Can I be a Christian and not feel saved?

Questions about God, the Bible and the Christian culture

Question: Many Christians respond to critics/skeptics of their faith by reasoning intellectually about the likelihood that the reality they claim to believe is true. Other Christians tend to eschew rational arguments and tend to focus on their personal relationship with God as the reason for their faith. They will give a personal testimony of how they had an "encounter" with the living God in some way or another and that's all they need as proof of their seemingly irrational beliefs to the skeptic. Which approach to the defense of one’s faith is more biblical? I ask this question because I am of the former type above, who have never had an experience that I can say I met god personally or have any kind of relationship with the God I believe in that I can describe as being dynamic or intimate — as one human would have with another human for example. This is bothering me since I sometimes don't have all the answers (although this doesn't cause doubt in Jesus as my savior), it would just sometimes be nice to have some kind of either one- time or daily experience with the living God (as some describe it) to convey to others for evangelism. I read the word, pray (to who I perceive to be a distant God out there somewhere) and fellowship regularly. 

Answer: Greetings friend… and wow — what a testimony!... and it’s like I’m looking in the mirror — so this should be fun. You see, in spite of coming to Christ over 46 years ago, it is a rare day that I “feel” particularly saved — and that in spite of the fact that I pray, study, fellowship and serve (what I call the four-legged stool of the Christian life) — and in spite of the fact that I live a blessed life, full of family and friends. Now, I am a lifelong New England male… and to say that this people-group doesn’t “emote” much would be an understatement… but you’d think the Holy Spirit would break right through that. Nope. But I have a model of the Christian life that explains guys like you and me, so let me share it — and perhaps we can lean on each other for a while.

The angel of the Lord came and sat down under the oak in Ophrah that belonged to Joash the Abiezrite, where his son Gideon was threshing wheat in a winepress to keep it from the Midianites. When the angel of the Lord appeared to Gideon, he said, “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior.” (Judges 6:11–12, NIV, emphasis mine)

This is one of my favorite passages of Scripture. Gideon is hiding when the Lord calls him a “mighty warrior” … which is no small irony. But note two things: Gideon is hanging-in — just doing his job. But God had marked him for a future moment… a moment lost on Gideon until it was revealed — and that’s you right now; you are doing your job… and you could be called into a different service that would demand more of your emotions at any moment. But please note that Gideon was already doing service to God by refining the harvest to feed his family — which was not emotionally draining. But when God called him to go out conquer specifically, Gideon became a new man… because acting the aggressive-conqueror type would not have served him well as a secret thresher of wheat.

My first point is that for most of our lives, God does not call us to the peaks of emotional engagement. Mostly… we thresh wheat — that’s the job… and we should not be surprised to find ourselves living mundane lives most of the time. This speaks to your overarching question of whether such a life is normal for a believer, but it also addresses the question as to which method is more biblical. Since God plays the long game, each season in our lives is equally valid biblically.

My second point is that God uses narrative peaks to tell his story… but that these are rare by word-count — which is appropriate — because peaks are also rare in the topographical world (hence the imagery) … as are the deepest valleys; mostly we live on gentle slopes. Now, this is good story-telling on the part of God, but it might have the reader wondering, why don’t these great things happen to me?

When God commanded Abraham to sacrifice Isaac (Genesis 22:1) that was certainly a narrative peak! But God gets a lot of mileage out of such moments. By their very nature, they connect to other peaks in typology, emotions, doctrine… and lastly geography (Mt. Moriah). But anyway we measure it — in time, narrative power or emotion — peaks are rare by definition. In fact, the Bible would be a boring book if it told God’s story proportionately — as under Ehud’s judgeship. I’m glad God’s people had eighty years of peace! But would anyone want 80 years’ worth of its narrative?

That day Moab was made subject to Israel, and the land had peace for eighty years. (Judges 3:30, NIV)

My third point is that there is no requirement that you remember the moment you became a Christian — or that it should have been dramatic, wonderful or relatable. One needs to be “in” Christ — that’s the important thing. But the experience of getting in and being in will vary with the individual. God made each one of us unique as persons, and we should expect that each of our relationships with God to be unique also. Will there be commonalities? Of course. But do we have to conform to anyone else’s ideas of what a person-to-God relationship should be in order to be saved or to lead a fulfilling life in Christ? No. So, feel free to learn from all… but feel free to be your own man with God. That’s the man you’ll have to account for in judgment.

By your own testimony, you do the “standard” Christian activities of study, prayer and fellowship… and I did pick up a hint of the desire to serve since you are evaluation witnessing tools. Now, the three-legged stool of study, prayer and fellowship will stand… but there’s a reason that most chairs have four legs. So, why not contact the staff at Got Questions Ministries and apply to serve as a question responder?

You do not need a formal education to apply… hey… I barely graduated from high school and I work there! But I think you have the background, temperament and sensitivity to do this type of job. We offer flexible hours (… but inflexible pay. It’s zero.) Please note that this job doesn’t give me ecstasies… but I’m not an ecstasy-needing guy. What I find is that the “handshake” between the questioner and the responder is very satisfying — but in a tuning-fork-in-the-loins kind of way. This leads to my fourth point.

A mature relationship manifests mature emotions. For example, I am a great-grandfather now — and my wife and I have been working on this relationship thing for over half a century! What consumes most of my emotional energy these days is that I try to be a kind and supportive friend — and this is a wonderful felt-experience. But it is not the same felt-experience as when we were kids… nor should it be! Just as a mature relationship is appropriate between mature persons, so is a mature relationship between a believer and God. Now, having a mature relationship does not necessarily mean that there was once an immature relationship. Some people enter a relationship largely mature (which seems to be your status), but what is it that defines a mature relationship? Rest — not epiphany.… which is my fifth point.

