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John Calvin and Assurance of God’s Love

Spiritual Dry Spells

Many times when we as Christians go through spiritual dry spells, we tend to think that God does not love us. In fact, I have met many people who have called their salvation into question when going through periods of doubt, sin, depression or all the above.

In his greatest work on theology, Institutes of the Christian Religion, John Calvin writes:

When we stress that faith ought to be certain and secure, we do not have in mind a certainty without doubt or a security without any anxiety. Rather, we affirm that believers have a perpetual struggle with their own lack of faith, and are far from possessing a peaceful conscience, never interrupted by any disturbance. On the other hand, we want to deny that they may fall out of, or depart from their confidence in the divine mercy, no matter how much they may be troubled.

Calvin says that faith is not simply the removal of all doubt or disturbance. Faith is not certainty. Saving faith has very little to do with the strength of our faith or our ability to conjure up mental images to remove all worries. Calvin defines faith elsewhere in the Institutes as “a steady and certain knowledge of the divine benevolence towards us.”

Faith Rests in God’s Love

Faith is trusting that Christ will be faithful even in the times when we’re not faithful to him.

Faith is resting in the fact that God loves and enjoys us.

Far too often I put faith in faith instead of faith in Christ. This leads to a loss of peace and to my thinking that something is wrong with me or that I’m not even saved, just because I have doubts and worries.

But note Calvin’s comment: No matter how troubled we might be, that in no way changes Jesus’ love for us or our security in his salvation.

To say it another way, God’s love doesn’t waver even when our faith does.

Faith is trusting Christ instead of trusting in ourselves to trust Christ. There is a huge difference between the two. One looks upward; the other looks inward.

Look upward.

There’s No Condemnation

So what does this idea have to do with discipleship? The answer is everything. For discipleship to truly be gospel-centered there has to be a foundation of love, joy, peace, and justification. Without a foundation of knowing that you are accepted (even during the times you don’t “feel” accepted) you never feel free of the guilt, shame, and condemnation that plagues you or your ministry.

In our discipleship, we far too often subtly try to earn what has already been given to us. There is a small voice in the back of our minds that wants to “do ministry well” so we can prove that we are not as bad as the voice in our head tells us we are.

The enemy cannot condemn the believer. Therefore, he will do the next best thing which is to make us feel condemned. This is almost just as good. Discipleship flows out of a loving relationship with Christ. If the enemy can get us to feel like Jesus hates us then we will be useless for his kingdom.

But the good news is that Jesus doesn’t hate believers. He loves them enough to die for them, though he knows all the sins (and doubts, and feelings of condemnation, and feelings of self-hate) that they will ever experience.

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Zach Lee is Associate Home Groups Minister at The Village Church and is married to Katy.  Follow him on Twitter: @zacharytlee.

[© 2013 The Village Church, Flower Mound, Texas. All rights reserved. Used by permission. Adapted from “John Calvin on Faith and Assurance”.]