7.1 " I won't be in the Kingdom" :
Doubt About Salvation
7-1-1 Doubt About Salvation
By God's grace, I firmly believe I myself will be. But very often
(more often than you might think), a sincere, good living brother
or sister (including some you'd be surprised at) says this or writes
this to me. Whatever I reply, the response is something like,
" Well, OK OK, but I know I won't be there" .
Doubt about salvation is that strong with them. When we feel like
this, we are in some ways unreachable, we make ourselves untouchable
by any spiritual reasoning- because that's how we actually want
to be. So what follows probably won't help anyone in the actual
moments of spiritual desperation, but perhaps these ideas can be
stored away against the rainy days of future unbelief. Perhaps you
are newly baptized, and find the possibility of such doubt a mystifying
prospect. But all of us who've trodden the Kingdom road for any
length of time can assure you that there will surely come
times of spiritual crisis and spiritual self-doubt on a deeply,
deeply personal level, right inside the very core of your being.
Those who haven't experienced these things simply haven't grasped
the awfulness of their sins, haven't examined themselves very deeply,
or taken their personal responsibility and relationship
to God very seriously. In this fact alone lies a challenge for the
spiritually self-satisfied. The danger for those who have known
the Truth a long time, or from childhood, is to never have this
sense of spiritual crisis, simply because they never seriously get
down to thinking about their personal relationship with God. In
this case we will just drift through life, with a false sense of
spiritual peace. It's what we could call the stagnant pond syndrome:
the pond looks wonderfully quiet and at peace, but when you examine
it you see why it's so quiet and still- because there's absolutely
no life in it at all. Those who agonize that they will not be in
the Kingdom certainly don't suffer from the stagnant pond syndrome;
their agony of doubt about salvation is a fair reflection of their
seriousness about spiritual things.
None Of The Accepted Will Think They Ought To Be In The
Those who " are first" in their own eyes, those who think
for sure they will be in the Kingdom, will seek to enter the Kingdom
at the day of judgment, but be unable. Those who strive to enter
the Kingdom now are " last" in their own spiritual
assessment; and the first will be made last in the sense that they
won't be in the Kingdom. Thus when those who will enter the
Kingdom are described as thinking of themselves as " last"
, this must mean that they think of themselves now as being unworthy
of the Kingdom, having great doubt about their salvation, but as
" striving" to be there now, in their minds (Lk. 13:23,24).
The likes of Samson died with a confession of unworthiness on their
lips- in his case, that he deserved to die the death of a Philistine
(Jud. 16:30)- but he will actually be in the Kingdom (Heb. 11:32).
Ps. 36:8 says that God will " make us" partake of the
blessings of the Kingdom of God. It reminds me of how the Lord Jesus
said that in His Kingdom, He will " make us" sit down
at a table, and He will come and serve us (Lk. 12:37), knowing full
well that he who sits at meat is greater than he who serves (Lk.
22:27). It isn't so difficult to imagine this scene: the Lord of
glory wanting us to sit down to a meal, and then He comes
and serves us. He will have to " make us" sit
down and let ourselves be served. Perhaps " Come,
ye blessed of my Father, inherit the Kingdom" (Mt. 25:34) likewise
suggests a hesitancy of the faithful to enter the Kingdom, seeing
they have had such doubt about salvation. Perhaps this is typified
by Joseph's revelation to his brethren; they slink away from him,
and he has to encourage them: " Come near to me, I pray you"
(Gen. 45:4). They absolutely knew that they ought to be punished
and killed by him, and they obviously thought he would do it. Even
years later, Joseph wept in frustration at their lack of
full acceptance of his total forgiveness (Gen. 50:17). These scenes
are so evidently typical of the future judgment seat of Joseph/Jesus.
The idea is that all those who will be in the Kingdom will feel
that really we should not be there, we don't deserve it, and therefore
Christ will have to almost make us go into the Kingdom. It's the
same in the parables of Matthew 25, at the judgment Jesus will praise
the righteous for doing so many good things, and then they will
disagree with Him, they will say 'No, we didn't do that, really
we didn't', and He will say 'Yes, in my eyes, you did'. It's the
self-righteous, those who think they have done so much and therefore
they must be in the Kingdom, who will be rejected. We must be like
the man who wouldn't even lift up his eyes to Heaven but just said
" God have mercy on me a sinner" - not like the Pharisee
who said " I thank you that I am better than other men"
. The wording of all the Lord's parables reflects His deep grounding
in the Old Testament. The idea of not being able to lift up the
eyes to Heaven is a common Old Testament way of expressing guilt
for sin; being able to lift up one's eyes suggests a faith in forgiveness
(especially in the Psalms). It could be argued that the man who
wouldn't lift up his eyes to God didn't have total faith that he'd
been forgiven. He just confessed his sinfulness and hoped for mercy.
