I would venture to say there is not a single person reading this article that has not had a time in their Christian life where some form of doubt has crept into their thinking. It may have been doubt about the very existence of God, questions about the truth of a passage of scripture, the deity of Jesus Christ, the reality of heaven or hell, or a variety of other subjects Satan uses to disrupt our personal relationship with our Heavenly Father. For the many who dared share those doubt with someone who was thought to be a “Godly” person they were often scolded and reprimanded for having an inkling of doubt and even questioned as to the authenticity of their personal relationship with the Lord. While I am certain this was well-intentioned advice, it is absolutely incorrect! God’s Word shares numerous examples of people who experienced doubt and how they resolved that doubt. I want to share one such example and how we can learn from it. It gives us an excellent model of how to resolve doubt.
John the Baptist played an incredible role in introducing Jesus as the Messiah. He was obedient to God’s calling on his life and carried out tasks that were not always easy. John, like all of us humans, had most likely created a set of expectations of what his life would be like as a result of his obedience. After all, he spoke boldly of the need for repentance and went so far as to tell Herod his relationship with his brother’s wife Herodias was unlawful. Herod had visited his brother Phillip in Rome and when he returned he brought Herodias with him. As a result John finds himself in prison. While in prison some of John’s disciples came to him and tell him that Jesus has raised a young man from the dead. “Soon afterward, Jesus went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went along with him. As he approached the town gate, a dead person was being carried out—the only son of his mother, and she was a widow. And a large crowd from the town was with her. When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her and he said, ‘Don’t cry.’ Then he went up and touched the coffin, and those carrying it stood still. He said, ‘Young man, I say to you, get up!’ The dead man sat up and began to talk, and Jesus gave him back to his mother.”(2) At this point we see John having doubts. After all, here he is in prison for being obedient to God’s direction and now he hears of Jesus giving life to a young man that He doesn’t even know to benefit a widow women He has never met. John’s expectations did not align with God’s plans so now doubt begins to creep in.
As a result of his doubt John the Baptist sends two of his disciples to ask Jesus “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?”(3) You see John allowed doubt to make him question if Jesus were the Messiah or should he look for someone else. As I think about this question and how I would respond, I have to tell you I think I would have been a bit indignant and defensive that John would ask such a question. Thank goodness Jesus is not like me! As Jesus did so many times during His ministry, He first demonstrated the answer to the question by immediately performing miracles in the presence of the two men that asked the question for John. He then replied with the verbal answer He wanted the men to take back to John. Scripture tells us “At that very time Jesus cured many who had diseases, sicknesses and evil spirits, and gave sight to many who were blind. So he replied to the messengers, ‘Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me.” Rather than scolding or reprimanding John for his doubt, Jesus gives him the reassurance and encouragement he needs at this moment.
Pastor Scott Cappleman gives us three actions to take when we experience doubt:
1. Take your doubts to the Master. When we accept Jesus Christ as our personal savior then we need to grow and mature in our relationship with Him so that we allow Him to be the Master of our life. When the doubts occur (and the likelihood is they will) take them to the one who can best supply the answer. God will answer our questions we just have to be willing to listen to His response. A word of caution, we must be open to God’s answer and not some predetermined answer we desire to hear. Just as John the Baptist had expectations as to what should happen, we in similar fashion set expectations that may not be aligned with God’s plans. So we should not only take our doubts to the Master, we must listen to His response. “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.” (4)
2. Watch and see God at work. Sometimes God will work through someone else who then testifies about what God has done. For example, when Jesus was crucified scripture says “But when they came to Jesus and found that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. Instead, one of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water. The man who saw it has given testimony, and his testimony is true. He knows that he tells the truth, and he testifies so that you also may believe. These things happened so that the scripture would be fulfilled: ‘Not one of his bones will be broken,’ and, as another scripture says, ‘They will look on the one they have pierced.”(5) In addition, God repeatedly tells us that He will make Himself evident throughout creation. “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.”(6) We need to be willing to look at the evidence God provides us that quickly erases any doubt that can enter our minds.
3. Be very careful to protect yourself from stumbling over the Devil’s trap. Satan will try to immobilize our effectiveness for Christ. Jesus uses the words “fall away” in his reply to the men who came on behalf of John the Baptist. Other translations use the words “does not stumble”. Jesus does not want to do anything that would cause us to “fall away” from our relationship with our Heavenly Father. Peter tells us “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.”(7) The Master’s desire is for us to grow closer to Him and that can only be done if we pursue Him with the same passion that He has for us. On the other hand, Satan desperately wants to do anything necessary to cause us to “fall away” from our relationship with God. Satan uses the bait of doubt to trap us and box us in. “But, dear friends, remember what the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ foretold. They said to you, ‘In the last times there will be scoffers who will follow their own ungodly desires.’ These are the men who divide you, who follow mere natural instincts and do not have the Spirit. But you, dear friends, build yourselves up in your most holy faith and pray in the Holy Spirit. Keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life. Be merciful to those who doubt; snatch others from the fire and save them; to others show mercy, mixed with fear—hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh.” (8)
It is evident that God knows and understands that we may have doubts. The key to resolving those doubts is relying on Him to provide the answers to our questions. Remember that Satan uses doubt to cause us to “fall away” from our relationship with our Heavenly Father and by creating this separation we are now subject to the many ploys and tricks the enemy uses. John 10:10 tells us “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy” so we must stay alert and aware of our relationship with God so we are not trapped by Satan’s lies.
(1) This article is based on a sermon delivered by Pastor Scott Cappleman at CrossPoint Baptist Church, Starkville, MS on 2/27/11
(2) Luke7:11-15. All scripture used in this article is taken from the NIV 1984 translation of the Holy Bible unless otherwise noted.
(3) Luke 7:19
(4) James 1:2-5
(5) John 19:33-37
(6) Romans 1:20
(7) 1 Peter 5:7
(8) Jude 1:17-23