Why Do I Doubt? The One (Major) Reason Christians Doubt Their Salvation

When Christians begin to have doubts about their salvation, they usually consult their pastor or another trusted spiritual advisor. If you ask your pastor why you are doubting, you will typically get three responses: unconfessed sin, hidden sin, or you’re under conviction, needing true salvation.

I remember sitting in my pastor’s office during great times of doubt and despair and hearing these things. Time after time, I would return home and begin the process of self-examination. Certainly there were times of unconfessed sin and I knew it. But confession and turning away from that sin didn’t seem to ease my conscience. Eventually, I came to the conclusion (about a thousand different times) that I just wasn’t saved, that I was one of those Matthew 7:21 people. You know? The ones that think they’re saved because they appear to have a sliver of holiness but are really on their way to Hell.

The entire process was painful. Every. Single. Time.

But the real culprit for my despair was something that I had never considered. This enemy had slipped into my church, sneakily subverting the comforts of the gospel from mine and thousands of other Christians minds. His name was False Teaching!

Most of us think of false teaching as a blatant perversion of the gospel; things like works-salvation, denial of the deity of Christ, rejection of the Trinity, etc. But there is a more subtle form of false teaching that has invaded our modern-day churches. This teaching tends to distract the eyes from the objective promises of the gospel to focus inwardly or elsewhere. Specifically, there are four areas of false teaching that causes Christians to go into despair and doubt their salvation. Let’s examine them, together.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio: https://www.pexels.com/photo/desperate-evicted-male-entrepreneur-standing-near-window-3771129/

Conflation of Law & Gospel

Mixing of the Law & Gospel is perhaps the main premise of Christian doubt. In Scripture, these were meant to be separated but not mutually exclusive to each other. For this reason, it’s easy to conflate the two and launch our consciences into terror. Keeping these two aspects of Scripture within their proper places is vital. The Law demands that we fulfill obligations to God, threatening us with punishments if we do not fulfill them and promising blessings if we do fulfill them. The gospel, on the other hand, only offers us promises without the expectations of performance. It is based entirely upon the mercy of God in Christ Jesus. While the Law pays its dues for kept or unkept covenants, the Gospel knows no such payment. The payment was made at the cross. Let the Law, therefore, be proclaimed to yourself if you find you are reveling in your sin. But if you have cried out to God for mercy and forgiveness, let the comforts of His promise to forgive your sins soothe your heart and conscience.

Checklist

One of the greatest dangers to Christians is the checklist. When we fall prey to it, we begin to not only judge others but ourselves also. We concoct an idea that holiness comes from avoiding certain activities that God is unpleased with. If we avoid these, God is happy. On the flip side, if we exert our energies in certain areas we know we should be engaging, God is sure to smile upon us and bless us. The checklist is simply another way of commingling Law and Gospel. The only difference is that we have made the conditions of blessings and curses instead letting Scripture dictate them. The negative of the checklist is that our consciences go into the self-loathing gear when we don’t or can’t check off our presupposed holy activities. If we do happen to go several days ticking all the boxes, we become conceited, looking at others and wondering why they have not yet attained to the joy of supernatural living. Obviously God demands holiness of His people. We are not to avoid the whisperings of the Law in our ear when we sin but neither can we replace the Gospel with our checklists. It will always be a fine line and we must develop the skill of properly dividing the two.

A focus on self

When I talk about self-focus, I’m not talking about meditation or yoga or some other form of Eastern religion. Self-focus is the habit Christians have of inner reflection of their sanctification. In other words, if they have been a Christian for 𝓍 number of years but seem to have only come 𝓍 miles in their Christian walk, they begin to doubt their salvation. After all, the pastor stated this in his last sermon. He is the spiritual leader. He has had the theological training. He must be right.

Wrong!

Most of us view the Christian life as a continual upward journey. But the Christian life is full of ups and downs, failings and victories. It looks more like a jagged mountain edge than a gradual ascending. When we focus on our own progress and sanctification, we will see nothing but sin and failing. As the hymn writer wrote with all truth,
prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, prone to leave the God I love.
Even after we are saved, we are prone to follow our flesh. We continually fight our sinful desires. The majority of self-examination passages in Scripture have to do with those indulging in gross sin while naming Christ as their Savior. When these verses are taken out of context by well-meaning pastors, it often harms much more than helps. The only solution is to look to the objective promises of the Gospel. What does this mean? An objective promise is something that is ultimately true, regardless of your feelings and doubts. It is an objective fact that Jesus was crucified for your sins and raised from the dead for your justification. It is an objective fact that He promises forgiveness of sins in His Name. It is an objective fact that all who believe on Him and call upon Him receive this promise. Instead of trying to find the goodness within yourself (you won’t find it) look instead to these objective promises and let your heart be assured.

