It is possible to be a Christian and struggle with personal problems. Distinguishing between struggling believers versus unbelievers who wrestle with similar issues is critical.
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- The Danger of Asking Jesus Into Your Heart
- Daddy and Daughter Talk about Justification and Sanctification
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I live in the heart of the Bible belt. Everyone in my region of the U.S. is a believer. The reason I know this is because if you ask most anyone if they are a Christian, they will answer in the affirmative.
It is not unusual for them to follow up with a quirky cultural saying like, “I asked Jesus into my heart when I was seven.” That is the #1 mantra in our area that a person uses to support their claim to be a Christian.
If you have “asked Jesus into your heart,” you’re in and are good to go. But when I ask a person if they are a believer, what I am asking is whether or not God imposed Himself into their life, opened their blind eyes to their need for a Savior, and gave them faith to believe in Him.
I am asking if God has regenerated them, have been born from above by the initiation of Sovereign God through the work of Jesus Christ, which is brought by the power of the Spirit. It’s a different kind of discussion than the cultural saying, “I asked Jesus into my heart.”
This question is huge. It is more than praying a prayer, though praying is critical. Praying a prayer puts the point of emphasis of salvation on the person asking rather than God who is the Regenerator of people.
I trust you understand my point. It is vital to pray a prayer, but by the time a person prays, God had already done His awakening work in their heart. He gives the faith to pray prayers for salvation. Regeneration is not about me beckoning God to come into my heart, but about God inviting me to come alive and to enter into His world.
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved. – Ephesians 2:1-5
Cultural Christianity says things like, “I asked Jesus into my heart.” Paul says things like, “You were dead and God made you alive.” My primary question is, “Have you been born again, not did you pray a prayer.” Has God broken into your darkness and given you the light of His Son to shine into your heart?
Are You a Believer Who Believes?
Let’s say you have been born from above. God has regenerated you. You were once dead, but now you are alive in God. You are a believer. If so, I now have another question for you. Are you an ontological believer who believes functionally? Are you a believing believer?
Here are some questions that I hope will assist you in reflecting upon and responding to my query. How you answer them will inform you if you are a believer (salvation) who believes practically (sanctification). When I use the word “believe,” I also mean all of its synonyms like trust, faith, confidence, and hope.
Do you have your confidence in God as opposed to yourself? Are you exercising faith in God because He is the “Saver of the soul” rather than trusting in your strength or wisdom? Are you a believing believer?
- Are you a Christian who is characterized by worry?
- Are you a Christian who is unwilling to forgive someone?
- Are you a Christian who holds anger or resentment toward someone?
- Are you a Christian who lives in regret or guilt about decisions from your past?
- Are you a Christian who refuses to submit to the clear teaching of Scripture on a matter?
- Are you a Christian who rarely or never confesses a sin or asks others to forgive you?
- Are you a Christian who is bitter or critical toward another person and you refuse to forgive them?
- Are you a Christian who is unwilling to submit to your biblical authorities, e.g., spouse, church leaders?
If anyone of these characterizations is how you generally function, the first place to begin assessing your heart is whether or not you are a Christian. I appeal to you not to punch your “salvation ticket” too quickly, but humbly examine yourself to see whether you are in the faith.
I would further appeal to you to ask other spiritually mature individuals who know you well to bring their observations to you. It’s too important not to take this seriously and soberly.
A person who has been born again would be humble enough to allow another person to speak into their life. A proud–possibly unregenerated–person would show anger, annoyance or impatience with someone “questioning their salvation.”
Let’s assume you are a Christian, but one of the issues listed is how you struggle. If this is the case, you are an “unbelieving believer.” You’re a believer who does not fully practicalize all that Christ has for you.
The point of emphasis for the “unbelieving believer” is not about their salvation, but about their sanctification. It’s hugely important for you to understand and make the distinction between being regenerated and progressive sanctification. Both of these doctrines require faith–belief, hope, trust, and confidence in God.
For the “believing believer,” it is not about whether you are a Christian, but whether or not you’re going to step up to your inheritance from your heavenly Father and truly live in the good of the complete gospel. Are you going to become practically who you already are ontologically?
As you have probably discerned, all of the questions have something to do with personal suffering. I asked “suffering type questions” on purpose, because there is nothing that gets to who we really-really are than suffering–whether it is the significant complications of life or the little annoyances that come to us daily.
The next time you’re at an intersection that is not moving according to your preferences, your true faith will be on display. If you patiently wait for the traffic circumstances to improve and your heart is content with the congestion of the day, you are responding like a “believing believer.”
