An Encounter with a Saint

By

A little boy approached me after a recent concert with something clearly on his mind. He had waited till the crowd dispersed, and his parents sat in the pews at the back of the auditorium, wanting to give him his space but unable to avert their eyes. He wrung his hands and shifted his weight from sneaker to sneaker. He wanted to ask me a question, he said. I said that was fine, and uncapped my Sharpie marker for the autograph I thought I was about to sign.

Then he surprised me. He didn’t want an autograph, and he didn’t want to ask about songwriting. (I’m embarrassed at my presumptuousness.) He asked me, “How can I be sure I’m saved?” I blinked. I glanced across the room at his parents, then back at him, and saw that he was dead serious. I bought myself some time by answering his question with a question. I sat on the stage steps and asked him why he was asking.

He told me he had been reading Jesus’ parable about the sheep and the goats, and also in Revelation about the final judgment. He was troubled by the parable of the sower, and said he was afraid he might be one of the seeds that fell by the wayside and was gobbled up by the birds. He told me he had doubts about his faith; he was troubled in spirit. By the time he was finished, his voice was shaky and he was on the verge of tears. What a burden for such young shoulders!

I was overcome with admiration, and I told him so. That he was wrestling with these things was no indicator of a lack of faith, but an abundance of it. If he was wondering about things like salvation and judgment and the nature of Jesus’ love, he was farther along on his journey than I was at his age. Anne Lamott said, “The opposite of faith is not doubt, it’s certainty.” Faith is obedience in the face of doubt, which is to say, faith requires doubt in order to survive. Faith is a courageous act of defiance, not always a happy-go-lucky frolic.

So the problem wasn’t his doubt; the problem was his fear. “There is no fear in love,“ says 1 John 4:18. So ask your questions, lie awake wondering, wrestle with angels, even shake your fist at the heavens, but don’t be afraid. Perfect love drives out fear, and Jesus’ love is perfect. It is strong enough for our doubt, our sin, and even our secret fear.

Perhaps the most amazing thing about my encounter with this young saint was that after he left and I packed up my guitar, I felt a glow in my chest. My own faith was brighter, stronger, more vivid to me because of his trembling confession. The boy revealed his darkness to me, and God turned it to light.

May I remember that next time I’m tempted to carry my burden alone.

Profile photo of Andrew Peterson

As a singer-songwriter and recording artist, Andrew has released more than ten records over the past fifteen years. His music has earned him a reputation for writing songs that connect with his listeners in ways equally powerful, poetic, and intimate. He has also followed his gifts into the realm of publishing. His books include the four volumes of the award-winning Wingfeather Saga.


71 Comments

  1. evie

    oh gee, andrew. you knocked the wind out of the lungs i use to form coherent responses. just lovely.

  2. RG

    Wow, what a gift you gave that kid. With that weight in his soul at such a young age, he’ll remember that encounter forever… I hope you got his name so 15 years from now we can find out what God is doing with the deep kid that received that kind of wisdom so young.

    So many other answers have been given to little kids like that… great job, dude, and thanks for sharing it. Stories like that serve as potent reminders of the vast implications of remaining in the struggle of faith. Wisdom like that is hard won, but in the end, that’s how you really know it is true. And that familiarity with the truth has armed you with the alacrity to impart that stuff on the spot. If you can’t tell, I’m really moved by this story. You’ll have to tell it to me again at Waffle House soon.

  3. Jimmie

    This is the most beautiful thing I have ever heard! What courage that little boy has! I stand amazed!

  4. Matthew2323

    “That he was wrestling with these things was no indicator of a lack of faith, but an abundance of it.”

    Amen!

    It is so tempting, when we see someone struggling, to give them an answer that will give them a false sense of comfort rather than to let them continue wrestling with God until the Prince of Peace gives only what He can give. Well done, brother.

  5. Alyssa

    Sweet post, and one of those poignant moments that reminds us what our ministry is all about.

    But I confess I’m a little confused, and maybe it’s just because I’m reading it wrong: *Anne Lamott said, “The opposite of faith is not doubt, it’s certainty.” Faith is obedience in the face of doubt, which is to say, faith requires doubt in order to survive.*

    Is this saying that if I have full assurance of my salvation, then I have no faith? I guess it is arguable that in our earthly bodies it is impossible to be fully assured, without a trace of doubt. But Heb. 11:1 seems to say that faith IS certainty: Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

    I really do not intend to take away from this beautiful post by dissecting. Just hoping someone will help me grapple with it.

    Ron Block?

  6. Jim Hinds

    Can’t tell you how much I appreciate you posting this. I don’t have a lot of words. Just, “Thanks.”

  7. Alyssa

    Having said the above, I very much agree with and find comfort in the statement that doubts indicate faith rather than a lack of it. I wish someone had told me that when I was a little girl.

  8. JJ

    AP, it’s stories like these that reinforce why I admire and respect you so much. All the stories I’ve heard of people meeting you, you sound very humble, kind and approachable. And I love how God took your assumptions (which were understandable given you had just finished a concert) and flipped them upside-down and used you and this young saint to bless each other. How kind of God!

    Thanks again for doing what you do.

  9. Ben

    it’s interesting that one of the best ways of strengthening faith (or remedying doubt) is ministry. We see this in Matthew 28:17: Some doubted, but immediately Jesus sends them on a worldwide lifelong ministry adventure.

    Thanks for sharing AP.

  10. Jeff M

    Andrew – great post. I’m pretty sure I would not have been as articulate in my response to him ; )

    Alyssa – I like to think of “Christian uncertainty” (for lack of a better term) as a baseball player stepping up to bat (ok, don’t laugh at this analogy yet, I’m a big baseball fan so bear with me). The batter can have all the confidence in the world and believe in his heart that he is going to knock the ball out of the park. But, any ball player will tell you that their head gets in the way…they start thinking about what pitch is coming their way, or the weather, or what they had for dinner…and doubt starts to creep in and they step out of the batter’s box.

    You can believe in your heart 100% that you are saved, but we are creatures of the fall and our heads always get in the way. To me, that’s where faith comes in.

  11. Micah

    Descartes doubted that he existed, and he found the proof of his existence in the fact that he could doubt it. Lately, I have been finding the proof of my faith in the fact that I doubt it. If I had no faith, if I did not care, then the doubts would not bother me.

