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prov·o·ca·tion - something that provokes, arouses, or stimulates. pant - to long eagerly; yearn. a collection of thoughts intended to provoke and inspire. these posts are hoping to encourage people to think, especially Christians, and pant even harder for the waterbrooks of the Lord. If you are not a believer in Christ Jesus, I welcome your perspective and encourage your investigation on these matters.

Monday, December 18, 2006

On Handling a Doubting Christian

Suppose a Christian came to you with doubts concerning their salvation, requesting counsel and help from you. How would you direct that person? I believe this is an important question to ask because it is on this matter I believe many professing Christians have been led into a whirlwind of confusion, some having "rededicated" their lives and been "rebaptized" several times. Furthermore, there are some evangelists who will tell you that at any given moment if you are having any doubts, then you need to "nail it down," for as one traveling preacher in the SBC says, "it is better to be saved twice than to be lost once." Obviously, such terrible counsel is not helpful for a person battling with doubt! So what say you? How would you handle a Christian doubting their salvation? Any helpful or pastoral words you can share?

19 Comments:

Blogger Scott Welch said...

This is just a start, but I heard RC Sproul say once that the fact that anyone is doubting and concerned is a good sign. Most unbelievers aren't too concerned if they are really saved or not.

12/18/2006 03:58:00 PM

 
Blogger Daniel said...

timmy, i think our identification with Christ (ie salvation) has both a instantaneous (justification) and continuous (sanctification) quality. we can look back on our past and find assurance there, but we can and should also find our assurance here and now! at present, do you now confess Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour? do you now find yourself with a repentant spirit with regards to sin? does the Holy Spirit now minister to your soul as one of God's children?

my point is this, too often Christians look only to their past to justify their salvation when God continues to work in the lives of His children to make them more like Christ now! so, the "doubting Christian" should ask these questions and examine their hearts in light of the Word of God.

12/18/2006 04:54:00 PM

 
Blogger Scott Slayton said...

This is really simple, but I have found it to be helpful. I point people to faith in the finished work of Christ on the cross. Many doubting people are only looking at themselves and their experiences. You can never go wrong when you point them to the cross. They need something sure.

12/18/2006 07:47:00 PM

 
Blogger Stephen Newell said...

I want to be careful what I say here; however, I do think that it is never a bad idea for someone to make a concrete profession of faith if there is doubt in their minds. That is to say, if there was no clear profession of faith at some prior time, "nailing it down," so to speak, shouldn't be discouraged.

Now, this is why I want to be careful: if there was a point in time when the doubter made a profession of faith, care must be taken to avoid stuff like this "saved twice" nonsense. Since the majority of those to whom I minister have this situation in their histories, when I get "doubters," these are the kinds of people I'm counseling.

If we're talking about someone who doesn't have a profession of faith (or someone who does, for that matter), I would think we'd want to be sure that the reason they think they are a Christian (with or without a profession) is because they understood and responded to the Gospel.

What I have tended to do is ask people what the Gospel is. If they don't understand that question, I get a little simpler and ask them what saves a person and how one can be saved. If they can answer this question accurately, I ask them if they have obeyed the Gospel command to trust in Christ. If the answer is in the affirmative, I ask them why there are doubts if they have trusted in Christ.

This, of course, leads to all sorts of answers, 9 times out of 10 having to do with questions of sanctification. The answers usually range from occasional sins (giving in to temptation from time to time), to specific thorns in the flesh, to attacks by non-Christian family and friends based on their past without Christ. And isn't that really what the whole "I'm not sure I'm saved" stuff is all about? Sanctification?

As a result, I have started to place a lot of emphasis on "working out your salvation." I have made the distinction between "felt" faith and "active" faith; that is, we cannot have a faith that is felt, but active, if we want to know if we are saved. I've asked my congregation (and the doubters) point blank if their faith in Christ was something that happened a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away or if it is something that is a daily act of obedience to Christ.

Are we getting up in the morning and thanking Christ for what He did for us, and resolving to trust Him by the power of the Holy Spirit that day? Are we doing that every day? If we are doing that, it can go a long way to answering our doubts. Like Scott Welch said, if we aren't really saved, we won't really care enough to do that.

