As I look over the last two posts on the blessings of a long battle, I’m reminded of what the Apostle Paul said to the Corinthians about the importance of not being ignorant concerning the schemes of Satan (II Corinthians 2:11). After reading those posts, I realized a word of balance was needed in discussing the relationship of formulaic Christianity to spiritual practices lest the devil distort the truth to his advantage.
Both posts encouraged the believer to move beyond canned formulas to a restful trust in and radical dependence on Christ. A common formula for someone who finds themselves in a protracted struggle with sin, weakness, or some thorn in the flesh is “Read the Bible, pray, and attend church and that will solve your problem.”
These are wonderful spiritual practices but the problem is that people begin to trust in the formula more than the Person who can heal their inner leper. The formula can become a religious idol.
The biblical view of spiritual practices (prayer, Scripture study, church attendance, fellowship, fasting, meditation, and the sacraments) is that they are both avenues of renewal and bridges to intimacy with the Living God. They are sacramental; they are a means of grace.
Christ is the Vine; we are the branches. One of the primary ways that the branches stay connected to the Vine is through spiritual practices. That is how we abide in him and apart from abiding in him, we can do nothing.
This next part is crucial, and, if you only get one thing out of this post, this is it: when the believer gets frustrated enough to forsake impotent formulas, the devil’s primary agenda then is to get that person to forsake authentic, life–giving spiritual practices too.
That’s why the Christian should ask for wisdom every day so that he or she can tell the difference between the two. Satan is more than happy to allow us to forsake the false as long as we don’t replace it with the real.
It’s part of the human condition that, in our anger and frustration, we often throw out the wheat with the chaff. And a person who is involved in a long, difficult battle is going to need all the grace–filled spiritual practices they have time for!
I’m convinced that when the devil sees a believer, who is involved in a long battle, leave anemic formulas and begin to become engaged in regular, soul–nourishing spiritual practices, it fills him with uncontrollable rage. He will come to that Christian with many false voices in an effort to separate the branch from the Vine. Here’s a small sampling:
“ You tried this religious stuff before and you still have the same addiction/weakness/problem. What makes you think it’s going to work this time?”
“If you have your quiet time with God in the morning when you don’t feel like it, you’re being a phony. You should only do it when you feel like it.”
“If your quiet time with God becomes a regular thing, it will become a dead religious ritual. You don’t want to become legalistic. Keep things spontaneous. Just do it when your heart moves you to do it.”
“Regular spiritual practices aren’t the real you. You can find God in every day life without them in a way that fits your personality.”
“You’re a person of action not of contemplation. You get things done without all this navel–gazing and spiritual stuff.”
These are just a few plays out of the devil’s playbook. May God give us the discernment to recognize his voice and the wisdom to reject his counsel.
Today I realized that I was sick and very tired of myself. It’s really not disgust, or even loathing. It’s more like a weariness, an exhaustion. I’ve never felt this way. In a strange way it intrigues me. Could this definite disenchantment mean something spiritual? Does it have value, or am I just feeling self-absorbed or conceited?
There is a real rigidity to evil. As I have seen it– sin hardens all who touch it, plain and simple. My growing immobility disturbs me, as I know I’m developing a “hardness of heart.” Atherosclerosis is a condition of a sick heart where arteries become blocked. It’s also known as “hardening of the heart, or arteries.” It is a patient killer, slowly and surely making hard deposits that block the flow of blood.
The Bible speaks about having a hard heart. It also uses the metaphor of fallow ground that must be plowed up. Jesus used the same image in His “Parable of the Sower” in Matthew 13.
“A sower went out to sow. 4 And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. 5 Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, 6 but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away. 7 Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. 8 Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain.”
There are only four real options.
The first is seed that never arrives.
The second lands on hard stones.
The third possibility is landing on thorns and thistles.
Only the fourth flourishes.
The question I have is this, can the hard soil become soft, and can the good soil become overgrown with thistles? Is this a static, set experience? Or could it be far more fluid? I seem to move from one soil condition to another.
