Don’t Base Your Assurance on Feelings
by Shawn Lazar
in Grace in Focus magazine, Jan. 2016
I was recently teaching a class on Genesis 1 when I read this question in the leader’s guide: “Ask: How does knowing that God created everything make you feel?”
I remember when teachers used to ask, “What do you think about that?” Or “what do you believe about that?” Now it’s all about feelings.
You’d think teaching had been replaced by group therapy.
Somewhere along the line feelings have come to predominate over facts. That has been disastrous for assurance, robbing people of the certainty they will spend eternity with God.
Many people doubt their salvation because they don’t want to believe they’re saved; they want to feel they’re saved. But that’s a problem. Maybe that’s your problem. Are you looking to your feelings for assurance?
If so, we have a saying in Texas—if you don’t like the weather, just wait five minutes.
Feelings are like that.
They’re different for everyone. Some people are more emotional than others. And some people tend towards a different range of emotions than others, whether that be joy or sorrow.
You can’t predict your feelings or depend on them. Sometimes feelings are as pleasant as a picnic and other times they come flooding over the levees.
Just like the weather, emotions have their seasons and their cycles and the only constant thing about them is that they’re constantly changing.
Just as you can never be certain that tomorrow will be a sunny day, if you base your assurance on feelings, you’ll never be certain of your salvation.
Do you think God would want your assurance to be based on something as unstable and unpredictable as your emotions?
The fact is, God wants your assurance to be based on faith, not feelings. He doesn’t want you to depend on your subjective emotions, but on His objective promises.
Martha Mourning Lazarus
For example, take Martha. Remember when her brother Lazarus was deathly ill?
She and her sister Mary sent for Jesus, urging Him to come before their brother died. But the Lord didn’t come. At least, not right away. He delayed for two days and then headed for Bethany. By the time Jesus finally arrived in town, Lazarus had been dead for four days. It looked like Jesus was too late. Lazarus was long gone.
Or was he?
Martha thought there was still hope. When she saw Jesus she ran up to Him and said,
“Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You” (John 11:21- 22).
Such faith! Such confidence! Even though she knew her brother was dead, Martha believed Jesus had the authority to bring Lazarus back to life. She knew He was far more than just a man. But how much did she really understand? Did she really know who Jesus was and what He could do?
Jesus looked Martha in the eyes and asked her the most critical question of her life,
“I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26, emphasis added).
Jesus didn’t ask how Martha felt about what He said. Her brother had just died after a serious illness and she’d been mourning for days. Of course, she felt terrible.
That wasn’t Jesus’ question. His question was: did she believe what He said about Himself?
Did she believe in bodily resurrection?
Did she believe that Jesus was the one who did the raising?
Did she believe that Jesus had power over life and death?
Did she believe that whoever has faith in Jesus will never die?
In sum, did she believe Jesus gives us everlasting life?
She said to Him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God, who is to come into the world” (John 11:27).
Martha said yes! She believed Jesus was “the Christ.” Her answer was very significant.
Many people mistakenly think “Christ” was Jesus’ last name. (I used to think that as a baby Christian.)
Or they might have some vague notion that being the “Christ” means Jesus was God’s anointed King of Israel.
That’s not the key truth that Jesus and the Gospel of John are trying to get us, the readers, to understand and believe about Jesus. The “Christ” is shorthand for something.
Imagine if Barack Obama came to you and asked, “Do you believe that I am commander-in-chief of the armed forces, have the right to grant reprieves, have the right to pardon convicts, and have the duty to appoint supreme court judges and other government officers?”
You could say, “Yes, I believe you can do x, y, and z” and repeat all the powers he mentioned. Or you could simply say, “Yes, I believe you’re the President” because the title “President” summarizes Obama’s powers.
That’s how Martha was using the title “Christ.” It was shorthand to sum up the powers that Jesus just claimed for Himself.
Martha knew the “Christ” is the One Who resurrects the dead and gives everlasting life to those who believe in Him. And she believed Jesus was the “Christ.”
Hence, whatever she felt in that moment, Martha believed that Jesus would raise her up on that Last Day and give her everlasting life.
That was her rock of certainty in a sea of grief.
How about you? What do you believe about Jesus? Do you have faith, not in God in general, but in Jesus’ specific promise of resurrection and everlasting life?
Do you believe that Jesus is the “Christ”?
Do you believe you will never die because you have faith in Him?
Do you know Jesus’ promise is true for you?
That’s what assurance is, isn’t it? Assurance is believing that Jesus’ promise is true for you.
If you believe that, you have saving faith. But if you don’t believe that—if you think that salvation is for others but aren’t sure if it’s for you—then you don’t have saving faith.
At least, you don’t have it right now.
Maybe you had saving faith in the past. Maybe you believed when you were a little kid at summer camp, but later backslid and lost your faith. Maybe you had assurance years ago only to hear something in church that confused you about the nature of faith, and you later lost it.
But so long as you ever believed the promise, you were born again in that moment. And the moment you were born again, you were secure forever, no matter what you believe now.
But let’s say that, right now, you don’t have assurance. What do you do? Where should you turn for help?
God only offers you one answer: turn to His Word. Turn away from introspecting your mixed emotions and turn to Jesus and His promises. Your feelings are subjective. His promises are objective. If you privilege your perspiration over His inspiration, I guarantee you’ll be anxious instead of assured. So don’t believe your feelings over believing the Bible.
So your challenge. Instead of doubting Jesus’ promise, doubt your feelings.
If Jesus said it, don’t let your feelings unsettle it.
Believe His promise is meant for you and true for you.
And if you struggle to believe those promises for yourself, keep on reading them and even speaking them out loud until they sink in.
After all, faith doesn’t come in a vacuum or pop into existence out of nowhere.
Faith needs an object: let that object be Jesus’ promises, not your feelings. As Paul said, faith comes by hearing the Word of God (Rom 10:17).
It doesn’t matter where you hear the Word. You don’t need to wait for Sunday morning. You don’t need to wait to talk to your pastor or to a missionary. You can hear God’s Word from your own lips as you read the Bible, say, the Gospel of John, and speak Jesus’ promises out loud.
It might take a day, a week, or year before the Word penetrates through the darkness of your doubting heart. You might have to read Jesus’ promises a thousand times before you believe them.
But it will happen. Faith will come. God created your mind to believe the truth, and He is the Truth with a capital “T.” Jesus speaks with authority (Matt 7:29). No matter what you may feel about it, hear Him, listen to Him, and believe Him.
Emotions have their proper place and time. As the Bible says, there is “a time to weep and a time to laugh” (Eccl 3:4). But there’s never a time to base your assurance on your feelings.