By Gary Habermas
Doubt might be defined as uncertainty regarding God or our relation to Him. Questions arise in many forms, including factual or philosophical issues, assurance, suffering, or unanswered prayer.
Doubt may be divided into three general areas. Factual doubt usually raises issues regarding the truth of Christianity. Emotional doubt chiefly concerns our moods and feelings, often posing questions pertaining to assurance of salvation. Volitional doubt is a category that ranges from weak faith to a lack of motivation to follow the Lord.
Few subjects are characterized by more misunderstandings than this one. Contrary to popular opinion, doubt is not always sin. Neither is it necessarily the opposite of faith nor the product of weak faith. It is experienced by many believers in Scripture, such as Abraham, Job, David, Jeremiah, and John the Baptist. And almost all believers, as well as unbelievers, experience doubt at times. As strange as it seems, doubt can produce positive results, and many doubters are very much in love with the Lord.
The answer to factual doubt is the facts. In other words, questions concerning God, Jesus, the Bible, or the resurrection are answered by the data. No other religion can claim the kind of foundation upon which Christianity is based. [Emphasis mine.] A frequent mistake made by factual doubters is to confuse disputed areas among Christians (e.g., sovereignty versus free will, the age of the earth, the sign gifts, or eternal security) with the core truths: the deity of Jesus Christ, His death and resurrection. A remedy for this kind of doubt is to start with these basics: “If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead. you will be saved” (Rm 10:9). When we believe these basics, our understanding and appropriation of other doctrines will follow.
Emotional doubt is the most common as well as the most painful variety. Frequently, these doubters repeatedly wonder whether they are saved, while exhibiting signs of their obvious love for the Lord. They often tell themselves that what they most desire is just beyond their grasp-hence their pain. Here the chief issue is not what is being said but the distraught moods in the background. The remedy is to treat the latter.
Many passages in Scripture command us to address our unruly emotions (see Ps 37:7-8; 39:2; 42:5-6,11; 55:4-8,16-17,22; 56:3-4; 94:19). Often we must move from our perspective to God’s and replace our uncertain feelings with trust in Him.
For instance, in Philippians 4:6-9, Paul tells us to replace our anxieties with prayer and thanksgiving. The apostle promises peace for those who do so (vv. 6-7). Then he commands us to explicitly change our worrisome thoughts to God’s truth (v. 8) and to model ourselves after his pattern, again promising the result of peace (v. 9).
The key is to change how we think and behave. Simply diverting attention from our worries can provide temporary relief. The best response, every single time doubt arises, is to weed out and correct the improper thought by concentrating or God’s truth rather than on our shaky beliefs.
Volitional doubt covers a wide range of uncertainty. The more extreme versions are often characterized by formerly committed believers who now seem not to care – anymore. Perhaps they even appear to live no differently from unbelievers. This is probably the most dangerous species of doubt, since the individual may be in danger of turning from the Lord. But how do we motivate someone who does not wish to be energized? Friends and loved ones must get involved.
Any biblical means of stirring the dying embers may be helpful here. In Scripture, probably the most frequently prescribed methods are being convicted of sin (Heb 3:12-13) or being challenged by the truth of heaven. Everyone experiences the lure of living forever (Ec 3:11). Believers more specifically seek heaven (Heb 11:16,35; 13:14). Dozens of times we are challenged to pursue our eternal home, applying its truth deeply to our lives (Mt 6:33). After all, what we do for the Lord after salvation helps determine and shape our capacity for enjoying eternity (Mt 6:19-21; Mk 9:41).
Perhaps the key is to assist the volitional doubter in charging his spiritual batteries. What could be worse than failing the God of the universe and falling short of His kingdom? Conversely, what could be better than living with Him and our believing friends and loved ones for a truly blessed eternity? We need to drive these truths home to those who waver, by the power of the Holy Spirit (Jms 5:19-20; Jd 20-23).
Doubt can sometimes be a positive incentive to change and grow. But other times, intervention is necessary. Members of the body of Christ need to be alert and sensitive, helping each other focus on the Lord and His kingdom.
Adapted from the Apologetics Study Bible, pgs 1614-1615