But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways. James 1:6-8
The disciples who tried to cast out a demon from an epileptic boy surely believed they were trying to do a good thing, and trying to do it in the right way. Nevertheless, in spite of their many exertions, the child remained in the grip of his tormentor.
Jesus explained that they had “little faith” (Matt. 17.20), and that was why they were unable to succeed. By the logic of Jesus’ analysis, we might well conclude that today’s Church must have little faith as well. For, in spite of our good intentions, and all our many exertions and expenditures, we have been unable to arrest the slide of our culture and nation into relativism and immorality.
It’s not that we’re not trying, or that we don’t understand the problem. It’s that we have but a little faith. The faith we have may be good for some things – to provide us with comfort in troubling times, for example, or assurance of salvation or the incentive to do good works – but the faith of Christ’s disciples today is arguably but a little faith, since we have not been able to help our society escape the grip and torments of the enemy of our souls.
We’re looking at the different ways that little faith might manifest itself, in the hope that we might be able to identify one or two facets of little faith that seem to describe our own dilemma. If we can diagnose the nature of our “little faith”, we might actually find a way to increase our faith along lines more agreeable to Christ and His agenda.
Certainly one form of “little faith” must be that which James warned of in his epistle: faith laced with doubt. Such faith is a feeble faith because it is unable to accomplish anything that brings the blessing of the Lord. The doubting faith James decries in chapter one is contrasted with the powerful faith he points to in chapter five. Doubting faith is feeble; the faith of a righteous man, expressed through prayer, is powerful, indeed.
So how can we recognize when our faith is feeble and doubting?
A halting soul
Faith is the product of our soul – what and how we think, feel, and value under the influence of God’s Word and Spirit. A feeble and doubting faith reveals a soul which is operating more in the strength of the flesh than in the power of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit works within us to make us willing and able to do whatever pleases the Lord (Phil. 2:13). He works powerfully, so that, by His exertions we are able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we have ever dared to ask or think (Eph. 3:20), and to be witnesses for Christ by the fruit of our lives and lips (Acts 1:8; Gal. 5:22, 23).
But when the Spirit is not the guiding Agent of our minds, hearts, and consciences, then we are left to our own devices and powers. In such a situation, faced with challenges beyond what we’ve ever experienced, we may wish, or even hope, that circumstances might be different; however, our doubting souls lead us to express but a little faith, which, typically, is not enough to realize any significant change.
When we are acting in little faith our minds are not fully engaged with the Lord and His agenda. Believers have the mind of Christ (1 Cor. 2:16). However, faced with a daunting challenge, or with the need or longing to achieve some major change – say, in our culture, or in people coming to know the Lord – doubting faith acts feebly because it does not really think that change is possible.
We’d like to see a renewing of virtue and morality among the young and throughout the population in general. We sincerely wish more people would come to faith in Jesus Christ and become true worshippers. We agree that these would be good things. But we don’t really believe they are possible. Indeed, whole theologies within evangelicalism teach us to expect the world to get worse, and people to become more hostile to the Lord before at last the end comes. When we believe such teaching, even though we might pray for our lost neighbors, or that America’s youth will turn from wickedness to know the Lord, we don’t really believe that such outcomes can be achieved. We pray with doubting minds, and our doubting minds lead us to take up other kinds of works besides those which might make a difference for the Kingdom of God.
Doubting and feeble minds are typically accompanied by feeble hearts. Rather than feel compassion for the lost, and to weep over the confusion, uncertainty, and near-despair affecting so many of our fellow citizens, we feel largely indifferent toward their plight, or even indignant or angry at those who promulgate unbelief and practice immorality. We consider them our enemies – the “them” we are constantly having to contend with – and they may well be such. But we are to love our enemies as God does, and if we do not, if our hearts instead become indifferent or indignant toward them, then in our hearts we doubt that God can change those who even today seem to despise His name and Word.
As a result of doubting minds and hearts, our consciences also become infected with doubt, and we grow feeble in the kinds of values, priorities, and default choices we will to make each day. We do not value the work of prayer, or evangelism; we do not consider it to be profitable to work at understanding what the Bible teaches concerning how we must renew our culture; we will to engage in church only to the extent that we benefit from so doing.
Thus our souls become infected with doubt, and while we may feel many good hopes toward the lost or concerning the state of our culture, we neither think, feel, nor will anything other than a feeble and doubting kind of faith.
Feeble souls, feeble practices
When our souls are thus filled with doubts, the way we express our faith in action will be similarly feeble. One example will suffice here.
We know that Jesus commanded His Church to go and make disciples as we are going about in the everyday relationships, roles, and responsibilities of our lives (Matt. 28:18-20). During its most fruitful seasons of growth and influence, the Church has maintained a “go/tell” posture toward that world. Following the example of our Lord Jesus, believers have made seeking the lost and proclaiming the Good News of the Kingdom a primary expression of their witness for Christ (Lk. 19:10).
Even within our own lifetimes we have seen this zeal for evangelism active within many churches and parachurch organizations. Training programs such as Evangelism Explosion and Campus Crusade’s Lay Institute for Evangelism flourished in the ‘60s and ‘70s. Millions learned how to share their testimony and the Gospel, and many were active on a daily basis helping others come to the knowledge of Christ.
At some point over the past two decades, however, American Christians became persuaded that such “confrontational evangelism” was not in keeping with the temper of the times. We began to think that we should change our way of reaching the lost, so as to minimize the risk of offending anyone with a public or personal witness for Christ. Our zeal for reaching the lost amid the everyday situations and transactions of the world became thus dampened, and we preferred instead to see if we could tease out any who might be seeking the Lord by adjusting such things as worship, church architecture, and programming in order to appeal to those who may be looking for a faith. We adopted a “come/see” approach to evangelizing the lost.
Consequently, the work of evangelism has now all but dried up among the members of the Body of Christ, who have come to believe, as their leaders have taught them, that if we just make the culture of our churches more like the culture our neighbors are familiar with each day, they will come and feel right at home, and, hopefully, may even find the Lord.
And so we find ourselves seeking to cast out the demons of immorality, godlessness, and despair amid the klieg lights, worship bands, pop culture, and comfy theatre chairs of our mega-churches and mega-church wannabes. We are exerting ourselves in all sincerity to renew our nation, but our doubting souls have led us to doubt the very methods for winning the world the Lord Himself commanded.
Meanwhile, the culture and our lost neighbors continue their downward spiral into immorality, judgment, and death (Rom. 1:18-32).
A subtle thing
Our faith is feeble if it is laced with doubt. Doubt is a subtle thing, difficult to discover within us, because it tends to hide behind things that, on the surface, seem to be good and laudable: don’t offend the lost, make them feel at home, leave them to come to Lord on their own initiative, avoid all offensive language, and more.
But whenever such things lead us to substitute for obedience to the Lord’s commands our own best ideas about how to cast out the demons of this secular and materialistic age, we are exercising but a little faith, faith laced with doubt.
And if we are thus believing the Lord, it should not surprise us that we are not realizing more of the blessings He has promised, and that we earnestly seek.
Next steps: What are some ways that doubt affects your faith and that of your Christian friends? Get together with some of them and talk about this. Remember, James says only a faith characterized by “nothing doubting” can expect to know the blessings of the Lord. Where does doubt show up in your faith, and how can you overcome it to have increased faith in the Lord?
The place to begin in understanding how to be delivered from our little faith is by reviewing the nature of true faith. Order a copy of Chuck Colson’s book, The Faith, and read it carefully and with reflection. It’s available through our online store. You might also read the article, “The Sine qua non of Kingdom Seeking,” by T. M. Moore.