Rejection of the Sacraments

Many scoff at the idea that the sacraments can ease our consciences and bring assurance of the gospel to us. This comes from a misunderstanding of what a sacrament is. It is an earthly, visible element which has a promised Word of God attached to the element. For example, in baptism we are promised the forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit (Mk 16:16, Acts 2:38). The Lord’s Supper promises that all who partake of the body and blood of the Lord receive the forgiveness of sins (Mt 26:26-29). The majority of today’s churches have reduced the sacraments down to mere symbolism, thereby rejecting the efficacy of those sacraments. Baptism symbolizes our union with Christ. The Lord’s Supper symbolizes our participation in His death.

The sacraments were instituted by Christ for a reason. He never spoke of them symbolically and neither should we. For the first 1500 years of the Church, these promises were taken as they stand in Scripture, literally not symbolically. When pastors began to forsake the plain meaning of these passages for a symbolic view, their laity lost with it the precious promise of assurance and comfort with it. God knows our weaknesses and considers our plight to need these visual reminders that His promises are for us. Most would object and accuse those who hold to this view of living by sight instead of living by faith. “After all,” they would argue, “true faith needs no other object but Christ.”

Scripture is replete with God’s visual signs for His people. Again, most people would object by claiming that the majority of these signs were Old Testament signs, before the promised word of the Gospel. But are we now any different than those Israelites? Are we any less prone to unbelief when they had the physical manifestations of God in their midst while we have the presence of God dwelling within us? Even in the New Testament, God’s people were given physical, visible signs of Jesus’ coming. Even the book of Hebrews classifies spiritual gifts with the physical manifestation of God’s promises. If God used ordinary physical means to assure us that His promises are true and real, we have no reason to reject the sacraments based solely upon a different theological perspective. Receive the sacraments and rest assured that the promise attached to it is indeed a promise you may objectively cling to.

Conclusion

Doubt comes through the false teaching of failing to properly distinguish between Law & Gospel. All of the things mentioned above are some form of mixing the two together. Our hearts will be more assured and our consciences will find the peace we search for as we learn the skill of properly dividing Law & Gospel. For more information on properly dividing Law & Gospel, you can read this section of Luther’s Large Catechism. God bless you as you seek to cling to His precious promises of forgiveness and assurance.

To Thy Wounds I Flee

Too often, it’s easy to drown in depression after sinning. Without too much commentary, I hope this original poem will encourage you to seek God’s mercy and forgiveness, even when you don’t “feel” like you deserve it. Happy pre-Lord’s Day. Meditate on His grace and mercy given to you at the cross.

To Thy Wounds I Flee

When sin overtakes me

and my conscience berates me

for undying mercy I grieve

If guilt here, besets me

and grief shall come o’er me

to Thy wounds I will flee

Thy wounds, they bleed for me

Even though guilty, I be

Mercy and love have spilt out Thy blood

O Lord, to Thy wounds I flee


When life’s tempests plague me

and Satan upsets me

so that from righteous living I cease

When earthly friends scorn me

or the wicked adorn me

to Thy wounds I will flee

Thy wounds, they bleed for me

Even though guilty, I be

Mercy and love have spilt out Thy blood

O Lord, to Thy wounds I flee


When all else has failed me

no vain things availing

Then only Thy beauty I may see

When my heart has beguiled me

to seek One besides Thee

to Thy wounds I will flee

Thy wounds, they bleed for me

Even though guilty, I be

Mercy and love have spilt out Thy blood

O Lord, to Thy wounds I flee

© Steven Long 2022

Christ, The Sinner’s Once-for-All Rest

Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. (Matthew 11:28)

Here, in the offer of Jesus exists an invitation like no other. Who of us can say that we are not weary? How many can boast that the Law does not make their consciences heavy laden? We are creatures of doing and we pursue that doing, usually until the day we die. But our pursuit of doing something, anything, is detrimental to our spirituality because Jesus has told us, “Come…”

We hear the invitation; yea, we long for it! But at the first, we look for a different way, a harder way, for resting surely cannot be the way to ease the Law’s ever-stinging accusations in our consciences. No! We must work to please God. We must pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and truck on through the muddy sin that continually plagues us. And in all our wanderings and turning aways we still hear, “Come…”

“Come…” is the invitation that Jesus offers. Yet the very next thing He speaks is the imperative of coming: “Take My yoke upon you.” But why a yoke? Will this not give us a burden as well? Jesus’ yoke is not a burden of the Law, but rather the yoke of grace which He freely offers through the Sacraments. As Lenski so eloquently states, Indeed, the gospel and the doctrine of faith are a yoke in that they are full of commands, all of them gospel commands, however, commands to take, to trust, to feast, to inherit, and the like. (Lenski, R. C. H. (1961). The Interpretation of St. Matthew’s Gospel. p 457. Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House.)


Salvation brought, my weary soul rejoices/the Law, with all its power o’er me hath lost/This Jesus, bless-ed Consolation; His love, His blood, hath nailed it to the cross.

The invitation stands for all. Those who come to Christ and find His rest will surely not be sorry. They will find that, just as He promised, the yoke that so many of us believed to be even heavier than the Law, is quite light as He carries the burden. To quote Lenski one more time, he says of this invitation

Here the good pleasure of the Father’s and the Son’s will is most delightfully voiced. Here the babes receive the revelation which, because it is distasteful to the wise, is lost and hidden from them because of this very folly…Christ is the end of the law to those who believe. He removes the sin and the guilt, he does the saving. All we need to do is to commit ourselves to Him.