I have found that my own heart drifts. Manic Depression is a mental illness where emotions fluctuate constantly. They gallivant around, floating here and than there. I maybe depressed and suicidal in the morning, and then I can be euphoric in the evening. It’s having the identity of a “wandering star.”
I want my heart to soften. I want to sit with Jesus and hear His words. I need Him to share what He is thinking about. Any sin I entertain has a hardening effect in my spiritual heart. This really scares me. *
#3 The Devil will try very hard to condemn you for your past.
There are some days that are harder then others. You see, I have lived profligately, harmed many, and influenced others to do evil. I have wounded and hurt people very deeply. There are days when I have this mental image of myself– I’m a ‘Fountain of Feces’ spewing and polluting my filth to anyone passing by.
But I am also the Prodigal. I’ve squandered everything. It’s gone. I’ve been to the pig pen. Filthy and starving. Coming to my senses, I decide to return home, and sell myself to the employ of Him I once called “Father.”
But the most outrageous thing has happened. It is so wildly fantastic that it defies any reason. (I hardly dare to think it real). The man who I once called “Father” refuses to listen to my list of sins. He has embraced me, dressed me, established me as a son. I have new shoes, and a signet ring.
I am a wonder to behold. A feast of unparalleled joy is waiting. I pinch myself– is this really happening to me? Those days in the pig pen, what a stupid waste. I want to weep and shout for joy– all at the same time! It doesn’t seem real.
The subject of my grossness and sin has been forgotten. I have not been interrogated or punished. (Since then, I’ve learned that Someone else took this on.) But my perversity and my iniquity has never, ever been discussed. Their is no list of my sin, no cataloging has taken place. The promises tell me that my past sin has been put on a big barge, and shipped to the deepest part of the ocean– and dumped!
“You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea.”
As critical-thinking believers, with just a modicum of divine truth, what we do with our personal sin is huge. It determines much about our walk. We function out of our past. The plant is rooted in something. But our Father has turned our prodigal past into our personal future of total redemption.
Look at your greatest pain. The Holy Spirit will very likely take that deep, deep bruise and turn it into your greatest ministry. And He does it without resorting to a list of your ugly, ugly sin. You see, He has already forgotten it.
“The question is who are we going to side with? God says our sins are past, cleansed, and gone. You cannot go on with God until you stand on His Word as cleansed with the heart made pure.”
NAMI’s Interviews With Danielle Steel & Kay Jamison
Last year, Steel published His Bright Light, a memoir of her son, Nick Traina, who committed suicide at age 19 after a life-long battle with bipolar disorder (manic depression). More recently, Jamison has published Night Falls Fast: Understanding Suicide, combining research, clinical expertise and personal experience to explore one of the world’s leading causes of death.On February 8, the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health, Human Resources, Education & Related Agencies will hold a hearing on suicide prevention that will include testimony from best-selling author Danielle Steel and Professor Kay Redfield Jamison, author of several academic and popular books on mental illness.
Interviews with Steel and Jamison have appeared in “Spotlight,” a special supplement to The Advocate, the quarterly publication of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI). Conducted by NAMI executive director Laurie Flynn, they offer a possible preview of Steel and Jamison’s testimony on Tuesday. Excerpts follow below.
NAMI’s Interview with Kay Jamison
Spotlight (Winter 1999/2000)
NAMI: What do we know about the linkage between suicide and mental illness?
Jamison: The most important thing to know is that 90 to 95 percent of suicides are associated with one of several major psychiatric illnesses: depression, bipolar illness, schizophrenia, drug and alcohol abuse, and personality disorders. These are obviously treatable illnesses. Another thing people don’t think about enough or emphasize enough is that because cancer and heart disease hit older people, they are seen as lethal illnesses. Because the age of onset for mental illnesses is very, very young, people don’t tend to think of mental illnesses as the potentially lethal illnesses they are. It’s important for people to understand that they have an illness to begin with and then that they get good treatment for it.
