James 3:13 – 4:10
We started to look at this law last week, and we discussed one of the reasons why people give up. We said they are unable to persevere because they are overcome by trials and tribulations.
Another reason why some people are unable to persevere to the end is ‘doubt’.
As you can see from the way it is written, the word ‘doubt’ is closely related to the word ‘double’. Just swap the ‘t’ for a ‘le’ and your doubt is double. The reason for this is that to doubt means to be in two minds. To have a double mind.
Richard Holloway was a bishop in the Church of England until the year 2000, when he quit. He said it was because he had many doubts. He is among the many men and women who through the centuries have given up their faith because of doubts.
Many people think that because they have doubts they have lost their faith, but in fact this is not so. Doubt is faith in two minds.
William Shakespeare called doubt ‘the beacon of the wise’. While the poet Kahlil Gibran said, ‘Doubt is a pain too lonely to know that faith is his twin brother.’
Doubt is not the same as unbelief.
Are you one of those people who thinks that because a doubt has entered your mind, you have come to the end of your faith? No! Please don’t be deceived. Doubt is just the honest examination of alternatives.
What destroys faith is not doubt, but the unwillingness to confront doubt. Left alone, doubt will harden into unbelief. If you believe, you are in one mind about the truth of something. For example: Jesus is the Messiah whom God promised to the Jews. If you disbelieve, you are in one mind about rejecting something as untrue.
Doubts are the common experience of most Christians. We must accept that doubts will come, and not see them as a sign that we lack faith. As the Reverend George Herbert says: ‘Those who know nothing, doubt nothing.’
Satan is a tempter. Doubt is natural, but Satan takes advantage of our doubt. He will use it to try and lead us into unbelief. Satan wants us to think our doubt is a sign of sin. He wants to use our doubt to build a wall between us and God. Doubt itself is not that wall.
We must continue to believe in the face of doubt, and turn to prayer. It takes time to overcome doubt. That is why perseverance is the third law, and a character that every Christian must cultivate.
How can we deal with the inevitable doubts? Doubts will come, so what can we do to be ready for them and overcome them?
First, we can remember that it isn’t a sin to doubt. In this morning’s scripture James tells us something that really works. James says, ‘Humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.’ Satan the tempter is a fraud and an imposter. Stand up to him in the name of Jesus and he will run away.
The next thing we should do is pray. Ask for God’s help to dispel your doubts. Ask God to take your doubts and turn them into stepping stones to deeper faith. Grow by defeating your doubts. Turn them to positive use. They will strengthen you. Doubts are messengers to the honest mind. They are the knock on the door that precedes an encounter with understanding.
We must not neglect to bring all of our doubts out into the open and shine the light of Scripture on them. I don’t mean for you to parade your doubts in public. But whatever you do, don’t bury them in your heart where, as we said before, they can harden into unbelief.
Romans 10:17 says, “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.”
Submit your doubt to the word of Christ. Take the time, go to the trouble, of hearing the word of God in order that you may believe.
One reading plan that is exceptionally powerful is to read straight through the entire Bible in 90 days. It means dedicating yourself to read ten chapters a day, but the result is awesome. I wholeheartedly recommend this to all of you.
Ten chapters a day, every day, straight through from Genesis 1:1 to Revelation 22:21.
Yuri and I did this. It gave us a wonderful overview of God’s hand in human history. Don’t stop for anything. Don’t pause to study a part, or slow down for questions. Just read as if you were reading a novel. The Bible will come alive.
Pray before you read. Pray that you will hear and see God in his story, and then just read. If you want to study, go back and do it later in the day. If you want to think about something, do it later. Tell the doubts to wait, and often you will find that they have got bored, given up and gone away.
When people leave the church over doubts, Selwyn Hughes says it is usually because they have fed their doubts and groomed them. They have indulged their doubts and given them strength, instead of laying them beside the certainties of Scripture. And a doubt indulged soon becomes a doubt realised.
God knows that I am weak. God knows that you are weak. He doesn’t hold this against us. It is why he has given us such powerful weapons.
Jeremiah 23: “Let the prophet who has a dream tell the dream, but let him who has my word speak my word faithfully. What has straw in common with wheat? declares the Lord. Is not my word like fire, declares the Lord, and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?”
Hebrews 4: “For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires.”
Ephesians 6 tells us about the armour of God, with all its protection. And one weapon, the sword that is the word of God. Slay all doubts with this sword. Here is your weapon against doubt.
But to use it effectively you must persevere. You must keep on keeping on.
Don’t complain when the doubts come. Instead, welcome them as a chance to learn and to grow in faith. Do you doubt the existence of God, read in your Bible all the stories of all the things that God has done. Pray about it.
Do you doubt that God can love you, because you are such a terrible sinner, such an awful person. Read the Bible and see how God showed his love again and again for the people who were rejected by society. Read how when it was time for God to send his son to earth he chose to make him an ordinary working man instead of a scholar or a king. And then pray about it.
It’s not your doubts God cares about, it’s what you do about them. God won’t take them away, because that isn’t the point. Faith isn’t about whether you have doubts or not. He wants to see how you live with your doubts, how you deal with them, how you defeat them with the weapons he has given you.
Take your doubts and face them. Persevere and they cannot overcome you. Face the spectres of your mind. Don’t suspend thought, increase it. Doubts will lead you to a deeper understanding and then they will be slain.
God’s word is energetic and active, speaking to today’s world and our own personal needs and circumstances. God’s word is truth. It awakens our conscience. It has the power to reach into the private corners of our hearts. Embrace God’s word and never again worry about your doubts.
Doubt is not unbelief. It is the twin of faith. Just persevere.