At times, faith is difficult because it requires the unseen to be greater than the seen, and since faith can be difficult, the opportunity for doubt arises. This begs the question: is it a sin to doubt? In an effort to answer this question, let us explore what the Bible has to say about doubt, and we begin by acknowledging that the presence of doubt is not uncommon during the faith development process.
Since faith must be tested (James 1:2-4; 1 Peter 1:6-7), the presence of doubts should be expected. In fact, if you explore the “Faith Hall of Fame” in Hebrews 11, you will discover that it not only presents a “who’s who” of people who possessed great faith but also a “who’s who” of people who overcame great doubt. For example, we read about Gideon (Hebrews 11:32). When Gideon was met by a messenger from God and assigned the task of leading the Israelites in battle against the Midianites, he verbalized some doubts about accepting the mission. In particular, Gideon doubted whether or not God really cared about Israel (Judges 6:13) and whether or not God could use him to spearhead this rescue operation (Judges 6:15). In fact, Gideon’s doubts were so pervasive that he went so far as to ask God on three different occasions to prove via signs the claim that He made when He said “I will be with you” (Judges 6:16-24, 36-40).
Gideon was not alone in his dealings with doubt. Even some of the very men who knew and interacted with Jesus faced doubts. For example, John the Baptist, the one who prepared the way for Jesus, dealt with doubts toward the end of his life. In Luke 7:20 we learn that John sent some of his disciples to Jesus to ask, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” At first glance, it may seem that John sent his disciples to ask that question for their benefit, but what is interesting is that Jesus sent them back to John saying, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard” (Luke 7:22). It seems as though, during his imprisonment, John faced waning faith and wanted confirmation that Jesus was the One.
The point is that the presence of doubt is not uncommon during the faith development process. Some of the greatest heroes of faith grew mighty through moments of doubt, and, yet, they did so without facing condemnation by God. Returning to Gideon’s story, you may notice that God was not frustrated by Gideon’s need for confirmation. God did not get angry when Gideon asked for a sign. God did not criticize Gideon’s lack of faith. God did not end his association with Gideon because Gideon had doubts. Instead, God cooperated with all of Gideon’s requests for signs and even gave Gideon a fourth sign that he did not request (Judges 7:10). Why? Because God wants to help people overcome their doubts. James said, “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you” (James 4:8). He is indicating that as long as we are in pursuit of God, then God is going to help us find Him and that may include helping us deal with our doubts.
Since the presence of doubt is not uncommon during the faith development process and since God demonstrated His willingness to help people overcome their doubts, we can conclude that the presence of doubt is not so much a trespass against God as it is a threat to our faith in God. In other words, doubt is not in and of itself a sin, but it is dangerous. In this regard, experiencing doubt is a lot like temptation. Being tempted is not a sin in and of itself. As long as you reject the temptation, you have not sinned (see 1 Corinthians 10:13); however, if you give in to the temptation then you have sinned (see James 1:14-15). Similarly, facing doubt is not a sin in and of itself. As long as you resolve the doubt, you have not sinned; however, if you give in to the doubt then you have sinned. Whether or not temptation and/or doubt leads to sin has everything to do with how you handle it.
Consider the walking on water episode in Matthew 14:22-33. Peter initiated a bold demonstration of faith when he requested permission from Jesus to walk out to him on the water, and Jesus granted his request. Everything went well for a moment. Peter stepped out of the boat, Peter walked on the surface of the water, but then Peter’s focus shifted off of Jesus and onto his surroundings. Matthew 14:30 tells us that “when [Peter] saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, ‘Lord, save me.’” In other words, Peter started to doubt when he took his eyes off of Jesus, and it demonstrated that he allowed his doubt to negatively impact his faith. That’s why Jesus said, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” The point is that if you act on doubts rather than faith, then you sin. Paul said in Romans 14:23, “whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.” Therefore, though it may not be a sin to experience doubt, it is always a sin to act on doubt since acting on doubt prevents one from acting on faith.
Doubts may arise to challenge our faith, and how we choose to handle them dictates whether or not we sin. Doubts are designed to be overcome so that they lead to a confirmation of faith, as was the case for Gideon and John the Baptist. Doubts are not designed to be acted upon so that they lead to an abandonment of faith, as was the temporary case for Peter when he was sinking in the Sea of Galilee. We have to remember that the Bible says, “without faith it is impossible to please” God (Hebrews 11:6). So, even though dealing with doubt may not be a sin, in and of itself, we must approach doubt cautiously and intentionally, knowing that it is a threat to the very thing that God says pleases Him.