Coop's Column - Spirit at Work: Assurer
Doubting is cool nowadays—it’s “in.” Some Christians, a few pastors among them, seem to take no small delight in announcing that they’re no longer sure about the centralities of the faith.
Doubting is cool nowadays—it’s “in.” Some Christians, a few pastors among them, seem to take no small delight in announcing that they’re no longer sure about the centralities of the faith. Teachings which former generations of believers once affirmed as “beyond doubt,” these folk seem willing to surrender.
Or at least to question.
For such Christian questioners doubt is not a negative. As they see it, it’s not faith versus doubt, but rather faithand doubt. To stand critically askance from central truths and to be open to “other options”—that activity is not seen as a violent intruder whose very presence poses life-threatening danger. It’s not even a mosquito-like irritant, an irksome sting of uncomfortable uncertainty. No, doubt is a gift, and deserves to be celebrated as such. It’s a way, as one recent pastor/author put it, “to deepen our faith and intimacy with God.”
God’s Word claims that assurance of faith is possible. Jesus declared: “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32). New Testament believers never tired of declaring their unshakeable, confident trust in his word. Boldly, eagerly they confessed, “I am convinced” (cf. John 20:31; Rom. 8:28-39).
How different the response of present-generation “Christian doubters,” especially in the western world where skepticism is rampant. Pilate-like, they plead: “What is truth?” Horrified of being hauled before the court of (post)-modern tolerance and charged with doctrinaire narrowness and ungenerous arrogance, they take cover by claiming that each and every person is “on a journey”—their own private adventure through life which takes them, by turns, into pleasant lands of faith and through harsh forests of doubt. To confess the gospel’s claims and at the same time also to doubt these claims has become something of a badge of honor among some Christians, a mark of a their self-declared authenticity and honesty, of their expansive growth toward maturity. Trust in Jesus and doubt about Jesus, so they believe, can cozy up to each other and sleep soundly together within any Christian heart. In fact, they ought to.
Again, God’s Word claims otherwise. Scripture does not look upon doubt as some kind of well-placed beauty mark upon the face of Christian faith and life. It’s an unsightly blemish. The entire Divine Trinity has taken great care—and endured deep pain—to make assurance of faith possible. “The witness of God the Holy Spirit,” says John Stott, “confirms the word of God the Father concerning the work of God the Son. … The three strong legs of this tripod,” he adds, “make it very steady indeed.”
Doubt indicates failure to humbly trust that word (cf. Isa. 40:27-28; Rom. 5:5; 12:2;Col. 2:2; Eph. 3:16-17). It reflects ingratitude.
Faith and doubt are not so much fixed, static nouns as constantly active verbs. The one swells as the other shrivels; the one becomes weaker as the other grows stronger. Thus, it’s not so much faith as faithing; not so much doubt, as doubting. And when, equipped by the Spirit, it’s time to wage battle against doubt, the best defense is a good offense: Faith needs cultivating in order for assurance to grow and doubt to decline.
Where best to cultivate faith? Among other places, “in the sanctuary”—that is, among the assembly of God’s people gathered for worship. There God’s Spirit moves among believers, opening their ears—and their hearts—to hear the gospel afresh, and prompting them to trust and obey.
Simplicity of spirit, adult in its knowledge but childlike in its trust, J.I. Packer points out, is both a gift from God’s Spirit and a mark of increasing Christian maturity.
How beautiful to behold a saint living with ever-increasing assurance of faith. Looking back over the trajectory of his seventy-plus years of “privileged Christian discipleship,” John Stott acknowledged that, yes, he had changed over the years. But the change was anything but a vacillating between faith and doubt. “I hope these changes have not been the denial of anything I previously affirmed, but rather the enrichment of what was inadequate, the deepening of what was shallow, and the clarification of what was obscure. The great evangelical truths remain.” His life on earth coming to a close, this humble pastor, grateful for God’s faithfulness, then offered his final testimony: “[I am] simply a beloved child of a heavenly Father, an unworthy servant of [my] friend and master, Jesus Christ, a sinner saved by grace, to the glory and praise of God.”
That’s Christian maturity. That’s assurance of faith.
Thank you, Heavenly Father, that in Jesus Christ you speak your resounding “Yes” to your people. Thank you, Lord Christ, that you are the solid rock upon which your church stands secure. Thank you, Holy Spirit, for putting a seal of approval upon your people, securing their confidence, and keeping them safe from all alarms of danger and of doubt. Triune God, help us to hold fast to our confession without wavering. For you, who promised, are faithful.