    Thanks you so much Andrew for affirming that today.

  12. Aaron Roughton

    Isn’t it amazing that on one hand we long for our kids to be carefree and happy, but we’re all so proud of this young man who is wrestling deeply with truth. It’s the same tension that weaves its way in between my prayers for my children’s comfort and protection and my prayers for their faith to be rich and deep. Thanks for sharing this Andrew. Beautiful.

  13. Frances Pickard

    What a great answer and to be ready for this type of ministry. Even those that have been in the faith 50+ years still have struggles.

  14. Profile photo of Ron Block

    Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Alyssa,

    In order to have choice, alternatives have to be there and be presented to our minds. For whatever reason, God has chosen to make the Real unseen except by hints. Reason can take us only so far; it cannot take us into anything like assurance. What we are looking for, in our flesh, is absolute certainty, absolute safety; we’re trying to escape suffering, really.

    But God made the author of salvation perfect through suffering. He does the same with us. Jesus had to live as a man, not as God in the flesh doing miracles. He did what he saw the Father doing; He said what the Father told him to say. “I can do nothing of Myself”, and “The Father in Me, He does the works.” Jesus had to live with uncertainty – else, why pray? Why wrestle with God in Gethsemane if He was completely certain of the outcome? If Jesus lived by certainty, and not by choosing to trust the Father every day, He then has no idea of what we face everyday; He cannot empathize with our weaknesses.

    In my own life doubt has always been the bringer of deeper life. Years ago a relative married someone from a cult. They showed up at my house, and slept on my apartment floor for three months. Every night this guy would get an argument going in favor of Jesus not being God and other cult-style doctrines. He sowed a lot of doubt in me. But in the end, rather than cave in to doubt, the doubt became a spur, a lash to study. If I can’t give an answer for the hope that is in me, what am I doing?

    I have seen Christians who are completely certain – of assurance, of predestination, and other things. I don’t mean the assurance of faith, but an intellectual certainty. You can tell when this kind of certainty is attacked, because the person gets defensive and angry. They are possibly trying to use certainty to give themselves an illusion of safety, of pride, of living without risk, maybe because they are afraid – driven by fear.

    Thomas Wingfold, the preacher in the George MacDonald book of the same name, was asked by an atheist who gestured at the old church, “Do you really believe one word of all that?” And for the first time in his life, Thomas asked himself the question. “Do I really believe it?” He finds he became a parson because it was a job, and ends up standing before his congregation questioning whether he was even a Christian; “How can I call myself a Christian when I have not set myself to do one single thing the Lord has said?”

    The rest of the book is partly about his struggle to really believe. It’s about a man who is certain until his paradigms are thrown into the mire of questions and doubt. If Jesus Christ is real, then He can handle our doubts and our questions as we take them to Him.

    I loved this post. George MacDonald went so far as to say, “Complaint against God is far nearer to Him than indifference about Him.” And Lewis, in The Great Divorce, says of those who gibber out their hatred of Heaven, “I have seen that kind converted, when those you would think less deeply damned have turned back.”

    Faith is doubt conquered. I’ve found that the strength of my doubts, when worked through, have often become the strength of my faith-convictions. One of the things I love best about AP’s music, and the music of the other Square Pegs, is that they leave room for our humanity. It isn’t just “God you’re amazing, so great, so holy, I worship you.” It’s “How can I bring the truth into this messy world – into my messy inner world? How can I be honest and at the same time be faithful?”

    Truth is often paradoxical.

  15. Alyssa

    Jeff M: Thanks so much for your words. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate them.

    Mr. Block: Thanks for responding to my solicitation. For the record, I also loved this post and love the Square Pegs for the same reason you stated. I had no doubt (!) that you would eloquently address my question. I appreciate your thoughts.

  16. Sam

    AP, thanks. I look back at the early years of my faith and I remember struggling painfully with that very same question this boy posed. I went to several folks for advise, but never got anything that clear-cut… I was told that wrestling with doubt usually indicated some faith, but I never quite understood how I could be so afraid. It took me a long time to figure out how often my fear confuses my faith. Years later, my doubts are different, but the answers never change. Fear not, for I have redeemed you… Isaiah 43.

  17. Dan R.

    Ah, the memories of trying to come up with some way of approaching AP after a concert in some way that would maybe approach the blessedness of what was posted here. Thank you, Andrew Peterson, for continually having that openness, being ready for times like these.

    Ron: I was so excited about your reference to The Curate’s Awakening that I exclaimed my rejoicing out loud, to no one in particular! Forgive me for ‘geeking out,’ but this is definitely one of my favorite books ever. I think G-Mac (as I like to call him) would probably say that anything that drives us closer to the Father, like this kid’s doubts did, is only the working of all things together for our good. He might also say that “the highest condition of the Human Will, as distinct, not separate from God, is when, not seeing God, not seeming to itself to grasp him at all, it yet holds him fast.”

    Alyssa: I want to thank you for bringing that question into the comment thread. I have a feeling my thoughts when I read that quote were nearly exactly like yours, but I wouldn’t have had the courage to bring it up. So thank you!

  18. Kyle Keating

    It’s interesting to find this the point of discussion in the RR today. In my Greek class this morning we were translating through 1 John and wondering how the letter could be about assurance when so much of it instills a weightiness of our own inability to keep his commandments. I loved the distinction our professor made in class: we can have assurance such that we are greatly confidence in our salvation, but not assurance in the sense that we are certain (at least not in the modernistic, scientific, proof sense).

    Ultimately the great assurance that 1 John gives us is that we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. In the midst of our doubts and even disobedience, our advocate is still there, pleading on our behalf.

  19. Tenika

    WOW…fighting back tears…haven’t we all been where this small one was brave enough to admit he was at? Thank you for sharing!

  20. Jud

    Kyle, the irony of “modernistic, scientific, proof” is that by most definitions I’ve heard of such a concept, there is not a single thing in the universe to which that sort of certainty can be applied.

  21. Canaan Bound

    Andrew, this post reminded me that doubt, like faith, transcends age or season in life. It is something we all wrestle with, whether or not we are willing to admit it.

    Kyle, thanks for reminding me that Christ is before the throne, pleading with the Father on my behalf. I needed that.

