John Frame on Doubt and Assurance

A couple of months ago I wrote about the Emerging church and suggested that a movement which celebrates doubt is a movement which Christians should not be eager to join. I suggested that this movement (or conversation, as they prefer) values doubt over assurance, seeing doubt as being somehow more humble and godly than assurance. Over the past week or so I have been reading John Frame’s Salvation Belongs To The Lord (look for a review next week) and came across an interesting section dealing with assurance of salvation. I thought I would share that passage today. I realize that is is not directly applicable since some within the Emerging church doubt not only assurance of salvation but really any kind of theological assurance. Yet I believe Frame provides much biblical wisdom on the subject of doubt.

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“[T]he Bible presents doubt largely in negative terms. It is a spiritual impediment, an obstacle to doing God’s work (Matt. 14:31; 21:21; 28:17; Acts 10:20; 11:12; Rom. 14:23; 1 Tim. 2:8; James 1:6). In Matthew 14:31 and Romans 14:23 it is the opposite of faith and therefore a sin. Of course, this sin, like other sins, may remain with us through our earthly life. But we should not be complacent about it. Just as the ideal for the Christian life is a perfect holiness, the ideal for the Christian mind is absolute certainty about God’s revelation.

“We should not conclude, however, that doubt is always sinful. Matthew 14:31 and Romans 14:23 (and indeed the other texts I have listed) speak of doubt in the fact of clear special revelation. To doubt what God has clearly spoken to us is wrong. But in other situations, it is not wrong to doubt. In many cases, in fact, it is wrong for us to claim knowledge, much less certainty. Indeed, often the best course is to admit our ignorance (Deut. 29:29, Rom. 11:33-36). Paul is not wrong to express uncertainty about the number of people he baptized (1 Cor. 1:16). Indeed, James tells us, we are not always ignorant of the future to some extent and we should not pretend to know more about it than we do (James 4:13-16). Job’s friends were wrong to think that they knew the reasons for his torment, and Job himself had to be humbled, as God reminded him of his ignorance (Job 38-42).

“But as to our salvation, God wants us to know that we know him (1 John 5:13)…”

I believe Frame is correct on several important accounts. The Bible presents doubt largely in negative terms. Doubt is not presented as a reason for pride and assurance is not presented as something that is shameful. And in fact, doubt is a hindrance to doing God’s work and is the very opposite of faith. A person who is filled with doubt may well be a person of weak faith. An ideal faith is one that has absolute certainty about God’s revelation.

And so we are to pursue assurance, for assurance of salvation and assurance of God’s revelation is the mark of faith, not something that is opposed to it.