NAMI: You have spoken specifically of suicide and college students.
Jamison: Yes. Suicide is the second major killer of college aged kids. It’s the second leading killer of young people generally.
NAMI: You also have pointed out that, worldwide, suicide is the second leading killer of women between ages 15 and 45. These statistics are staggering, yet most people don’t seem to be aware of it.
Jamison: Absolutely. Across the world. There are almost two million suicides a year worldwide. I think people just don’t have any sense of the enormity of it. Suicide unfortunately has been so individualized and, because of the early suicide movement in this country, so separated from mental illness. People working in the field of suicide concentrated on existential factors and vague sorts of things, when in fact the underlying science is very clear that they’re associated with a few mental illnesses.
NAMI: Knowing what we do about illness and its treatability allows us to be able to discuss preventing suicide.
Jamison: Right. [U.S. Surgeon General] Dr. David Satcher’s emphasis has been very strong on three fronts. One is public awareness. Secondly, intervention and all that’s involved in making doctors and others more able to ask the kinds of questions needed to uncover mental illness. And then, thirdly, to support the science that’s necessary to study suicide.
NAMI: What else can policy makers and public officials do?
Jamison: I think we have to have public officials talking about it. When you have someone like Jesse Ventura out there saying these outrageous things-I think it’s really beyond the pale-we’ve got to have the president of the United States saying look we’ve got a real epidemic here, and there’s something we can do about it. People are dying from not gaining access to treatment-or from having three days in the hospital, and then going out and dying.
NAMI’s Interview with Danielle Steel
Spotlight (Winter 1999)
NAMI: “His Bright Light” is a very personal story about a very painful subject, the mental illness and death of a child. What did you hope people would learn by sharing your story?
Steel: I hoped first of all that people would come to know my son, and learn what an extraordinary person he was. I wrote the book to honor him, and to share with people what a remarkable person he was, in spite of his illness. I also wrote it to share with people the challenges we faced, so that they feel less alone and less isolated with their pain, in similar situations. I wrote it to give people hope and strength as they follow a similar path to ours.
NAMI: What did you learn from this painful tragedy?
Steel: I’m not sure yet what I learned from the tragedy, except that one can and must survive. But from his life, I learned a great deal about courage and perseverance, and love.
NAMI: Lots of people in America might be facing signs of a mental illness in one of their children. What about Nick’s behavior made you realize that it was more severe than just the normal growing pains of a child?
Steel: Nick was different. Always. His moods were more extreme. I sensed from early on, that despite his many wonderful qualities, there was something very wrong. I knew it in my gut, as I think many parents do.
NAMI: How long did it take for Nick to be diagnosed as manic-depressive and receive treatment for that condition?
Steel: Nick was not clearly diagnosed as manic depressive until he was 16, a good 12 years after we began the pursuit of the causes for his ‘differences’. He received no medication until he was 15, and did not receive the most effective medications until he was 16. A long and very painful wait for all concerned!
NAMI: Prior to knowing of Nick’s manic depression, what did mental illness mean to you? Did you associate stigma with mental illness?
Steel: I don’t think I realized, before Nick, that one could still be functional, or seemingly functional, if mentally ill. I thought of it as something totally incapacitating, and of people who were shut away. I don’t think I realized how intelligent and capable mentally ill people can still be. I’m not sure I did associate a stigma with mental illness. It just seemed like a sickness, and not necessarily a shameful one. I just thought of Nick as sick, whatever it was called, and wanted him to be cured.
NAMI: How did Nick deal with the knowledge that he had a mental illness?
Steel: For a long time, Nick himself was in denial about his illness. And eventually, he accepted it. In the last year, he told people he was manic-depressive. Before that, when he felt ‘normal’ on medications, he believed he was cured. He had a hard time accepting at first that he would be manic-depressive all his life.
NAMI: Are schools able to cope with the mental illness of a child?
