling?”
On and on. Thoughts, often very harsh that cause you to doubt salvation,
doubt God’s goodness, think it is impossible for you to ever know for sure.
This is a much harder cause to identify than the first two—
because happens entirely in your mind.
How can you sort out where these thoughts come from?
Are they from Accuser? Are they from own mind? Are they from Holy Spirit?
What makes them especially hard to deal with—usually an element of truth.
You do see sins and failures.
Once again, Psalm 42 is helpful.
This poor believer suffering from shaken assurance not only because
cut off from ordinary means of grace—surrounded by accusers.
“My bones suffer mortal agony as my foes taunt me, saying to me all day long,
‘Where is your God?’”
When Satan and his demons accuse you, stir up accusing thoughts in your mind
to shake your assurance—the message is always one of hopelessness.
“Where is your God?” “God could never use someone like you.”
“God would never forgive you for that.”
The Holy Spirit, on the other hand, when he convicts you of sin—
even when that conviction shakes your assurance—always has with it
the message—return to the Lord.
If your assurance has been shaken by particularly harsh, accusatory thoughts,
may be the work of the evil one and his demons.
4. God withdrawing the sense of his presence for a time.
Of all the causes, this one is particularly hard to understand.
Sometimes a believer’s assurance is shaken because the Lord, for his own
mysterious purposes, withdraws the sense of his presence from person’s life.
The classic text is Psalm 88.
“I cry to you for help, O Lord, in the morning my prayer comes before you.
Why, O Lord, do you reject me and hide your face from me?
Your wrath has swept over me; your terrors have destroyed me.
All day long they surround me like a flood; they have completely engulfed me.”
This Psalm ends like no other Psalm:
“the darkness is my closest friend.”
Sometimes assurance is shaken because the Lord himself has withdrawn it
for a time. Not because of a heinous sin, not because of a neglect of means.
But so that God’s own mysterious purposes for sanctification can be accomplished.
The person’s salvation is still secure, Lord is still present in grace—
but by the Lord’s own hand, the sense of presence has been removed.
If your assurance is shaken, and it seems that the Lord himself is hiding from you,
it could be that you are passing through one of these mysterious seasons.
Physical or mental illness can be a major factor in you doubting your salvation.
God has made us a unique combination of physical and spiritual beings.
The condition of the body can affect the movements of the soul.
Extended illness, can cause you to feel that you are lost spiritually.
Psalm 38 is an example. David is not just troubled by sin, illness increases doubt.
Dr. Martyn-Lloyd Jones one of the most influential preachers of the 20th century.
His doctorate was not in theology, as most assume, it was a medical degree.
He was trained at St. Barts in London, practiced surgery before ministry.
Tells story of woman in his church who was in spiritual turmoil, doubting God
loved her. Many people in congregation had tried to encourage her, got worse.
Dr. Lloyd-Jones was counseling her, and noticed something physiological.
He said: I want you to go see this doctor. Called him, test her for such and such.
When she was healed, her spirit of doubt left.
Your temperament plays a big role in your assurance.
Your personality deeply shapes the way you experience Christian life.
Certain personality types suffer from shaken assurance more than others.
Melancholy people, introspective people, sometimes impulsive people,
more often have assurance problems than cheerful extroverts.
This is a fact that is born out in Scripture, in church history, and in our
own experience with fellow Christians in a church body.
Let’s consider Peter for a minute.
When he saw the wind and waves he was afraid, and began to sink.
Why was his assurance shaken?
Answer usually give—Took his eyes off Jesus, looked at storm. True.
He was the only disciple who had faith to speak to Jesus, step out of boat.
As far as the storm, it didn’t just blow up as he was walking.
It was storming when he got out of the boat, had already dealt with it.
So why did his faith so suddenly go from big to little?
Why did he so suddenly start to fear wind he had once not feared?
Why was his assurance shaken?
One reason was certainly Peter’s impulsive personality—always affecting
experience of Christian life. “Lord, even if they all desert you, I never will.”
MLJ “the kind of person who is either on top of the mountain or down in the deepest depths, either full of enthusiasm and excitement and making us all feel that we are doing nothing at all, or utterly despondent and threatening to go out of the Christian life altogether.”
