Kathryn Wright and I recently taught a series of podcasts about testimonies. A listener, Mark, sent an email about his own testimony. Do you think his testimony is unusual or common?
I listened to the show on the three steps of a testimony. I found it interesting for me. I was a basket case growing up with addicts and abuse of many kinds. I had PTSD. I served in the military, had panic attacks, and was a mess wanting to run from my first wife and step kids—so I am one of those messed-up lives stories. John 3:16 out of a book brought me to saving faith in Christ and I was as sure as believing the sun was going to come up tomorrow that I was saved.
THEN puritan books. Reformed teaching. Lordship. I started doubting and falling apart. I was introduced to FG on the net (GES) and went to conferences and read widely. Met Zane, René Lopez John Niemelä, Bob, and others. My assurance was rekindled.
My question is this: is my story common? I used to look at my life after trusting and so sure and then the doubts and then it all fell apart. Divorce, mental health crisis, suicide ideation. But underneath it all was a dreadful belief I wasn’t secure and at the time I felt I was questioned by everyone. I fell hard and it took years and a renewed mind to regain what in knew I had in 1981.
Just curious if you have heard similar testimonies. Thanks.
Mark doesn’t describe what he believed about salvation before he understood and believed John 3:16. Kathryn and I suggest that it’s good to include that in your testimony. But let’s assume that all he knew about Jesus was Christmas and Easter and the typical teaching that if you follow the Golden Rule, then you have a good shot at making it to heaven.
Then, in 1981, Mark came to faith in Christ for everlasting life. He was sure of his eternal destiny at that point.
Shortly after coming to faith, however, he lost his assurance by reading Puritan/Reformed/Lordship Salvation teaching. Because everlasting life can’t be lost, he remained saved, but had lost his assurance of salvation.
Sometime after that, he ended up at www.faithalone.org and at GES conferences. He regained the certainty of his eternal salvation. Once again, he is saved and knows it.
Yes, Mark, I’ve heard similar testimonies. Often.
Puritan theology, which is also the theology of most Reformed pastors and theologians and all Lordship Salvation advocates, is “a gospel of doubt” according to David Engelsma–himself a Calvinist, but one who believes the promise of life and is sure of his salvation.
Mark’s testimony is what we might call a USUS testimony, where U stands for unsure and S stands for sure. He went from being unsure to sure to unsure again to sure again. We might add some more letters and say that he illustrates the UuSbUbSb testimony, where u stands for unbeliever and b for believer. He went from being an unsure unbeliever to being a sure believeri to being an unsure believer to be a sure believer again.
Another major testimony pattern is UuSb. That is my story. I went from being an unsure unbeliever to becoming a sure believer in September of 1972. Since then, I’ve never doubted my eternal destiny. I think the reason is that before I came to faith, I was so indoctrinated by a hyper version of works salvation (sinless perfectionism) that when I came to believe the promise of everlasting life by faith alone, apart from works, I was very leery of any theology like the one that had misled me for so many years. Reformed thought is very similar to the works-salvation teaching of my youth. In a sense, I was immunized against that type of thinking.
Both types of testimony are quite common.
I think Mark’s testimony is a warning to all new or as-yet untrained assured believers out there. You are sure of your eternal destiny. But your assurance could be lost, especially if you start immersing yourself in Reformed thought. Beware of what you read, and of which church and Bible studies you attend. What you put in your mind matters.
i All believers are sure of their eternal destiny at the moment they come to faith in Christ. The reason is simple. In order to be born again, we must believe in Jesus, the Giver, for the gift of God, everlasting life that can’t be lost (John 4:10-14). If we don’t believe in the gift of God, then we haven’t yet believed in Jesus for everlasting life. However, assurance can be lost. Many born-again people have lost their assurance and are living in doubt and even despair.