Tag Archives: doubt

Does God require faith that is 100% without doubt?

9 Oct

Image result for faith and doubt logo

Faith Church. That’s the name of our church. Back in 1968, when they got this church started, why would people choose to name a new church, Faith Church? I wonder what they were thinking.

What is faith?  Most often we think faith is belief. And for good reason. Faith does mean belief.  It means that in our minds we agree with certain statements or facts or ideas.

But we also read in the Bible, in James chapter 2, that “faith without works is dead.”

Think about that.  Faith is belief. But it also must have works, James says, or it is dead.  So what is faith?

Just belief in our mind, or must faith also have some kind of work?

As I mentioned last week, this October at Faith Church we’re commemorating the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation by talking about the Five Solas of the Reformation.  The Five Solas or Alones are what many scholars consider to be the best way to summarize the teaching of the Reformation.  Last week we looked at Sola Gratia, or Grace Alone.  The second one is Sola Fide.  Fide in Latin means faith.  Today we are talking about Faith Alone.  In Ephesians 2:8-9, Paul combines Sola Gratia with Sola Fide: “it is by grace you have been saved through faith, not by works, it is the gift of God.”

So somehow, Paul says, we receive the gift of grace by faith, and not by works.  But as I mentioned above, James said faith without works is dead.  See the apparent contradiction? This brings us back to the question I started with?  What is faith?

In Hebrews 11:1 we read, “faith is being sure of what hope for, certain of what we do not see.”

Does that clear it up for you? I have to admit that on first reading, that definition of faith doesn’t really help me.  So we have to look a bit deeper.

The writer of Hebrews describes faith two ways.  Let’s look at each:

First, Faith is being sure of what we hope for.  We have hopes.  We want them to come true.  It may be a promotion we hope is coming.  It may be hopes for our children and grandchildren.  It may be hopes that we will get out of debt.  It may be a hope that eternal life is in our future.  What hopes do you have?

Faith is being sure of those hopes, that they will become reality.  It is saying, “I know that I know that I know that what I hope for will come true.”  But if we’re honest, we rarely feel that certain.  The opposite of being sure is being unsure.  Uncertainty also goes by the name “doubt”.

Frankly, when we read the Bible, it can be a bit tough to understand how the interplay of faith and doubt works. On one hand we read Jesus teaching that if you have faith, you can move mountains.  On the other hand we read the psalms and the psalmists express their doubts quite a lot.  Does that mean they are lacking in faith?

Is the writer of Hebrews saying that the only true faith is a faith that doesn’t have even one little tiny iota of doubt?  Is that even possible?  Haven’t we been told that expressing our doubts is healthy, and that God welcomes us to converse with him about our doubts?  How would we know if our faith is totally without doubt?  What would that feel like?

Before we can answer that, let’s see what else the writer of Hebrews says about faith.

Second, faith is being certain of what we do not see. What the writer of Hebrews is saying is that there is a side of life that is beyond what we can perceive with our five senses.  You can’t touch it, smell it, taste, see or hear it. It is the spiritual side of life. The realm of God, angels, demons, heaven and hell.  Faith believes it is real, though we cannot see it.  Again, though, the writer says that faith is certain of this. And I ask the writer, “how certain?”  Is it okay to doubt a little bit?  Is it okay to wonder or speculate?  And don’t we all do that at least a little bit?

As I wonder about the tension between faith and doubt, James the brother of Jesus says in chapter 1:

If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does.

“He must believe and not doubt”?  If 100% belief is required by God to answer our requests for wisdom, then it seems to me that very, very few of us will ever receive wisdom from God.

Does faith require 100% perfect belief, with no doubt whatsoever?

I don’t think so.  Here’s why.  I personally appreciate the honesty of a guy Jesus once encountered whose child was really in a bad way.  The child was possessed by a demon.  The man brought his child to Jesus, but ran into Jesus’ disciples first.  They tried hard, but couldn’t cast out the demon. When Jesus shows up a bit later, the man is desperate, pleading with Jesus to help.  You know what Jesus says to the man?

“If you can believe, all things are possible for him who believes.”  Wow. All things?  I like the sound of that, but I also think, “Whew, I don’t know if I can believe like that.”  It seems similar to what the father of the demon-possessed child might be thinking too, because he says back to Jesus,

“Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!”

I love that line. It resonates with what I so often feel.  The tension between faith and doubt.  The knowledge that while I have faith, I don’t think it is perfect faith.  Jesus knew this about the man, and you know what Jesus did?

