|By: Dr. John Ankerberg; ©2004|
|Do you have to “feel” saved to be saved? What is it that really saves us? What is faith, and is the object of that faith important? These are just a few of the questions Dr. Ankerberg helps us answer in this month’s article.|
What Should You Do If You Don’t “Feel” Saved?
We are examining God’s solutions to the battles that Christians fight within and without, that is, their own sinful desires and habits; and the fight without—circumstances, other people, the world, temptations, satanic attack. Now we want to talk about God’s help for believers who don’t feel saved, don’t feel secure, who feel very guilty about their lives. What provision has God made to reverse such feelings and give security and peace to those who belong to Him? God has a lot to say about this.
I’d like to begin with taking a moment to talk about the family that you grew up in. I’m sure you realize that every human being that’s ever been born into a family has been born with two things: a mind and emotions. I’d like you to think for a moment of how your mind affects your emotions.
Let me try to illustrate this for you with an illustration from Bill Gillham’s excellent and hilarious book, Lifetime Guarantee. Suppose you enter a room and find that there’s a rattlesnake on the floor, coiled and ready to strike you on the leg. Your mind processes that information quickly and says, “I believe I’m in great danger.” On a scale of one to ten, that’s a ten.
Now, while your mind is processing these thoughts, what is happening to your emotions? Well, your emotions respond to the thoughts you have in your mind and say, “I feel terrified,” and that’s a solid ten on the emotional scale of your life. But, suppose on closer examination you discover the snake is made out of rubber? Your mind immediately says, “There’s no danger here. I’m safe.” And the mind drops from ten down to level one.
But what about your emotions? It interprets the thoughts of the mind and starts to calm down, but it doesn’t do so right away. It takes maybe an hour or two for your emotions to get back down to the bottom level. Bill Gillham writes in his book: “Your emotions are like a BB sinking in oil. It takes a long time for those emotions to float back to the bottom.”
Now let’s say that your mind has gone down to one and your feelings are just slowly dropping as a result of seeing the rubber snake. You go into another room and open a drawer there, and what happens? A big spider scoots up your hand and runs up inside the sleeve of your shirt. Your mind instantly reacts and goes from one back up to ten, and your emotions cover the few points back to ten in one leap.
Bill Gillham takes this illustration and applies this to the intellectual and emotional development of the mind and emotions of a young child growing up in a tension filled home environment. He asks this question, What if you were reared in a home where your dad constantly yelled and struck out at you like a rattlesnake and your mom always kept you on edge like a spider going up your arm. Add to this an angry brother, or an aunt, uncle or grandma, who keep your mind and emotions at a level ten most of the time. When they back off for a few moments, your mind goes back down to a one and you think, “Wow, relief at last.” But your emotions would still be like the BB dropping in oil, going down slowly. Maybe your emotions would only reach a seven when all of a sudden one of the people in your family would do it to you again. Your dad would accuse you; your mother would shout at you; wham! bang! your mind would immediately go up to ten and your emotions, which had never gotten back to normal, would once again cover the few points on your scale back to ten.
By the time a five-year-old child has grown up in this kind of a home, it would have been a long time since his emotions had been below a seven. In fact, his emotions would have sort of bottomed out on seven. Seven becomes the floor or threshold below which his emotions never drop. It gets so he doesn’t even know he has some points below seven.
Isn’t it interesting that psychologists teach us that by the time a child reaches age five, 85% of his personality is established and is irreversible? Many folks think that they are condemned for the rest of their life to think and feel the way they were programmed growing up in such homes.
But God in the Bible says this is not true. He holds out hope to us and says that the emotions and thinking of children who grow up and become adults out of a tension-filled home can be reversed. 2 Corinthians 5:17 states, “Therefore, if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature; old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.”
But how does it work? How will God help change your emotions and the way you think if your parents have made you feel guilty and never approved of what you did while growing up? The first thing you must do is trust the Lord.
What is trust, and why does it make a difference in whom you put your faith as long as you have faith? Let’s begin with trust. The Bible says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight” [Prov. 3:5-6]. I’d like to ask you, have you ever really trusted Jesus Christ to be your Savior from sin? Maybe the reason you don’t feel saved is because you don’t know what it means to trust in Christ.
Let me illustrate what trust means. There’s a story about an old mountaineer that was climbing high up in the Swiss Alps. He got into a precarious position and cried out to God for help. An angel appeared flying in the air right next to him.
The mountaineer said, “Thanks for hearing my prayer, but I need your help.” The angel said to the mountaineer, “Do you trust me?”
The mountaineer looked at the angel’s strong-muscled arms and said, “Sure, I trust you.”
