"How Can I Be Sure?"

by Tom Wacaster

Over a span of now more than 44 years of preaching, I have frequently been asked, “How can I be sure that I am saved?”  I have no doubt that those asking the question were sincere, and in many instances those asking were among the very ones whom I considered to be some of the most faithful workers in the church. Why is it that otherwise strong Christians sometimes have this nagging doubt about their salvation? Why is it that we are prone to doubt when the Bible clearly tells us that we can know we have salvation? I wrote on this a couple of months ago, but I’d like to expand on those thoughts here.

In one sense questioning one’s status in life is healthy. Likewise a regular spiritual “check up” is good for the soul. It seems that humility may play a part in doubts that arise from time to time, but caution must be exercised that we don’t go to the opposite extreme and run from a proud spirit to one of self debasement and fearful doubting.  The following is attributed to an Egyptian king by the name of Akhenaton: “True wisdom is less presuming than folly. The wise man doubteth often, and changeth his mind; the fool is obstinate, and doubteth not; he knoweth all things but his own ignorance.” Another expressed the wisdom in doubting like this: “How prone to doubt, how cautious are the wise!” (Alexander Pope). Even some of the strongest of Bible characters had their questions and doubts. Abraham doubted God’s promise that he would have a child in his old age through whom the Lord would bless the world and sought instead to have Ishmael fill that role. Thomas would not believe the Lord had been raised from the dead until he could see it with his own eyes and touch the Lord’s side with his own hands. Even John the Baptist had some very serious questions about the Lord when he (John) was facing the closing days of his life in prison. You see, doubt should drive us to deeper investigation and self examination. Doubt becomes dangerous when we began to question God’s promises. What, then, is the answer to our doubts and fears regarding death, salvation, and that spiritual realm wherein our hope resides as an anchor of the soul (Heb. 7:19)? There are at least three factors that affect the depth of our confidence: faith, facts, and feelings. These sustain an important relationship to one another and play a vital role in developing assurance in the heart of the child of God.

Consider this word faith.  To have faith in some thing or some person is to trust the object of that faith. I have faith in the local back to protect what I have deposited up to and including the point at which I desire to make a withdrawal. It is because of my faith in that institution that I can fully expect the funds to be there when I need them (of course the FDIC helps in this area, but then again I have to have a certain degree of faith in that branch of government as well). Solomon told us, “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart, and lean not upon thine own understanding” (Prov. 3:3).

Now we turn our attention to the facts. The Hebrews writer defines faith as “assurance of things hoped for, a conviction of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1). The KJV reads, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” I am interested here in the Greek word translated “assurance” (ASV) and/or “substance” (KJV). The word denotes support for something; something upon which a hope is based. Biblical faith is not a blind faith, but rather one that is founded upon evidence that is brought to bear in any situation. Barclay points out three distinct areas in which faith and hope find application: (1) It is belief against the world; (2) It is belief in the spirit against the senses; (3) It is belief in the future against the present. Or as one author put it, “Faith sees the invisible, believes the incredible, and achieves the impossible.” I believe in God because of the “facts.” The KJV sums it up with the word “evidence.” When a jury sits in judgment upon an accused, they do so based upon the evidence (i.e. facts) that is presented during the court proceedings.
Now we come to feelings. Feelings, or emotions, in and of themselves, are good. God created us to feel, to be moved with compassion, to shed a tear over loss, whether ours or that of someone else. If man had been created completely void of emotions and/or feelings he would experience no sorrow; but then, neither would he experience joy and happiness. It is important to note that God warns us against the deceptive nature of feelings. “There is a way that seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death.” (Prov. 16:25). The sad truth is that the largest majority of people base their spiritual status on how they feel with little or no consideration as to what the Bible teaches on the matter.

Now with all that said, it seems to this humble scribe that the absence of assurance among those who have obeyed the gospel, and who are doing their best to live a faithful Christian life, is due to the failure to keep faith, fact, and feelings in proper relationship. Fact: God has promised forgiveness, along with a home in heaven, to those who obey the gospel and live a faithful Christian life. Faith: I believe what God has said because of the evidence that supports that promise. Feelings: I rejoice in that assurance, knowing that, though I fall far short of what I should be, God has promised to save me to the “uttermost” through the cleansing power of the blood of His Son. It is when men take their eyes OFF of the facts, and allow their faith to falter, that their feelings kick in and they no longer “feel” as if they are saved. Remember, “faith comes by hearing…the word of God” (Rom. 10:17). Or as one put it, “Doubt comes in at the window when inquiry is denied at the door.”

A pilot is instructed to always trust the instruments in the plane rather than the way he feels. Feelings can be deceptive. The same rule applies spiritually. Trust the instruments that God has given to us in the word. His promises are sure; the evidence incontrovertible. If the instruments contradict what you feel, then it is your feelings that are wrong and not the instruments! If you walk by your feelings rather than trust in the word of God you will rob yourself of the joy and happiness that comes with God’s promises. But worse yet, you will never rid yourself of doubt, and you will continue to be plagued by the unanswered question, “How can I be sure?”

I originally wrote the following more than 20 years ago, and expanded it to its present content in 2008. I ran it in the bulletin three years ago, but by request have included it in this week’s column.

I Am The New Year
by Tom Wacaster

I am the new year; three hundred and sixty five days of unspotted, unspoiled, and unused time. I am a clean slate of opportunity, a reflection of what MIGHT BE rather than what HAS BEEN. I am the youth of an ageless tomorrow bidding farewell to the hoary head of the fond memory of yesterday. I am the fresh breeze of opportunity that blows across the fields of yesterday's broken and forgotten promises. 

To some I will be nothing more than a fleeting resolution that will blaze across the pale sky of self determination and fade into the midnight of lost hopes and forgotten dreams. To others I will usher in a new day of optimism, hope, and genuine change. My diary contains unlimited resolutions, once made in earnest and then broken in haste.  My features are a mystery, for no one can tell what is in store for tomorrow. Each day brings new insight as to what I will be after I have completed my journey.  I am the opportunity to achieve those things which for some reason or another were left undone in the previous year. 

To the financier I am interest accumulated at a fixed percentage rate. To the student I am that one step closer to graduation. To the small child I am another summer camp, Thanksgiving holiday, or Christmas wish. To every parent I contain the joy of watching a child grow and mature for another fifty two weeks. To the young I am dreams and hopes dressed in daily determination.  To the child anxious to open another present under the tree, I come too slowly; to the aged, I come too often.

For some, this year will bring unparalleled opportunities. For others it will bring disaster and ruin. To all, it will bring us twelve months closer to eternity.