Assurance: Evading the Traps of Doubt
Part Two, New Beginnings, What It Means to Follow Jesus
July 7, 2002
Art Caswell grew up in Phoenix, Arizona. The high school team on which he played had a team chaplain, Lutheran pastor Walt Kallestad. Kallestad’s job was to inspire and encourage players like Caswell to become the best they could be. After playing college ball, Art didn’t make the NFL. So, he went to the Canadian Football League. He did so because of his dream to play in the NFL. The CFL often is a proving ground for prospective NFL players. But not for Art. He was cut from the Canadian league, an event that usually spells the end of a football player’s career. But even when his friends told him to give up, he persisted in the pursuit of his dream of playing in the NFL. His persistence paid off when, at age twenty-six, Art Caswell became a rookie, playing for the Oakland Raiders.
But, according to Pastor Kallestad, Caswell’s story isn’t about the persistence of an individual person bucking the odds. As Kallestad tells it in his book, Waking Up Your Dreams, Caswell “was motivated to do the most he possibly could with his God-given ability.” Caswell believed in the God he knew believed in him! Because he walked in the daily assurance of God’s presence and power in his life, he had the capacity to keep trying even as the world around told him to quit. His relationship with Jesus Christ gave Art Caswell the capacity to live with assurance. As defined by one author, “[a]ssurance is the awareness of belonging to Christ and having complete confidence in Him.”
Last week, we talked about salvation. We said that being saved involves three things: God frees us from sin in order to free us for right living; frees us from death in order to free us for eternal life; frees us from futility in order to give us purpose. But often, it seems people who openly confess faith in Christ have something happen to them. They wrestle with doubts. It isn’t that they doubt God, or doubt that Jesus died and rose. But sometimes, they doubt whether the salvation and the blessings that Jesus offers to the rest of the world really belong to them. There seem to be three main ways people lack assurance about their salvation.
Because God wants all who believe in Jesus Christ to face life and death with absolute confidence—with assurance, I want to deal with each one of these assaults on our salvation today.
First: We may lack assurance because we’ve fallen into the trap of believing that salvation has to do with our performance. A man was talking with me several years ago. He had been in church all his life. “I’m not sure that I really am a Christian,” he told me. I was taken aback and asked him, “Don’t you believe in Jesus Christ?” “Sure,” he said, “I believe in Jesus Christ. But I just don’t feel as though I’m a good enough person to go to heaven.” I smiled at him and said, “Welcome to the club!” None of us is good enough to go to heaven. None of us is good enough to have the blessings of right living, eternal life, and purposefulness that God gives to all with faith in Jesus Christ.
But if you and I are willing to turn away from sin and let Jesus Christ be the absolute, ultimate authority in our lives, these blessings are ours. We can face life and death with the assurance that the apostle Paul talks about in the New Testament book of Romans:
“...if you confess with your lips that Jesus Christ is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved...The scripture says, ‘No one who believes in Him will be put to shame.’ For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on Him. For, ‘Everyone who calls on the Name of the Lord shall be saved.’” [Romans 10:9-13]
Jesus frees us from performance-based religion.
We may also lack assurance because we’ve fallen into the trap of trusting our emotions rather than the facts. The fact is Jesus died and rose for you. The fact is that if you trust in Him, you have salvation. That’s what God’s Word says. But some people think that if a person has salvation, they’ll always have spiritual goose bumps. There are times when God induces goose bumps and incites our emotions. Many of you know that I began praying for an effort that united the churches of metropolitan Cincinnati to do evangelism together back in 1994. This past Sunday night, as we looked at the 65,600 people who packed Paul Brown Stadium on the last day of the Billy Graham Mission, an African-American woman named Vanessa, who was among the pastors and lay professionals with whom I worked to support and supervise counselors as the Mission unfolded, turned to me and said, “Look all around here. God heard your prayer!” I was overcome by emotion and couldn’t speak.
But my life with God isn’t always like that. Our relationships with God are a bit like the relationships that people enjoy in good marriages. A good husband or a good wife always loves their spouse. But when you’re putting out the garbage, or washing a spouse’s underwear, or doing the dishes, or cleaning the toilets, you’re not likely to feel goose bumps. And even when we’re not feeling passionately enthusiastic about Jesus Christ, it doesn’t alter the fact that He died and rose for us because loves us or that we can believe in Him. We can live each day in the assurance we find in the New Testament book of Philippians. There, the apostle Paul writes to the first century church in the Greek city of Philippi:
“I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.”
When the Bible speaks of “the day of Jesus Christ,” it’s referring to that day when Jesus returns and brings the life of this world to an end. Paul is saying that the Jesus Who committed Himself to you body and soul by dying on a cross and rising from the dead and has promised to be with you always is never going to give up on you. That’s a source of assurance!
And then, some people lose the assurance of their salvation—of their relationship with Christ—because of they fall into the trap of sin and disobedience in their lives. The Bible teaches that all who believe in Jesus Christ are saints and sinners. The believer in Jesus is nothing other than a forgiven sinner. But there are times when we may willfully disobey God and turn away from His will. I’ve told the story before of the man in my former congregation who, years before I arrived on the scene, was arguing vehemently at a congregational meeting that the worship services should be conducted in German, even though most of the people of the community all spoke English. He refused to love his neighbors enough to make Christ accessible to them. After a particularly impassioned speech expressing his opinion, he sat down and said quietly to an English-speaker next to him, “I know I’m wrong. But I refuse to give in.” If we take that attitude with God—refusing to bend our wills to His, refusing to love others—we erect a wall between God and ourselves. The person who tries to follow Christ while disobeying His will for our lives is like someone trying to jump up and down while standing still. It can’t be done! Sin causes us to doubt God’s love for us. This is how the apostle James puts it in the New Testament:
“...for the doubter, being double-minded and unstable in every way, must not expect to receive anything from the Lord.” [James 1:8]
This past week, I read about an urgent request that President Dwight Eisenhower made just days before he died. He was at Walter Reed Army Hospital and wanted to meet with Billy Graham. Facing imminent death, Eisenhower was wallowing in uncertainty about his spiritual condition. “How can I know that I’m ready to face God in eternity?” he wondered. Graham pointed to a few passages from the Bible like the one I have printed in the bulletin this morning. They’re words of Jesus from the Gospel of John:
Very truly, I tell you, anyone who hears My word and believes Him Who sent Me has eternal life, and does not come under judgment, but has passed from death to life.
When Eisenhower heard words like those, he flashed the evangelist one of his patented Ike grins and said, “I’m ready to die because I do believe!”
The Bible tells us that our adversary the devil prowls around looking for people to devour. He wants to rob us of the assurance that God gives to those who believe in Jesus Christ. He tries to lure us into the trap of performance-based religion, into the trap of trusting our emotions rather than trusting Christ, and into the trap of sinful rebellion against God. But we can face life—and death—with assurance when we trust Jesus Christ, when we believe in the God Who believes in us!