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Addressing the Issue of Doubt

Beacon Baptist / Gregory N. Barkman
The Truth Network Radio
July 11, 2022 2:00 am

Addressing the Issue of Doubt

Beacon Baptist / Gregory N. Barkman

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July 11, 2022 2:00 am

Pastor Mike Karns speaks from John's epistle regarding doubt about the evidences of God's work of salvation.

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I've chosen to consider a passage in John the Apostle's first epistle because it deals with issues related to assurance, and assurance is a really critical Christian doctrine that will strengthen us and help us on our way to God. It's possible to be saved and not have an assurance that you're saved, but how much better to be saved and have an assurance that that is true. Assurance is not easily acquired. When I say I'm talking about a biblical grounded assurance, it's not easily acquired because of the theology that we believe.

We're not assured that we're saved because we've done something, prayed a prayer, asked Jesus into our heart and various other trite things that are communicated about what it means to be a Christian. John wrote this epistle for a number of reasons. We're not going to take the time to look at the various texts that show us the various reasons, but probably if you have any familiarity at all with this short letter, you know that one of the primary reasons that John wrote the book was to bring an assurance, and the text is 1 John 5 and verse 13. You're going to say, well, if that was the purpose of him writing, why didn't he say that at the front end? Why did he wait till the end of the letter? We'll have to ask him that. But it says, these things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God.

That's pretty straightforward and clear. John says, I wrote this that you might know that you have eternal life, not hope so, not wish so, but you might know. And that word know is an experiential knowledge, not just something that you agree to, but something that is fleshed out as you live your Christian life.

You know that by personal experience. When we come to the Lord's table, it has mixed feelings for us. Some dread it.

You say, dread it? Yes, they take seriously this business of self-examination. And they know that it's essential, that it's necessary, that it's commanded. But the more we look and search and examine our hearts through the aid of the Spirit of God, if that's all we're doing, we can become pretty discouraged. And assurance can leave us because we think, my goodness, if there's that much remaining sin in me, if there's that yet to be rooted out, if I need to grow that much more, is it possible that I might not even be a Christian at all? So some dread that. But that's not the only thing we do around the Lord's table.

That's a significant part of a time of self-examination. But it's a time to remember our Lord. It's a time to worship. It's a time to come and reaffirm our faith and say, I have believed and I continue to believe. So what's the balance there?

It's not either or, it's both and. And one of the hymns that we sang this morning, From Depths of Woe by Martin Luther. Think of this first stanza and how it focuses on the sin and the hopelessness that that brings and the woe that it causes as we contemplate and think. From depths of woe I cry to thee, Lord, hear me, I implore thee, bend down thy gracious ear to me, my prayer let come before thee. Lord, since thy searching I doth see our sin and our iniquity, Lord, who can stand before thee?

You see that sense of soul anguish that can come over you if that's your only focus? But it starts with from depths of woe and it ends, the hymn ends with a firm reliance. And here's the balance that I think we ought to be striving for that's going to help us. My hope, he says in verse 4, I rest then on the Lord and build not on my merit, my heart shall trust his gracious word to stay my fainting spirit. His precious word does what? Assureth me, he will my joy and comfort be, this is my firm reliance.

And that's what I want for all of us. I want us to have an assurance that is a firm reliance that's rooted and grounded in the word of God that is carefully thought through and examined as we gather around the Lord's table. Now, doubts. Doubts are not a bad thing. In fact, doubts I think are a healthy thing. It troubles me when I hear someone say, I've never doubted my salvation from the first time I prayed and trusted Christ.

Hmm. It may not be true in every occasion, but I fear that that kind of assurance is grounded in a confidence in something that person did. I trusted Christ. I haven't renounced that trust. I continue to trust and therefore I don't doubt that I'm a Christian.

Well, our assurance better be based on more than something you did or I did. And that's where the scriptures take us. You know, when Paul says in Romans, we're talking about the Apostle Paul here, okay? Paul says in Romans chapter 7, listen to this. This business of self-examination, looking within, searching our hearts. For I know that in me, that is in my flesh, nothing good dwells.

