I have written extensively on this blog on the issue of Christian doubt. I have avoided talking about it’s connection to personal sin in our lives not because I don’t believe that the root of doubt can be sometimes traced there, but because, in the minds of some, personal sin is the only reason for doubt. I have argued against this. However, I do think it is important for us to realize that doubt is very often rooted in our sinful choices. In fact, crossing the line of disobedience consistently will tear apart every aspect of our faith.
Let’s start at the beginning: Disobedience is a choice. Faith is not. Well . . . what I mean is that I cannot just decide to believe like flipping on and off a switch in my head. It is more complex. However, disobedience, from a biblical standpoint, can and does rob us of faith that we have. Habits in our lives form faith connections. Once that line is disobedience crossed, it gets easier and easier to cross it again. We have all been there. What we have to understand is that when God says to do something and we decide not to, it eventually becomes habit. These habits necessarily create connections of unbelief. And like with any habit, tt gets easier and easier to disobey. Once it is a habit, we begin to find excuses for our waywardness. We become very good at finding ways to justify our disobedience. How do I know? Because I am an expert. Don’t get smug; you are too.
“My anger outbursts may be bad, but at least they are not as bad as his.”
“I am entitled to spend all this money on myself. After all, look how hard I worked.”
“I made all the right decisions. I deserve to think more highly of myself than I do of that person, who can’t get it right.”
“Why should I share? This is a tough world. Either eat or get eaten.”
“You don’t buy a car before you test drive it. Why shouldn’t I live with my girlfriend before marrying her?”
“After all I have been through, I deserve to get drunk.”
“So many bad things have happened to me, I have the right to worry.”
These types of justifications for our sin are a reflection of our humanity. They are emblematic of the flesh. We will hear this type of rationale (from the devil on our shoulders) until the day we die. But knowing what is right and not doing it is destructive to every aspect of who we are. Justifying our sin leads to further disobedience and, ultimately, to a loss of faith. Some of you reading this are suffering significant doubt because you are disobeying regularly and justifying your disobedience in one way or another. It has become a habit.
James tells us that when we know what God says but do not act accordingly, we are in danger of having our faith paralyzed.
But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves. 23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; 24 for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was.
This tells us that there will be a battle within us for our whole lives; we will be fighting to graduate from hearing God’s truth to doing God’s truth. But when we don’t obey – when we don’t change the problems we see in the mirror – we will develop a condition of toxic disobedience.
Christ told a parable that many of you are familiar with. It is often called “The Parable of the Seeds,” but should probably be titled “The Parable of the Soils.” It appears in Luke 8:5-18. In essence, we have the seed, which is the word of God, and the soil, which is our heart. The seed is spread liberally. Some of the seed falls on the path, and Satan picks it up before it can take root. This reflects a person who did not believe at all. Other seed falls among rocks, where it finds some root, but due to the persecution involved with following Christ, it eventually dies. Other seed falls among the thorns. This seed finds root for a time, but dies as well, due to prioritization of the things the world has to offer over caring for the nascent faith. Finally, there is the last type of seed. It falls among good soil, takes root, and bears fruit that lasts.
Unfortunately, many people see this parable only in regards to one’s salvation. In truth, it is written to both believers and unbelievers. It illustrates the way we believe. The soil of our heart must be prepared. Every time God speaks, his “seed” falls on one of these four types of soils. True faith is represented only by the soil that is not mindful of persecutions or worldly pleasure.
But this is not why I include this parable in this chapter. What comes next is the most telling and the most important part of the story. Christ concludes the parable this way:
So take care how you listen; for whoever has, to him more shall be given; and whoever does not have, even what he thinks he has shall be taken away from him.
Notice here he says take care how you listen. This is very interesting. The parable is not concerned with “what” we listen to. We already know it is the word of God. The issue is “how” we listen. If we listen to God’s word and are not prepared to obey, it would be better off if we did not listen at all. Christ says that the one who has shall be given more. What does that mean? It means that the one who listens and obeys will be given more. More what? More faith. That is the subject: how we believe. But when we don’t obey, even what we have will be taken away. So what will be taken away? Our faith. In other words, when we build a habit of hearing God but not obeying God, our faith will turn into doubt and shipwreck our life. Even the faith that we had will be taken away.
I come across people all the time who wonder why their faith is failing. They wonder why they doubt so much. Please don’t take this as judgmental condemnation (as I often find myself here), the the reason why doubt often exists is not due to some intellectual or emotional difficulty, but because there is disobedience in our lives. We have known what God’s will is yet consistently turned their backs on him, rationalizing our disobedience. In the country of disobedience, faith is no resident. Once disobedience becomes a pattern, even what you have will be taken away.
If your faith is suffering significantly, if you conviction is not so strong anymore, if doubts have infested your reading of God’s word, there may be a pattern of disobedience that has taken hold in your life. The solution is terribly difficult and terribly simple at the same time: obey. Build patterns of obedience. Make a commitment to act upon everything God says. When you fail, don’t rationalize it. Ask for forgiveness, pick yourself back up, and try again. If you fail a thousand times (which – join the club – you may), pick yourself up a thousand and one times. Don’t ever settle for rationalized disobedience. In this sense, faith is a decision.