I want to talk today about a topic that is relevant for every single person here whether you’re a Christian or not.
It is a topic that will affect us sometime in our life.
We all wrestle with that to some degree.
Let me read you a part of a letter written to the pastor by one of the members, a bright business guy who had been going to the church for quite a while.
“Dear pastor, I need your help. I see so many people around the church who have such a strong faith that I feel like I don’t fit in. I would like to feel confident. I wish I didn’t have doubts. But I’ve got more questions than answers. Now I’m beginning to doubt whether I’m a Christian at all. Can you relate to any of that? What should I do?”
We have all felt that way in our life time.
We have all had questioning in our heads:
“What if Christianity isn’t the truth?”
“What if, after you die, that’s it? There is nothing!”
Maybe you’ve been struggling with an issue in your life and you’ve been praying to God and asking for His help but you haven’t had any answer and you feel like nobody’s at home in heaven.
Maybe you’ve questioned whether God has forgiven you.
And you have this residue of guilt and shame that you can’t seem to get rid of.
And you wonder, “Am I really significant?”
Maybe you question whether the Bible can really be trusted these days by thinking, twenty-first century people.
Maybe you’ve said to yourself,
“I think I’m a Christian. But maybe I wasn’t sincere enough when I prayed that prayer. So now maybe I’m not so sure.”
The truth is, there’s a spiritual virus that has been going around Christian circles for centuries.
It’s the virus of doubt.
And if you haven’t caught it, you probably will.
We could divide the world into two kinds of people.
First would be those people who have doubted.
The second group would be those people who haven’t doubted yet but who will.
Because if you seriously contemplate your faith in Jesus Christ, then it’s almost inevitable that sooner or later you’re going to have some issues, some questions, some hesitations, some uncertainties or some doubts over one thing or another.
This is not just a Christian experience.
It is a human experience.
It is not Christians who doubt, atheists also doubt their position from time to time.
So the issue isn’t whether or not we’re going to catch this virus of doubt.
You probably will if you haven’t yet.
The issue is what do you do once you’ve got it.
How do you prevent this virus from ravaging your faith?
What can one do?
I. WHAT IS DOUBT?
There’s a lot of misconceptions of what doubt is all about.
1. Many people think that doubt is the opposite of faith. But it’s not.
It’s a very common misconception.
Actually the opposite of faith is unbelief.
And there’s a big difference between unbelief and doubt.
What is unbelief?
Unbelief is a willful refusal to believe.
It’s a deliberate decision to deny God.
It’s making either a conscious or subconscious decision not to have faith.
But that’s not what doubt is.
Doubt is to be indecisive or ambivalent over an issue.
It’s to be hung up between certainties and uncertainties.
Sort of up in the air over a particular issue.
You may have questions or concerns about some facet of the Christian faith.
In fact you can have a strong faith and still have some doubts.
You can be heaven bound and still have some uncertainty about some theological issues.
You can be a full-fledged Christian without having to feel like every single matter of faith and life has been 100% absolutely settled in your life.
It’s been said that struggling with God over the issues of life does not show a lack of faith.
That is faith.
That’s what faith is about.
If you want a biblical example just peruse the Psalms sometimes.
Go through and take a look at the so many times when David was calling out to God, “Where are You?”
He’s raising these issues and questions and doubts.
Did David have a weak faith?
No. He had a strong faith.
This is how a strong faith is often expressed – honestly talking to God about the issues that are foremost in our hearts and our minds.
2. People think that doubt is unforgivable. But it’s not.
Actually, God doesn’t condemn us when we question Him.
A great biblical example of this is John the Baptist.
If anybody in history should have been absolutely sure who Jesus is, it would have been John the Baptist.
He’s the guy who pointed at Jesus and said,
“Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”
This is the guy who baptized Jesus and he saw the heavens open up and heard the voice of God say,
“This is My Son in whom I’m well pleased.”
This is the guy who pointed at Jesus Christ and said,
“I have seen and I testify that this is the Son of God.”
He had incredible faith.
But what happens?
He gets arrested.
He gets thrown into jail.