    Also good to remember that according to Rev., my name was written in the Lamb’s Book of Life since BEFORE the foundations of the world.

  22. Chris Yokel

    Tim Keller talks about this topic of “certainty” in his book The Reason for God which I’ve been studying through along with some fellow Christians, agnostics, and atheists. He talk about how, when it comes to arguments for God, all of them are rationally avoidable in some form. It was interesting, in a video I watched where he spoke at University of California-Berkeley, he said that in terms of faith in God, reason could only go so far, but that a personal commitment, or as I translated it, faith, could make you certain. Interesting to think about.

  23. PaulH

    There should be a Theology section of questions at Hutchmoot.
    Andrew this touch me deeply thanks

  24. Kyle Keating

    Jud- I totally agree. The idea that we, as subjective fallen creatures, can obtain pure, objective certainty about anything seems impossible. Whew…now we’re getting into epistemology though and I’m in over my head.

  25. Andy M.

    Wow to the post and wow to the comments. I have thoroughly and truly enjoyed this. Some comments have been confirming to my thoughts and some have provoked deeper thinking. Y’all are a blessing. I just happened to stumble across this because I heard on the radio that Andrew was going to be local. Thank you Andrew for being REAL in your music and thanks to everyone who posted.

  26. Adam

    So adults lying to children about things they can’t possibly know or understand is okay? You theists drive me crazy.

  27. whipple

    I think I was that little boy, or at least the schoolyard protegee in his shadow. I’m glad he had the courage I so often lack – courage to lay down my avarice toward the shallow parade that parrots blessed assurance, and to grapple with the angel.

  28. Jimmie

    “I say faith is a burden, it’s a weight to bear, it’s brave and bitter sweet.
    And hope is hard to hold to, Lord I believe, only help my unbelief,
    til there’s No More Faith, no more hope, I’ll see your face and Lord I’ll Know
    that only love remains” (hope I got the lyrics right)

    Mr. Peterson, it seems that you have eluded to this struggle before. Thank you Lord for giving Andrew this beautiful gift of being able to express Your word plainly yet powerfully in song, literature, and in this case….everyday conversation.

  29. kelli

    Our 9 year-old daughter just shared with us that she has been struggling with knowing whether her God is the True God. (We’ve been reading through the Old Testament and learning about lots of idols, and we also have neighbors that are Mormon.) She said she’s been praying about it for about 2 weeks.

    We told her how proud we are of her for talking to God about it and for bringing it to us so we could pray about it with her. We were able to share some of our own doubts through the years as well as remind her that Jesus was God’s Son and came to show us the Father and also that His Spirit inside will show her Truth. She immediately picked up her Bible and started reading in Matthew.

    We let her know that we won’t always have the answers, but her Father does. It was a precious time for our family.

    Then I came in and read this post…the beauty of these children and their desire for Him who is Truth is a remarkable thing indeed.

    Thanks for sharing this!!

  30. kelli

    Oh…thought I’d also add that we reminded her of AP’s lyrics and Ron Block’s where they ask for help with their unbelief…it made her smile to know she is not alone:)

  31. Canaan Bound

    Matthew 9

    22 “…If you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.’

    23 ‘If you can?’ said Jesus. ‘Everything is possible for him who believes.’

    24 Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, ‘I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!’

  32. Peter B

    Like everyone else said, thank you for sharing this. Having been there myself, I know how vital it is to hear the truth in love.

    It’s almost laughable when I think back about that “certainty” (not the good kind either) which I so often had before I knew better. Funny how sometimes we have to go through the darkness of doubt if we are to find faith.

  33. Drina

    I hope I’m not too late:

    Question for Alyssa et al. – Hebrews 11 calls faith assurance, but that assurance does not seem to be referring to one’s own salvation. Is it possible that we can be sure of God and Heaven without ourselves being saved, or at least without being sure that we will be saved?

    My next question is this: If we can be assured of our salvation, why does Paul tell us in Philippians “…with fear and trembling work out your salvation.” It sounds like the boy AP mentioned is doing just that.

  34. Adam FaithShield

    Drina,
    I like what you asked about assurance. I think that answer to the assurance question is that through grace we have faith in assurance because the Bible talks about “assurance”. It probably is possible to have assurance and not be saved. I know in my life, I have continued to face tougher and tougher challenges, and recently have gotten to the point where I realized that I had never really understood spiritual warfare, at least on the level that I have recently dealt with it and asked the question “have I been born of spirit”.

    I think the right answer is to read scripture and ask God. It is not a one size fits all, God deals with us each directly. It is good to get advice. For some, these are really tough times in America, and for me, I have been clinging to assurance with everything I have.

    In masonry, people try to manipulate thoughts, whereas prayer is a request to God, which when in groups, people dwell in spiritual association. I had never understood how powerful spiritual warfare was until I had people attacking me on a daily basis. Scary as it is, we will face more of this in coming years, unless we really have a reformation.

  35. Alyssa

    Drina – At the risk of looking foolish in a room full of far more knowledgeable people:

    I think it is possible, and even quite common, to be sure of God and heaven without placing faith in God. James 2:19 says “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that — and shudder.” Elsewhere in Hebrews, the writer talks about people receiving knowledge of the truth (Heb. 10:26), a.k.a. enlightenment (Heb. 6:4), but these people were not ultimately saved.

    The crucial step is combining knowledge (what you referred to as being sure of God) with faith. Consider Heb. 4:2 — “For we also have had the gospel preached to us, just as they did; but the message they heard was of no value to them, because those who heard did not combine it with faith.” Heb. 11:1 says the assurance is in things hoped for, and what more do we hope for than for God’s grace to save us? In my (admittedly limited) understanding, the New Testament does not recognize faith apart from salvation. The test of true faith is deeds/works. If “faith” does not express itself in works, then it’s not really faith at all.

    The rest of Hebrews 11 names numerous folks who were considered righteous because of their faith, which expressed itself in works. There are tons of admonitions, like the one you mentioned, to work out our salvation, or combine our faith with works. Scripture also tells us to persevere in these things to the end in order to make our hope sure. My understanding of all this is that the authenticity of our faith will be proved by our continuous commitment to obeying God to the end of our days.

    I am not sure if this answers your questions, because I feel like I’m going around in circles.

