Faith or doubt?

Series: Faith in God

We are getting back to our series on faith in God. Our question today is “Faith or Doubt?” Which will it be in our lives as we face situations that call for us to trust God and God’s promises to us?

But first, let’s begin with a bit of –

Review

True, biblical faith has three parts. And you need all three of these to receive from God:

1. A word from God to stand on.

2. Firm trust in God and God’s word to you.

3. Appropriate action based on God’s word to you. That is, acts of faith.

This is how it works: God’s truth comes into our mind’s comprehension and then goes down into our heart where we say, “yes, this it true and I choose to trust it.” And then our heart faith goes out of us in our words and actions, which express what is in our mind and heart (Matthew 12:33).

And as we express this faith, all three parts of it – then God acts to fulfill his word and promise. That’s when we receive from God.

But when it comes to faith, there are obstacles that we can trip over. One is presumption, which we have talked about. This has to do with the first part of faith. We presume upon God to do something that he never said he would.

Today, as I said, we focus on another obstacle to our faith – doubt. Now doubt can mean many different things, but here I speak of it in the way the Scriptures speak of it. And in this sense, it has especially to do with the second part of faith – firm trust.

What is doubt?

If faith means, in the words of Paul, that you are “fully convinced that God is able to do what he has promised,” as he said of Abraham in Romans 4:21, then we can say that doubt means you are not fully convinced that God is able to do what he has promised.

It means, in the words of Hebrews 11:1, that you do not have an assurance of things hoped for, that is, what is promised. And you do not have a conviction of things not seen, that is, that the promise will be fulfilled. You are unsure of God; uncertain of his word to you.

The effect of doubt is that it causes you to waver. Paul says of Abraham’s faith, “No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God” – Romans 4:20. Well, when you doubt, your distrust does make you waver. Since you aren’t certain, you go back and forth. Should I or shouldn’t I? Should I trust God and act on this? Or should I hold back?

As James says, “The one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind . . .  he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.” – James 1:6; 8. The image of the “wave” pictures one who has no firmness; one who is wishy-washy. Someone who is pushed around by other forces. You are always shifting according to the way the wind is blowing. You are ruled by circumstances. The phrase “double-minded” means that you are of two minds. You don’t know what to do. “I should trust God.” “No, I shouldn’t trust God.” You are indecisive. You are divided within. This is a portrait of one wavering between faith and unbelief.

Now, take notice of what I am saying here. Doubt is not the same as unbelief. It’s a place between firm faith and unbelief. It has to do with going back and forth between these. It’s not the opposite of faith – unbelief is. It’s what’s between them, so that you have some of both.

The result of doubt is that you don’t act on God’s promises. To use the words of Hebrews 10:39, you “shrink back” from acting because of your doubt. So not only does doubt affect the second part of faith, firm trust, it precludes the last part of faith as well, appropriate action based on God’s promises.

Now let’s look at –

The source of doubt

Simply stated, doubt is rooted in our fears. Here are some examples from Scripture:

  • Mark 4:40 – When the disciples thought that their boat was going to sink in the storm, Jesus said, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” They were afraid that instead of showing them the way of the kingdom, Jesus would let them die. Notice  how faith and fear are juxtaposed.
  • Mark 5:36 – When Jairus heard that he should stop asking Jesus for help, since his daughter was now dead, not just sick, Jesus said, “Do not fear, only believe.” He was afraid Jesus couldn’t help him anymore. Notice again how faith are fear are juxtaposed.
  • Luke 12:32 – When Jesus taught us to trust God to provide for our material needs, he said, “Fear not . . ..” Because he knew we would be afraid and worry that God would not provide for us.

In all these examples the disciples want to trust in God, and do to a degree. It’s just that when the circumstances get tough, our fear causes us to focus on the obstacles; on all that is going wrong.

What is it that we fear? It can all be boiled down to this – we fear that God will fail us. We too, like in the Gospel stories, wonder if God will be faithful.

  • Will God come through for me? Is God reliable?
  • Will God come through for me? Maybe he will come through for others, like in the Bible, but what about for me?

Let me give you –

An example of how doubt works

This has to do with sharing your faith. You have a good friend who doesn’t know the Lord. And you want her to hear the gospel. But you aren’t really good at that kind of thing – talking off the top of your head and you feel like you wouldn’t know what to say.