12/18/2006 09:15:00 PM

 
Blogger Stephen Newell said...

I forgot to add that I often wonder if the only reason we're even having to address these questions is because of our embracing of decisional regeneration.

12/18/2006 09:18:00 PM

 
Blogger Scott Welch said...

Stephen said,

"I forgot to add that I often wonder if the only reason we're even having to address these questions is because of our embracing of decisional regeneration."

This may be the proverbial nail on the head. I can't tell you how many times I have seen and heard someone give someone assurance by asking a "have you made a decision?" type of question.

Scott S.-

Focusing on the finished work of Christ IS the solution to that dilemna. Thanks, guys, you have been very helpful for me!

12/18/2006 10:25:00 PM

 
Blogger Timmy said...

Good thoughts guys. One reason I asked this question is because it was asked to me in the form of a final in my evangelism class. I will post my answer later this week and ask for your critique. Until then, I would love to hear more feedback. For instance, how do we explain justification and assurance? Self-examination (2 Cor. 13:5) and a person's identity in Christ through the finished work of the cross as Scott mentioned? What about the alarming passages such as "many will say to me on that day, 'Lord Lord . . ." and Jesus responds, "Depart from me you workers of iniquity, for I never knew you!" (Matt. 7:21)?

On the surface, the question is simple to answer, but if we look at some of the heroes of church history, we will find some of the most holy, most godly folks battled with doubt, and some never arrived at assurance of their salvation (many Puritans in particular). On the other hand, many gospel tracts and witnessing models will encourage the evangelist to tell the person right after they have prayed, "Welcome to the family of God!" and leaves it at that. I used to do that--that is, until I realized that I was offering a false sense of security.

So I would love to hear what you guys have to say about such matters aforementioned if you get a chance. In the meantime, I will load some Christmas boxes . . .

12/18/2006 11:07:00 PM

 
Blogger Highland Host said...

First of all, I would need to know their church background. Some churches actually encourage doubt (the way others encourage easy-believism). Scott Welch is right, the very fact that they are doubting is a good sign. They're not an unbeliever, there is hope for them.
Then they do not need to be able to give a date on which they were converted. Do they love the Lord? Do they love the LOrd's people and His word? Those are vital questions.

The Puritans were better at this than we are. So I'm off to read a Puritan book.

12/19/2006 05:35:00 AM

 
Blogger Scott Welch said...

Another thought I had to day is the entire message of 1 John. If you were to summarize this letter with one sentence it would be, "If you say you are saved, and are living like you are lost, then you are lost." To quote Sproul again, we are not saved by a profession of faith, but by the possession of faith. Another place you can go is James 2:19 where James talks about the faith of demons (the context is a profession of faith that is dead). The demons "believe" thef facts about Jesus and his work on the cross, but they HATE it. The one who is doubting, does he treasure Jesus and what He did on his behalf. Does he not just believe the truth about Jesus, but LOVE it?

12/19/2006 11:04:00 AM

 
Blogger Timmy said...

Two other additional thoughts I had which were congruent to what Daniel and Scott were mentioned is (1) a person's perspective of salvation (God-centered or man-centered) and (2) a person's understanding of sanctification.

If a person is God-centered in their understanding of salvation, they will hang their assurance on the character of God--his faithfulness, his promises, his perfections, etc. He will also rest in the finished and completed work of Jesus Christ who accomplished salvation on their behalf. God was pleased in His Son, in whom the fullness of the Godhead deity dwelt. God was pleased to bruise His Son, to bear the wrath and judgment for sinners. God was pleased in His Son's sacrifice to atone for the sins of His people, and there is nothing Jesus left undone, nothing unsaid, nothing, unfinished. Furthermore, God has not left us as orphans, but has come to us in the person of the Holy Spirit to dwell in us. This is what I mean by a God-centered perspective of assurance.

On a man-centered view of assurance, a person is holding on to some specific act in the past, albeit walking down an aisle, being baptized, praying a prayer, VBS, etc. Their assurance depends on whether they "have enough faith" at that given moment, whether they have loved God enough to be acceptable in God's sight.

