Question / Comment -
How do I know I truly believe?
I was born and raised in a Christian house and was a Christian for most of my youth. Once I hit 16 I started to stray despite never fully disbelieving I definitely pushed God to the side. However over the last few years I've come back to faith; but ever since I've been going to a new church that is challenging my faith and beliefs (in a good way), I've been tormented by doubts and fears that aren't leaving me no matter how much I pray. I'm terrified that I want to believe so badly that I've convinced myself I'm a Christian when I'm not. Which is odd because when these fears are on me I fear God's wrath which is surely not something someone struggling with unbelief would normally feel. So I suppose my question is how do I know I truly believe? I want to believe and think I do but is that enough?
Thanks so much! (sorry for the back story but I thought it was important for context).
Hey thanks for the email. With regards to your question:
'So I suppose my question is how do I know I truly believe? I want to believe and think I do but is that enough?'
There is a long answer and a short answer. The short answer, from the Bible is this... Firstly, God wants us to know whether we are saved. He doesn't want us to be double minded and confused on the issue because if a person hasn't sorted out whether they are truly saved or not, they can hardly go on to help others!
1Jn 5:11-13 And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. (12) He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life. (13) I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.
So you ask, well how do we know? Earlier in 1 John he wrote this about that very thing:
1Jn 3:18-24 Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth. (19) This then is how we know that we
belong to the truth, and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence (20) whenever our hearts condemn us. For God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. (21) Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God (22) and receive from him anything we ask, because we obey his commands and do what pleases him. (23) And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. (24) Those who obey his commands live in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us.
To put it simply, there are three things that John mentions to base assurance upon:
- We keep the command to believe in the name of Jesus Christ
- We love one another (and with actions and not just words)
- We should know through the Spirit that He has given us (by which, Paul tells us, we cry 'Abba Father' to God - that is we have an inward assurance that we are now in the family of God).
Now here is the problem: Satan doesn't want you to have an assurance of your salvation. And he is the master of doubts. From what you have written, I have no doubt that you are a true Christian. This is shown by the fact that you do believe, you have a great desire to definitely know you are saved and you have a fear of God... None of which ARE IN ANYWAY signs of an unbeliever! It's like the old saying about the unpardonable sin - If you are worried you have committed it, you haven't!
To be honest, the first scripture that came to mind when I read your email was this:
2Co 11:2-3 For I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy; for I betrothed you to one husband, so that to Christ I might present you as a pure virgin. (3) But I am afraid that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds will be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ.
As I said, the enemy LOVES to sow doubt. He LOVES to sow confusion. He LOVES to make things complicated and to get our focus on ourselves and not Jesus. But there is a wonderful simplicity to faith that knows that with salvation (and the rest of the Christian life really!) that we can't, but He can and therefore you will take Him by His promise to do what He said! And FAITH COMES by hearing the word of God.
SO... here is what I suggest you do. Firstly meditate on the following passages of scripture. Think about the promise that God makes. He doesn't complicate matters.
Joh 1:11-13 He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him. (12) But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, (13) who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
Joh 3:14-18 "As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; (15) so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life. (16) "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. (17) "For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. (18) "He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.
Think about the simplicity of the Israelites in the Wilderness 'looking' to the bronze serpent up on the pole. Was that very hard to do? If they did that, they were healed and physically saved from death. It is a picture of the Cross and salvation Jesus said. Think about the other promises given by Jesus concerning salvation in this passage. Take Him at His promise. He said it, and He cannot lie. So believe it.
The last thing I would do is start to thank Him! Thank Him. Thank Him for the promises He made here. Thank Him that He is always true to keep His promises. Thank Him that you are included in that promise. Instead of begging or asking for that which He has already done for you (I believe), thank Him. You might well be amazed at what difference it makes!
