Doubt is the appropriate word to describe if I was going to be able to write this book review or not. At the time of this writing I confess I have had a rough few weeks in my life where I did not feel like reading or writing. So I was doubtful that I had the energy to read or write. However, by the grace of God that sustains us even in our deepest times of doubt I was able to finish reading John Steven’s book, “How Can I Be Sure.” As a result, I have found it to be a very timely fantastic book, as we each struggle at some point in life. As Stevens writes, “doubt is dangerous, but we need not be terrified by it… it’s an opportunity for spiritual growth.” Therefore, Christians should remember that doubt is different than unbelief, that doubt produces spiritual maturity, and that we must look beyond ourselves.
According to Stevens, the most troubling aspect of doubt is the difference between “doubt and unbelief.” Often the failure to distinguish between these two terms causes one to move beyond a casual doubt and towards questioning one’s salvation. Stevens offers hope and comfort by simply asking,
“Do you believe and trust in Jesus?” If the answer is “yes”, then you have every entitlement to assurance of salvation. If the answer is “no”, then you have no grounds for assurance.”
This is because our salvation is not based on any work we do as Christians. It is not even based on the level of our faith. Rather, salvation is based on the object of our faith, which is Jesus Christ our Lord. Jesus fulfilled all the religious requirements we could never keep. As a result, we should trust what God did for us on the Cross of Christ than our works and effort. Then we will move from unbelief back to simple doubt.
Since belief on Jesus Christ distinguishes doubt from unbelief, we do not need to fear. Our doubts do not invalidate their eternal security. This is the first theme Stevens weaves throughout How Can I Be Sure and it’s a significant truth because our lack of assurance can have an adverse effect on our love and obedience towards Jesus. So be encouraged that if you believe on Jesus for your salvation you need not fear. In Christ, you are free to pursue answers to these doubts to be a more effective Christian, which is spiritual maturity.
Doubt also serves as part of the maturing process Christian’s experience. For us to ignore it can cause us to harden our hearts. The process may not be fun, but maturity occurs when we trust that God is working out our circumstances for good. Stevens illustrates this biblically by reminding us of when Paul struggled with the “throne in the flesh” in 2 Corinthians 12. Remember, God told Paul that His grace was sufficient for his suffering. Paul matured through his time of doubt by praying to God. It was through his prayers and the grace of God that Paul developed into who God desired for him to become. It was not his efforts. This does not mean we are absent in our responsibility, but we depend on God.
One way we can depend on God is by partnering with Him to turn our doubt into maturity by practicing spiritual disciplines. Stevens mentions four distinct disciplines throughout How Can I Be Sure and they are, consistently reading God’s Word, persistent prayer, obtaining help from other Christians, and keeping a spiritual journal. The first three are standard recommendations for anyone familiar with church, but the spiritual journal is a different twist. Basically, Stevens suggests the spiritual journal is to reflect on our past struggles and compare them with present doubts. Over time we can see how God has matured us in Christ. This recommendation does have its dangers. It can be too self-absorbed by reflecting too much on our past.
Self-reflection can help mature us, but too much self-introspection can be dangerous. Stevens mentions this danger many times in How Can I Be Sure by saying those “who have a tender conscience and an introverted temperament” tend to turn their doubt into questioning if they really are saved. Being an introvert and one who has practiced the sin of self-reflection, I know this to be true. The antidote involves two techniques, which Stevens recommends. First, I limit the amount of self-reflection like spiritual journaling I perform. Second, I move beyond my introspection by focusing on the needs of others. There is no better way to manage my spiritual doubts than to minister to others by sharing Jesus. By focusing on others I manage my spiritual energy outward and it keeps me from being legalistic with myself. As a result, by focusing on others I am reminded that in Christ I am fully accepted and this causes my faith to grow and not doubt. It’s important to keep a spiritual journal, but once we learn from the past we should not dwell on it, but move on.
Doubt can be very crippling if it is not managed properly. Stevens weaves the fact that doubt is different than unbelief, that doubt produces spiritual maturity, and that we must look beyond ourselves throughout How Can I Be Sure. As a result, Christians can walk away with greater assurance of their own salvation. They have biblically based principles to lean on God’s grace during their struggle than their own efforts.
Now these principles are perhaps a bit repetitive, as it seems Stevens belabors them when he could have ignored restating each principle again and said the same with less words. Despite this one negative, How Can I Be Sure is highly recommended. The book informs you on how to work through your doubt and live in the hope found in Jesus Christ. In fact, the repetition might serve as an advantage since it reinforces Steven’s encouraging principles multiple times. Even if it is too long, the book’s length of 86 pages is very accessible and well worth the time invested. You will walk away with a lifetime of peace than despair. Plus you will have an assurance of salvation. In short, How Can I Be Sure teaches you how to be blessed as you discover God’s rest, for you.
(I received this book through the Cross Focused Review program in exchange for an honest review of the book.)