Should we focus on engaging those who are skeptical about the truths of Christianity? Should Christians who are struggling with their faith join a discipleship group? Should the Church spend more time and resources engaging the doubts that people have in regards to Jesus Christ?
Pastor Timothy Keller once said:
“A faith without some doubts is like a human body with no antibodies in it. People who blithely go through life too busy or indifferent to ask the hard questions about why they believe as they do will find themselves defenseless against either the experience of tragedy or the probing questions of a smart skeptic. A person’s faith can collapse almost overnight if she failed over the years to listen patiently to her own doubts, which should only be discarded after long reflection.”
Keller makes it clear that in today’s world we must be willing to acknowledge the doubts that we have and to confront them. Sometimes evangelicals tend to overlook the doubts that people struggle with and just sweep them under the rug. This is not the solution. Church leaders must focus on discipling those who are struggling with doubt. Here is what Scripture reveals to us about faith and doubt.
Faith is a Gift
In Romans 12:3 the Apostle Paul says, “For by the grace given to me I say to every-one among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has as-signed.” As we meditate on this verse, we are able to see that God gives out different amounts of faith to his people. The measure and amount of one’s faith depends totally on what God has assigned. Faith is a gracious gift from God. However, we are also able to see that doubt is a tool that our Father in Heaven uses for his purposes and plans. In God’s sovereignty, he sometimes uses doubt as a tool to drive us to Jesus Christ. All of this is done in his perfect timing. With that framework in mind, we can now turn our attention to examining why doubt should not be taboo.
Scripture reveals many doubters to us. The disciple, Thomas, is probably most widely known for struggling with doubt (Jn. 20:24-29). However, there are plenty of others who are worth mentioning. Abraham struggled with believing that God could make him a father in his old age (Gen. 17:17). Moses did not believe God could use him to bring the children of Israel out of Egypt (Ex. 3:10-15). Peter struggled with belief, when he almost drowned at sea (Matt. 14:28-32). So if you struggle with doubt, know you are not alone. The Bible is full of doubters who were used by God for his sovereign purposes, and there is no question he can use those who struggle with doubt today.
There are plenty of men and women you probably know who struggle with doubt within your church. These people should not be treated as inferior Christians. They should not be treated as people who have an infectious disease. When we understand that faith is a gift and that the measure of one’s faith does not determine the level of one’s spiritual maturity, we will finally be a people who do not drive doubters away from the church. The church should always be a place for skeptics and saints alike.
If all of us were honest with ourselves we would admit that doubting as a Christian is not abnormal. When Christians go through intense trials or have been praying for God to answer a specific prayer over a prolonged period of time with no answer, doubts arise. Does this suggest they are not trusting God enough? Perhaps not. I have found myself more than once in my life exclaiming in prayer the same words uttered by the father of a demon possessed child (Mk. 9: 21-24). The simple prayer: “I believe; help my unbelief,” is indeed a prayer that should be included in almost every Christian’s life.
The reason this prayer should be included in our prayer life is because of the ever-present reality that Christians struggle with doubt. This should not make us feel ashamed. We must always remember that Jesus Christ still heals the child in Mark 9 despite his father’s doubt. This should encourage us because it serves as a constant reminder that God still works with us and in us through our doubts.
Picture yourself in a home group filled with both skeptics and mature believers. Imagine the diversity of this group. Skeptics are able to voice their concerns and ask questions about the faith. Mature believers are able to evangelize and present the gospel message in a practical way. This benefits both parties and there is no question that a community like this would encourage skeptics and believers.
The Gospel for Doubt
There is good news for those who are struggling with doubt, and that is the message of the gospel. The good news proclaims to both skeptics and saints that God has done everything for us through Christ Jesus. His faith excels where our faith falters. Unbelievers and believers should acknowledge their doubts and always be willing to confront them head on. The church can help in this area. The gospel is the message that the church should always proclaim because it is the only message that has enough power to provide confidence for both the unbeliever and the believer.
An unbeliever might be struggling with doubting certain tenets of Christianity, and he might need to be confronted with an apologetic defense of the faith, but that should never take complete place over the gospel message. Hearing the gospel proclaimed is what leads to faith (Rom. 10:17). For a believer, the gospel is what encourages the Christian to look to Jesus Christ and his finished work even in the midst of doubts. Christians must preach the gospel to themselves because it serves as an antidote for the doubtful heart and mind.
The Church should always do everything it can do to help those who are struggling with doubt. There are various ways that this could be done, but I believe that the most effective way is by explicitly and constantly proclaiming the good news of what Christ Jesus has done for sinners. And we must always remember that faith is a gift, and doubt is not a disease.
Matt Manry is the Director of Discipleship at Life Bible Church in Canton, Georgia. He is a student at Reformed Theological Seminary and Knox Theological Seminary. He also works on the editorial team for Credo Magazine and Gospel-Centered Discipleship. He blogs regularly at gospelglory.net.