A regular reader of our blogs named John asks this insightful question:
I just read your latest blog concerning Dead Spoken Faith Alone. In your point #10, you mention that assurance is essential to a faith that saves. I must admit that the thought of eternal conscious torment still frightens me. I believe in Christ, I believe He died at the Cross and rose, but I still am not sure that I am not destined for eternal torment. Sometimes my mind may bring me to seconds before I would die, and terror rises in me: “What if I end up in eternal torment?” I don’t think that is “assurance of salvation,” so does that mean I have not “truly” believed, and therefore I am still lost? On a side note, I thought that there is only faith, not different kinds of faith? Yet in #10 you also mention “saving” faith?
Keep up your work, your blogs are a true blessing to me…
I am sorry for the confusion I caused by using the expression saving faith. By that I did not mean a special type of faith in Christ that is saving, as opposed to a different type of faith in Christ that is not saving. There is only one kind of faith, which is persuasion, being convinced. What I meant is that there is faith in the message of everlasting life, and faith in that message is saving. Maybe I can give some illustrations.
I believe that God is all powerful. If I spoke about this belief a lot, to save lots of explanation each time, I might call that omnipotent faith. It would not signal a different kind of faith. It would signal the specific object of faith. It would not mean that you believe that there is an all-powerful force in the universe. It would mean that you believe that the God of the Bible, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, is all-powerful.
I believe that Jesus was born in Bethlehem. If I often spoke about believing that, I might call that Bethlehem faith. Again, this is not a different type of faith. It is faith in a very definite object. It is not belief that Bethlehem was a city, or still is a city, in Israel. It is the belief that Messiah was born in that city.
Faith in the saving message we might call saving faith. It is not believing that God saves. It is not believing that God saves those who commit their lives to Him. It is not believing that God gives probationary salvation to those who believe in His Son and then they get to gain final salvation if they persevere in faith and good works. Saving faith, when we use the term in GES, means believing that whoever simply believes in Jesus for everlasting life has that life, which can never be lost (John 3:16; 5:24; 6:35, 47; 11:26; Acts 16:31; Eph 2:8-9; Rev 22:17).
I will try to avoid using that expression, but I may slip up since it saves many words of explanation.
John’s doubts do not prove that he is not born again.
First, if ever in his life he was convinced that by faith in Jesus, he was guaranteed to be with Christ forever, then he remains saved forever, even if doubts crept in one minute after he believed—and even if those doubts never departed.
Second, it sounds to me like John is obsessive-compulsive, which I can identify with. If so, he may not be accurately conveying his dilemma. John might be convinced that he has everlasting life, and yet a thought creeps into his head, “What if I end up in eternal torment?”
That thought is not what he believes. It is not yet doubt. That thought is temptation. If he chooses to dwell on that thought, that thought might grow into doubt and unbelief. John might start reading authors who believe in loss of salvation. If so, he will be feeding that temptation, and soon it will grow into unbelief.
Luther said that we cannot keep the birds from flying over our heads, but we can keep them from making nests in our hair. That is true here. John cannot keep alien “what if” thoughts from creeping into his mind. But he can avoid feeding those thoughts. He can reject those thoughts: “Lord, I know that you said, ‘He who lives and believes in Me will never die’ (John 11:26). I am living and I believe in You for everlasting life. So, I’m sure I will never die spiritually. You guarantee it, and You cannot lie. Please take away this disturbing thought. I know it is a lie. Thank you for the free gift of everlasting life. I’m very grateful.”
There are other ways of keeping that anti-assurance bird from nesting in your hair. Read blogs and articles and books that are clear on the promise of everlasting life to all who simply believe in Christ. Listen to clear radio programs. Be a regular participant in a local church that accurately teaches God’s Word and the promise of everlasting life.
If John or any of you reading this ever gets to the point where you lose assurance of everlasting life, then make it an urgent and persistent prayer request that you get it back. God will answer that prayer affirmatively if you persist in asking Him (Luke 18), since it is His will that His children know that they are in His forever family. Do not settle for living with uncertainty about your eternal destiny. God loves you and wants you to be sure and to share that message-of-life certainty with others.