Wednesday, August 7, 2013
Doubt and Certainty
My article from this week's Algona Upper Des Moines about certainty and doubt in Christianity:
Q: How can I be certain that I am really Christian? If I find myself doubting, can I still be saved?
This is a question that Christians throughout the ages have found themselves considering. Because humans are hard-wired for action for the purpose of survival, we almost automatically translate this capacity in earthly things into our consideration of spiritual things. In keeping with this, many people even mistakenly attribute Benjamin Franklin’s proverb that “God helps those who help themselves” to the Bible instead.
Because we are personally responsible for preserving the security of our earthly provisions, although doing so with talents and strength that were given by God, we too often assume that the same applies when we begin considering heavenly matters.
Even for Christians who acknowledge that Jesus saves us as a gift, which we receive by trusting in and relying upon, the temptation arises to look within ourselves for a measurement of how well we trust in Jesus or how fully we rely upon Him. But doing this introduces an element of doubt by placing the focus on our believing instead of God’s grace.
When we consider our standing before God, however, Scripture makes abundantly clear that, spiritually speaking, there is nothing good in us that can cause or improve where we stand with God, and that there is no effort or worthiness in us that is sufficient to participate in saving us.
Paul quotes the Psalms as evidence of this when he writes in the book of Romans: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understand; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; toether they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.”
However, this is not bad news. In fact, it serves to prepare us for even greater assurance. If we were capable of contributing something, we would be expected to do so, and accountable if we failed. Instead, as Paul tells the Ephesians: “It is by grace you are saved, through faith…not by works.” Nothing within man is the determining factor in salvation—not our decision, not our cooperation, not even the quantity or quality of our believing.
Instead, we place all of our confidence and certainty on Jesus. He has accomplished salvation. He forgives sins. He does it all. Faith is not a degree of trust that a Christian works up within himself to come to or look to Jesus, but instead, it is the Christian’s denial of themselves and their own participation and their reliance upon Jesus’ death as the complete and already-accomplished cause of salvation.
When the Bible warns against “doubt,” what it cautions against is unbelief—the prideful rejection of Jesus as the all-accomplishing savior or the denial of His forgiveness. When the Christian who still trusts in Jesus, finds himself questioning in search of confirmation or feeling a degree of uncertainty because of his own weakness or the deceit of false teachers, this is not the doubt which condemns, but rather, a part of the spiritual battle that rages as long as this life endures.
If embraced or allowed to fester, such doubts could eventually grow like a cancer to endanger a Christians soul, but when treated with the antidote of Scripture and the Sacraments and relieved by the support of fellow Christians, they often prove to be the experiences which ultimately serve to advance the Christian in their understanding of and perseverance in the Faith, as James says: “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.”