Steel: In most cases, I don’t believe they are. It is a huge challenge for all to meet, and certainly hard on the other kids to have one child acting out. We were very lucky, in Nick’s high school years we finally found a wonderful school that understood the problem, accepted him as he was, and was willing to work with him in a framework he could cope with. They were remarkably flexible and creative. But for most schools, it’s asking a lot to expect them to adapt to a mentally ill child.
NAMI: If you could tell a family member who is caring for someone who is mentally ill one thing, what would that be?
Steel: Never give up. Get the best help you can. Keep trying, keep loving, keep giving, keep looking for the right answers, and love, love, love, love. Don’t listen to the words, just listen to your heart.
NAMI: What do you think support groups like NAMI can do for families coping with the mental illness of a loved one?
Steel: I think groups like NAMI can provide support, both emotional and practical—the knowledge that you are not alone. And resources, where to go, who to talk to, what works. You need all the information you can get, and it is just about impossible to do it alone.
NAMI: Stereotyping the mentally ill as violent and dangerous is pervasive in America. How do we change this perception?
Danielle: Information. Obviously there must be some mentally ill people who are violent and/or dangerous. But I suspect that most are not. Nick certainly wasn’t either of those, he was gentle, loving, smart, funny, compassionate, extremely perceptive about people, and very wise. I cannot conceive of Nick as ‘dangerous,’ although ultimately he was a danger to himself. But for the most part, I think the turmoils of the mentally ill are directed within and not without.
NAMI: What do you think the average American should know about mental illness?
Steel: I think most people should know how common it is…I also think people should know how serious it is when it goes untreated. And how potentially lethal it can be. It is vitally important to get good treatment, the right medication, and good support. If you let a bad cold turn into bronchitis and then pneumonia, without medication, it can kill you. If you do not treat serious diabetes, it can kill you. If mental illness goes untreated, it can kill you.
NAMI: We know that having “hope” is important to battling any disease. What hope do you see for people with mental illness?
Steel: I see a huge amount of hope. The medications today can give people whole, happy, productive lives. There are lots and lots of people with mental illness holding down good jobs, even with important careers, happy family lives, and doing great things. It is possible to lead a good and happy life if you are mentally ill. If those who are doing just that would speak up, it would give great hope to all those who are still groping their way along in the dark.
NAMI: What is Nick’s legacy?
Steel: Nick’s legacy is the love we had and have for him, the word we have spread of what a terrific person he was. In his lifetime, he touched countless lives, with his warmth, with his mind, with his music, with his words. Through his experiences, others have and will learn. Through the Nick Traina Foundation, hopefully we can bring help to others, in his name.
“Judas came straight to Jesus. “Greetings, Rabbi!” he exclaimed and gave him the kiss.”
Kiss– verb (used with object) 1. to touch or press with the lips slightly pursed, and then often to part them and to emit a smacking sound, in an expression of affection, love, greeting, reverence, etc.: He kissed his son on the cheek.
“A man’s kiss is his signature.”
This singular verse (v. 49) should cause us to pause and think. It is part of an amazing account of the events surrounding the death of Jesus. At this point Judas leans over and kisses him. Now, a kiss can be used when you show affection and commitment for someone. Kisses are like a ‘x-ray’ into your very being, opening and quite revealing.
Judas shows everyone exactly what he is all about. The kisser declares to the kissed the intent and desire of their heart. It also says things to those who witness it.
This kiss of Judas set into motion a whole series of events. But more importantly, this kiss was an evil kiss. We kiss and are kissed. Its the way we tell others of our friendship and fidelity. It has always been so. The mechanics of it all seem a bit odd, when you think about it. Touching lips? (Ok. That’s odd.) But a real kiss goes further, injecting love and esteem and other intangibles into another.
Also, we should understand that a kiss has intense power. The kiss of Judas had this power. It wasn’t done to convey his commitment or affection, rather it was a powerful act of betrayal. Judas had drained this particular kiss of all its goodness and only evil remained.