  36. Drina

    Adam –

    Could you elaborate on what you mean by saying that reading scripture is not “one size fits all” ? It seems to be a dangerous notion, but maybe I misunderstand you. Truth is truth, is it not? We may be different as far as accidentals go, but essentially, are we not all brought to salvation through Jesus Christ, through his words and teachings and those of the men he sent to preach? How do you mean that it can be different for different people?

    Alyssa-

    I really like your quote from James that says even the demons believe in God. Soon after that, James goes on to say in the same chapter that we are justified by works and not by faith alone. So it seems to me that faith is essential, and works are essential. I agree that good works may express one’s faith, and that good works should be done in true faith. But I think that doesn’t take away from the fact that works are essential for salvation. Ergo, the sheep and the goats, or the numerous passages from Revelation “They shall be judged by their works,” or the highest commandment of love, etc.

    I shy away from language that implies “once saved, always saved,” and find it difficult to find grounds for that idea in Scripture. I suppose that’s why I brought up the questions that I did. What do you think?

  37. Alyssa

    Drina:

    I agree that works are an essential part of salvation, but they do not accomplish salvation (Eph. 2:8-10). I believe that true salvation will be shown by its works and by its persevering to the end.

    On the question of “once saved, always saved,” I feel like I’m getting in a little bit over my head. If you want to know where I stand based on my understanding of Scripture, I guess you’d have to put me (somewhat hesitantly) in the Calvinist camp. What I mean by that is that I believe the elect of God will be kept by God for salvation. These are the ones who are “truly saved” and whose works demonstrate their faith. Yes, there are many warning passages that seem to imply we can lose our salvation, but there are also many passages like John 10:25-29, where Jesus says no one can snatch us out of his hand. It seems to me that the whole of Scripture indicates that those who truly belong to God simply will not fall away. It’s almost as if we cannot fall away, nor would those who really know Him want to. And if we do, then we did not truly belong to Him in the first place.

    I am reading a book that might interest you: The Race Set Before Us: A Biblical Theology of Perseverance & Assurance (by Thomas R. Schreiner & Ardel B. Caneday). Based on what I’ve read of it so far, it seems to argue that the warning passages are not there because we can fall away and lose our salvation, but rather God put them there so that we would not do that. I hope that makes sense.

    I know that God used one particularly difficult season of doubt in my life to deepen my assurance. Years after coming through that season, God led me to John 6:66-69. Those words are a great comfort to me because when I thought I had good reason to walk away from the faith, God showed me that his truth is written on my soul. There is no walking away.

  38. David

    I hope I don’t sound like a wet blanket but…

    When I was a little boy, having heard many sermons on heaven and hell, I asked my father, a dynamic preacher, about how I knew I was “saved” whenI didn’t always “feel saved”. He explained that it was not about feeling, it was about faith. We don’t always feel a certain way because feelings change, but what we choose to accept as true and know, we know regardless of how we feel.

    I am counseling a young man in college who for months has been going through a similar “dark night of the soul”. Intensity is better than the apathy of many who think they have the Relationship and who rarely even think about the One they would say is their Lord.

    Doubt is healthy in a way, because it enables us to examine and commit. “Believe” in the Bible can also be interpretted as “keep on believing”, an ongoing act rather than one-time.
    Doubt is natural at times during that ongoing act.

    But, respectfully, we may want to be careful to automatically call doubt good and imply it always means faith. It may mean just what it means — unbelief. It is what we do with it that matters.

  39. Profile photo of Ron Block

    Ron Block

    @ronblock

    David,

    You’re correct that doubt is natural at times during the ongoing process of faith-ing.

    It isn’t that doubt is good in and of itself. But for the believer it is a slingshot, if used rightly, or a spur or goad (sometimes a cattle prod) to make us leap forward. Like any other circumstance that hits us, it all depends on how we take it. Doubt is an inner circumstance, an inner soul-storm, and of course we all know who is master of storms. Cacao is bitter if eaten by itself; a box spring is hard to sleep on without a mattress; what we call “seeing” is partly the interplay of light with opaque matter.

    It is our weakness that brings us to true Strength, our doubts bring us to true Faith – if, and only if we take the negatives in the right way: God-ordained, for a reason. It may even be Satan casting arrows of dark doubts and fears – but it is God who gives him his head, takes him off the chain for awhile.

    Doubt is not automatically good or bad, ambition, fear, jealousy either. It all hangs on the use made of these things. Taken rightly, Doubt is an engine, or at least a spark plug for the engine of faith. I have often found that the deeper the doubts have been, the deeper the faith is, just as those who have gone through terrible suffering will often have more compassion to give. Doubt is a form of suffering, which necessitates comfort being given from God, which gives us power to comfort others in their doubts.

    We want to get out of doubts because, really, we want to get out of all suffering. We want some form of Christian life that is static, linear, and on higher ground every day. But it doesn’t work that way. Some of Andrew Peterson’s best songs come out of his doubts – doubts embraced as a Cross, dying, rising in resurrection. It is more often from the resurrection side of the Cross that we can speak out comfort to others.

  40. Profile photo of Ron Block

    Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Drina,

    I have just been studying Hebrews 10, with its dire warnings to not go back to a legalistic system with God. At the end the writer says, “If we sin willfully”, “if any man draw back” and all that scary stuff. But then he says a curious thing: “But we are not of them who draw back unto perdition; but of them that believe to the saving of the soul.” He makes himself and the Hebrews a “we” rather than just “you,” and then affirms that to draw back is not who we really are. We are not of those who draw back.

    Regarding sheep and goats: the sheep are unaware that they gave Jesus water and visited him in prison and all that. “When did we do that?” But they were simply loving others with the love they had received from God. The goats weren’t even in tune enough with God to get with His working. The goats are likely similar to the group that says, “Didn’t we do A, B, and C in Your name?” Jesus will say, “Depart, I never knew you.”

    We’ve got to distinguish who does the real working: “He that endureth, and keepeth My works unto the end…” We cast our crowns down at His feet because He is our indwelling Love.

    John writes, “That we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, as he gave us commandment. And he that keepeth his commandments dwelleth in him, and he in him. And hereby we know that he abideth in us, by the Spirit which he hath given us.” In other words, faithing on Jesus Christ the Son of God, we will love one another as He commanded. If we are loving God and one another, we are dwelling in Him, and Christ is dwelling in us; love for God and others is the evidence of an inner reliance.

