“Is it okay to doubt?” is a question that I received recently from a young woman in my congregation. This is a broad question, but one that I think is important for young people to wrestle with. Doubt can, and sometimes does, accompany faith; but we should not be content to linger with this doubt-faith version of Christianity.
In the Gospels, a man comes up to Jesus and he asks for Jesus to heal his son. Jesus tells him that everything is possible for those who believe. The man, thinking of the desire to have his son healed, cried out, “I believe, help my unbelief!” For him doubt and faith were cohabitating, but he was not content to live there. His desire was that his faith would increase and his doubts or questions from the place of unbelief would decrease. He is not saying that because there is any doubt that he’s not a Christian; on the contrary, he says that he has faith (believes) and he has doubt (unbelief).
His Christian response to this is to ask God, through Christ, to increase faith and decrease unbelief. This is an honest, yet heartfelt response to the doubts of his heart.
For the young believer, he or she must understand that saving faith has three parts:
The facts of Christianity (notitia).
The “ownership” of the facts (assensus).
Trust in the one to whom the facts point (fiducia).
The question of “is it okay to doubt” can touch on any one of these parts of saving faith. You might need to grow in one or each of these aspects of your faith. Maybe you don’t know the basic facts about Christianity and this is shedding doubt on your faith. Maybe you are not “owning the facts” and see the faith as merely one option among many religious expressions. Maybe you believe the facts, but you have not taken ownership of Christ and said, “These truths are not just true, but they are mine!”
Doubt can be quieted by increasing the use of the means of grace: studying the Bible, praying, being mentored by someone older and wiser, memorizing the Psalms and singing them, sitting under good preaching, and things like this.
Doubt may also be because of some indwelling sin or you might also be struggling with assurance of salvation and that is the source of your doubt. In the case of sin, Westminster Confession 5.5 says that God does “oftentimes leave for a season His own children to manifold temptations, and the corruption of their own hearts, to chastise them for their former sins, or to discover unto them the hidden strength of corruption, and deceitfulness of their hearts, that they may be humbled; and, to raise them to a more close and constant dependence for their support upon Himself, and to make them more watchful against all future occasions of sin, and for sundry other just and holy ends.”
If your doubt is because of sin—God is using it for you to have more “close and constant dependance” upon him.
If your doubt is because of a lack of assurance, then you must be watering what the reformers called “the germ of faith.” We keep watering and feeding the seed of our faith as we watch it grow. My professor from seminary once said, “Assurance is revived in the same way it is obtained in the first place. We should review our lives, confess our sins, and humbly cast ourselves upon our covenant-keeping God and His gracious promises, trusting in Christ and His mediatorial work. We should use the means of grace diligently, pursue holiness, exercise watchfulness, and take heed not to grieve, resist, or quench the Spirit. In other words, by faith and by grace, we are to turn to God afresh in repentance and faith. Such returning to the Lord will result in the revival and enlargement of our assurance of grace and salvation.”
Doubt is common in all believers—just ask an older saint. But we should not be content there, find out the source of the doubt: lack of knowledge; a sinful lifestyle; or an assurance question. Once you know—pursue Jesus and his means. Cry out, “I believe, help my unbelief.”
In other words: grow in your faith.