There he comes down with the virus of doubt.
Now he’s not so sure.
Now he’s uncertain.
“Is Jesus really who He claims to be? Or should we be looking for someone else?”
So to resolve this he sends two of his friends to go check Jesus out and ask Him point blank the question,
“Are you the Messiah? Are You the one we’ve been waiting for to rescue the world? Or should we look elsewhere?”
So his two friends go.
They track Jesus down and they ask Jesus that question.
It’s very interesting what is the reaction of Jesus.
Does Jesus say, “What is wrong with John? If anybody should know who I am, it’s John!”
Does He criticize him, does He disqualify him from any role in the kingdom of God?
No. The Bible says,
“And Jesus answered and said to them, ‘Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard. The blind receive sight. The lame walk. The lepers are cleansed. The deaf hear. The dead are raised up. And the poor have the gospel preached to them’.” (Luke 7:22)
In other words, Jesus is saying,
“Go back and tell John about these evidences you have seen with your own eyes that authenticate My claim to being the one and only Son of God and that will renew his confidence and will bolster back up his faith.”
So how does this affect Jesus’ opinion of John?
Does He now think that John is worthless and could do no good for the kingdom of God anymore?
It is after this episode Jesus gets up one day and looks the people in the eye and says,
“I say to you, among those born of women there is no one greater than John.”
John had doubted.
Jesus is giving John the highest compliment in the world at the very same time, John has questions and concerns and doubts.
And I think the lesson for us is when you have questions and when you have concerns and when you have doubts, God does not disqualify us.
He wants to dialogue with us.
That’s not to say that doubt is praiseworthy.
The Bible never says that.
But it does say, I think, that in any relationship, we want honesty.
Your relationship to your spouse, if you’re married, or with your parents you just want honesty.
That’s what God wants with us.
In our relationship with Him, He wants us to be honest.
‘Lord these are the doubts I have.’
‘These are the questions I have.’
‘This is what I wrestle with, this the area that I am struggling with.’
There’s confidence that He’s not going to turn his back and walk the other way and be disgusted by that.
But He’s going to reach out to you and say,
“Let me help you come to resolution and bolster your faith just as I bolstered the faith of John the Baptist.”
So doubt is not unforgivable.
3. Many people think that doubt is unhealthy, but it isn’t always.
Actually doubts can produce some positive side effects if we take steps toward resolving them.
It’s like an immunization.
You get an immunization to help your body fight off the future disease.
What they do is, through the shots they give you; they give you a little bit of that disease.
Your body reacts to that little bit of disease and builds up antibodies so if you’re ever exposed to that disease your body will be able to fight it off before it takes hold and causes real problems.
Your body is actually stronger from the experience of having had a bit of that disease injected in the first place.
And when you’re infected with doubt, if you respond to it by seeking answers to your questions, you can emerge stronger than ever in your faith.
Your faith can be confirmed once more and it can give you new confidence in dealing with other doubts that come up in the future.
So tasting a little bit of doubt can deeper your faith. It can give you a hardier, more enduring, more resilient faith.
Gary Parker said in the book The Gift of Doubt,
“If faith never encounters doubt, if truth never struggles with error, if good never battles with evil, how can faith know its own power? In my own pilgrimage, if I have to choose between a faith that has stared doubt in the eye and made it blink, or a naïve faith that has never known the firing line of faith, I will choose the former every time.” (Gary Packer)
I want a faith that has looked doubt in the eye and made it blink.
I don’t want a faith that shrinks back and is afraid to get in the firing line of faith.
I know my faith is going to be stronger having been tested by questions.
A good biblical example is doubting Thomas.
Having checked out personally the evidence himself for the resurrection of Jesus Christ he responds by saying in John 20:28 “My Lord and my God!”
Then his faith was driven so deep into his soul, by having personally checked out the evidence of the resurrection, that he spent the rest of his life declaring that it was true, that Jesus was the one and only Son of God.
I hope that doubt looks a little different to us now that we’ve looked at what it is.
I want to reemphasize the fact that even though doubt is common, even though it’s not unforgivable, it’s still very dangerous.
