This is the second post on Thomas Brooks’s great work Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices. The first post covered how Satan entices us to commit sin. The second post described how Satan diverts us from the good things that bring abundant life and spread it abroad to others. Finally, Brooks describes how Satan tries to confused people about their spiritual state. The most obvious way he does this is by trying to convince unbelievers that they are spiritual safe and need not repent and follow God. But Brooks spends most of his time describing how the Enemy tries to convince believers that they are not true children of God.
Tactic #1: Misrepresenting conversion
First, Satan misrepresents what conversion is and how it works, so as to cast doubt on the validity of your conversion:
- “Conversion always involves feelings of terror for one’s sins”
- “Once converted, you should never feel fear of God”
- “A true convert can identify the specific time and manner of their conversion”
- “True conversion immediately generates remarkable gifts of prayer and exhortation, as well as growth in grace that is both visible and rapid”
- “True saving faith is always accompanied by assurance”
Tactic #2: Misrepresenting the justice and providence of God
Satan will try to argue from God’s justice to make you doubt your adoption: “God is so holy and just. How can you, with all your sin, claim to be His child?” He may also argue from God’s providence (i.e. what God allows to happen to you) that you aren’t His child: “If you were a real child of God, He would not allow you to suffer in this way.” In both cases, he’s trying to isolate certain parts of God’s character to lead us to false conclusions about His love for us.
Tactic #3: Misrepresenting our sin
Satan will point to our temptations to argue that we are so sinful that we couldn’t be God’s child. However, Brooks (and others throughout church history) insists that being tempted is not sin – only giving in to it is sin. After all, Jesus Himself was tempted but remained without sin (Heb 4:15). In fact, it appears that the more you grow in the Lord’s service, the greater temptations become – even as the frequency of yielding to them decreases.
For those who actually do sin, Satan adopts the approach of arguing that, “Your relapses into the same sins proves that you are not God’s child.” Not so, says Brooks. While it is lamentable when one of God’s children falls repeatedly into a habitual sin, it does not mean they do not have saving faith.
Tactic #4: Misrepresenting our graces
Finally, Satan will attack our assurance by calling the quality of our graces into question. By “graces” Brooks means the fruit of God’s work within us, such as faith, humility, obedience, spiritual gifts, fruit of the Spirit, etc. Satan’s first approach is to elevate the grace in the abstract, defining it in such a lofty way that few could honestly claim to possess it. For example, he might tempt you to think that real faith means you would be unafraid to die for your faith, or give away all you had to the poor. These false definitions then cause people to examine their own faith and conclude that it is counterfeit or inadequate.
The Enemy’s second approach is to presents the believer’s own grace as less than it really is, or suggesting that it is counterfeit altogether. So might draw your attention to a time when your faith faltered, make the failure seem larger than it was, and then tempt you to therefore conclude that it isn’t real.
Resisting the Tactics
Brooks gives three suggestions on how to resist these assaults on your assurance:
- Remember that one may have great faith without assurance
- Work hard to gain assurance
- Note the presence of the fruit of the spirit in your life
- Eagerly embrace any opportunity to prove the sincerity of your faith (i.e. those times when God calls you to deny yourself for His sake)
- Only God can give us assurance, but don’t wait passively for it. Wait upon Him “in the ways of his ordinances”
- Resist Satan’s temptations to despair
- If you doubt that you repentance was real, simply renew it
- Ask God for a renewed sense of assurance
- Hide for a time “in the absolute promises of the gospel”
- Share this inner struggle with a trusted friend, for “the strength of some temptations lies in the concealing of them.”
- Remember that, while the Holy Spirit may chide, frown, convict and even punish the soul, He never calls into question that the believer is a child of God