The Paradox of Assurance
I struggled for years to find assurance of salvation. As I’ve mentioned in Stop Asking Jesus Into Your Heart, my lack of assurance got to be pretty absurd. I can laugh about it now, but it was humiliating and gut-wrenching at the time. I prayed to receive Jesus literally hundreds (perhaps thousands) of times. I got baptized—not once, not twice, but four different times. The worst part about it was that I thought I was the only one.
Stop Asking Jesus Into Your Heart only exists because, as it turns out, I wasn’t alone. “Lack of assurance” is endemic among evangelicals today. But Christians who struggle with assurance can take some small comfort in the fact that we aren’t the first. The entire book of 1 John, for instance, is written to assure believers that they have eternal life (1 John 5:13). And tucked into the more gory stories of the book of Judges is a perfect example of the paradox of assurance.
Our old friend Gideon shows us two truths about assurance:
1. God patiently deals with faltering faith.
If you read through Judges, you’ll see God give Gideon assurance after assurance. Each time God reassures Gideon, it does the trick for a little while…but only a little. Gideon’s assurance account is constantly low and in need of funds.
But here’s the beautiful part of it: God keeps reassuring Gideon.
On the eve of battle, God knows that Gideon is still fearful. So even before Gideon asks for assurance, God gives him the opportunity: “If you are afraid to go down [and fight], go down to the camp with Purah your servant” (Judges 7:10). Once there, Gideon overhears a strange dream one of the Midianites had about a tumbling loaf of barley bread flattening a tent. Yup, that’s Gideon—the fearsome biscuit. Not the most flattering of images, but the point is clear enough: God is going to use Gideon—in his weakness—to defeat mighty Midian. Gideon isn’t even offended that he’s represented by a dinner roll; he just leaves encouraged by God.
I find something so comforting about God’s patience with Gideon. We often picture God as a grumpy guy up in heaven, saying, “If you don’t have absolute confidence in me all the time, I will reject you.” But that isn’t what we see here…and it’s not what we see throughout Scripture.
One of my favorite stories in the Gospels is when a man came to Jesus pleading for his sick son (Mark 9:14–29). “If you can do anything,” he says, “have compassion on us and help us.” At first Jesus responds with a bit of a rebuke: “‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.” The father knows Jesus has got him pegged, so he cries out, “I believe! Help my unbelief!” And what does Jesus do with this mixed up faith? Does he tell the guy to sort out his priorities, to memorize a little more Scripture, to go all-in or go away? No, he heals the boy.
Do you doubt? Is it hard for you to keep hold of what God has promised? It’s ok. Your faith may be faltering—like the man Jesus met, like Gideon. Take that faltering faith to God, and ask him to reveal his faithfulness to you.
2. At some point, you have to take the risk.
It’s easy to miss the irony of assurance in Judges 7. Gideon is afraid, and God is trying to reassure him. So to strengthen Gideon’s wavering heart, God tells him to go deep into the Midianite camp, close enough to overhear a conversation in one of the warrior’s tents. If I’m afraid of a Midianite army with soldiers “as many as the sands on the seashore” (7:12), the last place I want to go for assurance is into the thick of their sleeping quarters. Yet that is exactly where God sends Gideon.
What’s the lesson in that? God will patiently develop your faith, but it requires you to take steps of faith of your own. This is how faith always works. God reveals himself, you take a step. That step leads to deeper knowledge, and you respond by taking another step. As James says, “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you” (James 4:8).
Now, don’t confuse that with any sort of salvation-partnership between you and God. You aren’t earning your way to heaven. But there are certain roadblocks in the journey of faith that you can only cross by taking a risk, by stepping out even though you don’t have every question answered. If you’re waiting on God to answer every question you have before you’ll believe in him and follow him, you will never take the first step.
You say, “I want to be sure that it’s safe.” But God says, “It’s not safe. But follow me.” You say, “I want to know what happens next.” And God says, “Follow me, and I will show you.” You say, “I want to have all of my questions answered.” And God continues to say, “Follow me.”
God won’t keep us in the dark. His Word, after all, is “a lamp unto my feet.” But we’re usually asking for a spotlight to show us the end of the path. And what God gives us is enough for the next step. He is patiently drawing you forward, wooing you to him as he develops your faith. Don’t confuse his patience with his absence. Take the step of faith, and he’ll meet you there.
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