The angel looked down far below into the ravine over which the mountaineer was hanging dangerously on the cliff. He said, “Do you really trust me?”
The mountaineer thought for a moment, looked down at the valley floor maybe a half-mile below him. He looked over to the angel and said, “Of course I trust you.”
And then the angel said, “If you really trust me, then let go.”
Have you ever gotten to the place where you trusted the Lord Jesus Christ with everything— all of the sins of your life, your very eternal destiny? That is, you’ve trusted Jesus and no one else? God’s Word tells us, “Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” [Acts 2:21]. Now, in today’s world some people say, “It doesn’t matter in whom you believe, just as long as you have faith.” Well, that’s a lie. Your faith is only as valid as the object in which it is placed.
Jesus claimed He was the only way to God. He said, “I am the way, the truth and the life; no man comes unto the Father but by Me” [John 14:6]. There are not a thousand ways to God; there’s only One—Christ is it. He’s the One who died on a cross for your sins.
Let me see if I can illustrate this point: that the object in which you place your faith does make a difference; that it’s not enough just to have faith. Let’s say that you’re on top of a three-story building. The first two stories catch on fire and you run to the roof. The firemen come and look up and realize that in a short time the flames will engulf you.
They form a circle, get out a big net, and when they are all holding the net, they look up to you and they say, “Jump!”
And you look down three stories and you say, “You’ve got to be kidding. Jump from up here?”
They say, “You have no choice. If you don’t jump and trust us to catch you with this net, you’ll perish in the flames. Don’t you trust us?”
You say, “Sure I trust you.”
They say, “Well, have faith and jump.”
Let’s say that you jump off the roof. If you’re like most people and your eyesight is not real good, it’s about the time when you’re a story and a half down that everything at the bottom starts to come into focus. But to your horror, you realize that instead of the firemen holding a net, they are just standing around in a circle holding hands and don’t have a net. You had faith and jumped. But what good will your faith do you in those circumstances? Again, your faith is only as valid as the object in which it is placed. There had better be a real net with real firemen holding onto that net when you jump.
By the way, was it your “faith” that saved you in that situation? Not really. It was the firemen and the net that really saved you. Your faith just entrusted yourself to their safekeeping.
The same is true with the Lord Jesus Christ. It’s not how much faith you have, and it’s not your faith that is the thing that saves you. It’s Jesus who saves you. He is God the Son, the only Savior who has the power to change your life. Your faith is simply the means by which you entrust yourself into His safekeeping. He does the saving. So the first thing that needs to be done in changing your emotions and the way you think is to trust totally in the Lord.
Second, we are to learn God’s promises about our life. Your parents may have raised you in such a way that you learned the only way you could gain their love and acceptance was to act right, clean your room, get good grades, be home on time. You had to perform. If you performed, then they loved you and accepted you. But if you failed, then you caught their wrath. Or maybe you grew up in a home where Mom and Dad had their own problems and took those problems out on you. You really did nothing wrong, but when you cried or were hungry or needed comfort or care, you were an irritation to them and they took their anger out on you. No matter what you did, you were a failure. They verbally abused you. Maybe they hit you. In terror, you didn’t know how to act. They made you feel guilty, unlovable, unworthy. Even though there was no real reason for you to feel guilty, you came to feel that way because of how they treated you. You were conditioned by their words and actions.
Now, if that happened to you, how can God help you? Many people assume that God treats them just like their parents did. You have to gain God’s approval by your performance. You have to live a clean life. You have to talk right, act right. And you’ve tried and you’ve failed, so you believe God would never accept and love you.
Well, here’s the good news. God already knows all about your failures, your sins, and says that He loves you anyway. The Gospel, or Good News, is that God sent His Son Jesus to rescue you, to be your Savior. Jesus died on the cross and while He was dying, your sins and mine were picked up and placed on Him. He paid the penalty we deserve for the sins of our life, and God accepted His sacrifice on our behalf. So all of your sins have already been punished on Jesus, and God is willing to forgive you the moment you put your trust and faith in Him and His work on your behalf. That’s what we call believing in Jesus Christ. We ask Him to come into our life and to save us, to forgive us of our sins. The moment we do, God promises He accepts us on the basis of Christ and His life, not on the basis of our own life. It’s a gift that God gives to us.
Further, God gives you another gift. He credits to your account the very righteous behavior of Jesus Christ. You know that Jesus Christ lived a perfect life. Well, that righteous life which Christ lived was credited to you, by God, the moment you believed. So, God has made it possible for you to stand before Him in holiness and righteousness, and He treats you as if you had behaved just like Jesus Christ all your life. That’s your wonderful standing, your position, your identity, that God has given to you as a free gift because you have believed in His Son Jesus Christ. You don’t have to perform to gain God’s acceptance.