Well, one day while reading the Scriptures you come across Matthew 10:19. It talks about giving witness to Jesus, and says, “do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour.” And God impresses on your heart that he will give you the right words to share with your friend; that this is a promise for you.

So you keep your eyes open for an opportunity. And sure enough, a week later your friend asks you why you go to church. An amazing open door to share. But you start thinking , “I have never been able to say things well, and my friend’s really smart; and what would happen if she asked a question that I can’t answer?” And you remember the time when you had to stand up in class and give a speech and how badly it went when people asked you questions about your presentation. And so you just say to your friend, “Well, lots of people I know go to church, so it’s a place to hang out.” In other words you totally miss the open door in front of you.

In this example we see that 1) you fear that God won’t come through for you. You see the obstacles; how hard it is for you to say the right things. That’s what fear does. 2) This makes you waver. You’re uncertain now of God’s promise to give you the right words. Maybe God will. But what if he doesn’t? 3) And so you don’t act. Better safe than sorry, right? So you “shrink back” (Hebrews 10:39).

This process of doubting God can creep into all kinds of areas of our lives. Not just sharing our faith.

  • Will God provide for me? I have bills to pay.
  • Will God protect me if I love my enemy?
  • Will God help me in my job, if I don’t go along with their unethical practices?

And the message today is that –

We have to choose

Will we doubt or trust in God?

Doubt is a sad thing. It keeps you from experiencing the blessings that God has for you. It will hold you back in your life with God. For instance, the example of sharing faith with a friend. Think what it would have been like if, in this example, the person didn’t focus on the obstacles and problems and instead focused on God? And so God would have given just the right words to say.

It’s a powerful thing to see God work! And it’s even more powerful to see God work through you. It propels you forward in your Christian life and is a great encouragement.

And what if your words had a real impact on that person!

But we have to choose faith to see all this. If we live in fear and always shrink back, we will never experience this.

James tells us, without faith we should not “expect to receive anything from the Lord” – James 1:7. Doubt is the path of discouragement, a stunted Christian life and a lack of God’s blessing. But with faith, Jesus tells us “all things are possible” – Mark 9:23. We can receive all that God has for us. We can be encouraged; we can grow in our Christian lives. And God can work through us to touch the lives of others. Which will you choose?

Next time the plan is to share about how to overcome our doubt, so that we can walk in the path of faith.

10 promises you can stand on

Series: Faith in God

Last time we talked about how, to have real faith, you need a word from God to stand on.  And when you don’t have a word to stand on, it’s called presumption, because you are presuming upon God to do something that he never said he would do. This leads us to have unwarranted confidence, which can lead to wrong actions, which leads to a mess.

As we saw, one of the things we need to do to avoid all this is to know what God’s promises are – their context, the scope of what they cover, and the conditions that are attached. We need to know what they mean. We need to know God’s will so that we can have faith in this and receive from God.

So today, I want to give you 10 promises that you can stand on; that apply to you. And I hope as we go through this, God will speak to you about where you need more of him and his blessings and that you will latch on to this by faith.  

1. God will forgive your sins

 “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you” – Matthew 6:14

The condition certainly stands out right at the beginning. We have to give grace to receive grace. But if we do this, God tells us here, he will forgive our sins. As Psalm 103:12 says, God will remove our sins “as far as the east is from the west.” As 1 John 1:9 says, God will “forgive us our sins and . . . cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

Others may not forgive us, we may struggle to forgive ourselves, but in faith we can stand on this promise that we are indeed forgiven by God.

2. God will give you the Holy Spirit

“If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him” – Luke 11:13

In Luke 11 Jesus talks about asking with persistence in our prayers. And then he ends this teaching with this verse. So he is saying, ‘If we persistently ask for the Spirit, God will answer.’

It is the Spirit who gives us life. It is the Spirit who makes God’s presence known to us. It is the Spirit who gives us God’s guidance and comfort. It is the Spirit who empowers us to do God’s will and to minister in his name. So, this is a promise we all need. We need to be continually filled with the Spirit as followers of Jesus.

