Living in Terror

By Wayne Jackson

A sincere woman has written asking for help. This week’s Penpoints article addresses her inquiry.

“Can you possibly help me? No matter what I do I cannot shake the feeling that I am lost. I cannot convince myself that God loves me, and that I can be forgiven of my sins. I live in depression almost constantly. Sometimes I don’t want to live, but I am horrified of dying. What can I do to find peace of mind?”

With the contrite attitude that you obviously have, you are not far from obtaining the relief that you desire so much. Let me offer the following for your reflection.

(1) It is clear that you have experienced the devastation of sin in your life. Your conduct has created turmoil in your mind because you are aware that you have violated the moral and religious sensitivity of your conscience before God. You also have gone against whatever wholesome teaching you may have received in your earlier life. It is perfectly understandable, therefore, that you might be in a state of despair.

But the fact that you feel legitimate guilt is in your favor. You have not so hardened your heart that you virtually are unreachable. You want out of this distressful maze of confusion and that is a very wonderful attitude to have. There are several things that I need to say to you, and I know that you realize that I have only your spiritual interests at heart.

(2) It is obvious that you believe in God, and for that you must be commended. Far too many people in today’s world thrust God from their minds as a first option in their spiritual frustration. Thankfully, you have not done this. Your perception of God, however, needs some adjustment.

God is a being of absolute love (1 Jn. 4:8). Ideally, therefore, he does not want anyone to be lost (2 Pet. 3:9); he would like for all people to be saved by coming to a knowledge of the truth (1 Tim. 2:4).

The intensity of his love was supremely demonstrated in the gift of his Son (Jn. 3:16), who died for us while we were yet sinners (Rom. 5:8). In view of these passages (and numerous others of similar import), no one should ever think that he or she is unloved by the Creator. A part of the remedy for your problem, therefore, lies in your need to understand and appreciate the Lord’s love for you.

(3) It should be apparent, however, that merely citing these passages will hardly be meaningful if you do not have confidence in the integrity of the Holy Scriptures. If you do not believe that God is supplying you with valid information, by means of the biblical record, how can these documents possibly provide you with the tranquility of soul for which you long?

This means that you must seriously examine the evidence that can be marshaled in support of the Scriptures’ claim that these writings reflect the revealed will of God (see 2 Tim. 3:16-17). We cannot supply that evidence in this brief response, of course, but we have publications available (both on this web site and in printed works) that abundantly support the authenticity of the sacred documents.

(4) Once you become convinced of the veracity of the Bible, and you embrace the reality of God’s love and his desire for your welfare, you will be ready to proceed further. You then will be able to assimilate the concrete method by which you can know that you have obtained forgiveness of all your past sins, and that you have the thrilling hope of eternal life.

(5) It is imperative that one possesses an honest heart as he examines the Scriptures. He must want to find the truth and be willing to search for it (Jn. 7:17; Acts 17:11).

As the sincere student examines the evidence regarding Jesus Christ in the Gospel accounts (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John), he will be compelled to arrive at the conclusion that Jesus of Nazareth was the promised Messiah of Old Testament prophecy. This establishes the reality that Christ is God’s Son who died to remedy the human sin problem.

There are many lines of information that point to this conclusion, e.g., the supernatural nature of his birth (corroborated by the testimony of a physician — Lk. 1:26ff; Col. 4:14). The Savior’s miracles, designed to prove his identity (Jn. 20:30-31), were acknowledged even by his enemies (Mt. 12:24; Jn. 11:47). The empty tomb, following his death, is inexplicable on naturalistic grounds. Based upon solid biblical evidence, therefore, it is possible to come to a strong conviction that the first-century Jesus is truly God’s Son.

Once that plateau is achieved, the believer must have a sincere willingness to trust the Lord, and be anxious to implicitly follow his instruction for the reception of pardon. This involves turning away from the deliberate practice of sin. This action, called “repentance,” reflects a sorrow for transgressions committed, and a resolution to cease sinful activity as much as is humanly possible (Lk. 13:3,5; Acts 2:38; 17:30). In addition, those who would identify with Christ must be willing to publicly confess him as Lord (Mt. 10:32; Rom. 10:10; 1 Tim. 6:12).

