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. So, whether or not doubt leads to sin has everything to do with how you handle it. This begs the question: how do you handle doubt in such a way so that you overcome it? To answer this question I encourage you to read about Jesus’ interaction with the father of a demon possessed son in Mark 9:17-24, and then consider the following four steps this story indicates we need to do in order to overcome our doubt.
First, if you want to overcome doubt, then you must acknowledge your unbelief. The father was not certain that Jesus was able to heal his son. The father said in Mark 9:22, “if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” That statement indicates that the father was uncertain about what Jesus could and could not do. In fact, the father was honest with Jesus about his uncertainty, admitting that he possessed some level of disbelief when he said, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief” (Mark 9:24).
Admitting the existence of a struggle is always the first step in overcoming the struggle. That is why all programs that are designed to help people conquer addiction start with the process of acknowledging the existence of the addiction. Interestingly, this principle of acknowledging the existence of a problem is referenced in the Bible. In 1 John 1:9, John addressed our sin problem saying, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” John’s words are reminiscent of Solomon’s words in Proverbs 28:12 where he wrote, “Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.” Both authors indicate that resolving our sin problem necessitates confessing that we have a problem. The point is not that the existence of doubt is comparable to the existence of an addiction or a sin, but that the process of overcoming it begins with the same step, which is admitting its existence.
Second, if you want to overcome doubt, then you must remain in the presence of believers. Did you notice that the father remained in the presence of Jesus’ disciples despite the fact that his doubts persisted after they failed to heal his son? It would have been so easy for the father to leave after Jesus’ disciples failed to exorcise the demon, but he didn’t.
In this regard, the father is comparable to another famous doubter named Thomas. Thomas doubted the resurrection of Jesus because he was not present when Jesus first appeared to the apostles (John 20:24-25). However, when Jesus appeared to the apostles again a week later, Thomas was present to witness it (John 20:26-28). That means Thomas remained in the presence of the community of faith despite the fact that he possessed doubts about Jesus’ resurrection and the other apostles did not.
Maybe the father and Thomas understood the “don’t be unequally yoked” principle, which basically implies that you should not associate with those who are going to negatively influence you. In the context of 2 Corinthians 6:14, it is referring to the relationship between believers and unbelievers, but the principle has other applications as well. Think about it this way: if you don’t want to be lazy then you shouldn’t hang around lazy people, if you don’t want to be negative then you shouldn’t hang around negative people, and if you don’t want to be overcome by doubts then you shouldn’t hang around doubters. The point is that if you have doubts, then the one place you need to be is around people who have conquered their doubts. Maybe that is why the church is instructed to be a community that will “welcome [the one who is weak in faith]” (Romans 14:1) as well as a community that will “have mercy on those who doubt” (Jude 22).
Third, if you want to overcome doubt, then you must take a step of faith. The step of faith that the father took was a pursuit of Jesus. He waited on Jesus to return from the mountain even though he had already been disappointed by Jesus’ disciples. He took a chance on Jesus even though he wasn’t sure that Jesus could help. In other words, his uncertainty did not prevent him from taking a step of faith by asking for Jesus’ help.
This father’s step of faith is reminiscent of another father’s step of faith. In John 4, a father asked Jesusto come to his house because his son was very sick. Jesus’ responded to the father’s request not by going with him but by saying, “You may go. Your son will live,” and we are told that “the man took Jesus at his word and departed” (John 4:50). In other words, the father intended to bring Jesus to his son, believing He needed to be physically present in order to heal him, but Jesus pronounced healing, and the father took Him at His word. That was this father’s step of faith.
Let us not forget James 4:8 which says, “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.” According to James’ statement, who has to take the first step? We do. James is saying that if we move in the direction of God, He will respond by moving in the direction of us. However, in order for such movement to occur, we have to initiate it like the aforementioned fathers.
Finally, if you want to overcome doubt, then you must distance yourself from sin. At the end of this story, the disciples asked Jesus why they couldn’t cast out this demon, and according to Mark 9:29, Jesus said, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer [and fasting].”Prayer and fasting under the Mosaic Law were essential to the rectification of wrongdoing (see Leviticus 23:27-32; Jonah 3:7). Prayer entails communication with God and fasting entails separating yourself from something that takes your focus off of God. The two work hand in hand together for realignment of the soul.
What do prayer and fasting have to do with overcoming doubts? Since prayer and fasting address spiritual realignment, a principle we can take away from this instruction is that if we want to overcome our doubt then we have to remove any spiritual hindrance that prevents us from moving in the direction of God. The author of Hebrews instructs us to “lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us“ (Hebrews 12:1). The author of Hebrews indicates that if you want to succeed spiritually then you have to remove anything that is a hindrance to your forward momentum. It may be that your doubt is emboldened or sustained by the presence of sin in your life, and until you “cleanse your hands…and purify your heart” you cannot “draw near to God” (James 4:8). Therefore, if you want to overcome your doubt then you have to eliminate anything that is distancing you from God.
It should be noted that some English translations omit the phrase “and fasting” due to a lack of manuscript evidence.