Doubt Does Not Equal Unbelief
Mark 9:24 (NLT2) The father instantly cried out, “I do believe, but help me overcome my unbelief!”
Do you ever struggle with doubt? You do if you’re honest.
Doubt affects the lives of many believers. The reality is that no one’s faith is ever perfect in this life. That includes you. And if your faith is not perfect, then it can grow and become stronger today than it was yesterday.
Doubt is the gap between our current faith and perfect faith. Sometimes we doubt our salvation; other times we doubt God’s love. We may even doubt the reliability of Scripture, the existence of God, or the identity of Christ
What should we do when we have doubts about God? We should seek to answer them.
In Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis wrote, “Make sure that, if you have once accepted Christianity, then some of its main doctrines shall be deliberately held before your mind for some time every day. That is why daily prayers and religious reading and churchgoing are necessary parts of the Christian life. We have to be continually reminded of what we believe. Neither this belief nor any other will automatically remain alive in the mind. It must be fed.” 1
Doubt is a natural part of being human because we have limitations. We have limitations in energy, time and even knowledge. We all experience doubts because we can’t know everything. In order to live with doubt in a spiritually healthy and faith-building way, we need to be clear about what doubt is what it isn't.
A biblical understanding of faith is not blind or opposed to evidence, but it doesn't require absolute information either (see Is Christian Faith Blind Faith?). Faith is simply trusting in what you have good reason to believe is true. It’s important to remember that faith is only as good as the object in which it is placed. Sincerity is important, but trying really hard to believe something doesn't make it true or false. A great way to find out if you really believe something is whether you are ready to act as if it were true in everyday life. For example, do you really believe being pure in your thought life and relationships is the best way to live?
To doubt means to be between two minds or opinions. It is the middle ground between faith and unbelief. Unbelief, as Christian scholar Os Guinness notes, "is a state of mind that is closed against God, an attitude of the heart that disobeys God as much as it disbelieves the truth. Unbelief is the result of a settled choice."
There is a big difference between struggling to believe in God and setting oneself against Him.
You Are Not Alone
If you have doubts about God, don’t beat yourself up. You are in good company. John the Baptist had doubts about Jesus as the Messiah.
Luke 7:18-19 NKJV Then the disciples of John reported to him concerning all these things. And John, calling two of his disciples to him, sent them to Jesus, saying, “Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?”
Jesus didn't get upset He provided evidence and sent John's disciples back.
Luke 7:22-23 NKJV Jesus answered and said to them, “Go and tell John the things you have seen and heard: that the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have the gospel preached to them. And blessed is he who is not offended because of Me.”
Doubts can come into our lives in a number of ways, including traumatic experiences, apathy, or mistaken beliefs often caused by error or false teaching. No matter how doubt gets in, it won't go away on its own. If you want to address it to either eliminate or confirm it you must take action.
6 Ways to Deal with Doubt
Excerpts from 7 Ways to Deal with Doubt by Michael Patton (Bold mine)
1. Realize doubt is often the birth pangs of deepened faith.
Many of us became believers at an early age, with a faith mediated through our parents whom we trusted implicitly. As we become older, our faith is tested though trials, temptations, and suffering like Job.
Romans 5:3-5 (NLT2)3 We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance.4 And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation.5 And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.
James 1:2-4 (NLT2)2 Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy.3 For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow.4 So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.
This is why our most significant doubt often comes during our 20s and 30s. But this is not a bad thing. We all need to consider that the truths we espouse might be wrong, in order to embrace our faith more deeply. Such doubt often results in stronger faith.
2. Be ready to live with mystery.
Sometimes we want all the answers. We want complete understanding before we commit to God.
While God has revealed so much to us, and there is much we can understand, there are the “secret” things that belong to him alone.
Deuteronomy 29:29 (NLT2)29 “The LORD our God has secrets known to no one. We are not accountable for them, but we and our children are accountable forever for all that he has revealed to us, so that we may obey all the terms of these instructions.
We will never be able to comprehend the Trinity, or how God created everything out of nothing. But what we can comprehend is enough for us to rest in God when mystery arises.
3. Make the main things the main things.
Paul told the Corinthians he delivered to them things “of first importance”.
1 Corinthians 15:3 (NLT2)3 I passed on to you what was most important and what had also been passed on to me. Christ died for our sins, just as the Scriptures said.