The longer you look within, the more discouraged you're going to be. I know that in me, that is in my flesh, nothing good dwells. For to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. For the good that I will to do, I do not do, but the evil I will not to do, that I practice. Now, if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. I find then a law that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good. For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man, but I see another law in my members warring against the law of my mind and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. Now, if you're hearing that, what do you think Paul's response is going to be to that reality?

Listen to what he says. O wretched man that I am, who will deliver me from this body of death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord, so then with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin. That's no ordinary run-of-the-mill Christian. That's the great Apostle Paul. And it is a paradox that it seems the people who are the most concerned about holiness, the people who are the most concerned of drawing near to God and enjoying God, are the same ones who are the most troubled by inner defilement of ongoing struggle with sin. I've been reading about David Brainerd. And I want you to listen to a couple of things that David Brainerd said in his diary. And here's a man who has drawn the affirmation of thousands of people.

They've looked upon his life, considered his life, and have been inspired by his holiness, by his devotion to God, by his commitment to the Lord. And yet, we have his own words that speak of this ongoing struggle in his own life. Now, he was a man that was given to depression, something in his family history, his father, his grandfather. He says, I came by it rightly.

And listen to what he says. He's talking about this depression, this discouragement, and he's drawing a contrast between what it was like to experience it before conversion and the difference it was after conversion. He says there was a difference between this depression. After my conversion, there seemed to be a rock of electing love under me that supported me, so that in my darkest times, I could still affirm the truth and goodness of God, even though I couldn't sense it for a season.

So you see, conversion didn't remove the depression. It's something that he battled with his entire life. One man who's writing about his life says often his distress was owing to the hatred of his own remaining sinfulness. And listen to this from his diary on Thursday, November 4, 1942, or not 1942, 1742.

Boy, he got into time travel, something tunnel or something, got ahead a couple hundred years. Quote, "'Tis distressing to feel in my soul that hell of corruption which still remains in me. Sometimes this sense of unworthiness is so intense that I feel cut off from the presence of God." January 23, 1743, scarce ever felt myself so unfit to exist as I do now. I saw I was not worthy of a place among the Indians, let alone a place among God's people.

This is December 16, 1744. Was so overwhelmed with dejection that I knew not how to live. I longed for death exceedingly. My soul was sunk in deep waters and the floods were ready to drown me. I was so much oppressed that my soul was in a kind of horror.

Here's September 2, 1746. Was confounded with a sense of my own unfruitfulness and unfitness of my work. Oh, what a dead, heartless, barren, unprofitable wretch do I see myself to be. My spirit is so low, my bodily strength so wasted that I can do nothing at all.

At length, being much more overdone, I lay down and try and sleep. Now, what did we learn from that? Well, David Brainerd was a man of flesh.

He was incredibly used of God, but he had struggles. And what I'm wanting to establish here in this introduction is that my subject shouldn't be something that you're sitting there and say, well, I'm not a depressed person. I've never struggled with assurance, so I'm just going to sit and listen, but it really doesn't apply to me. I think this message applies to everybody. I think it's something that we really need to think through. Someone has asked the question about why David Brainerd's life was so influential, how a man who lived 275 years ago is still influencing and motivating missionaries around the globe. And this is what one man said, Brainerd's life is a vivid, powerful testimony to the truth that God can and does use weak, sick, discouraged, beat down, lonely, struggling saints who cried to him day and night to accomplish amazing things for his glory.

I like that. I think that is well said. Now, with that introduction, let's turn to the text, the scripture. 1 John 3. John is confronting attitudes of hatred and indifference there in verse 16, verse 17.

By this we know love because he laid down his life for us and we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoever has this world's goods and sees his brother in need and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him? Now, who's he writing to? He's writing to the church. He's writing to believers. Notice verse 18, my little children.

He's talking to believers. Let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth. Now, the truth of the matter is we do not always love the brethren to the degree that we ought to. We often are given to indifference in the face of need.