It very well could be that Judas was attempting to manipulate a sequence of events to allow Jesus to become the messiah/king by force. He may have thought that this was a politically expedient thing to do. Maybe a good thing in his thinking. (But who can know?)
A “Judas kiss” is perhaps the most dastardly way one can be betrayed. It is not real common, but it happens, and it is devastating. Some have told me that it was like having your heart ripped out of your body. Betrayal with a “Judas kiss” is almost always a surprise, coming out of the blue, hitting you when you’re most vulnerable.
The English poet Milton envisioned hell with many levels. The very deepest level is reserved for Satan. Interestingly, Milton puts Judas at the bottom with Satan. They share the punishment of hell together, forever. I guess that this is as awful as it can get. In studying the character and the sin of Judas the following lessons may be brought out:
We must not be surprised if some bad men enter the Church, for even among the twelve was one Judas.
It is no proof that Christianity is untrue when some of its believers prove hypocrites. The defection of Judas did not leave a stain on the name of Christ, nor did it disprove the loyalty and fidelity of the other disciples.
One may be very near to Christ and not be made holy in character. Judas was three years with Christ, heard His words, lived in the atmosphere of His love, and remained unchanged. An empty bottle, hermetically sealed, may lie long in the ocean and continue perfectly dry within. A heart sealed to Christ’s love may lie near Him for years and not be blessed. Only when the heart is opened to receive His grace does closeness to Him change the heart.
Sin grows, and we never can know to what terrible and awful extent a wicked thought or desire may reach. Extrapolated, it has a vast magnitude of evil possibilities and potentialities beyond anything we would have ever dreamed.
From an article in Christianity Today, February 9, 1998
“The only army that shoots its wounded is the Christian army,” said the speaker, a psychologist who had just returned from an overseas ministry trip among missionaries. He summed up the philosophy of the group he worked with as:
1. We don’t have emotional problems. If any emotional difficulties appear to arise, simply deny having them.
2. If we fail to achieve this first ideal and can’t ignore a problem, strive to keep it from family members and never breathe a word of it outside the family.
3. If both of the first two steps fail, we still don’t seek professional help.
I have been a Christian for 50 years, a physician for 29, and a psychiatrist for 15. Over this time I have observed these same attitudes throughout the church—among lay leaders, pastors, priests, charismatics, fundamentalists, and evangelicals alike. I have also found that many not only deny their problems but are intolerant of those with emotional difficulties.
Many judge that others’ emotional problems are the direct result of personal sin. This is a harmful view. At any one time, up to 15 percent of our population is experiencing significant emotional problems. For them our churches need to be sanctuaries of healing, not places where they must hide their wounds.
THE EMOTIONAL-HEALTH GOSPEL
Several years ago my daughter was battling leukemia. While lying in bed in the hospital, she received a letter, which read in part:
Dear Susan, You do not know me personally, but I have seen you in church many times….I have interceded on your behalf and I know the Lord is going to heal you if you just let Him. Do not let Satan steal your life—do not let religious tradition rob you of what Jesus did on the cross—by His stripes we were healed.
The theology behind this letter reminded me of a bumper sticker I once saw: “Health and Prosperity: Your Divine Right.” The letter writer had bought into a “healing in the atonement” theology that most mainstream evangelicals reject.
According to this traditional faith-healing perspective, Christ’s atonement provides healing for the body and mind just as it offers forgiveness of sins for the soul. The writer meant well, but the letter created tremendous turmoil for my daughter. While evangelicals have largely rejected “health and wealth” preaching—that faithful Christians will always prosper physically and financially—many hold to an insidious variation of that prosperity gospel. I call it the “emotional-health gospel.”
The emotional-health gospel assumes that if you have repented of your sins, prayed correctly, and spent adequate time in God’s Word, you will have a sound mind and be free of emotional problems.
Usually the theology behind the emotional-health gospel does not go so far as to locate emotional healing in the Atonement (though some do) but rather to redefine mental illnesses as “spiritual” or as character problems, which the church or the process of sanctification can handle on its own. The problem is, this is a false gospel, one that needlessly adds to the suffering of those already in turmoil.
