The Struggle to Believe

From a reader:

I’ve been experiencing some spiritual problems and questions. These are basically along the line of questioning my beliefs. Am I a christian? Do I actually believe in Christ? Those sort of questions.
I WANT to believe–but DO I actually believe? I always hope and pray that I do, but there’s always the question.

I guess the foundation of the problem, is a mixture of different things. First, good works. I’ve heard you preach and read in the bible that a true christian bears good fruit–whereas the unbeliever bears evil fruits. I honestly believe this–and that is a problem! I mean, when I look at my life, and the choices I make in it, doubts arise like: If I were TRULY a Christian, I wouldn’t have made that choice or that one. Or, I’ve done, as far as I can see, nothing that we would call “good”. How can I be a true child of God if I don’t bear good fruits?

Along with this is a remembrance of when I was a young child–I remember how everything was set in stone. I believe this–how could I not. To question that belief was silly and juvenile. It’s crazy, but in many ways, I think I was more mature back then! There was never doubt. I remember it was such a comfort and assurance, because I was a Christian and there was no turmoil.

One major concern of mine, Is the Lord’s Supper. What get’s me fearful and upset is the warning given to those who aren’t truly repentant of their sins. I’ve been struggling, as all believers do, with my sins. I commit the sin, and then repent. Yet just a week afterwords I commit the same sin–this isn’t a true repentance, and I know that–which brings me back to the Lord’s Supper. “Eat and drink judgement to themselves” Those words really haunt me, and I don’t know what to do about that.

I can tell you, I have gone through precisely what you’re going through. Every serious Christian I know has.

If you believe, then you will bear fruit. But that doesn’t mean it necessarily follows the other way round- that if you have no fruit, you don’t believe. The living tree will bear fruit, but looking at the tree at any given moment to see fruit doesn’t prove its life or non-life.

Don’t ask yourself whether your lifestyle or heart seem like the lifestyle or heart of a Christian. They never will. I look at the corruption of my heart and say, how can I possibly claim what I claim? Our life and heart are never worthy of the faith we claim. Remember the Pharisee and the publican in the temple, Luke 18? The one says, I thank God I’m not like other men. The other says, God be merciful to me a sinner. Guess which one was justified?

The only thing that needs to be sufficient is the righteousness of Christ.

If your works are not what you think they ought to be, and they never are, the answer is to focus on your faith. We can’t tie fruit onto a dead tree and pretend it’s alive. Faith is what produces the works, so focus on your faith, your beliefs. The mistake we often make is to focus on how bad we feel about our sins to try and whip ourselves into better obedience, but this is the absolute wrong approach. That’s the approach of the flesh, the law, and that produces nothing but bondage and death. The right approach is outlined clearly for us by Paul in Romans. Read chapter 7, talking about his inability to obey, his wretchedness in his sin, but his knowledge that sin is now a foreign intruder in him, not the core of who he is. The core of who he is, who every Christian is, is the new creature in Christ. Focus on that. And the new creature has no condemnation, no guilt. So put away guilt and condemnation, every time you sin, and focus on your forgiveness. Rejoice over what you’ve been forgiven for. After Paul’s expression of his deep awareness of his sin, his very next statement in Romans 8 is “There is therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Do you hear that? No condemnation.

The Lord’s Supper is not about feeling bad for our sin. The Lord’s Supper is about rejoicing over what Christ has done for us, uniting with Him by faith and therefore uniting with each other. There is no condemnation for the Christian. There is repentance, and we have to be honest with ourselves regarding whether we truly desire to be free of sin or not. Repentance is a lifelong habit, not something you do one or two times. And of course you’re going to fall into the same sin again. How many sins do you think there are to commit? Not that many, really. If we believe that we’re going to be sinners until we die, then we know that we’re going to fall back into the same mistakes over and over again. So repent, over and over again. Repentance doesn’t mean never doing it again. Repentance means heartfelt sorrow over sin, and a heartfelt constant struggle and desire to turn away from it. The literal meaning is to “rethink”. Change your thinking, rethink your approach. That doesn’t mean you’re ever going to turn away from it completely, this side of heaven.

