I am thankful for my time in ministry and the job the Lord has blessed me with. As a young man, it can be intimidating and difficult to establish confidence in my abilities within others.
However, I know how it is I am to not allow people to “despise me for my youth.” I am to “set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity.” I must devote myself “to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching.” I must “be diligent in these matters; give myself wholly to them, so that everyone may see my progress.” I am to “watch my life and doctrine closely” and “persevere in them” (1 Timothy 4: 11-15).
One of the more difficult aspects of my job given my youth is pastoral counseling. I study the Scriptures with due diligence to prepare myself for this task, and by the grace of God, with more experience in the Scriptures and more experience in my Christian life, my counseling will be sanctified and beneficial.
An issue difficult to wrestle with is the issue of professing Christians doubting their salvation. How do Christian ministers respond to a Christian who doubts their salvation?
The reason this issue is difficult is because I am not omniscient. If God provided me with a metaphysical, spiritual microscope, this would be an easy part of my job. I know how to handle an unbeliever doubting their ‘salvation’, “This fear is legitimate, and is leading you to faith. Repent and believe. Trust in Christ for the forgiveness of sins.”
I also know how to handle the Saint doubting their salvation, “Knock it off, remember the cross, find your joy, and may you go live in peace.”
However, the problem is that I do not know the spiritual condition of each person infallibly. I do not know where the trembling soul in my office really is. Certainly, people give evidences which can help give me a great deal of confidence one way or the other; but ultimately, I do not know.
Thus, this provides two opposite ditches I can fall into during my pastoral counseling; there are two mistakes I want to avoid.
Imagine for the moment a person walking through a forest gets bit on the ankle by a very venomous snake. Imagine there is a nasty bite mark, blood, and pain.
Suppose this hiker pulls out a napkin, wipes off the blood, puts a band-aid over the bite mark, and pops a few Ibuprofens, and continues walking.
Would you say this person is safe? Should this person be comfortable?
The rhetorical answer is, “Of course not.”
All the band-aid and pain reliever did was mask the problem. The problem was hidden. These responses provided the hiker with a false sense of security. There is no more pain and there is no more blood, however, there is now dangerous venom flowing through his veins, slowing shutting down each of his vital organs, and he will eventually die.
I do not want my counseling to be merely a band-aid covering the venom of unbelief.
The Spirit of God convicts the world of sin (John 16: 8),and godly conviction leads to repentance (2 Corinthians 7:10). Therefore, I do not want to mask Godly convictions. I do not want my counseling to be the Advil which masks the pain from the true issue.
In other words, some people ought to be in agonizing dread over their souls, and I am not permitted to rescue them from that. They need to tremble. I am not to comfort the person who deserves no comfort. I am not to provide peace to the soul which is not at peace with God.
On the other hand, constant fear, doubt, and anxiety is not pleasing to the Lord. Fear is not a fruit of the Spirit. In fact, in Christ we have been delivered from fear (Hebrews 2: 14-15).
I do not want my pastoral counseling to over-correct and swing hard into the opposite ditch. I do not want to make Christians live in fear, and encourage them to constantly doubt the work of the Spirit within them.
To bridge the two sides together, I want to address my Christian readers and provide some general advice on this issue.
The first would be this, if you do not doubt your salvation, then maybe you should.
There is a place for healthy introspection and questioning.
2nd Corinthians 13: 5,
“Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test!”
Paul wrote this to a church he knew had genuine believers in it. This means, even real Christians are called to test themselves and see if their faith is real.
This puts to rest any ideas that our salvation ought to at all times be so self-evident that the very need to question it is a sign of unbelief.
It is a healthy spiritual practice to examine ourselves and see if our profession is real and credible. We are in fact commanded to do so.
That begs the question, how do we go about testing ourselves? Once a person has the Gospel right, meaning their theology is true (a mandatory requirement to being saved), the Scripture then gives another primary way for testing ourselves, and it is: your life.
1 Peter 1: 1-10,
“His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”
I added the emphasis to hone in on the key application. Peter says here we are to confirm our status among he elect. This is the same process as Paul’s “testing ourselves”. And how does Peter tell us to confirm our calling? He explains prior to that we are to demonstrate works of righteousness, specifically virtuous works like knowledge, self-control, brotherly affection, etc.
Put even more plainly, John says this:
“And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments” – 1 John 2:3
Peter, Paul, and John all fit so nicely with James and his important book on works and faith. James 2: 14-20,
“What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, ‘You have faith and I have works.’ Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless?”
All of this is to say: if you love God, you will prove it. If you’re not proving it, you do not love Him. Thus, to test yourself, to make your calling and election sure, requires an examination of works.
Look to your life. Have you grown? Do you mortify sin? Do you long to please God and do you do your duty and fight your daily battle? Do you care about your sin? Have you seen growth in holiness over the years?
If not, you are in a sad condition.
If so, you can confirm your calling and election, and rest in peace.
I understand this is general advice. There are cases and people that are harder to discern and work through.
However, biblically, we can speak in general terms and say if you are mortifying sin, and growing in holiness, you can feel confident in your salvation. We can also say if you have never looked and the mirror and doubted, now is the time. Test yourselves brothers and sisters. Examine yourselves. Is your faith dead and useless? Or is it saving and active?
Confirm your calling and election oh Christian.
Voddie Bachaum in a sermon on brokenness said this,
“I won’t let you have the memory of my sin; I won’t let you take it. It reminds me of God’s goodness to me. It reminds me of God’s grace in my life. It reminds me of where I was and where I never want to be again. It reminds me that His work in me may not be complete, but it is effectual! I am not who I ought to be, but hallelujah, I’m not who I was.”