Maybe Jesus said, “Wait a minute, you have some unbelief in there? Sorry, man.  Game over.  Take your demon-possessed child elsewhere.”

But Jesus did not say that.  He saw the man’s tension of faith and doubt, and he healed that man’s child.

Let’s remember this man’s tension between faith and doubt, and think about it in light of the definition of faith in Hebrews 1.  God doesn’t require us to have perfect faith.  He does require faith, though.  And tomorrow we’ll talk more about what it means to place our faith in God.

For now, I think we should be like the man who brought his demon-possessed child to Jesus, and say “Lord, I believe, help me in my unbelief!”

Questioning Jesus – Luke 7:18-35

24 Jun

In our study of Luke’s Gospel, our next story reintroduces us to a guy who was feeling confused about who Jesus is.  He is doubting Jesus.  Jesus used to be very real to him.  But now it seems that Jesus has gone away.

That doubting guy?  You’ve met him before.  Maybe you know him quite well.  Maybe Jesus seems to have gone away from you too.  In the story from Luke 7, the doubter is John the Baptist.  He was Jesus’ relative, and he was the guy who ushered Jesus into the ministry.  He had a reputation for being bold, but John has changed. Maybe a year has gone by, John has been in prison probably for months, and his doubts about Jesus start growing.  John still has a couple disciples caring for his needs in prison, and he sends them to Jesus to ask if Jesus is really the One.

Questioning Jesus. Have you ever done that?

In response to John’s question, Jesus doesn’t say a word.  Instead he does what the One was supposed to do: miracles upon miracles.  Only after that Jesus tells John’s disciples, “What do you see with your own eyes? Just tell John what you see.” What did they see? They saw the manifest presence of the Holy Spirit working powerfully through Jesus to perform the miraculous deeds which would confirm that he was who he said he was. The Messiah. The Savior. The promised One. He was who months ago John said he was, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the World.

John might be languishing in prison, and that would be terribly difficult, but Jesus’ miracles are a response to John to not give up. Jesus was doing what the Messiah was supposed to do. And as difficult as it would be to have to hear about that from a prison cell, John could still rejoice that the long awaited Messiah actually had come.

Is it possible that for those of us who don’t see God, don’t feel God, and feel distant from God, we need to see Jesus differently?

Jesus was right there. He was doing what he was supposed to be doing.   Perhaps prison had affected John’s viewpoint.  He couldn’t see Jesus anymore.  He felt very distant.

What about you?  Don’t see Jesus? Feel distant from him? Be assured that Jesus is right there. He is doing everything that he is supposed to be doing!   It is no different in our day. He is alive and well.

But perhaps our expectations are wrong!

So often in my own life I want Jesus to answer my prayer a very specific way. And when he doesn’t, I can get upset. I can think he betrayed me, that he didn’t show up when I wanted him, when I felt I needed him.

But he was there. He was doing what he was supposed to do. It was I who needed to see him differently.

I have heard this many times over the years when a loved one has passed away. We don’t want that person to be gone. We miss them. The passing is hard. In many cases we have prayed that God would heal them and prolong their lives. But our loved one dies, and we are left wondering why God didn’t answer our prayer the way we want. In those moments our faith in God can be rocked.

But know that Jesus is there. He never left. Most likely we need to change our perspective of who he is, what he does, and how he should act. Like my one seminary professor Ken Miller says “we try to fit Jesus in our back pocket, as if we own him, as if he could fit there.” We shouldn’t even try.

You might not be in prison for months like John, but there are plenty of other situations that have you feeling imprisoned, trapped, hopeless, and you wonder why Jesus isn’t rescuing you like you want him too. The longing and the waiting can be tiring and many times we can get to a point where we want to give up on Jesus. But he is there.  He just might fit in our pocket.

You might not be able to see his work in your life. You might have such a specific idea of what you want him to do, to be, to look like, how you want him to answer your prayer, get you out of a difficult situation, make life easy, peaceful, and because he isn’t doing what you want, you feel like giving up.

But he is there.   Right in front of you. Doing what a Messiah is supposed to do. He hasn’t left.

You just might need new eyes, a new heart, a new mind to see him.

So hang in there. Stay strong. Pursue him. Ask the Lord to open your eyes to him, to see things the way he does. He is the miracle working God. He brings new life. He wants to transform our hearts.

Listen to the whole sermon here.