If you become grumpy, frustrated, angry, possibly let out an expletive, or use some harsh sign language, you are an unbelieving believer at that moment.
While some would not see the seriousness of “intersection congestion and our faith,” I would recommend they spend more time thinking about the sovereignty of God and how all of life is our opportunity to put God on display–even at the intersections of life.
If they don’t reflect on these mundane moments and adjust their hearts accordingly, there is a good possibility that the little annoyances in the home will draw out similar angry responses as the congested intersection.
God is Sovereign God over the mundane moments of our lives, not just our big signature events. He cares about everything about us, and He is entirely aware, and solely in control of everything in our world.
Why even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows. – Luke 12:7
If I am unwilling to defer to God, by trusting Him, it does not matter if it is because I’m not getting my way at a traffic light or I’m unwilling to forgive someone who has wronged me. In either case for the Christian, it is a mockery of their faith. It is functional unbelief in those moments that denies the reality of God.
Believing Believers Illustrated
Mable had a family member hit and killed by a drunk driver. It was her sister. She went through unimaginable hurt and anguish of soul for many months. Six months later she went to trial to testify against the person who murdered her sister. He received a life sentence.
Though she was glad about justice, and her anguish of soul had not subsided, she was able to grant “attitudinal forgiveness” to the person who killed her best friend. She was free from and not controlled by the evil that came into her world.
Biff committed fornication with his girlfriend when they were teenagers. She got pregnant, and they decided to get married. He did not want to marry her. Seven years later they both became Christians.
Biff was formerly bitter, critical, and non-committal to the marriage. He lived in unabated regret for what he did and for his decision to get married. God mercifully broke his heart, and Biff repented of his self-centered thinking, He began to process what was happening to him through the lens of God’s sovereignty.
He, like Mable, was no longer controlled by the evil in his life, though he was the one who brought the darkness upon himself. Mable and Biff are joy-filled Christians today, though they are thoroughly familiar with familial tragedy and personal disappointment.
Both illustrations represent ontological “believers who believe” practically. Though their circumstances were difficult, they were not overcome or controlled by the bitterness, anger, confusion, or unrelenting disappointment that evil always brings.
When Good Trumps Evil
Before you can think rightly about the circumstances in your life, you have to understand God correctly. It is how you perceive God that will give you your interpretation and your perspective of the circumstances in your life.
If you believe that God is good, that is how you will interpret what is going on in your world. That does not mean what is going on in your world will always make sense or be according to your preferences. It says that your view of God will overpower the evil in your world and give you the insight to think biblically about your suffering.
Mable and Biff believed that God was good. That kind of faith gave them their grid through which to see, understand, and respond to their circumstances biblically. You do have a grid for how you interpret and react to what is in your life. Did you know that? That grid will determine your life. It will control you.
One of the ways you can “test yourself” is by re-asking those eight questions that I asked earlier. How you answer those questions will tell you immediately if evil generally overcomes good or if good trumps typically the darkness in your life.
Joseph had a “good trumps evil” worldview: you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good (Genesis 50:20). Joseph did not deny either the good or the evil in his life, but the one–good–that took priority in his heart determined not only how he responded to his brothers, but how he thought about and responded to God.
What has more control of your heart: the goodness of God or the evil in your life? How you answer that question will tell you quickly if you are a “believer who believes” or if you’re an “unbelieving believer.”
What Makes You Dance?
Pretend you’re a marionette, with strings attached to your limbs. Who or what controls those strings is your theology. If the evil in your life controls you, you’re an unbelieving believer. If God is the one controlling those strings, you’re a believing believer.
If the evil in your world controls you, you must reconcile that with God before you can interact with the corruption of the people who are behind the problem. If your starting point is not “God is good, and He is working His good in my life through this horrible circumstance,” you will never be able to navigate successfully through the circumstance.
You don’t have the empowering grace to work through your problem (James 4:6). Your efforts will collapse around you, and your disappointment will only compound. Before you can make things right with your “enemy,” you must make things right with your God, the One who allowed your enemy to bring the evil into your world.
A Gospel Primer
There are two ways to stand at the foot of Calvary and look upon a dying king. Either what you see is evil trumping what is right, and your life will be unalterably disappointing, or His death is good overcoming evil, and you’re about to turn the world upside down.
We preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. – 1 Corinthians 1:23-24
- How will you approach your disappointments?
- Do you stumble like the Jew? Do you pass it off as foolishness like the Gentile? Or do you see that what God is allowing are His wisdom and His power?
- Will you become a believing believer today?
- If so, you need to mend some broken fences in your life.
Also published on Medium.