A deep darkness envelops me, and despair echoes in the cavernous solitude of my soul. I hear nothing but subtle serpentine whispers:
Am I really a Christian?
Do I really love and trust Christ?
Does He really love me?
A handful of nights have found me in this state. In those moments I am certain that God loves sinners. I am certain that Christ died to save sinners. I am certain that all that is necessary for sinners is to trust the gospel. I am certain that I am a sinner. I acknowledge all of the essential elements, yet my angst is not assuaged. Those gospel facts seem distant, impersonal and external. He loves sinners, but does He love me?
Have you ever been haunted by this “dark night of the soul?” How shall we find healing and hope?
NOTE: Below are a few thoughts from a larger article on assurance of salvation.
First, you must determine if you are actually a believer or not. You should not be assured of your salvation if you aren’t actually saved. In his first epistle, John helps us in this regard by articulating a few “tests” if you will.
Do you truly believe God’s Word?
Do you diligently pursue holiness?
Do you sacrificially love others?
If you fail any of these tests, something is wrong. It does not necessarily indicate that you are not a Christian, but it does indicate a serious disorder which must be treated. You can respond to this problem in two ways, but only one is appropriate. You can give in to the doubts and fears or use them to drive you to the gospel. Even now, grace is offered to you so that you might repent and believe the gospel. Like all the warnings in Scripture, the words of 1 John were written so that we might be awakened from our slumber and take hold of the grace that is offered in Christ.
Whether you are unsaved or temporarily trapped in cycles of forgetfulness or sin, the cure is Christ. He is our hope, help, healer, treasure, pleasure, inheritance, reward, joy and greatest good. He is the ultimate balm to soothe our unsettled souls. He is able to sympathize with us in our weaknesses and is filled with compassion, grace, love, kindness and patience. Take the whispers of doubt and turn them against the enemy by using them as fuel to fly to Christ.
Practical Tips for Pursuing Assurance
- “Learn much of the Lord Jesus. For every look at yourself, take ten looks at Christ. He is altogether lovely” (Robert Murray McCheyne). In commending self-examination, we must beware the danger of inordinate introspection. Doubt functions by focusing our thoughts entirely on ourselves, whereas our attention should be directed to Christ. Though you momentarily take your eyes off the road to check your speedometer, you don’t consistently stare at it lest you crash. In the same way, you have to occasionally and temporarily engage in self-examination, but beware the perilous paralysis of excessive analysis. We are ultimately changed by looking to Christ, not ourselves (2 Corinthians 3:18; 1 John 3:2).
- Continue in the spiritual disciplines. Read the Bible, meditate on God’s promises, pray, fast, serve others, sing and engage in corporate worship. You should not expect God to grant you assurance when you are neglecting the very means of grace which He has provided for the edification and encouragement of His children (2 Peter 1:3–11).
- Make every effort to mortify sin. Though sin does not condemn (Romans 8:1) the child of God, the Scriptures do suggest that sin will rob us of confidence (1 John 3:19-22). As John Owen said, “Be killing sin or sin will be killing you” (see Romans 8:13).
- Talk to others about your struggles. Find a faithful friend who will listen and encourage you toward Christ. Talk to a minister or pastor to drag your doubt into the light. Despair festers in dark places (Psalm 32:1-5).
- If your doubts are based upon some intellectual obstacle, seek help from a knowledgeable friend or pastor. There are good answers out there. Don’t allow your questions to snowball into an avalanche of doubt.
- Posture yourself to hear from God. This might mean abstaining from media for a season, taking a trip to get away from the noise of life, getting up before the rest of the family, etc. Do this not as a means to manipulate God into speaking to you but in humble recognition that our lives are often too cluttered to listen. It is the Spirit who will ultimately comfort and assure you (1 John 3:24, 4:13; Romans 8:16) so position yourself to take notice of Him.
- Persevere. In some sense, your experience of the presence of Christ in this life will always be lacking because the full riches of His redemption are reserved for the resurrection and restoration off all things. Cling to His promises as you walk through this present wilderness. Eventually the blazing sun will melt away the dawn’s dense fog.
Why are you cast down, o my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise Him, my salvation and my God. Psalm 42:11
Assurance of Salvation
- Assurance of Salvation by Geoff Ashley
- Helping People Have Assurance of Salvation by John Piper
- The Race Set Before Us: A Biblical Theology of Perseverance and Assurance by Thomas Schreiner and Ardel Caneday
Depression and Despair
- Spiritual Depression: Its Causes and Cures by D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones
- When the Darkness will not Lift by John Piper