In the Christian life, we have growing pains as well. As we grow and mature in our faith, we are stretched emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. We may take steps forward in our growth, only to then take a few steps backward. We may feel awkward in our faith at times, uncertain even. At some point, we’ll feel the pain of sanctification as we are stripped of sin.
A common growing pain for many believers is doubt. There may be times in our Christian life when we face a hardship and wonder why God would allow such a thing in our life. We may doubt His love for us. We may question what we believe about Scripture and wonder deep down, is it really true? There may be times when we wonder if God hears us or if He’s even there.
Doubt in the Christian Life
When we come to faith in Christ, we are justified and counted righteous before God through the blood of Jesus, shed for our sins. Though the power of sin loses its reign over us, the presence of indwelling sin remains. We still battle temptations. We still struggle with indwelling sin. We still have human weakness and frailties. We still face suffering and trials. It shouldn’t come as any surprise that we face doubt in our life as well.
Such doubts often bring feelings of shame. I’ve received many emails from people expressing concern over their doubts. Because they doubt, they wonder if they are saved. They assume their doubts mean they don’t have true faith. And oh, what heartache such thoughts bring! Yet doubt is different from unbelief. While unbelief rejects God altogether, doubt reflects our growing faith, which is still immature, weak, and imperfect. Until we die, or Christ returns, and our sanctification is complete, we will have imperfect faith.
This is true of the disciples. Their faith was often weak. They had doubts. They had seen Jesus feed the five thousand and then the next time they were gathered with thousands of hungry people, they wondered how they could feed such a large crowd (Matthew chapters 14 and 15). Jesus often called the disciples “ye of little faith”. Even John the Baptist wondered if Christ was who He said He was and needed reassurance (Matthew 11:3).
Those who came to Christ for healing didn’t have complete faith either. A man asked Jesus to heal his demon possessed son saying, “But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.” (Mark 9:22). “Jesus responded, “‘If you can’! Everything is possible for one who believes.” Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” (Mark 9:23-24).
In John Calvin’s commentary on the book of Mark, he commented on how God responds to our weak faith:
“This agrees with what I have lately noticed, that God deals kindly and gently with his people, —accepts their faith, though imperfect and weak,—and does not lay to their charge the faults and imperfections with which it is connected…Though we have not such abundance of faith as might be desired, there is no reason why our weakness should drive away or discourage us from prayer.”[i]
Questioning Our Doubts
While doubt may be part of our growth as Christians, and while the Lord is indeed patient with us, it doesn’t mean we don’t do anything with our doubts. It doesn’t mean we are passive in response. It doesn’t mean we don’t continue to exercise our faith. And it doesn’t mean we don’t cry out to God for help.
As doubt questions our faith, we must in turn question our doubts. We must doubt our doubts. This is what the psalmist did in Psalm 42 and 43. His enemies pursued him. His soul was in turmoil. “My tears have been my food day and night, while they say to me all the day long, “Where is your God?” (Psalm 42:3). He cried out to God asking, “Why have you forgotten me?” (Psalm 42:9) and “Why have you rejected me?” (Psalm 43:2). While he knew God was his salvation and refuge, he felt as though God had left him. He felt far from him.
The psalmist challenged and confronted his thoughts and feelings. He doubted his doubts. He spoke back to himself, “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God” (Psalm 42:11).
John Calvin noted that it is our duty to strive against our doubts: “As our faith is never perfect, it follows that we are partly unbelievers; but God forgives us, and exercises such forbearance towards us, as to reckon us believers on account of a small portion of faith. It is our duty, in the meantime, carefully to shake off the remains of infidelity which adhere to us, to strive against them, and to pray to God to correct them, and, as often as we are engaged in this conflict, to fly to Him for aid.”[ii]
Four Promises to Confront Our Doubts
When we doubt, we must confront and counter our thoughts. We must turn to God and His word, dwelling on His rich promises for us in Christ.
- He is faithful to forgive your sin. When you cry out to God in repentance, He will forgive you. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1st John 1:9).
- Your salvation is secure. When you feel shame over your doubts and wonder if your salvation is secure, read John 10: “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand” (John 10:27-29).
- Nothing can keep you from God’s love. When you doubt God’s love for you, look to the promise in Romans 8: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? […]For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (vv. 35, 38-39).
- He will finish what He started in you. When it seems as though your faith will never mature and your sin will never be conquered, turn to the promise in Philippians 1:6: “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”
On this side of eternity, our faith will be weak and imperfect. We will have doubts from time to time as we mature in our faith. But such doubts should not keep us from God. We need to turn to him, correct our doubts with the truth of His word, and rest in His promises for us in Christ.