The role of the conscience, affections, and the conviction of sin is a huge deal here, especially in sanctification. Like many of you said, if a person is not doubting, it is likely they are not believers, for either they do not have the Spirit dwelling in them, or they have a seared conscience through sinful rebellion, though professing to Christians (hence the term "paganized Christians").

Regarding sanctification, there are those in the Keswick camp who will tell you to "let go and let God" and find assurance through some mystical release and passive surrender to God whereby your spirit connects with God in union. Others in the Methodist and Finney camp will tell you that assurance and removal of doubt comes when you are entirely sanctified or reach sinless perfection. But the biblical case for sanctification is a life-long battle against sin and pursuit of holiness where a believer actively works out what God has worked in, all by grace.

I believe one of the greatest dangers in handling a doubting Christian is that we see the Christian life as somewhat performance-based, and therefore their assurance is grounded in the quality of it. Rather, just as we are saved by grace, and that not of ourselves, we are also to live by grace, being strengthened by dependence upon God, abiding in His Word, filled by His Spirit. If we can but begin to preach the gospel to ourselves on a daily basis, continually grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ, and walk in grace-based relationship (not performance-based) with Him, I think the doubt issue will be settled by the power of the gospel and indwelling testimony of the Spirit in the person's life.

Anyway, that's not the answer I gave. I will post that later.

12/19/2006 10:02:00 PM

 
Blogger Timmy said...

Let me ask this question.

Have any of you been in a worship service where a person who is doubting their salvation comes forward, and you are called upon to counsel with them?

I ask this because I have been in this situation many times (not recently), and as I began to understand how to better care for people's souls, my handling of the situation changed throughout the years. I would be interested to know (and hear) if any of you had similar situations.

12/19/2006 10:06:00 PM

 
Blogger Stephen Newell said...

Yep. Early on I used to be in the camp of "let's get that taken care of right here;" however, as I matured and learned more Scripture and doctrine, I started to focus on the issues of sanctification, as I noted above.

Where before I would say, "If you're not sure, we can fix that problem today," I now find myself asking more details of their "sanctification problem." Is their problem something they are struggling to bring captive to Christ? Are they even bothering to do this?

If they are, I have tended to use the verse about God chastening those He loves. I think I once said, "If you're experiencing doubt as a result of your sin/temptation/etc., think of it as God's chastening influence in your life to draw you closer to Him and His word. He is using this to encourage you to place your trust in Him alone and not anything you could ever do. You are having a David moment right now; you are sorely missing the presence of God, and that is what caused David to ask God to create him in a clean heart, and not to remove the Holy Spirit from him. That's what succumbing to sin does, and your reaction is the right reaction of a person who belongs to God."

That was about 3 years ago. I'm not too sure how I'd answer now. Maybe I'd still give this answer.

12/20/2006 05:47:00 AM

 
Blogger Gordan said...

My own experience here:

Sometimes doubt is simply caused by failing to focus on the promises of God as recorded in Scripture. If you believe that it is the faithfulness of God that makes you secure, then you ought to cling to the promises.

Also, many Protestant confessions contain the idea that Assurance may temporarily wain for more than one reason. God may use the "low time" to spur us on to seek Him with greater fervancy. Or, it may be that one has fallen to some severe temptation, which has wounded the conscience and grieved the Spirit of God.

In all of these, a penitent, humble trust in the Word of God is the real solution.

12/20/2006 12:42:00 PM

 
Blogger Scott Slayton said...

Thanks to all of you for a helpful discussion. As I read your thoughts and think of a couple of people that I have been talking to recently, we will never know all of the harm that has been caused by the invitation system. I am not just talking about the effects of it on people's initial profession of faith, but also the idea that all of our sanctification takes place at the front of the church. I am blown away by the number of pastors that I hear talking about the importance of praying at the front of the church in people's spiritual lives.

Unfortunately, this has taken people's focus off of Christ and the change that faith produces in our lives. Instead, people are focusing on themselves and their experiences. This is why I believe that there is no such thing as talking about Christ too much. We must continually point people to the cross for assurance.

Now I recognize that if you look at 1 John, you see other elements of assurance. Particularly, we see that assurance comes from the fruits of faith and the witness of the Spirit. However, someone else made the good point that the fruits of faith and the witness of the Spirit are not always as steady. Therefore, we must point people to something that is always steady, the cross.

