Focus on Truth Above Doubt

Romans 16:17-20

17 I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. 18 For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive. 19 For your obedience is known to all, so that I rejoice over you, but I want you to be wise as to what is good and innocent as to what is evil. 20 The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.

It is interesting that the fall of man occurred around a tree of knowledge. The tree is called the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. However, Adam and Eve already had knowledge of good. They knew God. They knew what God had said was good. The only new knowledge to be gained was knowledge of evil.

There is a danger in knowing too much. At times, fascination with questions can harm the soul. That was true in the garden. It is surely true in the church. Dangerous doctrines destroy.

Here I do not suggest that any Christian should be cocooned from truth. But what I think we should be cautious about is fascination with evil. We should watch out for people who are eager to question the faith. We should be careful of those who would lead us to deconstruct faithful doctrine.

In verse 17 above, Paul calls on the Christians not to spend time with but to avoid those who question or deny true doctrine. For the most part, the average Christian is not going to be blessed by hanging out with a doubter. Instead, doubters have a way of sewing discord among those who do not share their doubts. In the world in which we live, it is easier for a doubter to sound wise, open-minded, and tolerant.

Paul tells us in verse 19 that it is better to be wise about what is good and innocent of evil. Rather than exposing ourselves to the barrage of doubts and complaints of the sinful world, there is a wisdom in simply focusing on truth. Rather than diving down a rabbit hole of questions and complaints about the faith, we should look more to true and right doctrine.

Ok, now let’s put this in perspective. Some Christians are fascinated with the arguments of those with whom they disagree. We should be grateful to God for well-informed, well-disciplined apologists who can address the doubts and the false doctrine of opponents of the faith. However, for the average Christian, there is not a need to do a deep dive into the doubts of those who would lead us away from truth. Why? The more time you spend arguing against wrong thinking, the more it can do you harm. Constantly opposing false teaching without a regular dose of loving truth for truth’s sake can dry out the soul. Such a person, assuming he remains faithful to true doctrine, can become a bitter and mean-spirited person. Alternatively, some who regularly engage with proclaimers of falsehood can so come to value the good opinion of those who oppose God that they actually compromise in order to look more sophisticated.

What is the path for most believers? Be wise about what is good and innocent of evil. Pour yourself into the truth of the word. Love the Lord. Pray. Seek to understand Scripture more and more. Gather with the faithful to affirm one another’s faith. Take ten looks at Jesus for every 1 look at a doctrine you oppose.

For clarity, I’m not one who thinks we should live in a bubble unaware of the thoughts of others. What I believe is that we should not become so focused on what is negative that it overshadows our love of truth. We should not love arguing more than we love Jesus. And we should not embrace those who teach falsehood so much that we are tempted to compromise truth for the sake of our gaining the respect of the world. Love Jesus first, foremost, and far beyond anything else.

You of Little Faith

I think many believers are familiar with the account of Jesus calling Peter to walk on water with him. It is found in Matthew 14. Jesus had walked on the sea to cross the lake and catch up with his disciples whom he had sent on ahead. The disciples were at first terrified when they saw Jesus, but then Jesus assured them all was fine.

Peter, when he heard Jesus’ words, calls out to Jesus, and Jesus tells Peter to come out onto the water to join him. Peter gets out of the boat, walks on the water, but then is frightened and begins to sink.

Matthew 14:30-31 — 30 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” 31 Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”

Peter walked. Peter doubted, Peter began to sink. Peter cried out to Jesus. Jesus saved Peter. Jesus rebuked Peter for his doubt. That is the story.

The funny thing is, if you listen to people teach this passage, so much weight is placed on Peter’s faith or lack thereof that an important key is missed. Some of our more charismatic friends will make this passage out to say that the solidity of one’s faith is directly connected to whether or not God can perform a particular kind of miracle in your life. So, they will use this text to say to you that Peter’s doubt led to his sinking, and your doubt will lead to your inability to experience the miraculous.

But, look more closely at the story. Yes, Peter’s doubt led to his sinking. That is true. But, Peter’s desperate cry to Jesus led to his being saved. Jesus was plenty powerful to reach out, catch Peter, and pull him back to the surface of the lake. Peter’s doubt did not limit Jesus.

Friends, in our Christian lives, we may have seasons of stronger faith and seasons of greater doubt. Without question, doubting God and his goodness and power is sinful. But such doubt is also a normal part of the human condition. It is a thing for us to confess to God and ask him to help us overcome. It is a thing for us to battle with time in the word, with worship, with fellowship, and with prayer.

What I want us to recognize from this story is that Peter’s doubt did not prevent Jesus from accomplishing his will. Jesus showed himself to be glorious. Jesus was easily able to rescue Peter and put him back on the surface of the lake. And Jesus was able to walk Peter back to the boat. Jesus did not say to Peter, “I wish I could help you, but your doubt prevents me.” Jesus just told Peter that his doubt showed how much more is faith needed to grow.