    But we’re always turning the power off because we put “love God and others” before “faithing on the name of His Son Jesus Christ.” Stay too long there and we end up in despair or hypocrisy.

    I know God has invested way too much time and Blood in me to let me go. And I’ve invested my whole being and bet the whole farm that the Gospel is true. I have assurance. Not certainty with no doubts, but assurance.

  41. Renee

    Now we know why Christ rebuked the disciples for trying to keep the children from “bothering” Him. HE knew that out of the mouth of babes comes the deepest of questions, the questions that can humble us, challenge us, make us smile, and remind us in an instant why we are truly here !!! Thank you for sharing and passin it on.
    God Bless the children
    Love because He first Loved us
    “When the Power of Love over comes the love of power there will be peace in the world.” (Best bumper sticker I ever saw !!)

  42. Mimi

    Thank you for posting. This was a direct answer to an on-going, years long, conversation with God. It’s as if I’ve been holding my breath waiting for, but never really expecting to find, the answer. I heard it today, woven within the story of your blog post. Until 30 minutes ago I didn’t even know who Andrew Peterson was! 🙂

  43. Dryad

    This may be a side note not worth following, but I’ve sat (is that correct usage) through many sermons about ‘How To Know You’re Saved’ and I usually come out with far more doubts on the matter than I went in with.
    Anyone else? Or am I the only one?

  44. Drina

    Alyssa and Ron –

    I have so little time right now and lots I would like to say in response to your comments. On vacation with very little internet access. Perhaps we could continue the conversation next week? I hope to post again on Tuesday, if you think to look for it. If not, I understand. Thanks for your thoughts.

  45. Gail Hafar

    Comment #31 by Adam: “So adults lying to children about things they can’t possibly know or understand is okay? You theists drive me crazy.”
    I can’t seem to find where anyone responded to this comment… and it seems maybe someone should. Adam, could you elaborate a bit on what you are trying to say… instead of me just making an assumption about what you mean. Thanks!

  46. Jake

    “So adults lying to children about things they can’t possibly know or understand is okay? You theists drive me crazy.”

    I think limiting such criticism to “theists” eliminates other “lies” told to small people of intense credulity. Santa Claus….the Easter Bunny….the Tooth Fairy….Barney….animals that talk (e.g., the Lion King).

    There is very little fiction in the mind of a child; mystical is as concrete as literal. It is within such a mind that truth is best planted. “Suffer the little children, and forbid them not to come to me: for the kingdom of heaven is for such.”

  47. Gail Hafar

    Yeah, you may be right, Pete… I just wanted to give him a chance for discussion if he wanted to take it. I know I can be naive, but you never know when God is giving an opportunity to be used as a vessel to open the eyes of someone’s heart to His love and truth. Based on the fact that there has been no response by Adam to my inquiry, it seems you are accurate in your assessment. =-(

    Adam, if you are reading this, God is real. He adores you. I believe your heart longs to know Him and I am praying for you to encounter Him.

  48. Weekly Hit List #26 « :: VFAM.COM ::

    […] – Leadership lessons from the shirtless dancing guy. Funny and kinda cool. – Andrew Peterson on how seasons of doubt grow our faith. – Carlos Whittaker humorously writes about a personal experience, and turns out he’s challenging […]

  49. Drina

    Alyssa –

    To go back to what you wrote several days ago:
    I often hear the verse you referenced from Ephesians used to demonstrate the idea that we are not saved by works but by faith. How do you reconcile, then, that James says we are saved by works and NOT by faith alone? We can’t just ignore that. It seems to me that Ehesians refers to works of the law, (e.g. the legalistic works of the pharisees) which are much different than works of charity.

    What you wrote about “once saved always saved” really did not make sense to me. Maybe you could explain further. You admit that many passages imply (or even right out say) that we can lose our salvation. Aren’t you ignoring those passages, then, by saying “it’s almost as if we cannot fall away.” It seems like a dangerous mentality, to me, to believe we can’t REALLY lose our salvation. From the beginning God gave us free will, and we always have the ability to use it. We choose to love or not love God on a daily, hourly, minute-ly (not a word, I know) basis. To say we can’t lost our salvation, it seems, denies the reality of our free will. One really can’t say, “Oh, I’ve been saved, so I don’t have to worry about it now.” Now, I’m not denying that there are many passages that talk about assurance. Often, though, when Paul refers to assurance, he qualifies it, to say it’s as long as we continue on the path that Christ has shown us. I don’t remember where I heard this, but it seems to explain it best: “I have been saved, I am being saved, and I hope to be saved.”

    That brings me to another question. Hope is an important virtue, “Faith, hope and love, these three…” but where is true hope in the idea of “once saved always saved”? If I’m saved, I know I’m saved and I don’t need hope at all. Am I missing something?

    “warning passages are not there because we can fall away and lose our salvation, but rather God put them there so that we would not do that.” – I don’t at all to be harsh when I say that this makes to logical sense. God would not put warning passages there so that we do not lose our salvation if we can’t lose our salvation in the first place. Why would we try not to lose our salvation if it is something that can not be lost?

    Looking forward to hearing your thoughts here. Thanks.

  50. Drina

    Ron –

    Regarding Hebrews 10, I would say that you’ve given a passage that gives more force to the argument that works are necessary for salvation. He addresses those, the “we”, who DO continue on the right path, who do not draw back. Is it possible to still draw back and sin willfully? Yes. Can one lose his salvation? Yes. But the “we” that believes in the saving of the soul do not draw back.

    Your words on the sheep and goats gave me good food for thought. However, the goats do not say, “Didn’t we do A, B, and C in Your name?” They say the almost the same thing the sheep said, “When did we see you hungry and not feed you?” They didn’t claim to have done works in Christ’s name. Even if they had, it seems entirely possible for a person to want to look holy and do good works with the desire of recognition, spposedly doing things in the name of Christ. I don’t think this at all takes away from the command to work out our salvation with fear and trembling, or James’ statement that we are saved NOT by faith alone, but also by works.