12/20/2006 03:23:00 PM

 
Blogger Timmy said...

Scott said,

Unfortunately, this has taken people's focus off of Christ and the change that faith produces in our lives. Instead, people are focusing on themselves and their experiences. This is why I believe that there is no such thing as talking about Christ too much. We must continually point people to the cross for assurance.

Amen brother. We can never talk about Christ too much! Implicit in that statement also is we cannot preach the gospel to one another enough! It saddens me to see the gospel relegated to those who are lost as if we graduate from the gospel and put it on the shelf after we become a Christian! It ought to be our prayer that "the sharing of your faith may become effective for the full knowledge of every good thing that is in us for the sake of Christ" (Philemon 6). Because God's divine power has "granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness through the knowledge of him who called us," (2 Pet. 1:3), we should therefore "be all the more diligent to make our calling and election sure" (2 Pet. 1:10). May God help us to turn our eyes off ourselves on and onto Christ.

My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus' blood and righteousness;
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly lean on Jesus' name.

When darkness seems to hide His face,
I rest on His unchanging grace;
In every high and stormy gale,
My anchor holds within the veil.

His oath, His covenant, His blood
Support me in the whelming flood;
When all around my soul gives way,
He then is all my hope and stay.

When He shall come with trumpet sound,
Oh, may I then in Him be found;
Dressed in His righteousness alone,
Faultless to stand before the throne.

On Christ, the Solid Rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand,
All other ground is sinking sand.

12/20/2006 03:45:00 PM

 
Blogger Scott Welch said...

Timmy said, "Implicit in that statement also is we cannot preach the gospel to one another enough!"

Thanks for this! I know that I need to hear the gospel everyday. We get it into our heads that we are saved by grace and that somehow grace metamorphs when we come to sanctification. Galatians 3:3 "Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?" The same gospel that saves us, empowers us to persevere and remain in the Father's hand.

12/20/2006 08:44:00 PM

 
Blogger Jon said...

I read your article and am wondering about some issues. I have gone through a terrible trial in my life for the last sixteen months.
This has caused me to doubt my salvation. At first it seemed that I had no protection to my mind. This has slowly improved. However, it feels as if my will is incapacitated. I have cried and cried to the Lord for deliverance but its as if I'm in a fog and feel as lifeless, cold and struggling in my faith. I have read a lot of books from the past of people going through dark seasons.
Today, that is unheard of. Anyway, I was blessed by this blog as I agree with the getting saved over and over again. Any help or if anyone has experienced this, perhaps you can elaborate.

1/26/2007 10:41:00 PM

 
Blogger Timmy said...

Jon,

Thanks for commenting and sharing yor experiences.

I thought I would inform you that I have recently moved over to WordPress, and the new URL is timmybrister.com.

I feel that there may be others with similar experiences who could share their thoughts and encouragement with you but will not find your comment because it is on the old blog.

I am glad that you found the comments helpful. I pray that the Lord will make the light of His countenance to shine upon you, to bring you peace and cause you to praise Him for His faithfulness. He is ever near, though we may feel that He is not there. The promises of His Word are "yes" and "amen" in Christ Jesus, and the assurance we have in Him is that if we draw near to Him, He will draw near to us (James 4:7-10). The promises of God in His Word are anchors in the tumultuous seas of experiences, various feelings, and unstable circumstances. Christ is your solid rock, and I pray that He will keep your feet from slipping and put a new song in your heart (Psalm 40:1-5). God bless you, Jon, and I hope to see you around again.

1/27/2007 05:49:00 AM

 
Blogger Robert said...

Hi,

My name is Rev Robert Wright, Editor for Christian.com, a social network made specifically for Christians, by Christians. We embarked on this endeavor to offer the entire Christian community an outlet to join together and better spread the good word of Christianity. Christian.com has many great features like Christian TV, prayer requests, finding a church, receiving church updates and advice. We have emailed you to collaborate with you and your blog to help spread the good word of Christianity. I look forward to your response regarding this matter. Thanks!


Rev. Robert Wright
rev.robertwright@gmail.com
www.christian.com

4/28/2010 09:54:00 AM

 

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