Assured Though Ill

I remember sitting in a psychiatric hospital so spun I could barely stay awake, let alone be contemplative, yet never once did a denial of my heavenly Father enter my mind. I never lost sight of the object of my faith. And I was assailed by doubt…constantly in fact. And as tenuous as it might have been, I found assurance and comfort knowing that I rested in the embrace of my savior. Knowing that I was kept by his promises (John 17:12) with an infallible assurance that rested upon a covenant keeping God, not an oath-breaking man, one of whom I was all too acquainted with. Bipolar disorder and PTSD have shown me unambiguously that I can have assurance nowhere else than in union with Christ. Neither keeping the law out of fear of condemnation and damnation nor a cheap grace that leaves no room for repentance or piety, but in my grasping hold of my savior, rejoicing in the Law as manifest evidence of my Fathers care and love for me as his child. Because I can do nothing else but acknowledge my guilt, rejoice in the grace of God, and display my gratitude, my love of the law and my savior by keeping his commandments.

This infallible assurance doth not so belong to the essence of faith, but that a true believer may wait long, and conflict with many difficulties before he be partaker of it: yet, being enabled by the Spirit to know the things which are freely given him of God, he may, without extraordinary revelation, in the right use of ordinary means, attain thereunto. And therefore it is the duty of everyone to give all diligence to make his calling and election sure, that thereby his heart may be enlarged in peace and joy in the Holy Ghost, in love and thankfulness to God, and in strength and cheerfulness in the duties of obedience, the proper fruits of this assurance; so far is it from inclining men to looseness.

Westminster Confession of Faith 18.3

My question was always, “How can I gain assurance?” What can I do to settle my restless spirit? But what I found and where I found it was in a love for the law of the Lord and a burgeoning grievance with lawlessness and sin. Because lawlessness is hatred of the Law and by consequence of the Lord. And it is here that my assurance, and I would hazard a guess, the assurance of others, began to tremble. For as my sin grew, my hatred of his Law grew; pleasure and pain inexorably dampened and nearly extinguished my love of God. I was a wretched man who didn’t believe that God had any desire to set me free (Romans 7:24) That the gospel could find no purchase in my heart, which was constantly assailed by doubt. While the enemy stole my joy, in my despair I agreed with him.

But if I have learned one thing it is that true faith produces a true love of the Law of the Lord. The love of his Law bears the fruit of repentance and piety in my life. My assurance is founded on this, for none of that is possible apart from my union with Christ. Paul clarified that it is not a “what” but a “who” that cannot separate us from the love of God that is found in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:33-39). Sinclair Ferguson puts it this way:

Paul is not asking: “What can be against us? What charge can be brought against us? What can condemn us? What can separate us from the love of Christ?” Rather, his questions are: “Who…? Who…? Who…? Who…?” Satan, not circumstances, is in his crosshairs. It is the face of all Satan’s attempts to mar it that Paul enjoys the assurance that Christ keeps his people secure.

Sinclair Ferguson, “The Whole Christ” page 221

I have spent years chasing the white rabbit of assurance by works down through every warren it fled to. I have spent years broken and weighed down by a frantic repentance based on the fear of God’s judgement and wrath. I was fearful that my sin and pitiful works, what I now recognize as legalism, would disqualify me from receiving the benefits that belong to those in Christ. But I was afraid because I hated his law. I lived as an antinomian but I tortured my conscience as a failed legalist. In basing my assurance upon a fearful keeping of the law, yet living my life without regard to the law I was lawless and showed God nothing but hatred, casting his love for me and the savior that died for me back into his face. But now I can say with Paul,

25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. 10 But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness.

Romans 7:25-8:10, English Standard Version