If you leave it unchecked it can do great damage to your faith.
I want to talk about how we treat it, but we can’t begin to treat it until we know its source.
II. HOW DOES THE VIRUS OF DOUBT INFECT US?
Basically in three ways?
1. Doubt Infects Our Mind.
Often intellectual doubts come in through our mind.
We read the Bible, put it down – wait a second!
“Am I to believe there are really things like angels and demons and Satan and heaven and hell and that Jesus is really coming back? Are these things credible?”
Doubts can come into our mind if we don’t know why we believe what we believe.
Like a friend comes up to you and says,
“You’re a Christian aren’t you? You believe that Jesus is God? Why?”
So you take out a Bible and you’re going to show him some verses and he says,
“You can’t trust that book! This is the twenty-first century! Everybody knows that’s a book of mythology and legend and make believe and wishful thinking. You can’t believe in that. What makes you think that the Bible is a trustworthy book that you can put your trust in?”
You kind of stammer and say,
“I just believe it, that’s all!”
And then doubt begins to erode your faith.
You begin to think,
“Maybe he’s right. Maybe I have swallowed this Jesus thing hook, line and sinker! Maybe I haven’t thought critically enough about it.”
And those doubts begin to take a foothold if you don’t know why you believe that basic truth.
Doubt can affect us if we don’t know what we believe.
Often we have a misunderstanding about who God is and you have to review who God is.
You may know a lot about the love and the forgiveness and the mercy of God.
But if you don’t know anything about the righteousness and the holiness and the justice of God then you’re going to wonder why He doesn’t do certain things that you think He ought to do and why He does do things that you think He ought not to do.
And doubts begin to come in because you don’t have a fully formed picture of who God is.
The problem isn’t with God; it’s with our understanding of who He is.
In the same way, we may think that God has promised to answer all of our prayers the way we want them to be answered.
And when we pray and our prayers aren’t answered the way we expect them to be, we begin to doubt that He’s there at all.
The problem is never with God.
The problem is with us in having an inaccurate view of who He is and that allows questions and uncertainties to come in.
Not only can doubt breed in our minds but…
2. Doubt Infects Our Emotions.
This can happen in several ways.
Some people have a faith that is fundamentally built on feelings.
Like the moment they gave their life to Jesus Christ, it was such a euphoric experience and it is for many people—it’s exhilarating to know that all your sins are forgiven and you’re going to spend eternity in heaven.
With some people it is an emotional high.
But that doesn’t last.
It begins to taper off.
When that emotional high tapers off people begin to think that their faith is going away.
The feeling isn’t the same so they think there’s a problem with their faith and they begin doubting.
The reality is they’re just misunderstanding the relationship between feelings and faith.
Faith is not fundamentally about feelings and emotions.
Faith is fundamentally a decision of the will to follow Jesus Christ.
It’s a choice that we make.
Our faith doesn’t fade and surge according to how emotionally charged up we are.
There’s another way doubts can enter into our emotions.
Certain personality types are more susceptible to doubt.
Just like some people are more susceptible to types of illnesses, other people are more susceptible to questions and doubts.
These are the melancholy kind of personalities.
They may be people who wrestle with a lot of sorrow, people who are very contemplative, very deep in what they think about.
Therefore they are more prone to wrestle, more than other people do, with questions and doubts.
The problem really isn’t with them.
God wired them that way.
There’s no problem being a melancholic, contemplative person who happens to have a lot of anguish in their life.
The problem comes in when they compare themselves to other people.
They may have a happy-go-lucky friend who’s doing fine and they look at their life and say,
“Why am I always questioning things? Why am I always bringing up uncertainties? Why am I always wrestling with angst and struggling?”
That’s a personality deal.
Don’t compare yourself to other people.
God wired you up this way.
And that’s ok.
Just be aware you may wrestle with issues more than other people.
Another way doubts can enter into our emotions is through emotional scaring that has taken place in our past.
For instance, you may have suffered abuse from a parent when you were a child.
Or a dad may have walked out on your family or your parents may have gone through a divorce.