And yet he was the one who was accepted, for all his doubting, rather
than the man who thought he could lift up his eyes to God. And the
Lord designed His parables and teaching to reflect His basic knowledge
that such men would characterize all who will ultimately be in the
Kingdom. He spoke of us all as a little flock, fearing it is not
the Father's pleasure / will to give us the Kingdom (Lk. 12:32).
In doing so, He was as ever drawing on the language of the OT. Joshua-Jesus
encouraged Israel that Yahweh delighted / willed that they should
enter the land (Num. 14:8); but instead, they were too caught up
with doubts... doubt about salvation, about what they could eat
and drink day by day, and the giants in the land. This is the very
context in which the Lord was speaking- fearing " the nations
of the world" , doubting where food and clothes would come
from, just as Israel did (Lk. 12:22-29). Yet the pleasure / will
of Yahweh is that we should share His Kingdom, and that pleasure
/ will prospered through the cross (Is. 53:10).
I find these ideas a real challenge. We should believe that we
really will, surely be saved (1); indeed, that
we are already saved, in prospect, and are in embryo already the
Kingdom of God. We shouldn't in that sense have any doubt about
salvation. It's a terrible balance, between having faith that we
will be in the Kingdom because Christ died to save us, and on the
other hand having the humility, the real humility, to know
we shouldn't be there. In fact, this is such an acute paradox
that I would say it's one of those irreconcilable paradoxes which
God has designed, and built in to our spiritual experience. Real
humility doesn't come easy. It isn't remarking 'Of course,
we're all sinners' in an offhand way.
It's easy to have an appearance of spiritual humility, but to cut
down to the bone of the real thing is hard indeed. A warning really
needs to be sounded about it. You must be able to think of examples
in your own life. Here's one, a typical one, from my own; it's almost
identical to a situation Dennis Gillett mentions in The Genius
Of Discipleship: I once gave a series of studies to a group
of brothers and sisters. A sister came up to me and told me it was
the best thing she'd heard for a long time, these studies of mine
had been her salvation, I was the only speaker who got through to
her (etc.). I solemnly shook my head and said something like I really
didn't think what I'd said was that good, and that there were lots
of things I should have researched better, and that what I'd said
was actually rather superficial, it didn't really get to the bone.
Then I slipped away from her and went to the gents (after such a
conversation), feeling I'd done the humble thing; and bumped into
a brother there who I've had some differences with. He told me in
that washroom that the talks I'd given were totally empty, it was
a waste of time coming to hear them, and that I was misleading brethren
and sisters by careless Bible study. Now all that hurt, really hurt.
Yet in essence, all he said to me was what I'd said to the sister.
And I realized (later!) that all I'd said to her was just surface
humility. Indeed, perhaps it was worse than that: even spiritual
pride dressed up as humility.
Ps. 119 reflects David's awareness that he didn't keep God's law
as he should. The first four verses speak of the blessedness of
the man who is obedient. But he laments: " O that my
ways were directed to keep thy statutes! Then will I not be ashamed,
when I have respect unto all thy commandments" (Ps. 119:5,6).
He seems to be saying that when he feels he is obedient,
it makes him feel ashamed because he realizes how far short he has
come of obedience at other times and in other ways. He concludes
this matchless psalm of praise for God's word with a seeming paradox:
" I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek thy servant; for
I do not forget they commandments" v. 176). Yet often throughout
the Psalm he remarks how he has kept God's law, and will thereby
be justified (e.g. v.22). He expresses no doubt about salvation.
The resolution of all this seems to be that we can know that we
are obedient to the basic principles, and be comforted by this fact,
whilst at the same time realizing how very far we come short of
total obedience, and therefore how far we fall short of the spiritual
blessedness which is attainable for us even now. Yet despite an
agony as to his failures, David still had a remarkably open and
enthusiastic relationship with God. The agony of his failures didn't
take this away from him.