This prejudice against those with emotional problems can be seen in churches across the nation on any Sunday morning. We pray publicly for the parishioner with cancer or a heart attack or pneumonia. But rarely will we pray publicly for Mary with severe depression, Charles with incapacitating panic attacks, or the minister’s son with schizophrenia. Our silence subtly conveys that these are not acceptable illnesses for Christians to have.
The emotional-health gospel is also communicated by some of our most listened-to leaders. I heard one national speaker make the point that “At the cross you can be made whole. Isaiah said that ‘through his stripes we are healed’ … not of physical suffering, which one day we will experience; we are healed of emotional and spiritual suffering at the cross of Jesus Christ.” In other words, a victorious Christian will be emotionally healthy. This so-called full gospel, which proclaims that healing of the body and mind is provided for all in the Atonement, casts a cruel judgment on the mentally ill.
Two authors widely read in evangelical circles, John MacArthur and Dave Hunt, also propagate views that, while sincerely held, I fear lead us to shoot our wounded. In his book “Beyond Seduction”, Hunt writes, “The average Christian is not even aware that to consult a psychotherapist is much the same as turning oneself over to the priest of any other rival religion,” and, “There is no such thing as a mental illness; it is either a physical problem in the brain (such as a chemical imbalance or nutritional deficiency) or it is a moral or spiritual problem.”
MacArthur, in “Our Sufficiency in Christ”, presents the thesis that “As Christians, we find complete sufficiency in Christ and his provisions for our needs.” While I agree with his abstract principle, I disagree with how he narrows what are the proper “provisions.” A large portion of the book strongly criticizes psychotherapy as one of the “deadly influences that undermine your spiritual life.” He denounces “so-called Christian psychologists and psychiatrists who testified that the Bible alone does not contain sufficient help to meet people’s deepest personal and emotional needs,” and he asserts, “There is no such thing as a ‘psychological problem’ unrelated to spiritual or physical causes.
God supplies divine resources sufficient to meet all those needs completely.” Physically caused emotional problems, he adds, are rare, and referring to those who seek psychological help, he concludes: “Scripture hasn’t failed them—they’ve failed Scripture.”
A PLACE FOR PROFESSIONALS
When adherents of the emotional-health gospel say that every human problem is spiritual at root, they are undeniably right. Just as Adam’s fall in the garden was spiritual in nature, so in a very true sense the answer to every human problem—whether a broken leg or a burdened heart—is to be found in the redeeming work of Christ on the cross. The disease and corruption process set into motion by the Fall affected not only our physical bodies but our emotions as well, and we are just beginning to comprehend the many ways our bodies and minds have been affected by original sin and our fallen nature. Yet the issue is not whether our emotional problems are spiritual or not—all are, at some level—but how best to treat people experiencing these problems.
Many followers of the emotional-health gospel make the point that the church is, or at least should be, the expert in spiritual counseling, and I agree. Appropriate spiritual counseling will resolve issues such as salvation, forgiveness, personal morality, God’s will, the scriptural perspective on divorce, and more. It can also help some emotional difficulties. But many emotional or mental illnesses require more than a church support network can offer.
I know it sounds unscriptural to say that some individuals need more than the church can offer—but if my car needs the transmission replaced, do I expect the church to do it? Or if I break my leg, do I consult my pastor about it? For some reason, when it comes to emotional needs, we think the church should be able to meet them all. It can’t, and it isn’t supposed to.
This is why the emotional-health gospel can do so much harm. People who need help are prevented from seeking it and often made to feel shame for having the problem. Thankfully, more and more people in the Christian community are beginning to realize that some people need this extra help. If professionals and church leaders can recognize the value of each other’s roles, we will make progress in helping the wounded. Forty percent of all individuals who need emotional help seek it first from the church, and some of these will need to be referred to mental-health professionals.