    So if your point is that not all “good works” bring us salvation, I’ll sound a loud “Amen.” Like I said, though, this does nothing to take away from the fact that works are indeed necessaryl.

    Your comments on the necessity of faith, and Scriptural references to that point, are heard and well taken. My problem from the beginning has not AT ALL been with this. Only with the idea that we need faith alone. Which reminds me of one of my favorite Rich Mullins songs. “Faith without works – it just ain’t happening.”

    You say “But we’re always turning the power off because we put “love God and others” before “faithing on the name of His Son Jesus Christ.” Stay too long there and we end up in despair or hypocrisy.” – my point again, it isn’t works alone, but faith AND works.

    You say “I know God has invested way too much time and Blood in me to let me go” – I say, true! But he loves us so much that he wants US to CHOOSE Him, and that requires our own choice, 100%. Would he let us go? No, but we could choose to sin and let Him go. That’s what makes loving Gos so wonderful. It’s our own choice, our own work.

    There’s my two cents. What do you think?

  51. Gail Hafar

    ahhh, theological differences… they make the Walk so very interesting, don’t they? =-)

  52. Alyssa

    Drina –

    I think we are beginning to go around in circles. I apologize for articulating my statements poorly enough that you have misunderstood me so thoroughly. Trust me when I say that I am most definitely not ignoring any part of Scripture. I have wrestled with these very things for 20 years. I appreciate your thoughtful discussion, but it seems to me that your opinions are well formed enough that my input is not going to be of much use to you, especially since I simply don’t have time to fully expound all my thoughts here in the RR. My final two suggestions would be 1) look into the biblical meaning of “hope.” It is different from our modern English meaning. And 2) regarding the last paragraph of your previous post, I agree that it doesn’t seem to make sense. Maybe you could find the book I was referencing at a library and read the entire argument.

    Blessings.

  53. Profile photo of Ron Block

    Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Drina:

    I equate the goats with those who say “Lord, Lord, didn’t we do A, B, and C.” Religious folk who did their own works rather than reliance on Christ’s working within themselves. They did not get with God’s working, so of course they say, “What do you mean, you were sick and in prison and all that? When?” They were too busy dotting the i and crossing the T. The sheep were taken up with the Lord, and so spontaneously acted according to the Lord’s working in them.

    It comes down to whose works we are doing – our own, or Christ’s works through us. The branch bears fruit – it does not produce it. The job of the branch is to remain in the Vine, to abide. That is our “willed share in our own making.” We do choose, and yes, God wants us to choose to trust Him.

    In reality, faith cannot be separated from action. We can talk about it academically, but faith and action are inseparable. Can I say I trust God, trust His word, and yet not do a single thing He tells me to do? Could Moses have stood by the Red Sea after being told what to do, said, “Yes, I trust you, Lord” and not taken action? Yes. He could have academically, intellectually, believed that God was capable of saving them all, and yet could have chosen to not step out in faith. And there would have been zero benefit to all concerned.

    What we have all been taught quite often is that if we believe A, B, and C about God and about Jesus, we are saved. I had a conversation with a relative, with other relatives present. One saved relative said to an unsaved one, “Do you believe Jesus lived and died on the Cross and rose again?” And the unsaved one said, “Yes, I believe that.” The other said, “Oh, good!” and I said, “Wait a second. He has to personally appropriate that death and resurrection – not “Christ died and rose again” but “Christ died and rose again for me.”

    What we have to do is move from intellectual belief concerning certain facts about God and step into faithing action. That is how we can fool ourselves into thinking our Christian life is fine. But the real deal is what John says, “He that abideth sinneth not.” Holiness is the proof of abiding in Christ by faith. Sin happens when we step out of abiding. So of course good works are a result of abiding – they are not an add-on to abiding. It is not faith plus works, but action proceeding from genuine faith, stepping out in confidence that when God says something will happen, it will. If God says I am a king, and a priest, holy, and beloved, accepted in Christ, that in Christ lives all the fulness of the Deity in bodily form, and I am filled full as well in Him, then I am to not only intellectually accept that; I am to faithe in it with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength, and reject all evidence to the contrary. I am to step out in faith and be what God says I am. As I do so, the strength of Christ flows through my humanity and continually makes the impossible into the actual.

    We are saved by grace alone through faith alone. That faith manifests in action. There are four soils. The first is not saved, because it does not mix the Word with faith. The second seems saved, because it merely experiences an intellectual/emotional experience of believing without really acting in faith. The third acts in faith, receives the Word, but the Word becomes unfruitful because this one allows the cares of this life and the deceitfulness of riches to choke it out. The fourth soil is the faithing soil.

    There is a lot being called faith that is merely intellectual belief.

    Faith is action, based upon belief, sustained by confidence. We believe something: Christ died for my sins to save me from Hell. We take action – we confess it and faithe in that sacrifice. We endure in that faithing action.

    But it doesn’t stop there. We continue to take this faith-action in other areas. Christ not only died for me; I died in Him, and rose in Him as a new creation. I see it in the Word. I believe it intellectually, and then I choose to step out on it. I personally appropriate it, and renew my mind daily that I am a new creation, that I am no longer under the power of sin. Christ lives in me. I take action by acting as though Christ lives in me – by taking His life in me into account in every situation, and I endure in that by doing it on a daily basis. This is the kind of faith that manifests in works. Not my works, but His works, His divine energy dynamically exploding in my life, outward to others.

    So the trick here is I’m saved from self-condemnation in Christ (because He died for me) and self-commendation in Christ (because He lives in me and is my life). It is not by my works or my power that I endure unto the end. It is by faith in Him alone – faith in that Person dwelling in me, and not merely an intellectual belief. I access His life and His love and His power in me by faithing in Him, and stepping out as if that power is going to be there when and where I need it.

    We are told to work out our salvation with fear and trembling, yes. But only because “it is God who is working in you to will and to act according to His good pleasure.” “Working” is “energeo.” It is God who is energizing us to will and to act according to His will. Paul says the same thing – that he agonized with the dynamite energy of God in himself. Peter says we are partakers of the divine nature.

    So – regarding works, its a simple matter of utilizing what we’ve been given, and that means reliant faith that steps out and acts, not a human who is trying by its own strength to do good works in addition to trusting God. Those self-effort works will be burned up.