The greatness of that personality is their energy. In church history,
people with this personality have accomplished great things—capacity for
decision. Martin Luther like this. Assurance often shaken.
One other—John Bunyan—Pilgrim’s Progress.
Translated into more languages than any book but Bible—
Argument made, Bunyan knew Bible better than any man in his generation.
Prick him, he bleeds Bible—suffered for faith, by every evidence godly man
was a melancholy, introspective person, lack of assurance of his salvation.
Same with some of you.
For Christians with naturally cheerful, extroverted personalities—
may well be times when you don’t think seriously enough about salvation,
about warnings of Scripture about false faith—this matter of temperament
cuts both ways.
If you are suffering from shaken assurance.
Need to start by looking into the cause of things, if you are able.
That alone may start to encourage you.
Christians have gone down this same road—this psalm my feelings exactly.
But main reason that you look for these causes,
is so that you can bring them to Jesus Christ and ask for relief.
Brings us to second point.
MP#2 Seek Christ and wait for him to restore your assurance.
There are many causes of shaken assurance.
But there is really only one cure—seek Jesus Christ
and wait for him to restore your assurance.
Whenever you read the Psalms written by believers with shaken assurance—
Psalm 42, Psalm 51, Psalm 88—and others Psalm 73—
what are these believers doing, even as they are trembling with fear?
Calling out to the Lord. Although assurance has been shaken—
there is this deeply planted seed of divine life that causes them—
to pray to the Lord, to seek him, to long for his presence.
As the deer pants after the chase, my soul longs for you.
What did Peter do when his assurance was shaken and he started sinking?
“Lord, save me!”
What did David say when his assurance was shaken after his sin?
“Restore unto me the joy of my salvation.”
Be a little more specific. Seek Christ through the means of grace.
Remember what that is? Ordinary pipelines of blessing God has given us—
Word preached, read, studied, meditated on.
In the Word find Christ as offered in Gospel—great assurance.
Prayer private, family, church
Worship, corporate worship and all the regular elements of it.
Fellowship, service of others, meaningful conversations.
Talk to Christian friends. Tell them—I’m struggling to know God loves me.
I need you to encourage me. I need you to tell me what is true about Christ.
And then, wait for Christ to work and restore your assurance—
in his time and way.
I said that one of the causes of shaken assurance is the Lord withdrawing the light
of his presence for a time. Said probably the hardest to understand.
The man who I worked for right after seminary was probably the most cheerful,
spiritually even-keeled, confident Christians I’ve ever known.
He knew the Lord, knew the promises, knew he belonged to God.
He told me once about an experience of God withdrawing his presence that
he had gone through decades earlier.
It was such a terrible thing, that he had told very few people over the years.
At the time, he was a missionary in India. He had four young children, wife sick.
It happened one evening, he had gotten everybody to bed,
put a record on the record player—classical music lover, relax with reading.
This music that usually soothed him, became an unpleasant noise.
A horrible sense of abandonment that came over him.
The Bible did not comfort him. Prayer seemed empty. Where was God?
He even had thoughts of suicide.
But as bad as it got, he had the presence of mind to know that he had to keep
looking for God, calling out to him. Prayed, even though didn’t want to.
Most significant, he talked to an elderly missionary, told him everything.
What is going on? This man tenderly and gently walked him though.
You are going through a dark night of the soul, God is still with you,
but he has withdrawn a sense of his presence. You are feeling demonic attack.
The Lord is going to show himself to you again. Keep looking for him.
And then, just as quickly, the Lord was back.
And never again did he experience it.
It was a nightmare. He realized. I did jump to him. He did catch me.
The wisdom that I gleaned from his experience is the wisdom of Psalm 42.
What did the Psalmist tell himself in as he struggled with doubts. He said to self:
“Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.”
The time will come when you will praise him with a heart full of assurance.
And what did Peter say when the winds and waves overwhelmed his mind?
“Lord, save me.”
And what Jesus did for Peter, he will do for you.
He will take you by the hand, and walk with you to the boat,
and say, with love, “O you of little faith.”