Finally, there is the matter of baptism, which is designed to identify the believer with the Lord’s death and resurrection (Rom. 6:3-4). Baptism is a controversial issue with many in the larger community of “Christendom.” There are several facts about biblical baptism that must be recognized by those who would seek God’s pardon according to the plan he set in operation.

First, the rite is an immersion in water (Acts 8:38-39; Rom. 6:3-4; Col. 2:12). Neither the sprinkling or pouring of water upon the candidate constitutes true baptism.

Second, the command to be immersed is only for those who are capable of believing the gospel (Mk. 16:16), and who have the ability to repent of their personal sins (Acts 2:38). Thus, infants are excluded. Anyone, therefore, who has been “sprinkled” -either as an adult or an infant- needs to submit to the ordinance personally and properly.

Third, the purpose for which one is to be immersed is “for the remission of sins” (Acts 2:38; cf. 22:16; 1 Pet. 3:21). To go through the ritual for some other reason represents a failure to do what the Scriptures specifically require in terms of the rite’s design.

To submit to this plan, therefore, in all its beauty and power, is to embrace the assurance that the promise of eternal life is in your possession. One need not doubt, or even wonder about the matter any further. God’s word is sure, and yielding to his plan should produce confidence and peace in your heart.

Even the child of God, however, must realistically recognize that he will not be able to live above sin permanently. You will slip, through weakness, time and again. When you fall, though, you need not become enslaved to the fear of being lost. God is anxious to forgive you as you rise from your transgression and struggle again for the holy life.

It is only when you cease to try, when you throw up your hands in despair, making no further attempt to learn, grow, and serve God, that you will slip back into that state of being “lost.” Unfortunately some teach that no matter how deeply you regress from the truth, you never can be lost. That simply is not the case (Gal. 5:4; 2 Pet. 2:1).

The problem with some people is this. Even though they intellectually know they have done that which is required by the Lord for salvation, and even though, as a blemished Christian, they fervently pray and strive to live right, they cannot rid themselves of the “lost” feeling.

What is the problem? It is one of trust. They have not yet learned to take God at his word and cast their cares upon him (1 Pet. 5:7). They really do not believe that he will do as he has said. They keep waiting for some spiritual “zap” directly from Heaven which they believe will adorn them with utter tranquility of soul. They wait in vain.

There is no “magical” Holy Spirit outpouring that is going to administer to you a spiritual “shock” treatment that takes away all your guilt and fear. Paul, possibly the most dedicated man this side of Christ, agonized over his weaknesses at times. Read Romans 7:18-24. He had haunting memories of those he had persecuted with such vigor (Eph. 3:8; 1 Tim. 1:16). Yet, on balance, he lived the joyful life (Phil. 4:4), because he knew that Christ’s grace “abounded exceedingly” above his history of flaws.

The remedy, therefore, is this. Let God speak to you profusely each day through his written revelation, the sacred Scriptures. Study the lives of great Bible characters who made their own share of mistakes, and note also their triumphs. The life of David is remarkable in this regard. Read good literature from those who have studied the Bible much longer than you have. Receive their scriptural counsel with gladness.

Communicate much with your Father in prayer. Speak to him reverently, and as the Friend that he is. Tell him of your fears and heartaches. If you feel inadequate to convey your feelings, remember that the Spirit of God will help you in this time of need (Rom. 8:26). Try to develop close bonds with stronger Christians who will help you in times of distress. You can make it if you really want to, and you “strive” to do so (Lk. 13:24).

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About the Author

Wayne Jackson has written for and edited the Christian Courier since its inception in 1965. He has also written several books on a variety of biblical topics including The Bible and Science, Creation, Evolution, and the Age of the Earth, The Bible on Trial, and a number of commentaries. He lives in Stockton, California with his dear wife, and life-long partner, Betty.