That's just an honest assessment. That's what John is confronting. He's speaking to. And then he's anticipating that those who really are honest and say, you know what, I need to examine my life in the light of these admonitions. Does the love of God abide in me?

Do I see someone in need, a brother in Christ, a sister in Christ, and I walk away and am indifferent to them? And he's raising the question. How does the love of God abide in him? He's calling into question whether such a person has legitimate cause to call themselves a Christian.

That's the issue. And then, verse 19. And by this, we know that we are of the truth and shall assure our hearts before him.

See that word assure? It's tied to his purpose statement in chapter 5 and verse 13. To assure our hearts before him means to be convinced, to be at rest, to be settled, to have a firm reliance.

That's what he is advocating. By this we know that we are of the truth and shall assure our hearts before him. John's desire is not to create doubt, but to settle doubt. We have an adversary who has a strategy to continually place a question mark of doubt where God has placed an exclamation point of assurance. Again, notice with me in verse 19. And by this we know that we are of the truth and shall assure our hearts before him.

The Greek word for heart is cardia. It is a reference to our conscience. The word condemn, notice, by this we know that we are of the truth and shall assure our hearts before him. For if our heart condemns us, that word translated condemn literally means to know something against someone.

To know something against someone. And what John is saying is that our conscience knows something about us that condemns us. A sincere Christian has a sensitive conscience that can easily condemn us to the point that we question whether we are even a Christian. Now notice what John writes next in verse 20. For if our heart condemns us, our conscience that's functioning properly says, you have not done what you ought to have done or you have done, you have failed to do what you ought to have done.

Either or, sins of omission, sins of co-mission. If our heart rises up, condemns us, our conscience says you are guilty, what do we do? For if our heart condemns us, now notice what he says, God is greater than our heart and knows all things.

How do we apply what John says about God and he draws our attention to what aspect, what attribute of God there in verse 20? He knows all things, he's omniscient. How does the omniscience of God help us when our conscience condemns us for our failures, for our sins? Well, God knows everything. He knows everything about you. He knows every sin that you've ever committed. He knows the wrong thoughts you have even now. He knows the sins you will yet commit. He knows it all. He knows you better than you know yourself. He knows you better than your conscience is trying to inform you even now. And if God who knows it all has forgiven us, has received us, has accepted us, then we fight against this form of doubt, this condemning conscience by reminding ourselves and perhaps the enemy who is accusing us, God knows everything about me. He knows more about me than I know about me. And old devil, he knows more about me than you know about me. And I'm accepted in the Beloved. That's how we battle against doubt.

Now, we need to be careful. We can easily be deceived. But again, he's writing to believers. And I'm speaking to the church tonight. I'm speaking to those of you who are believers. Know yourself to be a believer. Have a track record that attests that you're a believer.

But we've already established, despite all of that, however long you may have walked with the Lord and professed faith in Christ, doubts are a part of our Christian experience. And what are we going to do with them? How are we going to combat them?

Do we just ignore them? Or is there a biblical strategy that addresses these legitimate doubts? Well, he's given us instruction here. By this we know that we are of the truth. This is how we can know that we are of the truth. And shall assure our hearts before him, for if our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart and he knows all things.

God is gracious and kind because if he pulled back the curtain and allowed us to see the awfulness of sin that still remains in us, it would be hard for us to continue. William Plumer once said, no man has thought himself a worse sinner than he had just caused to believe himself to be. No man has thought himself a worse sinner than he had just caused to believe.

What does that mean? There's an element of sin in us that we have yet to see, that we have yet to face, that God has yet to reveal to us. And it's bared out in the scriptures. How could Paul, the apostle who wrote half or two-thirds of the New Testament, say that he was the chief of sinners? Now come on, Paul. Is that hyperbole or did he really think that about himself?