  54. Drina

    Ron,

    You say that in reality faith and works are inseparable. This does not at all seem to agree with James 2. The chapter ends, “For even the body without the spirit is dead: so also faith without works is dead.” A body can in fact be separated from the soul. How are we not to conclude that faith can be separated from works? I also call to mind Corinthians, where Paul says, “If I have faith so as to move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.” This is no dead faith or mere intellectual assent that he refers to. He has faith that will move mountains. But without love, he is nothing. (I see this verse from Corinthians to demonstrate: 1. It is not by faith alone. “For if I have faith so as to move mountains, but have not love…” 2. Faith needs works. For love, it seems, is inseparable from a work, for we cannot love if we do not carry out works.)

    You say: ” It is not faith plus works, but action proceeding from genuine faith, stepping out in confidence that when God says something will happen, it will” I am not trying to beat a dead horse when I say that this does not correspond with what James teaches us. You seem to want to say that the action proceeds as if it isn’t really something we do at all. But “not by faith alone” is what James teaches. Yet you and others try to explain that away by saying, and I paraphrase, “But it really is by faith alone, and it just follows that works will come with faith. But works are not essential, just an effect of the faith we have.” No. James makes it clear that Abraham and others were justified by their works and that we are saved by faith, but not by faith alone.

    So when you say “We are saved by grace alone through faith alone,” I say that this is in obvious disagreement with Scripture: “Do you see that by works a man is justified and not by faith only?”

    I would not argue with your point that it is only through Christ that we can accomplish works of charity. “It is not I that live, but Christ who lives in me.” This does nothing to detract from the reality of our free will and our own participation in Christ. I may be inspired through grace to take food to a homeless shelter, for example. Yet, I still have to obtain the food and deliver it of my own volition. God does not force the use of my legs and hands to accomplish the task. I believe this point speaks to your penultimate paragraph, where you say that God energizes us to act according to his will. Even your own words betray you, I think, for God energizes US TO ACT. We still do the acting! “It is God who is working in you to will and to act according to His good pleasure.” But why, then, must we work “with fear and trembling”? We need not fear and tremble if God is the one doing that acting, unless we weak sinners, must also do our part in working out our own salvation, as Paul tells us.

    And as to your last paragraph, I never referred to works as being those of “a human who is trying by its own strength to do good works.” But we respond to God’s loving initiative, and so work out our salvation.

  55. Drina

    Alyssa –

    I do not at all think we were going around in circles. Ideas sometimes have to be hashed out, explained, questioned and further explained. I find that this helps me to examine my own ideas better, as well as to challenge others who have differing beliefs. That said, I totally respect that you are not up for continuing the discussion. You kindly left me with a couple suggestions. I believe my husband has that book somewhere, and would be glad to at least give it a perusal. And I’m also interested in learning more about the biblical meaning of hope. I will look into that as time allows. Might I make a suggestion to you? I just sent my thoughts to Ron and would be glad for you to read them as well. Perhaps you could prayerfully give James and my other references a closer read?

    God bless.

  56. Profile photo of Ron Block

    Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Drina,

    Paul says we are saved by grace through faith, and not by works. James says we are saved by works. Either an inerrant Bible has to go, or, as is typical in the Word, truth can be found by putting propositions together that seem paradoxical. The Bible interprets itself, but we can’t hang on to one side of a paradox or the ship leans to one side and takes on water. I can jump to one side and say, “No, it is completely by faith alone. All we have to do is believe; we can sit on the couch and watch TV, and God will supply our every need. No need to act in faith.” (But of course I haven’t said that; I’m saying that real, Biblical faith is an inner reliance on God that acts, steps out in faith, like Noah building the Ark, Abraham stepping out in faith and having sex with his aged wife, Moses going to tell Pharaoh what the Lord said, or David not killing Saul when he had the chance).

    Or I can say, “No, James says we are saved by faith plus works. We have to believe God, but then we must go out and do works, or we won’t be saved.”

    James says that the demons believe, and tremble. A demon does not faithe. It does not trust God. It believes God exists, believes God keeps His promises, but it does not faithe; it does not “bet the farm” on God. It has an intellectual assent, but no guts. This is the kind of “faith” James is addressing.

    In this way it is possible to believe God, believe His promises, and never step out or do anything about it.

    Regarding the passage of Paul on having faith without love: I can have faith for many things. I can trust God to heal me. I can trust God to take care of my finances, leaning on Malachi 3 and Matthew 6. I can trust that Christ saves me from Hell. None of these things will necessarily make me a love-person.

    We can’t look at “faith” as a one-time event, or even a continual reliance in all areas. There are ways in which you trust God, and step out in faith, that I have not yet appropriated, and vice-versa. I recall a time when I was trusting God for finances, to save me from Hell. But that never made me a love-person. It can’t. The only thing that can is applying faith/trust in Christ, relying on our real identity, and stepping out in faith toward the area of loving others. Love is the entire point. God became Man for that express purpose – to get His Spirit into us to turn us into a love-people by His divine energy in us.

    Regarding our will: everything we have, everything we are, comes from Christ. I can choose to help someone based on ulterior motives – wanting to look good, wanting to be religious and feel good about myself, wanting even to please God by my good works. But even then, it is still all about me. I look good. I’m religious. I feel good about myself. I pleased God by my good work.

    But the only real motive for helping someone is because they need it. That’s love – that’s God’s love in us. He goes where need is, because He is love; He is the supply.

    I may get a secondary gratification from the good thing that God prompted me in, the thing He worked in me to will and to do. I may feel good. But if I know He is the inner Love that prompted me, propelled me, I won’t have self-satisfaction. I won’t take His glory and call it “my works.” We are mirrors of His love, containers of it, not generators or originators.

    God does not run us like automatons. He wants us to choose. Of course if it is God energizing me to will and to do, it is my legs that are walking out the door, my hands that are helping someone. Do I get the credit? Can I pat myself on the back for it? Not really. All I chose was to rely on a power in me that has its origin in Christ, not in any ability of mine. When we have done all we are commanded to do, we can say only that we’ve done our duty and are merely unprofitable servants.

    We can go around and around this topic, but the same controversy has gone on since day one. It was the hill Paul was willing to die on. If we read Ephesians and Colossians, the first halves of both letters are a strong statement of our identity in Christ – what God has done, who He has made us. The second half gets practical and day-to-day: “Here’s what this new life looks like.” If it doesn’t look like that, we’re not abiding.

