Every week I receive scores of letters from those who say they have doubts and uncertainties concerning the Christian life. They wonder if they are Christians. They want to be, but they don’t know what is missing—they have none of the joy of the Christian faith.
The dreadful uncertainty that haunts many people grows out of misunderstanding what the Christian experience is. Some do not seem to know the nature of Christian conversion, while others have been misinformed concerning conversion and are seeking something for which we have no warrant in the Bible.
Many have experienced difficulty and uncertainty in their Christian lives because they have confused faith with feeling.
Faith always implies an object–that is, when we believe, we must believe something. That something I call the “fact.” Let me give you, then, three words that will point the way out of uncertainty to a confident Christian life. These words are fact, faith and feeling. They come in this order, and the order is essential. If you confuse them, eliminate one, or add to them, you will end up in the mire of despair and continue to grope about in semidarkness, without the joy and confidence of one who can say, “I know whom I have believed” (2 Timothy 1:12).
If you are saved from sin, you are saved through a personal faith in the Gospel of Christ as defined in the Scriptures. Though it may at first seem dogmatic and narrow to you, the fact remains that there is no other way. The Bible says, “I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you. … For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:1, 3-4). The Bible says that we are saved when our faith is in this objective fact. The work of Christ is a fact, His cross is a fact, His tomb is a fact, His resurrection is a fact.
It is impossible to believe anything into existence. The Gospel did not come into being because men and women believed it. The tomb was not emptied of Christ’s body that first Easter because some faithful persons believed it. The fact preceded the faith. We are psychologically incapable of believing without an object of our faith.
Christians do not call upon people to believe something that is not credible, but to believe in the fact of history that in reality transcends all history. We call people to believe that this work of Christ for sinners is effective in all who will entrust their souls to Him. Trusting in Him for your eternal salvation is trusting in a fact–not in a figment of someone’s imagination.
Faith is the second of these three words. Faith is rationally impossible where there is nothing to believe. Faith must have an object. The object of Christian faith is Christ. Faith means more than an intellectual assent to the claims of Christ. Faith involves the will–a decision to believe in Christ. If we say with our minds and our hearts, “Yes, I believe in Christ and receive what He has done for me,” then we have eternal life. Faith actually means surrender and commitment to the claims of Christ. It means an acknowledgment of sin and a turning to Christ. We do not know Christ through the five physical senses, but we know Him through the “sixth sense” that God has given every man and woman–the ability to believe.
Feeling is the last of the three words, and it must remain last in your thinking. I believe that earnest and honest seekers for the salvation of God have unrest and uncertainty when they determine that they must have some kind of emotion to make conversion an experience in their lives.
If you are seeking salvation as it is presented through the Scriptures, you will want to know what kind of experience the Bible says you should have. You may have gone to an altar, or to an inquiry room, or perhaps you may have knelt beside your radio or television set when an invitation was given to receive Christ. You heard the message, you knew that you were a sinner in need of a Savior, and you knew that your life was a spiritual wreck. You knew that you had tried every man-made scheme for self-improvement and for reformation, but they had all failed. In your lost and hopeless condition you looked to Christ for salvation. You believed that He could and would save you. You read His invitation to sinners, “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). You read the promise, “The one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out” (John 6:37). You read His words, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink” (John 7:37).
I have read carefully through the New Testament to see just what kind of experience you are entitled to. I have looked to see what the nature of the experience of conversion is, and I have found that the New Testament sets forth only one. There is one experience for which you can look, and that is the experience of faith.
Believing is an experience as real as any experience, yet multitudes are looking for something more–some electric sensation that will bring a thrill to their physical bodies, or some other spectacular manifestation. Many have been told to look for such spiritual thrills, but the Bible says that a man is “justified by faith” (Romans 3:28), and not by feeling. A person is saved by trusting in the finished work of Christ on the cross and not by bodily sensations and religious ecstasy.
But you will say to me, “What about feeling? Is there no place in saving faith for any feeling?” Certainly there is room for feeling in saving faith, but we are not saved by it. Whatever feeling there may be is the result of saving faith, but feeling never saved a single soul.
When I understand something of Christ’s love for me as a sinner, I respond with a love for Christ, and love has feeling. And those who love Christ have a confidence in Him that raises them above all fear.
To have a guilty conscience is a feeling, and the Bible teaches that Christ cleanses the conscience, “For if the blood of bulls and goats and the ashes of a heifer, sprinkling the unclean, sanctifies for the purifying of the flesh, how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?” (Hebrews 9:13-14).
To have a guilty conscience cleansed and to be free from its constant accusation is an experience, but it is not the cleansing of the conscience that saves you. It is faith in Christ that saves. A cleansed conscience is the effect of having come into the right relationship with God.
Joy is a feeling. Inward peace is a feeling. Love for others is a feeling. Concern for the lost is a feeling. But these feelings are not conversion.
May I repeat, the one experience, and the only one that you can look for and expect, is the experience of believing in Jesus Christ.
Finally, someone may say, “I believe the historic facts of the Gospel, but nothing has changed for me. I do not think I am saved.” Perhaps you are not, for the faith that saves has one distinguishing quality. Saving faith is a faith that produces obedience. It is a faith that brings about a way of life. Some have quite successfully imitated this way of life for a time; but for those who trust Christ for salvation, that faith brings about in them a desire to live out that inward experience of faith. It is a power that results in godly living and surrender.
You believe the facts; now yield yourself to Christ in full surrender, and–upon the authority of the Word of God–you become a child of God, “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name” (John 1:12).