Yes. The closer he got to Christ, the more he saw his unworthiness, the more he saw his sin. So my point is that when we come around the Lord's table and we are asking the Spirit of God to search our hearts, let's not be alarmed at what he reveals that's still remaining, that's disgusting, that needs removed, that's unbecoming of a Christian. Let's acknowledge that, but at the same time let's say, you know what, God knows that about me. He's known that about me long before I ever believed upon him.

And it didn't disqualify me. God hasn't cast me off. Some say, well, you're laying a foundation for people to throw off all restraints and just doesn't matter how you.

No, I'm not. I'm arguing on the basis of scripture what John is giving us here for instruction on how to have biblical assurance. When our conscience that's been informed by the Word of God condemns us, rises up and says, you are guilty. And by the way, I hope as a Christian that that's something that happens for you on a regular basis. We ought not just to be confessing sinfulness, we ought to be regularly confessing sins, specific sins, particular sins that the Spirit of God has brought to our mind and our attention that he is wanting to root out of our life.

So that doubt. Don't fixate on your personal sins. Don't fixate on your personal sins and shortcomings. And the biblical remedy for those who have that tendency is the reminder that God already knows.

God already knows. Praise the Lord. Master Barkman was speaking this morning about objective salvation. And it's not something we often talk about or draw comparisons to, but there's two aspects of salvation. There's objective salvation and there is subjective salvation. Objective salvation is that which happens outside of us. It has nothing to do with us. It doesn't change.

It's fixed. It's what God has done in Christ for hell deserving sinners. And that is where our faith needs to be anchored.

That is where we find firm reliance. Subjective salvation is those aspects of salvation that deal with me personally. And what about all of that? Well, it ebbs and flows.

It's changing. Well, listen to what Paul David Tripp has to say about this. He says, now this is objective salvation, he says, the gospel exists independent of us and its events remain completely unaffected by whatever is agitating our feelings and our emotions. The gospel is objective. Now he's going to contrast this with the subjective aspect. He says that which is subjective changes regularly.

It's like shifting sand. But that which is objective is built on the solid rock of the gospel. When we look inward, we live by the subjective, the temporal, the ever changing, the unreliable, the likely to be false. When we look outward to the gospel, we live by the objective, the never changing, that which is perfectly reliable and always completely true.

That's so helpful to make those distinctions. And when I, and I'm not being critical of David Brainerd, my goodness, the man was a giant of the faith. He's impacted Christendom in remarkable ways. But when I read his diary, there's an awful lot of self reflection and an awful lot of feelings being expressed. And he's wrestling in the subjective realm.

And that's why he's so prone to ebbs and flows and despair. And you would be too, if that's where your focus is. Our focus, the ground of our, the ground of my profession is Jesus and his blood.

It's outside of me. It's him. It's what he did on Calvary's cross. So changing and growing only take place as we fix our eyes on our savior and pin our faith and hope in what he did for us rather than what we're trying to do for him. Too many people are trying to do for him earn acceptance, earn merit, earn credit. No.

No. So that's the first issue that John raises here as he's trying to help us deal with doubt. There's another aspect of doubt that he wants us to see and that is doubt feeds our spiritual uncertainties. Doubt feeds our spiritual uncertainties. Notice what he says back down to verse 22, or verse 21. Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence toward God and whatever we ask, we receive from him because we keep his commandments and do those things that are pleasing in his sight. Now don't misread that verse. That's not a, what shall I say, that's not a bargaining thing.

If you do this, I'll do that. No. Just on the face, it kind of sounds that way. Whatever we ask, we receive from him because we keep his commandments and do those things that are pleasing in his sight. So one could read that on the surface and say, well, that means if I keep his commandments and do those things that please him, then he's promised to give me anything I ask for.

No. That's not what he's saying at all. What he's saying is that as we obey his commandments and as we do and give ourselves to those things that please him, then our desires are going to be changed and be conformed into what he wants for us so that when we're praying, we're praying in line with the will of God.

That's what he means. Then he says in verse 23, and this is his commandment, that we should believe on the name of his son Jesus Christ and love one another as he gave us commandment. You see, doubt feeds our spiritual uncertainties.