It’s tragic that many Christians who have already been declared righteous by God because they have put their faith in Jesus Christ still think they have to strive to generate a good track record of performance to keep God’s approval. The Bible refers to such actions as “dead works.” We live under God’s grace, His unmerited favor day by day, not only when we come to Christ, but after we come into a relationship with Him.
Romans 5:1,2 says, “Since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.”
Of course, you must learn that God has made these promises to you. You must read the Scriptures to see for yourself what God has said. Then you must let the facts that your mind absorbs dictate how your emotions will react.
Let me illustrate. Let’s say that one day you think that because of certain pains in your body you might have cancer. Because your mind thinks this is possible, how do your emotions react? They go to a straight ten on the fear scale. Now, how can you find any kind of peace and happiness and get your emotions back to normal? Well, you go to the doctor. He takes some scientific tests and when he comes back in the room, he has a smile on his face. The doctor tells you, “All of the facts, all of the tests we have taken prove conclusively that you do not have cancer in your body.”
When you believe those facts, what happens to your emotions? They go from fear to joy. As a result of the facts, your emotions can slowly return to normal. Whenever doubts or fears arise as to whether or not you have cancer, you can now concentrate on the wonderful facts you have been told which will erase your doubts. Security, peace, hope all start with facts, the facts of God’s promises.
The Bible says that every person who has put his/her faith in Jesus Christ is totally accepted by God. Maybe you don’t feel it, but it’s a fact and it’s to be believed. Once you believe this is God’s promise to you and realize God never lies, your emotions will go from fear to joy, from ten back to normal. When God states He sent Jesus and punished Him so that all of our sins might be done away with, He means that.
Colossians 2:13,14 says, “When you were dead in your sins,… God made you alive with Christ…. He forgave you all of your sins,” which means you are totally forgiven.
If you have sinned grievously after becoming a Christian, God still loves you and has already forgiven you; but you’re out of fellowship with Him and He wants you to come and confess your sin to Him and allow Him to have that intimate fellowship with you once more.
First John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
If you have a guilty conscience, confess your sins to God, be willing to turn from them and ask God to cleanse you and forgive you. God will do a supernatural work in your life. We’re not talking about you mustering the willpower to somehow blot these sins from your mind and your conscience. You can never do it. We’re talking about a real work of God in your life, a supernatural work where God removes sin and guilt. If you come to Him and confess that you have sinned, God will forgive all your sins. In Jeremiah 31:34, God says, “I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”
Fourth, in our struggle to rid ourselves of the wrong ideas of ourselves that we came to believe as we were growing up, to rid ourselves of feelings of inadequacy, the lack of security that all seem to be a part of our life, we must not look to ourselves; but we must depend on the Holy Spirit who lives in our life. Even the Apostle Paul, after he had become a Christian, struggled with sinful desires and wrong attitudes.
In Romans 7:21-23, he said, “When I want to do good, evil is right there with me; for in my inner being I delight in God’s law, but I see another law at work in the members of my body waging war against the law of my mind.” Notice, he says there’s a war going on for his mind. Where is it coming from? He says in Romans 7:17, “It is sin living in me.”
Our sinful nature still exists even though, according to Romans 6, it has been legally dethroned from ruling our life by Christ’s life and death on the cross on our behalf. When we placed our faith in Jesus Christ, God says He somehow united us in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ; that as we died with Christ to our sinful past and to sin’s power over us legally, we now are freed by God to walk in the newness of Christ’s resurrection life and power. But even though the Apostle Paul was a Christian and had received a new spiritual nature from God which desired to obey and love God, still his sinful nature could overpower him and tempt him to sin. He didn’t have the power in his own strength. For that, God had put the Holy Spirit into his life and Paul learned that he could conquer his sinful desires—not in his own strength, but in the Holy Spirit’s power. How do we know?
In Ephesians 3:1, 17 Paul says, “I pray that out of God’s glorious riches He may strengthen you with power through His Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.”
At home I have an electric power saw and a drill. These tools plug into the same power source: electricity. Electricity is their life. Without that life, without that power my tools are nothing but big paperweights. Similarly, I can believe in Christ and have God give me a new spiritual nature. But unless I am plugged into the power of the Holy Spirit, I will not have victory over sinful desires and habits, I will fail miserably. If you have failed God, ask Him right now to forgive you; then tell Him that from now on, moment by moment, you will ask the Holy Spirit to empower you to live for Him, to conquer your doubts, to have victory over your sinful habits. As you entrust yourself to the Holy Spirit’s power, He will change you from the inside out.