The Enemy of Faith (Part 2)

“How did the fig tree wither at once?” Jesus responded, “Truly, I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what has been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ it will happen. And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith” (Mt. 21:20-22 cf. 17:20; Lk. 13:6-9; 17:6).

And Jesus answered them,
 “Have faith in God. Truly, I say to you whoever says to this mountain, Be taken up and thrown into the sea, and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours” (Mk. 11:20-24).


Doubt and its Accomplices: The Enemies of Jesus-like Faith
     Jesus defines in these verses the great enemy of faith as doubt. Such is self-evident when we define faith as an unquestioning, personal certitude or confidence. Obviously, any doubt of any kind weakens faith shredding its very core, certitude. Doubt causes faith to question, and in doing so robs it of its essential nature, confidence. How is faith fortified against the intrusion of any kind of doubt? How does faith seal itself off from the infiltration of doubt? One realization in attempting to answer this question is that doubt has many helpers. Fear is a repetitive assaulter of faith as is anxiety which is just another form of fear. Apathy, indolence, weariness and discouragements, and distraction come to the aid of doubt and tend to undo or at least weaken faith. Ignorance and nagging questions are kindling and fuel for the fires of doubt. All of these amass to attack faith and to aid and feed doubt.

     Each of these could be readily illustrated from the Scriptures. Fear is especially and extremely prominent. Jesus repeatedly warned His disciples, Do not fear (Mt. 10:26, 28, 31; 14:26; Lk. 5:10; 12:7; Jn. 12:15; 14:27). Jesus combated fear with promises. To Simon and his partners, the Zebedee brothers, Jesus warned then promised, "Do not fear, from now on you will be catching men" (Lk. 5:10). In addition to promising, Jesus would address his disciples’ fear with instruction, "do not fear them, for there is nothing concealed that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. …Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell (Matt 10:26, 28). "So do not fear; you are more valuable than many sparrows” (Mt. 10:31). In a similar manner, addressing His disciples’ anxiety and worry Jesus gave them both instruction and promise, I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what your will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing. …Your Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness. And all these things will be added to you (Mt. 6:25, 32-33). The Apostle Paul adds prayer to Jesus’ formulas, do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer…let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God… will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (Phil. 4:6-7). We find that such enemies of faith as fear, anxiety, and worry are combated with Jesus’ warnings, promises, instructions, and by prayer. The same must be said about doubt.

     The Apostle Paul would later describe this absorption of our Lord’s warnings, promises, and instructions as a renewal of our minds (Rom. 12:2), the renewal of the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5), renewed in knowledge (Col. 3:10), our inner self is being renewed day by day (2 Cor. 4:16), and to be renewed in the spirit of our minds (Eph. 4:23). He would also instruct, faith comes by hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ (Rom. 10:17). This renewal breaks down our doubts and fears and feeds our faith. Martin Luther knew the truth of these Scriptures as he struggled with his own doubts. The battle with his doubts were over reason, which discounted Scripture and exalted itself in the human mind. Often, we are faced with questions to which Scripture gives no answer, and our reason (and emotions) demands that they be answered (Dt. 29:29). We are faced with paradoxes – how can God be sovereign and not the author of evil? Or when the working of providence in our lives leaves us heartbroken and with no one to blame but God. The counsel of Proverbs 3:5 rings true, Trust in the LORD with all you heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. Accordingly, Luther wrote,

It is a quality of faith that it wrings the neck of reason and strangles the beast, which else the whole world, with all creatures, could not strangle. But how? It holds to God’s Word, and lets it be right and true, no matter how foolish and impossible it sounds. So did Abraham take his reason captive and slay it, inasmuch as he believed God’s Word, wherein was promised him that from his unfruitful and as it were dead wife, Sarah, God would give him seed.1

 

     It is the renewal of our minds with the washing of water with the Word (Eph. 5:26) that smothers doubt. Faith given birth by the Spirit and the Word becomes a great shield with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one (Eph. 6:16). Luther provided another example of this principle when giving his barber, Peter Beskendorf, instructions for his prayer life.

Mark this, that you must always speak the Amen firmly. Never doubt that God in his mercy will surely hear you and say ‘yes’ to your prayers. Never think that you are kneeling or standing alone; rather, think that the whole of Christendom, all devout Christians, are standing there beside you, and you are standing among them in a common, united petition, which God cannot disdain. Do not leave your prayer without having said or thought, ‘Very well, God has heard my prayer; this I know as a certainty and a truth.’ That I what Amen means.

 

     The assurance of prayer given in Scripture must be acted upon by faith. Whether besieged with tempting doubts or in the subtlety of a rote faithless prayer, the answer is to assert a focused faith upon the assurances of Scripture. For Luther, it was to mean your, Amen!

     Jesus’ warnings must cause us to stop being casual about doubts and fears. They must not simply be accepted but battled that is the reason for His warnings! Jesus’ teaching and promises cannot be treated casually either. We must absorb these seriously, conscientiously, and readily, and then we must replenish and refresh them regularly in our hearts. John Bunyan caught the peril of this failure in his episode of Christian’s imprisonment in Doubting Castle in Pilgrim’s Progress. He and Hopeful had been so abused by the Giant Despair that they despaired of life itself. Christian was tempted with suicide thinking a quick end would be better than this imprisonment, daily abuse and torture. He and Hopeful began to pray and prayed through the night. It was then that something happened.

Now a little before it was day, good Christian, as one half amazed, brake out in this passionate speech: What a fool, quoth he, am I, thus to lie in a stinking Dungeon, when I may as well walk at liberty. I have a Key in my bosom called Promise, that will, I am persuaded, open any Lock in Doubting Castle. Then said Hopeful, That’s good news; good Brother, pluck it out of thy bosom and try.

Then Christian pulled it out of his bosom, and began to try at the Dungeon door, whose bolt (as he turned the Key) gave back, and the door flew open with ease, and Christian and Hopeful both came out. Then he went to the outward door that leads into the Castle-yard, and with his Key opened that door also. After he went to the iron Gate, for that must be opened too, but that Lock went damnable hard, yet the Key did open it. Then they thrust open the Gate to make their escape with speed, but that Gate as it opened made such a creaking that it waked Giant Despair, who hastily rising to pursue his Prisoners, felt his limbs to fail, for his Fits took him again, so that he would by no means go after them. Then they went on, and came to the King’s Highway again, and so were safe, because they were out of his Jurisdiction.

 

     After their escape from Doubting Castle, to warn other pilgrims of the perils of falling into the grasp of the Giant Despair and the terrors of Doubting Castle, they left a sign on the way.

Out of the way we went, and then we found
What ‘twas to tread upon forbidden ground;
And let them that come after have a care,
Lest they, for trespassing, his prisoners are,
Whose Castle’s Doubting, and whose name’s Despair.2

 

     Whether it be Jesus’ disciples, the Apostle, Martin Luther, John Bunyan’s Christian and Hopeful, or us all must “have a care” to avoid Doubting Castle, but when temptations and doubts come, as surely they do to all of us, the remedy is the same for all. We must renew our minds saturating them with the warnings, instruction, and promises of God. They are the key to escape the perils of doubt and the food to nourish and fortify our faith.

 

 

Endnotes

[1] Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, 31.

[2] John Bunyan,  The Pilgrim’s Progress (New York: E. P. Dutton & Co. Inc., 1678, new reprinted 1954), 118-119.

The Enemy of Faith (Part 3)
The Enemy of Faith (Part 1)
 

Comments

No comments made yet. Be the first to submit a comment
Already Registered? Login Here
Guest
Saturday, 21 October 2017

Captcha Image