There is the sorrow of this world that produces death. This is the sorrow Judas felt, the sorrow Cain felt. It is the sorrow of condemnation, and it results in driving us away from God. Guilt only works death.

The sorrow of the child of God is different. This is the sorrow Peter felt, and David felt. It is the sorrow that drives us to God, and it is not condemnation. It is the same sorrow that Jesus felt when he wept at the tomb of Lazarus. He knew full well that He would shortly raise Lazarus, but He wept because death is wrong. We weep over our sin because of our sorrow over what we are. We were not supposed to be sinful. We were supposed to be perfect. We know we will be raised again perfect, that all our sins are forgiven, but we still weep, because what we are now is wrong. But this is Godly sorrow, for it drives us to Him.

It is good to feel sorrow over sin. That will drive you to the cross. But it is not good to feel condemnation over your sin. That is to doubt the efficacy of the cross. Put away your guilt. Put away your condemnation. Cling to the cross, hate your sin, and know that God has forgiven you completely. Don’t sweat the rest of it. It will come in God’s time.

I go on as long as I have because this is precisely the struggle that every Christian goes through. I felt this when I was just beginning my Christian walk, and I feel it today. Don’t worry. What would worry me is if you thought your morality was somehow up to snuff. And again- we cannot will the fruit into existence. We must simply believe, have faith, which is itself the gift of God, and the works will come as the Spirit works them. As Paul says in Galatians 3, having begun in the Spirit, are you now made perfect by the flesh?

Remember this, above all else- there is NO CONDEMNATION for those who are in Christ Jesus. Read Romans 8-9. Read Galatians 3-4, Ephesians 2, Psalm 103. These will give you comfort.

2 thoughts on “The Struggle to Believe

  1. Anonymous says:

    Will we truly know when we perform a good work?

    I read something really ‘catchy’ a few years ago … CHEER UP! YOU’RE WORSE THAN YOU THINK!

    I put myself into the business of analyzing the “proof” of my salvation and regenerated heart(my good works),which there was none of, or periodically looking back and “evaluating” my outward actions. I still struggle with this terribly, but Matt is right to point us (me too, not just the reader) to the only salve for our wickedly sinful hearts … Jesus Christ ALONE. We do have LOADS to rejoice over knowing that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ. Looking to Christ and what He has done in our stead doesn’t come naturally to me. The Lord, by His Spirit, guides each of His children because He has promised to. So it is by His guiding hand that I even see Him and know Him …. let alone believe.

    I’m grateful that He sometimes uses the encouragement/rebuke of a true friend to point us to Himself. Isn’t that really all we need to be encouraged in is HIM? “Exhort one another daily, IN THE LORD, while it is called “Today”, lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.”

    So whoever you are, dear reader, I empathize with you greatly. We (believers) are all in the same boat – I’ve concluded that most just don’t share their struggles!!So I agree with Matt ….. all of God’s children struggle with sin and doubt. It’s a mark of the new man … and there’s rejoicing and thankfulness for each of us as we DO struggle … for the reprobate knows no such thing nor has such a privilege!

    We are worse than we think …. But better yet …. THE GRACE OF GOD IS GREATER THAN WE CAN IMAGINE!


  2. There is a great story about George Whitfield preaching at Rutgers Univ (then Queens College) althought this story may be apochryphal…either way it works.

    George had preached a sermon to about 10k people outside on a hot summer day in colonial NJ. He had finished and was speaking with the elders of the local Dutch Reformed congregation when a woman approched him. This woman, her voice trembling, told George that when he was preaching she saw the gates of hell open before her…George turned to the elders and said never have I been so sure of one woman’s salvation.

    This speaks to what your post. When we feal humbled and unworthy we are, in a sense, showing the work of grace in our heart. This was a really good post and speaks to what many of us feal in the pew. It is a wretched thing to examine ones self and look at the bread and wine and know what it truly means.

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