He goes on to talk about the atoning death and vindicating resurrection of Christ as being most central to the faith.
1 Corinthians 15:4-9 (NLT2)4 He was buried, and he was raised from the dead on the third day, just as the Scriptures said.5 He was seen by Peter and then by the Twelve.6 After that, he was seen by more than 500 of his followers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died.7 Then he was seen by James and later by all the apostles.8 Last of all, as though I had been born at the wrong time, I also saw him.9 For I am the least of all the apostles. In fact, I’m not even worthy to be called an apostle after the way I persecuted God’s church.
So many of us doubt secondary issues such as how and when God created the world or the details of Christ’s return. There are many issues in the Christian faith about which there has been legitimate disagreement for centuries. All of orthodox Christianity, however, has always been in unity about who Christ is and what he did.
So when you begin doubting what you were taught about secondary issues, don’t get too bent out of shape. A lot of us are still working through these matters.
4. Live according to the faith you still have.
Doubt is not unbelief. Again, doubt is the bridge that connects current faith to perfect faith. And that bridge will stand until our death or Christ’s return. When we go through a faith crisis, though, we don’t naturally see things this way. Once doubt enters and infects our lives on a conscious level, we may interpret it as outright unbelief. We simply don’t know how else to process it. We think we’re on an inevitable road to complete unbelief.
Unfortunately, since we think this way, and since others may treat us as if we have the plague, we begin to live as unbelievers. If sin were not the instigating problem before, it becomes the chronic problem now. It’s important for those struggling with doubt to not let their doubt influence their lives such that they start living like unbelievers. Encourage doubters to continue to live as Christians, repenting and believing the gospel, even if they don’t always feel like Christians.
5. Doubt your doubts.
Why give your doubt a courtesy you don’t give your faith? Is your doubt so compelling that it can’t be questioned?
When we go through times of doubt, we need to make sure we are critical of our doubts as well. Doubt usually doesn’t offer a better solution; it just nags at the one we already have. For Christians, we can be sure that the central truths of our faith will never be outweighed by our doubt. Pestered, yes. But never, when we learn to doubt our doubts, should our faith be overthrown.
6. Work through the sin in your life.
I intentionally saved this one for last. Often this is the first place Christians go with a loved one in the crisis of doubt, in large part because it helps us put doubt into a discernible box. It also helps us to find a quick solution. “Oh, you’re doubting your faith? Okay, quit sinning! Next?” Obviously, doubt is often more complicated.
But we must recognize that personal sin is a faith-drainer. Disobedience to God will take a significant toll on your faith.
We’re all sinners, but some sins take a unique toll on our mind and worldview—especially if we attempt to justify them. For example, struggling with same-sex attraction is one thing; actively embracing homosexuality and trying to justify it biblically is another thing altogether. The toll here is not only moral, social, and physical; it also corrupts the mind. The effort to reinterpret the Bible in a way more friendly to homosexuality won’t remain isolated to this one category; sooner or later, the mental paradigm you constructed to make your sin acceptable will corrupt everything else.
In short, if there is something you know you’re supposed to be doing, and you’re not doing it, doubt will soon spread, and your crisis of faith will be hard to overcome. We need to gently ask these types of questions when the time is right. But simply accusing people of some deep-rooted personal sin right from the gun can be judgmental and embarrassing. Ask if there’s any sin that might be causing the person’s doubt. If the answer is no and you cannot readily identify anything as the cause, don’t push the issue.
If you find yourself with doubts, you're in good company. But having the courage to doubt your doubts and investigate the root of these issues over time will lead to greater confidence as a follower of Jesus. This is what the journey of faith is all about. - Focus on the Family
Spiritual Growth Helps You Deal With Doubt
If you are a follower of Jesus, then it is always good to ask yourself if you are growing spiritually. Are you reading your Bible on a regular basis, praying, sharing your faith and living in community with others? (Not in a legalistic, "God will love me more if . . ." sort of way, but because these are necessary ingredients for spiritual growth.) Just as a plant either grows or withers, so a worldview must produce results or it will be discarded as impractical."
When we sin and are disobedient to God, our sin creates relational distance from Him. God doesn't love us any less, and we aren't at risk of losing our salvation, but we may need to ask Him to show us if we need to confess anything so that our fellowship with Him can be restored. A great prayer to meditate on is Psalm 139:23–24: "Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting."
1. C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: Touchstone, 1996), 125.