Now I don't know what kind of church you are going to now - you said you have had your beliefs challenged. Feel free to elaborate in what way if you like - up to you. But if they are adding works or things that you do into the salvation mix, then your eyes will always be on yourself and you will never obtain peace or assurance on those grounds. Yes, there should be fruit in a true believers life (worked out through love for others as John wrote above) - but this comes out of a true salvation - it's not the means of obtaining salvation.
Ok, so it wasn't a completely short answer! But I hope it helps. May God Bless!
Thanks so much for your reply; it is really interesting and has given me a lot to think, and reflect, on.
With regards to my faith being challenged at my new church I meant that everyone there seems to be not only extremely confident with their faith but they all seem to feel the Holy Spirit moving in them. This is something I'm not sure I've ever felt; although I accept that I have the Holy Spirit, why is it that I don't seem to be as conscious of him working in/through me?
Also I know I shouldn't be ashamed of my faith (and I'm not) but sometimes I find it hard to be talk about it unprompted. For example on the train the other day I was with some Christian friends and they were talking really loudly (even more loudly than they normally do) about the church and their beliefs to each other. I'm quite a shy person by nature so being the centre of a carriage's attention isn't my cup of tea at the best of times but I felt really self-conscious, is that bad?
I really appreciate your insight and advice!
thanks for the reply and the clarification. For what it is worth, I identify personally with what you are saying on both your points below. When I first became a Christian (1990) I really thought that I had to have experiences and went forward at over 10 different church services to be baptised in the Spirit - at the time I believed I would then be filled with power and supernatural gifts like speaking in tongues. Nothing really happened for me - but not through lack of desire! To make it slightly more bizarre, around the end of that time I helped lead my friend to the Lord and at basically the first Church service that we went to, he was radically filled with the Spirit and was speaking in tongues (without EVER having heard of that or even read it in the Bible yet)...
Looking back with hindsight now, I can see that God has given me gifts as He sees fit, though they are different to what I was initially seeking! I just wanted supernatural experiences really : ) I have had experiences of God in the subsequent 20 years plus but normally at trying times when I really needed to hear from/experience Him. Some people go around all the time saying God said this or that, or the Holy Spirit wants you to know this or that... but I'm not one of them. What you'll also find is that many of those saying such things or placing a lot of emphasis on experiences are often pretty flakey. Just an observation after 20 years. Experiences have their place but they shouldn't be placed above faith and trust in the truth revealed in the Word of God. Bottom line is by all means seek God and what he has for you, but don't fret if you are not having the same experiences as someone else. He will reward your desire for Him by giving you something that He wants you to have. We are all different and the Spirit gives gifts / experiences as He sees fit.
In terms of the second point. I can relate to that as well. I'm pretty shy by nature too, don't overly enjoy arguments/confrontations so striking up evangelistic conversations doesn't always come naturally. Having said that there are definitely situations where I have felt impressed to say things or give friends/workmates books or dvds or tracts etc. But we don't have to be like other people. We just have to walk with God and do what He wants us to do. You look at your friends who have boldness to evangelize and think I'd love to be like that. But you will have gifts and strengths given to you from God and people will look at you in other situations and think 'I'd love to be like Josh in that way!' And there will be times when God impresses His will upon your heart and you will obey. And in those times He will get the glory because it isn't something that you would necessarily find easy or natural to do - but by obeying and trusting, He will use you for His glory.
In closing, think about this illustration by Watchman Nee, in his classic book ‘The Normal Christian Life’ which seems appropriate. He writes ‘You
probably know the illustration of Fact, Faith, and Experience walking along the
top of a wall. Fact walked steadily on, turning neither to right nor left and
never looking behind. Faith followed, and all went well so long as he kept his
eyes focused upon Fact; but as soon as he became concerned about Experience and
turned to see how he was getting on, he lost his balance and tumbled off the
wall, and poor old Experience fell down after him. All temptation is primarily to
look within; to take our eyes off the Lord and to take account of appearances.
All the best!
Thanks so much again!
Those are really good answers that cover pretty much everything I was thinking about, it's good to know that I'm not alone in those thoughts and concerns!
All the best!