Hopelessness in Salvation
I thank you and your church for having a website to visit. I wish more of our churches had this. Could you please answer a question for me that has been on my mind much of the time lately? I have been struggling with it a lot. If a person has noticed a continual change in his/her life, without having a feeling of absolute hopelessness first and such a deep deep sense of misery, can that person still be saved? I must admit, I cannot feel hopeless, because there is ALWAYS hope in Jesus Christ. However, what is preached in the church is that you first have to come to a place of complete and utter hopelessness first, and THEN you can be saved. Could you please give me your insight on this? Thank you so much and all the best in the New Year to you.
Thank you for your encouragement about the website. It has been a great means of communicating and also answering questions. I also wish you a blessed New Year. May you experience the personal grace of God in your life.
Your question is not an uncommon one. I struggled with the exact same issue many years ago. I assume you will agree that without a real conviction of sin no one will really become interested in salvation in Christ. It is not until I feel sick that I am paying attention to notices about capable and willing doctors. Therefore it is correct to say that no one will seek for salvation who hasn’t first been somehow convicted of his or her sins. In our natural and fallen state we are actually indifferent to the sinfulness of our sins and the dangers of sins. Thus the teaching of your church is correct if they teach that a sense of conviction and misery about who you are and where you are in relationship to God is experienced prior to the knowledge and experience of salvation through Jesus Christ.
Will everyone sense a complete “hopelessness” before they come to a measure of hope by faith in the Gospel message of the Lord Jesus? That really is the heart of your question. I rely in my answer on the helpful book The Way of Life by Charles Hodge. I highly recommend that book. His chapter on “conviction of sin” is extremely good and helpful. Conviction of sin includes several aspects. First, God’s Spirit works a deepening knowledge of the nature of sin and the extent of our sinfulness. How much of this is necessary: enough to bring our hearts to consent to God’s declaration about our guilt and His justice in punishing us. Secondly, along with this conviction, comes a deepening sense of our personal unworthiness. This sense of personal unworthiness is the main part of someone’s real conviction of sin. A sense of shame is sensed; along with sorrow about all the offences we have committed. There will also be a fear, a dread that we have offended God as well as a fear that we will not be forgiven. Think of how Job put it, “The arrows of the Almighty are within me…” It is interesting to see that no matter how many years apart such convicted sinners have lived, they all express themselves similarly before God. However, be careful to think that such conviction is salvation. It only will make us more ready to receive what God has been telling us all along and we weren’t interested in but in itself it doesn’t save us. Only true faith in the Lord Jesus Christ is saving. Thirdly, conviction of sin includes a conviction of our condemnation before God. Along with this conviction often the feeling is felt that our sins are so great that they cannot be forgiven. Indeed, when there is a clear discovery of sin and guilt, without an understanding of the plan of salvation, despair is felt. When someone sees God as just in condemning a sinner and when that someone sees himself as a condemnable sinner, than he or she cannot hope for mercy. A sense of despair or hopelessness is experienced. I like to quote, however, a paragraph that might help you.
In a Christian country, however, the knowledge of the plan of salvation is so generally diffused, that is seldom fails, even when imperfectly understood, to calm or restrain the apprehensions of God’s displeasure. It is known that God can pardon sin; that there is salvation at least for some, for some have been saved. And although the sinner is often disposed to think that his is an exceptional case, or that there is some peculiar aggravation in his guilt, which puts him beyond the reach of mercy, yet he cannot be sure that this is the case. And in his darkest hours the belief in the possibility of salvation is not entirely destroyed.
I agree with him. Those who have been raised all their life under the message of the Gospel; who have heard over and over that there is forgiveness; that God is the God of Manasseh etc. will always know in the back of their mind that God is a God of love and pardon; that he who forsakes his sins and thoughts and return to Him, He shall abundantly pardon. I vividly remember to sense that “I stood outside everything – had no right to anything but His holy and just displeasure – He would do no wrong if He passed me by with His grace – that I was no more than a dead dog etc.” yet never could I let go of that truth in Ps. 130 … but there is forgiveness! That truth always drew me back to Him Who I felt I had deeply offended and wronged.
I hope this answers your particular question. Feel free to react to this if you have more questions.
Warmly, Pastor Vergunst