Church leaders should get to know Christian therapists in their communities so they can knowledgeably refer people with persistent emotional problems.
My favorite of all the apostles is John, “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” Some people give him a bad rap for calling himself that, saying it’s arrogant. I disagree. I don’t believe this title for himself is any indication he thought he was the only one. Rather, I believe it reveals how certain he was that Jesus loved him and everyone else, including you.
My memoir, My Name Is Beloved, is so titled for the same reason. I don’t believe I’m the only one who is beloved by God. I know that I am not and I want others like me to know they are beloved, too.
I love John’s Gospel, his three epistles, and Revelation. One of my favorite passages is from 1 John 4:7-21. It’s all about God’s love for all of His children and how we should love each other in the same way. There’s not a hint of arrogance here.
There are a number of things I love about John’s writings:
He reminds his readers that he was an eye witness to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. That means he writes with truth and authority of what he knows to be true.
He clearly sets out the evidence for Jesus’ divinity. Especially in the Gospel, where we see the “I am” statements of Jesus.
He focuses, particularly in the epistles, on the love of God. In fact, he says “God is love” twice in 1 John 4.
He reveals the power and purpose of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers. It is by the Spirit that we overcome sin and know we are God’s children.
He provides believers with an assurance of salvation.
It is this last point that I’m focusing on today. Early in the history of the Christian faith, deceivers had come into the church who taught that one had to achieve sinless perfection to be saved. John wrote his first epistle to combat this heresy. The same type of heresy has crept into many legalistic denominations even today. By outwardly following the rules, such people claim to be without sin. But as John writes:
“If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.”
1 John 1:8-10 (NIV).
John here provides assurance that the fact that the believer sometimes sins does not negate their salvation, because Jesus is faithful and forgives our sin. One dictionary definition of assurance is “full confidence; freedom from doubt; certainty.” Throughout this epistle, John provides further assurance that those who trust in Jesus can be certain of their salvation even though they are not sinless and perfect.
The word know appears 42 times in this short epistle because John wants to make sure believers know that God loves them and that they can rely on His promise of salvation. In each of the chapters of the epistle, John includes his assurance:
“I am writing to you, dear children,
because your sins have been forgiven on account of his name.
I am writing to you, fathers,
because you know him who is from the beginning.
I am writing to you, young men,
because you have overcome the evil one.”
1 John 2:12-13 (NIV).
“Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God and receive from him anything we ask, because we keep his commands and do what pleases him. And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. The one who keeps God’s commands lives in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us.”
1 John 3:21-24 (NIV).
“If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.”
1 John 4:15-16 (NIV).
“I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life. This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.”
1 John 5:13-14 (NIV).
None of us is perfect and completely sinless. If we were, we would not need a savior. But we do need Him, and we thrive best knowing that He is faithful in His promise of salvation for those who believe.
Now don’t get me wrong. John does not advocate living a life in which we sin willy-nilly simply because we know we can be forgiven. Those who truly believe in Jesus, and trust in Him for salvation, will desire to keep God’s commands. His Spirit living in our hearts will help us to overcome the temptations of the world and to love as He has commanded.
Are you struggling today with worries that you are not good enough, that you’ve sinned too much, or that God will give up on you and you will lose your salvation? Meditate on John’s words, inspired by God, and know that these worries are unfounded. It is the struggle itself that proves you are alive in Christ.
Remember, God is faithful in His promises. He has promised eternal life to all who believe in Jesus and allow His love to live in them. He has not hidden the truth from us, but has made Himself known through His Son and the witness of the apostles so that we can be assured of our place in His Kingdom.
Linda L. Kruschke is the author of My Name Is Beloved, winner of the Unpublished Memoir category of the Oregon Christian Writers Cascade Writing Contest, as well as self-published author of two poetry books. She is a wife, mother, active member of her church, and former Bible Study Fellowship leader. After struggling through years of major clinical depression and finding God’s healing grace, she is now a fearless follower of Christ, living in the assurance of her salvation and God’s love.