What do I mean by that? Doubt feeds our spiritual uncertainties. The more we give ourselves to doubt and question our relationship with God, the more it will cause us not to draw near to God. It will cause us to distance ourselves from God.

And that's why we have these reminders. Before the writer of Hebrews ever says to come boldly to the throne of grace so we might obtain mercy, to find grace, to help in time of need, what does he say before he says that? He says this, all things are laid bare before the eyes of him with whom we have to do. Doubt feeds our spiritual uncertainties.

We can feel uncertain about whether we can come to God, draw near to God, knowing what we know already about the deficiencies that are in our life, the sin that's still there, that's still remaining, that God's wanting to deal with. And it can cause us to say, well, I'm not a worthy child. I'm not a God-honoring child. Therefore, I have no right to be in God's presence.

No. All things are laid bare before the eyes of him with whom we have to do. So God knows everything about you. And therefore, you should come boldly. You should come boldly to the throne of grace because it's there that we find grace to help in time of need. God is always accessible to us. This table is a beautiful reminder of a God who wants to commune with redeemed saints. When I say redeemed saints, saints are not everything we ought to be, not everything we want to be, not everything we will be. But God wants to commune with us around this table. He wants to have fellowship with us. And we see that beautiful picture on the night in which he was betrayed.

He longed to be with his disciples, knowing that within a few hours, they were all going to desert him. Are you inclined to have people over to your house knowing that if you knew that the next day they were going to turn on you? Let me say absolutely not.

With friends like that, who needs enemies, right? Isn't that the way we think? But the gospel turns everything upside down. And that's why we need the Word of God to transform our minds.

We might think correctly. So, there's a tendency for us to think because God knows all the bad about me. He knows things about me that I don't want anybody else to know about. Therefore, I'm really reluctant to go to him. I really don't want to draw near to him.

There's an uncomfortableness in the presence of holiness. What did Isaiah the prophet say? In the year King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord high and lifted up and his train filled the temple.

And what did he say? Woe is me. He didn't say woe is me until he saw the holiness of God. But once he saw the holiness of God, he said woe is me, for I am a man of unclean lips and I dwell in the presence of people of unclean lips because mine eyes have seen the King. Peter was busy fishing. Jesus was in the boat with him and they were doing what fishermen do. But the curtain was just turned back a little wee bit for Peter. And Peter fell on his knees in the boat and he said to Jesus, Lord, depart from me, for I am a sinful man. That is our human tendency in the presence of holiness, not to draw near to God, but to retreat from God. What do sinners that are being sanctified and growing and being conformed to the likeness of Christ, we don't need to retreat from him.

Why? There's nothing to fear. Judgment has been satisfied. Wrath has been set aside because Jesus bored in our place.

We have nothing to fear. So draw near. Come near. There's help here for doubts. There's help here for lingering sin and attitudes that we're ashamed of and thought patterns that are unbecoming to a Christian. Draw near to God. But doubt feeds our spiritual uncertainties. We're uncertain whether we really have access to God, and God is not annoyed with us. God is pleased with us. God wants us to draw near to him. There's uncertainty about that sometimes with us, but God is always accessible.

One more doubt. This is his commandment, that we should believe on the name of his son Jesus Christ and love one another as he gave us commandment. Doubt forgets the gospel's simplicity. Now I don't want to oversimplify the gospel, but this is the gospel. Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved. Now there's other aspects of the gospel, but if you will do biblically what that means, believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, you shall be saved.

Now what does it mean to believe? It means to entrust yourself wholeheartedly to God on the merits of his son Jesus Christ. Abandon any hope in anything else and to live for him. That's why he ties this is his commandment, that we should believe on the name of his son Jesus Christ and then do what? Love one another. Love one another as he gave us commandment. You know faith alone saves, right? Faith alone saves, but saving faith is what?