Or maybe a spouse left you.
And when you go through that kind of abandonment very often that kind of experience can lead to chronic doubts in your life toward God.
Uncertainties that are deep down inside.
You’re just waiting for God to let you down like your dad did or your mom did or your spouse did.
If you go through history and look at the lives of the most famous atheists who’ve ever lived –
Karl Marx, Sigmund Freund, Bertrand Russell, Madelyn Murray O’Hare, Nitche, Camu – you look at their lives – every single one of them either had a father who died when they were young or who abandoned them when they were young or they had a horrible relationship with their dad.
Every single one.
For most people that kind of experience doesn’t lead them to atheism, but it creates barriers between them and God.
Because they may have such anger toward their earthly fathers deep down inside that it’s very hard to even consider the possibility of a heavenly Father that they would want to know.
Or they may be feeling like,
“If I put my trust in God, I’m going to end up being abandoned just like my dad abandoned me through death or divorce or whatever.”
So emotions can create barriers between us and God whether we’re aware of them or not.
3. Doubt Infects Our Will.
Doubt can come in through our point of decision.
When we have made a decision to follow Jesus Christ we need to walk honestly and with integrity before Him.
If as followers of Jesus we decide, willfully decide to pursue a pattern of sinful and immoral behavior in our life, we’ve got this one little pocket where we don’t want God in there, if we’re going to continue to pursue this sin because we enjoy it and we’re going to continue to practice what we know that God doesn’t want us to do, that kind of choice can introduce doubt and uncertainty into your faith.
Because sin introduces a lack of peace in our life.
When we struggle for lack of peace we begin to wonder,
“Where is God to give me peace I’d hoped to have as a Christian.”
Sin also creates a distance between us and God.
When we’re harboring this sinful pattern in our life, we don’t want to bring our self wholly into the presence of God because we’re afraid we’re going to be confronted with this issue.
Then we begin to feel like “Where’s God? Why don’t I feel His presence in my life?”
And we begin to doubt that He’s there at all.
The real reason is it is our own decision to follow this continued course of conduct that makes us reluctant to fully engage with God.
Doubts can also run rampant with our will if we’ve never made the conscious decision to have a relationship with Jesus Christ.
The real reason for our doubts is there’s never been a conscious choice we’ve ever made to say, “I want to receive Jesus Christ as the forgiver of my sins and the leader of my life,” so that from that moment on you can begin to build a relationship with Him.
So doubts can breed in our minds, our emotions, our wills.
But the key thing is what do you do with it when you’ve got it.
III. HOW CAN WE GET NURSED BACK TO SPIRITUAL HEALTH?
I don’t want to suggest this is easy.
I don’t want to suggest it’s quick.
But I do want to say there are some biblical principles that we can follow that can strengthen our faith.
I call them the five steps to faith.
The first letter of the first word in each of these points spell out the word FAITH.
So you can remember these steps more easily.
F-ind the root of your doubt.
You’ve got to diagnosis the source of how doubt has entered into your life before you know how you can deal with it.
You might want to do some self-examination, some research.
Ask some people who know you well to help analyze where is it that doubt is coming into your faith.
But don’t do it on a surface level.
Go deep and ask the tough questions of yourself.
So many people would say, “My problem is intellectual! I don’t believe the Bible can be trusted. I don’t believe that Jesus ever existed.”
But the reality is underneath those questions is something deeper.
People use questions sometimes to keep God at arm’s length as a smokescreen to obscure the real issue which is their pride.
You might think on the surface it’s just intellectual questions.
But the reality is that something underneath says,
“I’ve got too much pride to humble myself before my creator.”
So be honest as you analyze the source.
A-sk God and others for help.
Be honest with God.
There’s a story in the Bible about a father who came to Jesus Christ to plea for his help for his son.
I love what this father said to Jesus,
“I do believe. Help my unbelief.”
He had a heart to believe, to have faith.
Would you help me? I have this problem with doubt.
Jesus responded to him and He healed His Son.
It’s not out of bounds for you when you’re wrestling with questions and issues to go to God and say,
“Would You bolster my faith? Would You strengthen my faith?”