One of the reasons that you do not have the same amount of (and/or height of) emotional experiences that other people report having is because you probably make small course corrections along the way — many unknown to even you… I know I do. I constantly make adjustments to my worldview in response to new data… and you can probably see where this is going. People who do not make small adjustments en route must make large adjustments when they realize how off course they are — and such moments turn into epiphanies… replete with slaps on the foreheads. But we who have more of a “watchman” personality (Ezekiel 33:7) get to the destination with little excitement along the way. We make many 1° course changes as needed… while other people make that 90 ° “Whoops! Praise God! Man overboard!” types of course changes that often follow epiphany. So, please do not assign this as a debit to your Christian life. This is an asset. It is proof that you are listening to God and that you are working with him along the way. One rarely sees the best managers managing… nor do they feel themselves doing it.

My sixth point is that faith is object-based, that is, we need something (or someone) to place our faith in… or else faith is a meaningless word. But if faith needs an object to be faith, the more we know about that object, the stronger our faith. With this in place, which of the words fact, feeling and faith do not belong? Feeling! We place our faith in God based on the facts in the Bible, in the creation and within ourselves. Legitimate faith does not require feeling… although a love of God usually manifests feeling too… but it’s not a deal-breaker for faith.

My seventh point is that orthodox Christian beliefs may be legitimately expressed under various worldviews, within a wide variety of lives-lived and in a large variety of worship styles. I have very close friends who are Charismatics — and they worship more effusively than I… and I’m not saying that that is wrong. But I am saying that it’s not for me.

One of the reasons it’s not for me is that — and as a general rule — Christians of my ilk stand on an inerrant Word of God — one that is sufficient and complete. As such, we are very wary of tongues, words from God… you know… more stuff from God. But the Charismatics are not precluded from salvation by my discomforts. In like manner, people of the Reformed traditions have a fit over my insistence that human beings have libertarian free-will and that I see their Calvinistic view of God’s sovereignty as deterministic. But these doctrinal differences are over secondary issues; they are not salvific deal-breakers.

I get it… not everyone is like me. I enjoy studying Scripture; I like grinding away at Natural Theology; I like holding people’s feet to the fire of logic and I think that Philosophy should be a requirement to get any graduate degree — even in the hard sciences! But all these preferences point to my “steady on” type of personality. I avoid drama and steer my ship accordingly. So, I am pleased with the smooth sailing — and I am not disappointed by the absence of a storm.

My eighth point is probably the most poignant. Just like you, I find myself “being” a Christian… but in many ways, I’m just going through the motions. This is why I pursue apologetics: I need to explain myself to me! You see, after all the mechanics, the emotions and the original reasons for my conversion have faded into history, the question becomes, why do I still pursue it?

And Gideon came to Jordan, and passed over, he, and the three hundred men that were with him, faint, yet pursuing them. (Judges 8:4, AV, emphasis mine)

Every day — and in a dogged more than a glorious way — I chase down my enemies because I need to defend my worldview… to me. Here’s the thing: I find myself being “in” Christ no matter what… I mean, I'm saved… and I’m sort of “stuck” with that. But it also happens that a Christian worldview makes the most sense of the data — and I fear nothing from the empirical! But not everyone is like me. Some people love Christ simply — no reasoning needed — and that’s okay. Some people love Christ emotionally — with drama required! — and that’s okay… but that’s not me… and I’m thinking, that’s not you.

Christianity can absorb the full range of human personalities… including those who are less emotionally engaged than what we perceive as average. But that’s not a problem. If you find yourself somewhere along the line of “faint, yet pursuing” (which includes continuing your Christian activities while reaching out in faithful obedience to a “distant God out there somewhere”), please take comfort in the fact that steady emotions propel a steady faith… and the fact that people notice gyrations more than they do steadiness does not make the drama more to be desired.

My ninth point addresses the question of whether personal testimony or apologetics might be better or more biblical. In my opinion, the personal testimony of a winsome Christian — and not apologetics — will more likely draw someone to Christ. Logic does not “draw” the average person… but neither is that its job. Logic keeps. It makes the foundations firm. So, the two are complementary: The emotional draw of a personal testimony will necessarily fade with time, but the faith undergirded with facts, logic and apologetics will grow stronger. You see, Jesus was both personally winsome (even the atheists love him!) and salvifically sensible. Both are always in play.

My tenth point is that you can develop a deeper personal connectedness with God by practicing… and I know that sounds strange. But a dear brother in Christ, Dr. J.P. Moreland, has taken me to school on this. He belongs to the Vineyard church, which is charismatic, but he is entirely sane (and is an associate of William Lane Craig). He will take you to places that no fundamentalist preacher ever would… but we need to go there a bit. I recommend all of Moreland’s teachings, but I’ll leave you a link to one that is particularly germane.

Finally, if after all this, you still feel disconnected from God, the might indicate that you have some hidden brokenness that should be explored… in spite of the fact that I’ve given you “permission” to be who you are with a clear conscience. But if this does not ultimately satisfy, please re-query and our editors will connect you with a more counseling-oriented responder.

But either way, I’ve enjoyed our time together. It was cathartic for me — and I pray helpful to you! God bless you.

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