Lenski, R. C. H. (1961). The Interpretation of St. Matthew’s Gospel, pp.456-457. Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House.

Sinners, let us find our once-for-all rest in the offer of Jesus. Until we do our weary souls will be burdened with a burden to heave to bear. May God bring you peace through His Gospel promises.

Hope Cometh

The world is un an upheaval at this moment and in particular the U.S. While some march peacefully for the change they desire, others have chosen to loot, riot, and murder. People have been killed or beaten for simply disagreeing with the current trend of the Social Justice Movement. It’s a sad time. It’s an emotional time. It’s a scary time. I look at what is going on in my country and wonder how it ever got this point. Without a doubt, it is a turning away from God’s word. Even self-confessing Christians are joining protesters, participating in the violence, and justifying their behavior because they feel that Jesus would have done the same.

But hope cometh…

The pure gospel is the solution for the madness taking place. Surely justice needs to prevail in cases where people are truly oppressed.

18 You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord. (Leviticus 19:18)

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you (Matthew 5:43–44)

The beauty of the gospel is that it transforms from the inside out (2Corinthians 5:17). All the “change” in the laws will never change the heart of an individual.

But Hope Cometh…

The Father sent Jesus to obey the Law, God’s Law. And He obeyed every single aspect of it in word, thought, and deed. This was so that He could offer Himself as the once-for-all sacrifice for the world’s sins. He took our sins upon Himself. He took the sin of my cursing, blaspheming, adultery, murder, and every other vile thing I had ever committed and He nailed it to the cross. And He did for you and all others. Redemption was purchased for the racist, the angry mob of people protesting, the ANTIFA members that resort to violence to get their point across, and yes, He even did it for the police officer who killed George Floyd. The best part of the whole gospel is that Jesus did not stay dead. He bodily rose from the grave for our justification, proving that God’s stamp of approval was on His atonement.

This is how deep His love runs for His creation The vilest, wicked person can find redemption when they look to the perfect work of the Savior and realize that in all their perceived righteousness they have no footing to stand upon if they are judged. For He has proclaimed, “everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day.” (John 6:40).

Saturday Evening Meditations – Jacob & Esau

Recently, I was reading the passage of Jacob and Esau. If you’re familiar with the story, you may remember that Jacob, at the prodding of his mother, tricked his father, Isaac into blessing himself rather than Esau, who was the elder.

As the story goes, Isaac was old and blind, and near death and asked Esau to hunt and cook him some game in order to bless him before his passing. Rebekkah hears this and instructs Jacob to put on some of Esau’s garments and take some game into him which she would prepare. In this way, Jacob would receive the blessing.

Expectedly, Jacob complies and follows through with it. Isaac is confused at first because he “feels” Esau’s hairy hands (the sheep’s skin) but hears Jacob’s voice. But when he catches a whiff of Esau’s clothes he is convinced that it is his elder son and goes through with the blessing.

In time Esau returns and discovers he has been swindled–again! He vows to kill his twin and Rebekkah, fearing for her son, sends him away under the guise of marrying one of her kinsman rather than the native Caananites.

This is where it gets interesting: Jacob leaves his home and stops for the night in Bethel (at the time it was called Luz). He has his famous dream of the angels ascending and descending from Heaven on a ladder. In the dream God comes to him and makes him this promise:

I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac…Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land. For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” (Gen 28:13, 15). 

Here is where the meditation comes in. God introduces Himself by declaring that He was the God of his fathers. He then follows that up with a covenant. He promises to be with Jacob and fulfill His covenant with him and his offspring.

Think about that for a minute. Jacob had just cheated his brother and yet God was honoring Jacob. Not that God approved of his cheating. But God had intended Jacob to be the heir of promise. He was still honoring that despite Jacob’s past sins. The promise wasn’t conditioned on Jacob’s behavior. No! It was conditioned on God Himself.

Let’s bring that principle home: I am an idolatrous, image-making, God-blaspheming, Sabbath breaking, parent dishonoring, murdering, adulterous, thieving, lying, covetous man.

Yet, God has a covenant with me. His Word has assured me that if I repent of my sins and in faith trust the finished work and Person of Christ for salvation then He, like Jacob, would “be with me and bring me again into [His] land”. He has promised me that His Son has gone to prepare a place for me (John 14:3) and that He will continue to abide with me (John 14: 15-17).

But I fail daily! I sin, I miss the mark, and I defame His Holy Name. Yet, He has even promised that all I must do is to confess and forsake my sin (1John 1:9).

Why does He continue to be good to me? Because it is not up to me or my faithfulness which God basis His promises on. It is upon His own Name and the covenant which He made with His people from eternity past.

Friend, if you are struggling with doubt and fear, and if you have truly trusted in Christ alone for salvation, know that God will lead you to your eternal inheritance. And this is not contingent upon your own faithfulness but in God’s covenant-keeping Name!

Below, you will find a PDF of a brief Text Flow I did of this passage.

Here is the PDF for viewing