Doubt and Assurance
Tim ChalliesTim Challies, a self-employed web designer, is a pioneer in the Christian blogosphere, having one of the most widely read and recognized Christian blogs anywhere (www.challies.com). He is also editor of Discerning Reader (www.discerningreader.com), a site dedicated to offering thoughtful reviews of books that are of interest to Christians. He is author of The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment, published by Crossway.
- 2008 Dec 03
I have written often about the issues of doubt and assurance. They are, I think, issues that are well worth spending time on. Many fine Christians spend much of their lives doubting their salvation while other nominal Christians live in reckless assurance of their right standing before God. Meanwhile, many people today teach that doubt itself is a virtue while assurance is a mark of arrogance. John Frame offers some valuable perspective on this in his book Salvation Belongs To The Lord. Here is what he says about doubt as a virtue and assurance as spiritual arrogance.
“[T]he Bible presents doubt largely in negative terms. It is a spiritual impediment, an obstacle to doing God’s work (Matt. 14:31; 21:21; 28:17; Acts 10:20; 11:12; Rom. 14:23; 1 Tim. 2:8; James 1:6). In Matthew 14:31 and Romans 14:23 it is the opposite of faith and therefore a sin. Of course, this sin, like other sins, may remain with us through our earthly life. But we should not be complacent about it. Just as the ideal for the Christian life is a perfect holiness, the ideal for the Christian mind is absolute certainty about God’s revelation.
“We should not conclude, however, that doubt is always sinful. Matthew 14:31 and Romans 14:23 (and indeed the other texts I have listed) speak of doubt in the fact of clear special revelation. To doubt what God has clearly spoken to us is wrong. But in other situations, it is not wrong to doubt. In many cases, in fact, it is wrong for us to claim knowledge, much less certainty. Indeed, often the best course is to admit our ignorance (Deut. 29:29, Rom. 11:33-36). Paul is not wrong to express uncertainty about the number of people he baptized (1 Cor. 1:16). Indeed, James tells us, we are not always ignorant of the future to some extent and we should not pretend to know more about it than we do (James 4:13-16). Job’s friends were wrong to think that they knew the reasons for his torment, and Job himself had to be humbled, as God reminded him of his ignorance (Job 38-42).
“But as to our salvation, God wants us to know that we know him (1 John 5:13)…”
I believe Frame is correct on several important accounts. The Bible presents doubt largely in negative terms. Doubt is not presented as a reason for pride and assurance is not presented as something that is shameful. And in fact, doubt is a hindrance to doing God’s work and is the very opposite of faith. A person who is filled with doubt may well be a person of weak faith. The faith we are to pursue is one that has absolute certainty about God’s revelation.
And so we are to pursue assurance, for assurance of salvation and assurance of God’s revelation is a mark of faith—true faith—not something that is opposed to it.