You do not have to be a counselor to be well acquainted with doubt. At some point doubt plagues all of us and we engage with doubters as we journey with others in the ups and downs of life. As a counselor I deal with this issue of doubt all the time and in this short article I want to address the three most common doubters I counsel on a regular basis and give a few strategies on how to engage them with the gospel.
- Doubt Because of Unconfessed and Unrepented Sin.
These are those doubters who have developed blind spots and maybe even a hardness of heart regarding their sin. They are miserable and they may not know why. They know something is wrong—that’s why they scheduled an appointment with you—but they need to have the Scripture applied to their life by a careful practitioner. I think of David’s prayer in Psalm 32:3-5:
For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,” and you forgave the iniquity of my sin.
Often times I will walk doubters of this type through this particular passage of Scripture. This Scripture helps give them language on how they feel while providing the needed remedy of relief. Listen to the misery of David: unconfessed sin made him feel as if his bones were wasting away, God’s hand was heavy upon him, his strength was depleted as if he stayed out too long on a very hot day. One thing is sure—doubters are an exhausted people. They will identify with the language in this passage of Scripture.
As you take them through this, don’t rush through David’s illustrations. Linger there for a while, help them to adapt David’s testimony as their own. The beauty of this is the hope contained in this passage. David got out under from this feeling by uncovering his sin before the Lord. It may be helpful to discuss particular sins and demonstrate biblically why this brother or sister is living in habitual sin. If they want to come out from under the misery of doubt, confession of sin is the path, not because confession is what saves, but because of who the doubter confesses to—the LORD.
To confess is to humble one’s self before God and say, “I agree with you about the condition of my soul and I know that only you have the authority to forgive sins and make everything that is wrong, right.” So, counselor, are you taking your doubting counselees by the hand and showing them the path of confession and repentance?
- Doubt Because of the Accuser.
Satan is the ‘accuser of the brethren’ (Revelation 12:10). I have counseled people that never seem to have assurance of their faith because the accuser reminds them of their past sins. He whispers to them, “You’re disqualified. If people really knew what you did, who you used to be… God doesn’t forgive that volatile of a sin. You need to earn your way back into favor.” The list of lies go on and on. This type of doubt is usually accompanied by depression, anxiety, sleeplessness, lack of energy/focus, etc. These are those doubters in your church who have confessed their past sins to the Lord, have repented of their past sins, and are pestered constantly by the evil one as if Jesus’ salvific work wasn’t sufficient for their particular sins.
I think of two passages of Scripture. The first is: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). Paul writes this passage in the context of wrestling with his own indwelling sin in Romans 7. Paul needed to be reminded of the gospel and he lived in the same generation as Christ. How much more do we need to be reminded of the gospel being 2000 years removed from the time of Jesus’ first advent? If Paul needed to be reminded that those in Christ are not condemned, then so do we—so do our fellow doubters. So, counselor, remind these doubters that God has no more wrath left for them. All their past, present, and future sins were paid for completely.
The second passage is 1st Timothy 1:15: “They saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.” Two very encouraging things come from this particular passage. The first is that Christ came to save sinners. He doesn’t want those who aren’t ashamed of their past. He doesn’t want those who are well. Jesus wants sinners, and He supernaturally turns sinners into saints by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Secondly, Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, called himself the worst sinner ever. So, even on my worst day I can only be the second worst sinner that’s ever lived! As counselors, we should remind our counselees that Jesus saved the worst sinner ever. So how much more can He save all lesser sinners?
- Doubt Because one is unregenerate.
Finally, as counselors we must be loving and truthful enough to inform someone, they aren’t a believer. We don’t determine who is or who isn’t a believer, but the Bible does, and God has given us the Bible and we can utilize it for God’s glory and our counselee’s spiritual good. Here we can utilize this presenting heat of doubt to push the counselee toward repentance and faith in Jesus. The Holy Spirit will use doubt to draw women and men to Himself.
So, we must be listen well as counselors and depend on the Holy Spirit as we show unregenerate counselees Jesus by opening His Word and explaining the gospel. Counselors, God has entrusted us with the important task of stewarding His Word well—counsel accordingly.
Joey Tomlinson (DMin, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is a husband, father, and pastor at a local church in Newport News, Virginia. He blogs regularly on broadoakpiety.org and hosts a weekly podcast called The Broad Oak Piety Podcast with another local pastor in the community.