Bulletin Articles

Bulletin Articles

“Confidence, and Overconfidence”

Categories: Iron sharpens iron

So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. (1 John 4.16-17)

This passage speaks of confidence for the day of judgment, meaning the assurance we will not be surprised or disappointed (to drastically understate the gravity of the situation) when God passes final judgment on us, and sends us to our eternal home.  In short, it’s confidence of personal salvation and a place reserved in heaven.

That’s great, because many people have a keen awareness of their own guilt, and struggle to forgive themselves for sins they’ve committed.  They know their own shortcomings, and know that what they deserve is punishment, not reward.  It’s not good to live life in this world in constant, crippling fear of judgment.

Yet, anyone who looks around and pays attention will quickly see that confidence can be taken too far.  A person who lives in complete rebellion against God can claim to know in his heart that he is saved.  A person who has gone through the motions of obedience at one time, or even lived a fruitful Christian life for decades, may feel so assured of his salvation that he either begins to overtly disobey God’s instructions with no fear of retribution, or simply stops doing the hard work of struggling to remain on the right path in daily life.  For the most part, it’s obvious to this person that things like theft, adultery, and murder are still off limits, but it becomes easier and easier to make excuses about what are perceived as lesser sins—a white lie, some small cheating on taxes, a little refusal to help those in need, a minor pornography habit, and other such things.  It may not be as overt as that.  Self-promotion, judgment of others, and arrogance are just as harmful, and just as damaging to one’s relationship with God.  When John brings up the sins of Diotrephes in 2 John 9-10, he doesn’t have a list of blatantly immoral behaviors to condemn, but instead says that he “likes to put himself first,” that he “does not acknowledge [the apostle’s] authority,” and when someone disagrees with him, he “puts them out of the church.”  This is a man with too great a measure of confidence.

We can see the same thing, perhaps more easily, in the fleshly attitudes toward everyone’s favorite topic, the coronavirus.  At one extreme, there are people confident that the virus is a scam—that it either doesn’t really exist, or carries no potential for harm.  They’re confident.  They know in their hearts they are perfectly safe.  But the virus doesn’t care about their confidence, and some people who’ve denied COVID-19 is real, have ended up dying from it.

At the other extreme, there are people confident that the virus is the greatest threat the world has ever seen, and the only way any of us will survive is through a series of difficult and painful societal practices,  some of which haven’t been scientifically shown to have much effect, and yet are preached as the saviors of mankind.  These people are also confident.  They know in their hearts that we will all be perfectly safe, as long as we do exactly as they say.  But the virus doesn’t care about their confidence, either.  Some of the people who’ve preached the gospel of masks, lockdowns, social distance, work from home, school from home, no church, no Thanksgiving, no friendship, no fellowship, and no freedom, have ended up dying from the virus they said they could control.

Most people aren’t at the extremes, of course.  They’re somewhere in the reasonable middle, trying their best to make wise decisions.  But there’s a constant pull toward the extremes, and neither one is any good.  The same is true in the religious context.  It’s obvious that the extremes can’t both be correct; in fact, neither is. 

It’s bad enough to do this where lives are on the line.  It’s a far, far worse problem when souls are at risk.  It’s uncomfortable to be in the middle, dealing with difficult decisions and disagreements, and there’s a similar pull toward the extremes, both of which are overconfident.  On one side, there are people so confident in their understanding of God’s grace, that they see no danger, and no reason to fear judgment.  That won’t stop God from passing judgment, though.  On the other side, there are people so confident of their own total righteousness that they have no patience for dissent, and ample judgment of their own, for anyone who comes to a different conclusion about anything.  Perhaps they’re right more often than not, but they’re not perfect, and they don’t have God’s judgment under control.

Both of the extremes have confidence in themselves, and that’s the real problem.  We ought to have confidence, as John told us in the passage with which we began.  But if our faith is in ourselves, we’re missing the boat.  Put your confidence in God.  Recognize your own shortcomings and disappointing track record, and do your best to make good decisions now, using the tools he’s given us.  There’s a “because” in the verse we’ve been examining, which we’ve ignored until now: “because as he is so also are we in this world” (1Jn 4.17b).  Are you as Jesus is?  That’s how you can assess yourself.  Have confidence in him, and do your best to follow his example in humility.

Jeremy Nettles