Sorrow is not a prerequisite for salvation. Learn why you shouldn’t let your feelings keep you from a life of faith.
“I take you to be my lawfully wedded spouse; to have and to hold from this day forward; to love, honor, and cherish; in sickness and health, in prosperity and adversity; as long as we both shall live; and as long as I feel like I love you.”
What’s wrong with this picture? It’s that, while rapturous emotional love marks the beginning of many marriages, it cannot sustain them.
Sadly this is what many young married couples expect as they walk down the aisle. So, when the mundanity of ordinary life arrives and the feelings fade, many marriages fizzle out and die.
Sorrow before salvation?
Emotional experiences have also marked the beginnings of many relationships with Jesus. But they cannot sustain them. This is true for both the exuberant joy of new life and crushing remorse over past sin.
Some Christians will tell you if you’re “sorry enough” about your sin or “truly sincere” about wanting to be a Christian, God will save you. Interestingly, the Bible doesn’t agree. It’s not that emotion isn’t important, but it isn’t required.
This is why Satan will come against unbelievers, negating God’s truth with his lies about sorrow and sincerity. He will discourage them from seeking mercy from God unless their emotional response to mercy is deep enough.
In chapter 6 of Precious Remedies against Satan’s Devices, Thomas Brooks provides four counter-arguments to defeat our enemy’s deception. If you think you can’t be saved until you’re emotionally “prepared and qualified,” let these truths from Scripture convince you to feel otherwise.
1. Those lacking sorrow believed, received, and been saved.
Brooks first names Matthew, son of Levi, a tax collector and cultural sellout. Christ’s call upon his life was powerful enough to make him walk away from his lucrative business. We don’t know anything about how he felt. But we can see the practical, costly outworking of his belief in Jesus.
Other figures in the Gospels and Acts follow the same pattern
- Zaccheus proved his faith through profound generosity.
- Paul stopped persecuting Christians and became one of them, forsaking everything for Jesus.
- The jailor in Acts 16 did not ask “How much sorrow must I feel for my sins to be saved?” He asked: “What must I do?”
- In the same chapter, Lydia hears the gospel, believes and is baptized, along with her household. She became a hostess and her home a respite for Paul and his companions.
We see genuine responses to God’s mercy in these cases. Two trends stand out: giving up and giving away. When Jesus saves people, they become willing to walk away from their past lives and hand over what they have for the sake of God’s kingdom.
And it’s not that these souls didn’t feel anything. We have to assume that, being human, comprehending the gospel filled their hearts with joy and broke their hearts with sorrow over their sins. But this is not where the New Testament writers focus their attention, or ours as readers.
2. Consider the Laodiceans
The remedy Brooks provides here is to “search the Scriptures.” He provides several references to explore. But I want to concentrate on Rev. 3:15-20 here.
Jesus’s letter to the church at Laodicea was one of seven he dictated to the apostle John. The apostle was on the island of Patmos, exiled as punishment for his gospel preaching in and around Jerusalem.
In a vision, John saw and heard from the risen Christ. The Lord then commanded the apostle to send seven letters to distinct church groups along a known commercial route in Asia Minor. Each letter reminded those churches to hold to the gospel, continue looking to Christ for help and strength, and obey the Lord’s commands in all things. Most of the letters included warnings as well.
Jesus warned the church at Laodicea they were “lukewarm,” neither hot nor cold. What did he mean? Misinterpretations abound, but historical knowledge helps locate the truth.
This region featured two sources of water: a cold spring that provided fresh drinking water along a Roman-built aqueduct; and a hot spring that served medicinal, healing needs.
The Lord was taking the Laodicean Christians’ spiritual temperature here. You might say their feelings about Jesus had grown stale. Being nether hot nor cold, these saints were of no use, like the two sources of water when mixed. If you try to drink tepid, mineral-heavy spring water, you’ll spit it out.
And yet, there is the Lord Jesus, figuratively standing at the door of the Laodicean church, knocking patiently, waiting for them to let him in. He has not abandoned this beloved church. Instead, he provides them an opportunity to repent of their spiritual staleness and invite him back into their center.
The Lord didn’t wait for these believers to reignite the fires of their holy passions. He made the first move. And he will do the same for you, regardless of your emotional temperature.
3. God’s only qualification is belief
We hear Brooks’s tender pastoral heart bleeding through the pages of this section. Speaking as Christ himself, the author presses into the Lord’s promise of the weary and heavy laden.
When Christ called to those needing rest from their burdens, he spoke directly to his people, the Jews around Israel and Judea. They had borne the centuries-long weight of law keeping. The Pharisees and Sadducees and rabbinic traditions had arisen to add further expectation and confusion to the mix.
Into this world of burden, the great Shepherd spoke a single word: Come. To heads and hearts filled with the weight of guilt, he uttered one command: Believe. This easy yoke, this light burden seemed impossibly effortless, otherworldly liberating. This was the one who intended to personally carry each wayward lamb, one by one, back to his sheepfold.
Knowing that Christ’s greatest burden upon your heart is to believe the gospel, what keeps you from coming to him? Why continue buckling under the weight of your sin when he is ready to lift the load from your shoulders and give you rest?
4. Your sorrows show your salvation
The truest sorrow for sin comes after you believe, not before. Paul demonstrates this to the church at Corinth in his second epistle. He writes of another letter he sent to these believers that produced great grief in their hearts over a certain sin, which led to their repentance:
For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. For see what earnestness this godly grief has produced in you, but also what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what punishment! At every point you have proved yourselves innocent in the matter.2 Corinthians 7:10–11, ESV
These are believers feeling the sort of emotional “preparations” Brooks speaks of at the beginning of this device. These are the feelings Satan tells the unbeliever they must have prior to salvation. But we see in this example, and in our own lives in Christ, that our greatest grief over sin comes from the indwelling Holy Spirit.
Such troubles are not a requirement for coming to Christ. They are the fruit of a heart he holds firmly in his hands. The Lord places no emotional burden on you before you come to him. If you wait until you feel sorry enough over your sin, you may never come.
Go to the one the prophet Isaiah called “a man of sorrows and well acquainted with grief.” Experience the joy of salvation. Prepare then for him to open your heart as all the sorrows and joys of life in Christ find their fullness. Remember: regardless of what you feel, you are safe.