“We do not have because we do not ask.” (James 2:4)
Go to God, not as a last resort but as your first priority.
Say, “God, lead me to wisdom to help me get answers. Bring me to people who can help me in my life to strengthen my faith.”
And ask other Christians for help too.
That’s why it is important to have Christian friends and be accountable to one another.
That’s what community is about.
“We should honestly admit our struggles with each other and our shortcomings to each other and pray for each other.” (James 5:15)
I-mplement a course of treatment.
Figure out what course of treatment you’re going to follow to fight the virus of doubt.
If it has obtained a foothold through your mind and you have questions, don’t just let them be vague questions that kind of swirl around in your mind, generalized objections.
You’ll never get answers that way.
Sit down, take a piece of paper, and write a list:
“These are my specific questions that I have about Christianity.”
That’s great! Now we have a list we can work on.
There is an answer to every question we have in our mind!
By the way New Life staff is here to help you!
We have people, resources.
We have classes.
We have seminars.
We can get you help to get you resolution on the questions you have.
If doubt has gained a foothold through your emotions, you don’t want to go through life with some sort of pain from your past which is an impediment to fully experiencing the joy and adventure of knowing Jesus fully.
Come for counseling!
Get those negative experiences out of the way so you can enjoy more fully the presence of God and not be riddled with doubts and uncertainties.
If it’s a question of your will.
Where are you holding back from God?
If you only give God ninety percent of your heart then you’ve got ten percent of your heart for the doubts to come in.
That’s where doubt will reside and fester and grow.
You’ve got a choice to make.
You can continue to pursue your own agenda and then deal with the kind of doubts that that agenda eventually raises and unsettledness in your relationship with God.
Or you can say,
“To fully know God is the greatest pleasure I could have and I want to abandon my ways and fully follow God’s way.”
That is the door that opens up to a faith that is vibrant and rich and strong and full of adventure.
T-ake care of your spiritual health.
If we want to be able to fight off a human virus that attacks our body, then if we’re healthy, if we’re strong, if we’re feeding ourselves appropriately, then a minor infection is less likely to become a major infection and the thing is true spiritually.
When we exercise our faith, when we feed our faith with appropriate material, our faith grows deeper and when doubts come in they don’t take a foothold and they don’t grow and destroy our faith.
There are spiritual habits we must keep in our lives:
– Read God’s word
– Talk to God
– Go to Church
– Have friends who love Jesus
– Talk to others about Jesus
H-old on to your remaining questions
What does that mean?
Basically, suspend judgment for a while on some questions you might have.
Let me put this into context.
Because you and I are finite individuals with finite minds and finite understanding and finite imagination we can’t fully understand an infinite God.
In 1 Corinthians 13, Paul says that we now understand in part.
‘The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law.’ (Deuteronomy 29:29)
So there’s bound to be some questions that we’re going to have to wait to get a full and complete answer to.
It might be that as you mature in your faith and grow in your faith you’re going to find an answer to your question that’s bothered you for years.
But sometimes you won’t.
You have a peripheral question in your life that will sort of nag at you and you’re not going to find out until someday when you get into heaven.
I sort of picture heaven like a third grade classroom.
Jesus is up there at the blackboard and we’re all raising our hands wanting to ask all those questions that have plagued us for years!
But until that day, I’ve just got the answers of the essential issues of life that I can trust the Bible.
That Jesus died for my sins.
That I can know Him personally and be assured of heaven.
That God loves me and He has a plan for my life.
That God will take care of me all the days of my life.
On a few of these peripheral questions, knowing the essential stuff and knowing the trustworthiness of God, it’s ok to sort of allow my faith to stay intact and put on pause all the other issues I do not have an answer yet!
If we had 100% of the answers to 100% of our questions there would be no room for faith.
We don’t have to know everything to know something.
We know what we need to know.
God has been gracious.
He’s given us exactly what we need to know.
Based on that we can follow Jesus Christ and have confidence that our eternity is in heaven with Him.
On these other issues we may have to wait a bit and that’s ok.