Wednesday, October 28, 2015

What to do when doubts arise in the Christian life

Sunset at <b>the Cross</b>
Matthew 11:1-3 "When Jesus had finished giving instructions to His twelve disciples, He departed from there to teach and preach in their cities. 2 Now when John, while imprisoned, heard of the works of Christ, he sent word by his disciples 3 and said to Him, “Are You the Expected One, or shall we look for someone else?”

Matthew's Gospel aims to present Jesus Christ as the True Saving King. As the first Gospel of our New Testaments, Matthew's purpose is to feed faith and verify the identity of Jesus Christ as King of Kings. Interestingly there are several times recorded in Matthew's Gospel where the theme of doubt or the temptation to doubt is presented. Why? To show the reader that faith in Jesus Christ is sustained by God's grace moreso than just mere human will-power. The disciples are depicted on a few occassions evidencing doubt at key points where Jesus clearly demonstrated His identity as the Saving King (Matthew 8:18-27; Matthew 14:22-36; Mathew 28:17). 

One major figure that has his own moment of doubt is John the Baptist. It would seem that out of everyone we meet in Matthew's Gospel, John the Baptist would had been the last person to have any doubt. Yet he does. So the question is: when the Christian doubts, What is Jesus trying to affect in the believer's life when doubt arises? Is doubt normal for Christians? What provisions are supplied by the Lord when the dark season arises? Asking such questions and find the answers can aid greatly in navigating through the doubts that arise in the Christian life.

1. What is the Lord trying to affect in the believer's life when doubt arises? 
John the Baptist had been in a dungeon for 10 months. All four Gospels record his sudden appearance on the scene of history - proclaiming the pending public appearance of the Lord Jesus. In all four Gospels - as soon as Jesus appears and is baptized, John the Baptist recedes into the background. John had been faithful, obedient and unwavering in his message. He had prepared a nation for the arrival of Messiah. What were the results of his labors? By confronting Herod and his sin, John was cast into prison (see Matthew 14:1-2). It was a dark dungeon with hardly any light. 10 months of solitary confinement had led John to ask whether Jesus was the Promised Messiah. 

What was Jesus doing in the meantime?
Jesus was preaching and training his disciples. Undoubtedly a couple of those disciples (who had originally followed John), were passing messages back and forth between Jesus. Part of God's training of us in faith is in the exercise of our faith. The disciples of Jesus, some of whom who had been with John - heard John request as to whether or not Jesus was the Messiah of expectation. This was a testing time for both John and the early disciples. The question hung out in the air - needing a response: "are you the one, or should we expect another?"  

I would suggest that fundamentally, Jesus' activities in relationship to John the Baptist had to do with exercise of faith. We read elsewhere in James 1:3-4; 1 Peter 1:6-7 that the exercise of our faith under pressure produces more fruitfulness for God. Wrestling with doubt is way-different than giving up and embracing it. Hence what God may be doing in our lives through seasons of doubt is strengthening our faith - even if we don't immediately realize it (see 2 Corinthians 4:16-18).  

2. Is doubt normal for Christians?
Author John Piper writes in his book: "When the Darkness Will Not Life", pages 38-39 - "All the great doctors of the soul have distinguished between faith and its full assurance. The reason for that is that we are saved by the work of God causing us to be born again and bringing us to faith. "The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit" (John 3:8). Piper later writes: "...which means that God is at the bottom of my faith; and when it disappears for a season from my own view, God may yet be there sustaining its root in the new birth and protecting the seed from destruction." 

The great truth of the perseverance of the saints teaches that all true-Christians will persevere to the end because of God's pledge to preserve them to the end (John 10:27-28; Ephesians 1:13-14; Jude 1:24-25). Yet it is also clear that even the greatest of Christians can experience times of doubt. The Baptist Faith and Message 2000 notes the following: "All true believers endure to the end. Those whom God has accepted in Christ, and sanctified by His Spirit, will never fall away from the state of grace, but shall persevere to the end. Believers may fall into sin through neglect and temptation, whereby they grieve the Spirit, impair their graces and comforts, and bring reproach on the cause of Christ and temporal judgments on themselves; yet they shall be kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation."

John the Baptist's moment of doubt was his way of punching through what was truly a dark time. John's actions are certainly explainable. However, the fact that John is held by Jesus to be the greatest of men born among women reveals that John did not lose his faith - only that his faith momentarily got out of focus. So yes - it is normal to experience doubts in the Christian life and by God's grace they can be overcome.

3. What provisions are supplied by the Lord when the dark season arises? 
So as we've seen - God is at work even in those seasons where it seems like the lights are out in the house of faith so-to-speak. The chief purpose is to exercise our faith against the resistance of doubt. We also noted that doubt is normal in the Christian life. But now what provisions are supplied to the believer who may very well be facing doubt. Notice in short order how Jesus gives strength to John...

a. Scripture. Matthew 11:4-10.
Jesus sends a message back to John that his identity (utilizing the words drawn from Isaiah 61:1-2a) is the same Biblical identity proclaimed by John. John had not missed it. He was on target.

b. Advocacy. Matthew 11:11-19
Jesus proclaims to other people about how faithful and true John has been to his calling. He has not been forgotten (see Hebrews 6:10). Jesus does this for the child of Good in heaven before the Heavenly Father (1 Timothy 2:5; Hebrews 4:14-16; 1 John 2:1). To know that we have a Great intercessor in heaven - the Lord Jesus, Who has also sent us His Spirit - gives great hope and power to overcome doubt. Notice a third provision...

c. Sovereignty. Matthew 11:25-27
Jesus denounces the cities that had not repented as a result of his ministry (and presumably John's). Jesus is recorded as saying that all things have been handed over to Him. Though Jesus operated as very man, He never ceased being God at the same time. His Sovereignty is way more powerful than the arguments presented by doubt. 

d. Mercy. Matthew 11:28-30
We've seen that Jesus made available - both directly and indirectly to John but most certainly directly to us, three provisions to combat our doubt - scripture, advocacy and Sovereignty. Now lets consider one final provision - Mercy. I love what Jesus states in Matthew 11:28-30“Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.29 Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”

John the Baptist is held up as a supreme example of faithfulness in God's Word. He would not only get through this season of doubt, but persevere to the end. Matthew 14 records his death as a result of standing up for righteousness. The fact that Jesus had advocated for Him reminds us of God's advocacy of Job in the Old Testament. When you and I experience times of doubt in the Christian life - we have four provisions ever available to us from the Lord: scripture, Jesus' advocacy, Sovereignty and Mercy. 

I close out today with this quote from the great scholar of years past, Alfred Edersheim who writes about how doubt was functioning in John's life, and his conquering of it: "When he sent his disciples with this question straight to Christ, he had already conquered; for such a question addressed to a possibly false Messiah has no meaning. And so it must ever be with us. Doubt is the offspring of our disease, diseased as it is in its paternity. And yet it cannot be cast aside. It may be the outcome of the worst, or the problems of the best souls. The twilight may fade into outer night, or it may usher in the day. The answer lies in this: whether doubt will lead us to Christ, or from Christ."1

1. Alfred Eedersheim. The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. Volume 1. Page 668.