…it is common and easy in a dark hour to turn the gospel into a covenant of works.” -John Newton
These words from Newton come in the context of counseling what appears to be a discouraged Joseph Symonds. Symonds seems to be struggling with what I have experienced both in my own life and in counseling other believers in the way of the gospel.
In dark times many believers begin to turn the gospel into law. They chastise themselves for not being what I word term “gospely enough”. Rather than living in the freedom that Christ has already purchased these believers despair over their imperfections, their lack of spiritual experiences, their feelings of doubt and restlessness, and their shamefully meager love for Christ. As this despair takes root the believer can conclude that he/she must not be truly saved because he/she does not have the gospel flowing through their life as they should.
Newton’s counsel is again solid.
“If a fear of being deceived, a mourning under a sense of vileness, a hungering and thirsting after righteousness, a sense of the evil and danger of sin, a persuasion of the preciousness and suitableness of Christ in his offices, etc; if these are not spiritual experiences, I know not what are.”
Luther rightly said that “it is the supreme art of the devil that he can make the law out of the gospel”. One of the most deadly things that believers can do to hinder their spiritual growth is to neuter the gospel by making it a checklist to perform rather than a Person to savor. Newton’s very biblical counsel (See Colossians 3:1-4) is to look not on self and your level of “gospel-centrality” but to look on Christ the author and finisher of our faith.
Evidences, as you call them, are of use in their place; but the best evidence of faith is the shutting our eyes upon our defects and our graces, and looking directly to Jesus as clothed with authority and power to save to the very uttermost.
It’s foolish to look to yourself and try to determine whether you are gospely enough. Don’t seek rest in your level of gospel centrality, rest in Christ. “You have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God”. Therefore, stop analyzing the dead man and exult in the hope of life that we have in Christ.