    We’ve got to put Paul, James, John, Peter, and the rest of the Bible together. God wants action, not just passive belief. God wants faith, and real faith is to step out and act. If God gives me an inner concern for the homeless, and wants me to go to the homeless shelter and help out, it isn’t reliance on His indwelling power to sit on my couch and do nothing. He wants us to trust Him in every little thing – from playing the banjo to being a husband, from financial problems to overcoming unloving attitudes in our souls.

    I have no problem either with the idea of responding to God’s loving initiative, if by that we mean God is the one energizing us to will and to act. This sort of action, these sorts of works, do not come out of guilt or fear, but from a sheer desire to help and love the other person. To that divine energy, I say “Respond away!”

    But to any others reading who think we are saved by faith plus our works, by all means get working.

  57. Alyssa

    Drina –

    I am compelled to respond despite what I posted yesterday. If you want, you can email me at garamsey@gmail.com so that everyone’s inboxes don’t continue to be inundated with our discussion.

    We agree that faith is essential and works are essential. We have established that faith without works is dead. Where we seem to disagree is on the function of works. I believe that works are the natural and necessary result of salvation, which is by faith alone. The absence of works is an indication that the faith was not genuine and the person was never saved. I understand you to believe that works and faith are both necessary in order to gain salvation and that the absence of works results in the loss of salvation. Please correct me if I’m wrong.

    At the beginning of his faith/works discourse, James says in 2:14 that he is talking about someone who “says he has faith,” not someone who has faith. Then he mentions the demons and their belief in God, which is obviously not saving belief. So in saying that faith without works is dead, James is saying that those whose “faith” does not manifest in works show their “faith” not to have been genuine.

    James goes on to talk about Abraham. It references Gen. 15:6, which says “Abraham believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.” This happened BEFORE Abram even had a son, long before he offered Isaac on the altar. His faith alone made him righteous in God’s sight, and the actions that later resulted from his faith completed it. Had Abram not expressed his faith through works, his faith would have been no faith at all and would not have justified him.

    I disagree with you about Ephesians 2:8-10. You say it is referring to the law when it says “not by works.” But Paul does not say “the law” or “the written code” or “works of the law” or “commandments and regulations,” which is language he uses in verse 15. He says works, and then goes on in the next verse to say that we were created for good works. So it seems pretty clear to me that this means we are not saved by works, but God planned works for us to do in response to our salvation.

    To me it sounds like you’re saying that if someone places their faith in Christ, they are not saved until they’ve done some works. Doesn’t that contradict Rom. 10:9-10? And it begs the question, how many works are required? Do you see the difficulty this presents? If we have the power to stay saved by doing enough works, aren’t we negating God’s grace? We have no more power to keep our salvation than we had in securing it in the first place. God accomplished it, and God sees it through. You say that this view stands against free will. But again I say that if a person chooses not to obey, not to do good works, then that person shows his faith not to have ever been salvific. The true believer continuously exercises his free will to remain in Christ. And through that remaining, as Ron has said, Christ’s works are done in us. “It does not, therefore, depend on man’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy.” – Rom. 9:16

    In John 6:29 Jesus said, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” And Eph. 1:13b-14 we read: “In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and BELIEVED in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.”

    If works are necessary for securing salvation, what is your take on the thief on the cross, to whom Jesus promised paradise?

    You mentioned 1 Cor. 13 and said “we cannot love if we do not carry out works.” I agree, but we CAN carry out works without love. I think Paul is distinguishing love from both faith and works here. Verse 3 is talking about works without love: “And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.”
    I do not believe this passage is talking about salvation. It is talking about “the most excellent way” (12:31b) for Christians to minister. Great faith and works without love are self-centered and misguided, but that doesn’t mean the person is not saved. It just means he (as we all do) is failing to live his Christian life in the most excellent way.

    I find it dangerous to believe that we have to keep our salvation by our works. That is just one step away from saying that we are the ones who earn it and that Jesus’ work alone was not enough.

  58. bhb

    Wow- this story is why I love the Rabbit Room- a story of a little boy with courage brought God’s light and love to many—- thanks for sharing Andrew…. my heart is aglow too.

  59. Fellow Traveler

    I’ll add something else to Ron’s wonderful comment above–faith is where the HEART and the MIND unite.

    Let me explain: Faith is not a warm fuzzy feeling in our hearts. Faith is a choice. To go further, the specific act of faith that is believing in God is a choice in which the mind must have an equally active part. Can doubt still be a part of this decision? Well, there’s an element of doubt any time you’re believing in somebody or something unseen. However, I do not believe that God wants us to check our brains at the door.

    And here’s the great thing about being Christians: We don’t have to check our brains at the door because Christianity happens to be the most rationally defensible religion out there. Frankly, I’ve seen some of the “arguments” people try to use against Christianity, and they can be pretty pathetic. Others are cleverer, but in the end they all crumble under the mountain of scientific and historical evidence testifying to the truth of God’s Word. God has not left himself without witness. There is no need for us to grope blindly and HOPE. The evidence is there for us to find. We can have a solid foundation to stand on. When people ask us why we believe, we can be prepared with ANSWERS.

    To say that we know God is real because he lives in our hearts is only part of the story. I always like to say that I know God is real because of Luke, whose gospel is such a beautifully meticulous piece of history that it corresponds with everything from contemporary historical sources like Josephus to modern architectural finds. But I do say that with a twinkle in my eye–of course I also have a walk with God, and I know that He has changed and shaped my life. Yet there is a larger point I am trying to make, which is that even while we walk with the Lord and allow Him to mold and shape us, we can also exercise the minds He gave us to seek out reasons for what we believe. How do we know the Bible is authentic? How do we know that Jesus really did die on the cross and rise again? There are solid answers to these questions, and all we have to do is find them.

    The sad thing is that many young people grow up without understanding this. They go to college, and some smooth-talking prof. completely shatters their faith. Or maybe they read a book by Richard Dawkins. They never knew that our faith could be defended with reason, so when opposing arguments come along that sound convincing, they are deceived, and they fall by the wayside. Our job is to make sure that doesn’t happen for our kids.

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