Is doubt natural? You bet. Is doubt a problem. Yes. Is doubt a thing that will keep God from accomplishing his will. No. Your imperfect faith is not tying the hands of God. Doubt is a thing for us to battle, to confess and repent of. And, God may choose to let us experience some sinking as Peter did because of our doubt. But God is God, and I do not add to his abilities with my faith or take from his abilities in my doubt.

Greg Gilbert – Assured — A Review

Greg Gilbert. Assured: Discover Grace, Let Go of Guilt, and Rest in Your Salvation. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2019. 157 pp.

How do I know that I am saved? Should I question or even doubt my salvation? What do I do with my own fears about my salvation? Questions like these and others are what Greg Gilbert answers in a helpful and winsome way in his latest book, Assured.

What I enjoyed most about this work is Gilbert’s constant, clear focus on the gospel of the Lord Jesus. Unlike many authors who drive people only to check for good works to find salvation, Gilbert urges readers to focus strongly on the gospel first. The first question that a doubting person should ask is whether or not they believe the truth of the gospel. Do you believe in Christ? Do you know of your own sin? Do you believe that Jesus died to pay for your sin and rose again? Do you desire to surrender your life to Jesus in faith? Such questions are more important than other measures that often leave us doubting.

Gilbert is not at all promoting an easy believism in this work. On the contrary, he is quite clear that genuinely saved people will have lives that show that genuine faith. The point that Gilbert is strongly making, however, is that our focus should be far more on Christ than on self as we seek to be able to rest in God’s grace.

In this work, Gilbert will deal with the issue of assurance from a variety of angles. Gospel is first and foremost, but the author does not ignore the witness of the Spirit, good works, or the promises of God. He also addresses several mistakes that people often make that make assurance more difficult. Gilbert does not ignore the big problem of besetting sins but deals with the concept in a biblical and pastoral way.

I read through this book quite quickly, and I found it both helpful and enjoyable. This would be a great book to work through with a friend who is struggling with assurance, or even for you to read if you have your own doubts. It also might be a helpful tool for a short Sunday School series or home study.

Note: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for agreeing to post an honest review.

I Believe But I Do Not Believe

During the time of Elisha, Israel was regularly at odds with Syria. In one instance, the Syrians besieged Samaria of the northern kingdom so that the people in the city were starving. The king of Israel sent to have Elisha put to death, but the prophet told the people that God would end the famine, tomorrow.

What God promised to do seemed unbelievable. How could the people get food enough to feed them all and return life to normal in a single day? It made no sense.

The King’s captain, a man who believed at some level in the Lord, questioned. He asked how such a thing could be.

2 Kings 7:1-2- 1 But Elisha said, “Hear the word of the Lord: thus says the Lord, Tomorrow about this time a seah of fine flour shall be sold for a shekel, and two seahs of barley for a shekel, at the gate of Samaria.” 2 Then the captain on whose hand the king leaned said to the man of God, “If the Lord himself should make windows in heaven, could this thing be?” But he said, “You shall see it with your own eyes, but you shall not eat of it.”

All that Elisha prophesied took place. The Lord frightened off the Syrian army so that they ran leaving behind their supplies, their food. The next day, the people of Samaria came out , gathered up food, and things returned to normal. But the captain who did not believe was trampled in the gate by a crowd desperate for food.

What strikes me as I read this story this time through is how similar I can be to the captain. In general, my life shows that I believe the Lord, I really do. I believe God is and is powerful. I believe that God changes hearts and lives. I believe that God is great and greatly to be praised. I believe that the Lord will build his church and show himself glorious.

But then, like the captain, I may not believe as I should. It is easy, when faced with a difficult circumstance, to believe that the Lord will work things out. I know enough to say that God will work everything out, of course, but my heart gets heavy. I can fear. I can doubt. I can expect that God is not going to do something glorious.

The captain could not imagine how God could provide food for a city full of starving people with an enemy army surrounding it. He had no idea that God would feed the people with the supplies of the enemy. But God did it.

I wonder what we think it would just be impossible for God to do. Is there a person who is just too harsh, too stubborn, too hostile in your mind to ever be saved? Is it impossible that the Lord would bring life to a church that is struggling? Is it unthinkable that a conflict between brothers and sisters in Christ be resolved? Is it impossible for God to put an end to some of the evils that mar our land?

What I need is to believe and not disbelieve. I need to believe that the Lord, he is God. I need to believe that the Lord provides answers from directions I can never see until the answers are provided. I need to remember that God has access to the supplies of those who think they are against the Lord and his people. I need to remember that, at times, the best thing that I can do is lift up a cause or concern to the Lord and leave the problem in his hands. I need to pray and trust and believe.

And this belief must be in line with the word of God. I’m not here talking about believing that God will do things that his word does not say he will do. I’m not here talking about asking God to bless things that have nothing to do with the Lord or his kingdom. I’m surely not talking about asking the Lord to bless a gimmick or stunt that a church does to draw attendance. I’m talking about believing the Lord able to do the impossible according to his power and word. I’m talking about believing that the Lord changes the hearts of people, even rulers, to his glory when he desires. I’m talking about the Lord building his church, and the gates of hell not prevailing against her. I’m talking about believing God to be God as he has revealed himself in his word.