As Christians, many of us initially believed because someone else told us it was true. Our parents, grandparents, friends, co-workers, or someone else presented the Gospel to us, we believed it, and trusted Jesus for our salvation. The Holy Spirit confirmed that truth in our hearts, and we knew we were saved.
However, as we live out our faith, there will be times when we have doubts; when we are just not sure about something. Maybe we hear a preacher preach something that does not sound quite right. We may begin to doubt whether we understand as much as we think we do. On the other hand, it might be that we just do not ‘feel’ forgiven anymore for one reason or another. There are many reasons for doubt to arise.
They may be small doubts about relatively insignificant matters or they might be huge doubts about foundational doctrines of Christianity. Whether large or small, be assured, there will be doubts. Consider that John the Baptist, the appointed herald of Jesus’ coming, had doubts while a captive in prison (Matthew 11:2-4). This was not an expression of unbelief on John’s part, but a request for reassurance. Jesus did not rebuke John for asking either, but rather sent men to describe to John what Jesus was doing as evidence that Jesus was indeed the long-awaited Savior.
Doubt can actually be a good thing, if we continue to trust God, because it forces us to nail down why we believe what we believe. This doubt can actually cause our faith to be strengthened as we work through the issues that simply are not as clear as we would like them to be. By spending time understanding the deeper things of God, our faith and our relationship with Him is deepened.
What is Doubt?
Merriam-Webster defines ‘doubt’ as, “1: uncertainty of belief or opinion that often interferes with decision-making; 2: a state of affairs giving rise to uncertainty, hesitation, or suspense; 3: a lack of confidence” (1).
There is a big difference between doubt and unbelief. Doubt is not the opposite of faith. Unbelief is the opposite of faith and doubt is not unbelief. R.C. Sproul clearly points out the difference between doubt and unbelief when he writes, “An all-important difference exists, therefore, between the open-minded uncertainty of doubt and the closed-minded certainty of unbelief” (3). Doubt is still open to God’s guidance and teaching, unbelief has made up its mind against God.
Michael Patton writes, “Doubt is not unbelief. Doubt is the bridge that connects our current faith to perfect faith” (2). As I mentioned before, doubt can actually be a path to a stronger, deeper faith, depending on how we respond to it.
Doubt can certainly lead to unbelief if not handled the right way. Faith is a trust in, and a reliance on, Jesus’ saving work. Doubt is a lack of assurance concerning some doctrine, belief, or some other aspect of our relationship with God. Doubt is quite often found in the life of one who thinks deeply about the things of God.
Unbelief, on the other hand, is a rejection of the Truth of the Gospel. It is the point where one says, “I don’t believe this anymore, and I’m going to live for myself.” Some times, doubts that are not addressed by turning towards God for answers, end up with the doubter turning away from God altogether.
Why Do We Doubt?
Lack of knowledge
Sometimes our doubts are due to us simply not having all the facts, or the correct facts. If our understanding of Scripture is lacking or distorted, doubts may arise just because we do not fully understand what God meant by what He said. “All of us have our doubts because our knowledge is imperfect and incomplete. We must be willing to be honest about our doubts” (4). It is vitally important that we read and study the Bible.
Sin in our lives
Is our doubt caused by some sin in our life? If we are engaged in willful disobedience to God, we cannot expect to live victorious Christian lives. We will experience hardships, heartaches, and doubts simply because we have chosen to no longer abide in God’s will (John 15:10; John 8:31, 15:4-16).
Responses to Doubt
First, do not pretend that your doubt is not real; every believer at some time in his or her walk of faith has doubts. Too many think that it is a sign of weakness, or shallow faith, to admit that they have doubts and will instead try to hide them as they struggle. Instead of confiding in other faithful Christians, who will love them and pray for them, these Christians isolate themselves during the very time when they need support the most. The Bible tells us to, “…have mercy on those who doubt” (Jude 22 ESV). We must honestly admit it when we have doubts.
Second, do not think that your doubts mean that you are not saved or that God has deserted you. For some new believers, and even some seasoned old-timers, doubts can seem bigger than they are. Too often, they seem insurmountable, causing the believer to throw up his or her hands in defeat. One of the worst things a person with doubts can do is to believe that, simply because he or she has doubts about something, that everything they believe should be doubted. Just because one may have a question about one thing does not mean that all things are questionable.
As with many other aspects of Christianity, how we choose to respond to doubt determines whether it is a sin or not. If we choose to turn away from God in times of doubt, then yes, we would be sinning. However, if we turn to God in faith and trust, even in our times of doubt, then we would be expressing our love and dependence on Him when it most mattered.
In Mark 9:14-25, Jesus dealt with a man who had some faith although he still said to Jesus, “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24 ESV). This man had faith, yet he also had doubts, he just was not as sure as he wanted to be. Our faith can always be stronger and, as we grow in our relationship with God, it will strengthen. Therefore, when we experience doubts, our reaction should be to trust God to guide, protect, and strengthen us as we struggle with those doubts.
No matter what doubts one has concerning the Christian life of faith, there are answers. Even if sometimes that answer is to simply trust God and His goodness. He never promised that we would know every answer to every question’ but He did promise that He would never leave us nor forsake us (Hebrews 13:5). He also promised that, if we rely on Him, we would never be overwhelmed by anything (I Corinthians 10:13)…and that included doubts.
Take a look at this collection of verses about doubt:
Resources – The Holy Bible, English Standard Version “Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. (1) http: //www. merriam-webster. com/dictionary/doubt; (2) http://thegospelcoalition. org/blogs/tgc/2012/01/18/dealing-with-the-doubting/; (3) Sproul, R.C. Doubt and Assurance. (Baker Book House, 1993) p. 33.; (4) Burke, John. No Perfect People Allowed. (Zondervan, 2005) p. 56.