Do We Sin When We Doubt?

I’ve been enjoying working with the Junior High Bible study at MUMC that our pastor, Larry Wright, has been leading the last few weeks. ((I get to teach the last lesson on 30 Apr! :D)) Tonight, we talked about belief in God, and one of the questions in the lesson centered on whether or not that it was a sin to doubt. The lesson gave the answer that it’s not a sin, arguing that all believers in Christ doubt, and that doubt raises questions that can be answered through study of the Word. Their argument, then, is that doubt that brings us closer to Jesus is not, in and of itself, sinful.

I think I’d disagree. If we are saved by faith alone [sola fide] in Christ alone [solus Christus], and if doubt is the antithesis of faith, then doubt is, essentially, something that separates you from Christ’s salvation; sin is often defined as anything that separates us from God.

I understand why this might not be considered an age-appropriate discussion—this lesson plan is age-appropriate—but I fear that we tread close to danger when we say that all Christians doubt and say that this is a good thing. I can’t consider faithlessness to be a good thing.

23And Jesus said to him, “If you can! All things are possible for one who believes.” 24Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!” 25And when Jesus saw that a crowd came running together, he rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, “You mute and deaf spirit, I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.”

Mark 9:23-25, English Standard Version

I think Mark’s telling of Jesus’s healing of the boy with an unclean spirit because of his father’s belief in Jesus is instructive: even in the midst of unbelief, of weakness, we’re given healing as we repent of our unbelief and place faith in Christ Jesus. That’s certainly powerful and instructive to me, a sinner greatly in need of redemption through repentance.

9 comments

  1. Using the word “doubt” with no qualifications is a bit confusing. Do you mean if one doubts his or her calling, then he or she sins? What about the existence of God? The fidelity of your spouse? etc. If we’re talking about “doubting” that Jesus is who he said he was, then yes perhaps sin. But even the claims of who Jesus said he was need interpretation. Even after interpretation, as you know, there are many different interpretations. Perhaps we might talk about doubting the Apostles or Nicene Creeds?
    We also might have to ask ourselves whether doubt is even a free chioce or not. This discussion could get very broad and long. I don’t know! Good post. Made me think.

  2. I’m trying to remember which father of the Church said “a thousand questions does not equal 1 doubt. In the sense that this theologen was using the term, doubt was certainly a sin.

    It is a ‘muddied’ term in our normal usage… which is why I like to contrast it with the term ‘questions’. ‘Doubt’ implies at least a leaning towards disbelief, where questions doesn’t have that negative implication. Quite the contrary: we question people we have great faith in all the time… because we expect/hope that they have the true answers.

  3. Doubt and questioning just one of the ways in which we can mature as Christians. My way of thinking about doubt here though is more aimed at MY understanding and MY perception of God rather than the actual being or nature of God.

    If we do not question what we believe, then we have placed our faith in our beliefs, and there is no room for us to grow into the image of Christ.

  4. Several commentors have already noted that “doubt” can be a slippery word. It can mean anything from “asking questions” to “implicit if not explicit rejection.” There is no doubt (hah!) that Scripture calls “unbelief” a sin; in fact a strong case could be made that unbelief is the very definition of sin. However, I wonder whether we make a category mistake in thinking of “sins” as a list of things that are pretty cut and dry: at any given moment we are either (clearly) doing (or not doing) or thinking (or not thinking) one of these things on the list, and therefore we are sinning.

    I tend to think that sin isn’t that easy. It’s not just a list of polar opposites that, if you avoid them, then you are not sinning. In this case, I question whether it is a case of no doubts=not sinning vs. doubts=sinning. Rather, I think the Bible portrays sin as fundamentally a heart issue, and therefor much more subtle and tough to pin down in lists. Sin is where our heart is toward God at any given moment. As Augustine defined it, sin is loving anything more than I love God. But that can’t be put on a spreadsheet and divided into neat columns. I think, therefore, it is possible to be struggling with doubts about God, but in that struggle I am actually loving God “with all my heart and soul and strength and mind” because I am really about yearning for him and wanting to find him. However, if my doubt slips over into cynicism, where I begin to place myself as autonomous judge over God (and even over his very existence), then I am loving msyself (my own wisdom) more than God, and I am in sin.

    I’m just saying that there is a wide range between those two extremes, and sometimes we aren’t completely sure where we are on the continuum. This is why we are urged in Scripture to continually examine our hearts and pray that the Holy Spirit would reveal what we are truly worshipping at any moment. It is also why it is very wise to have people around us who love us enough to ask tough questions about our heart motives and to call us out when we may be deceiving ourselves.

    “The heart is more deceitful than all else
    And is desperately sick;
    Who can understand it?”

    – Jeremiah 17:9 (NASB)

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