3. God will give you eternal life

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” – John 3:16

This is a familiar and popular promise and rightfully so. Because of God’s love for us and  what Jesus has done for us, if we believe in Jesus, we will not be judged, but we will have eternal life. That is to say, right now. No waiting. God’s life comes into us and this will continue on forever.

4. Jesus will set you free from bondage to sin

“So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” – John 8:36

Just before this, Jesus talks about how “everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.” But the promise is that Jesus is both able and willing to set us free; to break the chains of our bondage so that we can serve God and live a new life.

This doesn’t mean that it will always be easy, and that there won’t be hard choices and difficult times ahead. But Jesus will give us what we need to remain free.

If this is where you are, I encourage you to claim this promise by faith. Ask Jesus to come and set you free.

5. God will provide for your material needs

“But strive first for the Kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” – Matthew 6:33

Notice the condition: seek the kingdom and his righteousness. Give this more thought and time than worrying about how you will gather up what you need for this life. And then, Jesus tells us, God will provide.

Now this is no promise of great wealth. In this scripture here (Matthew 6) the promise is for food and clothing. Like in the Lord’s prayer, we ask for daily bread. The promise is that God will give us what we need, not what we want. But yet, God’s provision is all we truly need.

6. God will providentially watch over you

“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. And even the hairs of your head are all counted. So do not be afraid; you are of more value than sparrows.” – Matthew 10:29-31

Jesus spoke this to the disciples while teaching them about persecution and the danger of death. Jesus promises that God watches over us as his disciples and knows what goes on in our lives, down to the details.

If we find ourselves in danger, and we are walking with God – we don’t need to fear. God knows what’s going on. Whether it goes badly for us, or we are rescued, we know that we are in God’s loving hands.

7. God will give you wisdom

“If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.” – James 1:5

We need to ask, and we need to ask in faith as James goes on to say. But if we do this, God will give us guidance and good judgment in how to make decisions and how to live our lives. And who doesn’t need wisdom, really, every day of our lives? What a great promise!“It will be given.”

8. God will give you peace

Paul says, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” – Philippians 4:6-7

We don’t need to be stressed out. Rather, we can lift up our burdens to the Lord, give them to him, and ask for his help. And the promise is that God’s peace will guard our hearts and minds to keep the stress away. Like a soldier keeping patrol.

Unless, of course we let our worries back in. We have to let go of them all, and give them to God knowing that he will take care of us.

9. Nothing God calls you to do will be impossible for you

“For truly I tell you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you” – Matthew 17:20

 Jesus had commissioned and empowered the disciples to cast out demons as a part of their work. But they had a case they couldn’t handle. Why? Because they thought it was way too hard!

And so Jesus teaches them, and us, that whatever God calls us to do we will be able to do, if we simply trust in God to act for us in each situation. Even if it seems impossible, like moving a mountain from one place to another.

10. God will give you a blessed future

“For the Lord himself will descend from heaven . . .. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.” – 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17

The promise is that Jesus will return. And when he does, all faithful Christians will be resurrected to new life, with a new body.

We have an amazing future ahead! Things might not be going well for us now, but we have blessings waiting for us. And we “will always be with the Lord.” We can keep this in mind when we are going through hard times. In faith, think on these things and be encouraged.

  1. God will forgive your sins.
  2. God will give you the Holy Spirit
  3. God will give you eternal life
  4. Jesus will set you free from bondage to sin
  5. God will provide for your material needs
  6. God will providentially watch over you
  7. God will give you wisdom
  8. God will give you peace
  9. Nothing God calls you to do will be impossible for you
  10. God will give you a blessed future

So these are some of the many “precious and very great promises” that God gives to us, to use the words of 2 Peter 1:4. We will not be presuming upon God if we ask for these things.

But we do have to trust in God to receive all that these verses talk about; to receive the blessings of God. As I have said several times now, without faith, we should not “expect to receive anything from the Lord” (James 1:7). But with faith, “all things are possible” (Mark 9:23). We can receive all that God has for us.

And let’s not be satisfied with what we have already received. We need to up our game! For instance, we need more of the Spirit, some of us need more deliverance, we all need more wisdom, peace in difficult times and power to do God’s will. Let’s raise our expectations and trust in God to act for us, standing on his promises.