What is doubt, and how does it affect our evangelism efforts?
Doubt is part of our human nature.
In our conversion journey, some of us likely had lots of doubts to overcome.
As we talk with others, we need to help them wrestle with their doubts as well.
Some of us, in our journey to faith, wanted to gather as much information as possible to know that we were making a rational evaluation of the evidence and consequences of accepting Jesus into our life.
We searched intently for answers until we had enough doubts settled to commit ourselves fully to following the Lord.
Others of us, in our journey to faith, wrestled with gospel truth of God’s love for us, God’s grace to forgive even our worst sins, and the truth God could even change us after all of our own personal efforts had failed.
Here, doubt was a major obstacle to coming to faith.
Others of us may have had a powerful encounter with the Lord when we decided to follow him.
The experiential encounter was enough to allow us to risk everything without full knowledge of what we were getting into.
The character of God that we discovered in that encounter revealed enough to us to trust Him for everything else, and sort it out as we mature in faith.
As we mature, we begin to wrestle with the truth of gospel, or even doubt the genuineness of our conversion.
Here, doubt becomes a partner in the journey of faith.
What is doubt?
In Doubting: Growing Through the Uncertainties of Faith, Alister McGrath speaks of the presence of doubt in our Christian walk.
He also talks about doubt also during the conversion process.
He raises excellent points about the role of doubt in our evangelism.
Doubt, he writes, is part of our human nature.
Doubt is a difficulty understanding a truth.
Doubt exists in the absence of information, when we have an incomplete understanding.
Doubt is not skepticism, nor is it unbelief.
Skepticism is willful doubt as a matter of principle, a willingness to hold “I do not know”.
Unbelief is a decision not to believe, a willingness to hold “I do not want to know.”
Faith and doubt co-exist
To believe in God demands faith.
To accept Christ into our lives demands faith.
To accept Christianity as true demands faith.
Because faith is required to believe, doubt will exist in our life.
“Faith is not belief without proof, but trust without reservations — a trust in God who has shown himself worthy of that trust.” — McGrath.
“Faith needs the vitality of experience if it is to live — and the support of understanding if it is to survive.” – McGrath
Doubt and Evangelism
As evangelists, we have to deal with doubt in our own life.
We have to deal with doubt in the life of people we share our faith with.
1. First, we deal with our own doubt.
- Do you really believe what you share, what you proclaim?
- How active is your relationship with the Lord?
- Do you have the “vitality of experience” that supports your belief in the gospel?
- Or is what you share some one else’s experience?
We want to be authentic in our sharing, and our owned lived experience in our relationship with the Lord is the most authentic of testimony.
Can we truthfully proclaim that we know we are forgiven when we doubt the truthfulness of that statement in our own heart?
Sure we can proclaim forgiveness as a propositional idea because it is the central part of the gospel content.
But, can we share the message of forgiveness with conviction because we believe it ourselves?
If I doubt my own forgiveness, or my own hope for life after death, or even the love of God for me in Christ, I’m not sure I can proclaim it convincingly.
The problem is not the gospel.
The problem is my doubt of the gospel’s validity for me.
2. We have to deal with doubt in the people we share with.
Doubt can be a hurdle to overcome that keeps a person from committing to Jesus Christ.
Or once a life is surrendered to Jesus Christ, doubt can cause the new believer to question their initial commitment to Jesus Christ.
Here again, the problem is not with the gospel itself. The gospel is powerful truth.
Rather, we must recognize that doubt is like a rock or weed trying to struggle out the seeds we plant (Mark 4).
The seed works in secret. The problem is not with the seed itself.
As evangelists, we help people along in their journey to Christ, planting seeds as prompted by the Lord.
Some will fall on good ground, others will be eaten by the birds. The problem is not the seed. It is the soil.