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 –
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.