It's never alone. It'll always be accompanied by good works. There'll be an obedience. There'll be a desire to obey the commandments of God, to love one another, to strive to do that. Now he who keeps his commandments abides in him and he in him and by this we know that he abides in us by the spirit whom he has given us. I think it's always good for us to keep an eye for how the scriptures intermingle these two different aspects of salvation, the objective aspect to it and the subjective aspect to it. And I agree with what Pastor Bartman was saying this morning that many people get themselves in an unhealthy place because too much emphasis is on the subjective side and not enough emphasis is on the objective side, but we need both. And he's drawing our attention to the Spirit of God who abides within, who bears witness with our spirit that we're children of his.

Is that objective or is that subjective? Well, the spirit bearing witness with my spirit that I'm a child of God is a subjective element of salvation. I want that, don't you? Don't you want the Spirit of God to bear witness with your spirit that you're a child of his?

Well, if you want that, here's something you don't want to do. You don't want to grieve the Spirit of God. Well, how do I grieve the Spirit of God?

Well, the same way you grieve anybody else that you're close to in a relationship. Ignore them, sin against them, create a breach against them. The Holy Spirit is a person and we're not to grieve him. We're not to quench the Spirit. I think if we considered that more often than we do, we would be more careful in the way we conduct our lives. I read a verse that really... What shall I say?

I found it to be a wonderful deterrent against sin and a fearful reminder at the same time. Listen to this Proverb, Proverbs 8 verse 36. He who sins against me wrongs his own soul. All those who hate me love death.

You may have a translation that renders it something like this. He who sins willfully hates his own soul. Now, I don't know about you, but the next time I'm tempted to willfully sin, that is say something, do something that I know to be sinned, I know to be a violation of the Word of God, I want to be reminded that if I do that, I am saying something by that action.

What am I saying? I hate my own soul. I don't care for my ever-dying soul.

That's a sobering thought, isn't it? So tonight I've tried to help you with this matter of doubt because it's something that we're not going to escape. It's going to be with us in various degrees as we pilgrim in this life, but I'm thankful that the Bible gives us some help here and John is speaking to it. He wants us to have a grounded assurance of salvation that we're right with God. So when we come to the table, now we don't ask you to come, but when we participate in the elements, what are we asking you to do? Well, we're asking you to do a number of things. We're asking you to realize that we're doing this in obedience to the Lord's command.

Do this as often as you do it in remembrance of me. We're doing it first and foremost to remember Him. Not to remember you, but to remember Him.

What about Him? What He did for hell-deserving sinners. He died on the cross of Calvary. He shed His precious blood.

He died for sin, not for His own sin, but for the sins of His people. So we're asking you to remember Him. We're asking you to affirm your faith.

When you come to the table and you take the elements, you are making a statement. You're saying to God, I believe in you. I believe you did this for me. I want everybody around me to see that I'm identifying with this body. I'm not ashamed of Christ.

I'm one of His. What else are we asking you to do? We're asking you to affirm afresh. You're feasting on Christ. You are strengthening your faith. You're saying, I have believed. I am continuing to believe. I'm not turning back. And then we're asking you to enter into a time of serious self-examination. Maintaining this balance between really wrestling with sin, but at the same time not letting that wrestling throw you in the ditch. And cause you to think, well, I'm so unworthy.

I'm so far less than what I ought to be. There's no way I could be a Christian. No, he's writing to Christians. I believe I'm speaking to Christians. Now it's possible that I'm speaking to somebody who's deceived. And I wouldn't want you to go away with further delusion thinking, well, I guess I am a Christian. God will have to deal with you about that.

He's able. So let's bow for prayer. Father, thank you for your word. It's soul-searching, but it's helpful.

It's profitable. And Lord, we want to be in a healthy place in our relationship with you. We want to have a biblically grounded assurance. We want to know joy and peace. We want to rejoice that we're children of yours. So Lord, help this body of believers that are gathered here tonight and those who are listening by live stream to be helped as the Spirit of God takes the word of God and applies it to our hearts. Do it, Lord, for our good, and do it for the honor and glory of our Savior, Jesus Christ, in whose name we pray. Amen.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-03-23 15:30:46 / 2023-03-23 15:45:18 / 15

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