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Why the Believer Doubts, Part 1

Grace To You / John MacArthur
The Truth Network Radio
January 31, 2022 3:00 am

Why the Believer Doubts, Part 1

Grace To You / John MacArthur

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January 31, 2022 3:00 am

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Doubt is very real for people who believe.

It is reality, but it is not an acceptable reality and it needs to be addressed. Gideon doubted God. Elijah doubted God. Jeremiah even expressed doubt. The apostles doubt and here John the Baptist doubts.

We understand that. Coming face to face with doubt is coming face to face with ourselves. Welcome to Grace To You with John MacArthur.

I'm your host, Phil Johnson. Here's a question for you. Could even the strongest, most committed believers you know have moments when they wonder if Christianity really is true? What about believers in the Bible? Did they ever question the claims of Christ? Consider that today on Grace To You as John begins a series called When Believers Doubt. Well, John, I can imagine some people being surprised by that title, When Believers Doubt.

You're not saying so-called believers. You're saying when believers doubt, and it's not if they doubt, but when they doubt. So are you saying that some level of doubt is inevitable for every Christian, even spiritually mature Christians? Yes, I think because we're not perfect, we're still fighting with the flesh and our fallen nature. And we also have to remember that assurance is not necessarily always going to be the believer's experience. Assurance is a gift to an obedient believer. And when there is disobedience in your life as a believer, or when there is sin in your life, or when you have sort of loosened up your intimacy and relationship with the Lord, doubt will begin to grow.

Let's put it that way. It's not that kind of terminal doubt where you throw off the whole of the gospel and you reject everything and walk away. But yes, doubt is a sin, and doubt is also the result of sin.

This is an important enough issue that we want to deal with in our new series. It's from Luke 7, and it's titled When Believers Doubt. Now, if you've ever doubted whether you're truly saved, don't be surprised, because every Christian will have that kind of—maybe it's a fleeting moment here and there, or maybe it's a siege of doubt.

But that's going to happen to all of us, because we do things in our lives that displease the Lord, and that raises the reality that the possibility is we don't really know him, and doubt can take a grip and begin to grow. Even John the Baptist had doubts, and that's amazing, but he did. Jesus said John was the greatest man who ever lived, and he had doubts.

Think about that. John the Baptist, filled with the Spirit from his mother's womb, and he knew all the reports of Jesus' miracles. But on an occasion, he needed to be reassured that Jesus was even the Messiah. So what caused John the Baptist to doubt? And what encouragement can you find when you're tempted to doubt who Jesus is or what he accomplished or whether or not you really know him? So in this study, you're going to see four reasons believers struggle with doubt. You're going to learn how to respond to those doubts and see the reality of your faith.

A powerful portion of Luke's Gospel. You may never have dug into it deeply before, so stick with us for Why Believers Doubt. Yes, do stick with us, friend. We have all struggled with doubts at some point, but thankfully, you can overcome doubt.

That's what this study is going to help you do. Trust Christ and his Word more and more, even when times get tough. So here's John MacArthur to begin the series, When Believers Doubt. And when the men had come to him, they said, John the Baptist has sent us to you saying, John. At that very time, he cured many people of diseases and afflictions and evil spirits. And Mark records an incident where Jesus confronted a father with a demon-possessed boy, a serious case of demon possession, one of the most serious recorded in the New Testament. This had somehow made this boy mute so that he could not speak. The demon had affected this boy in such a way as to have seizures.

He foamed at the mouth, Scripture says, he ground his teeth, he stiffened himself, convulsing and falling over and smashing into whatever was in his way before he hit the ground. And the father, dealing with this pitiful son, came to Jesus and told Jesus that it had been this way with the boy since childhood, which would lead us to believe that perhaps he was a teenager. The horror of this, not only the physical difficulties but the embarrassment, had created such a pitiful scene that the father, hearing of the power of Jesus, brought the boy. And then he asked Jesus if he could help his son. Jesus responded with this statement, all things are possible to him who believes.

And the father's response is famous. Mark 9.24 says, the father said this, I do believe, help my unbelief. What a strange statement. You do believe, help your unbelief? But we all understand that. We understand believing doubt, or doubting belief. And that father's testimony is the testimony of most of us. I do believe, help my unbelief. That is to say, I believe but my faith is incomplete.

My faith is assaulted and fraught with doubts, astonishingly. That is exactly the situation in the text I read, not with just a passing stranger such as the father, but with the greatest man who had ever lived up until his time, John the Baptist, the greatest prophet of all. Jesus had so designated him as the greatest man who ever lived, according to Matthew 11.11.

Here is a saint of God, a prophet of God, the forerunner of the Messiah, the last of the Old Testament prophets and the greatest, who is struggling with doubt. You can read the New Testament. You could have been there during the events of the life of Jesus. In either case, you would have plenty of reason to believe in Jesus as the Messiah, the Savior, the Emmanuel, God with us, the Redeemer.

If you had any association, let's say, with the family of Jesus, or with the family of John the Baptist, his aged mother and father, Zacharias and Elizabeth, who were also related to Jesus' family, Elizabeth being related to Mary. If you knew those people, you would know of the affirming evidences that Jesus was the Messiah. You, if you were hanging around the Apostles, would have ample evidence to believe that Jesus is God in human flesh, truly the Christ, the One who is coming, the Expected One, as John calls Him here.

And even reading the New Testament, the proof is replete. There is the testimony of angels, the angel who came to Zacharias while he was doing his priestly duty in Jerusalem and told him he was going to have a son and he was probably in his eighties and he and his wife were barren and truly they did have a son who was none other than this great prophet, John the Baptist. The testimony of the angel Gabriel who came to Joseph and Mary and testified to the fact that the Spirit of God was going to plant a child in the womb of Mary who would be a virgin when the child was born.

The testimony of the angels who spoke in vast numbers to the shepherds in the fields, plenty of angelic testimony. It must have circulated around the family of Jesus and the family of John the Baptist. It must have been just part of normal family talk, even though John's family lived in the Judean hillside and Jesus' family lived up in Nazareth and they were spread apart by about 60 miles. They must have come together at Passover and other events and whenever they did, the stories must have been the stories of the great angelic appearances, the virgin birth, all of that.

That was all part of the family history. They were well aware of the fact that Jesus came down through the Davidic messianic line, His descent through His earthly father Joseph, His descent through His mother Mary, both coming from David. They were all aware of the fact that John the Baptist himself had given testimony that this is the coming one, this is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

They were aware that at that time when John baptized Jesus, the Spirit of God came down, sending upon Him in divine affirmation, the Father's voice came out of heaven, this is My beloved Son in whom I am well pleased. There were all kinds of sort of events all the way through that indicated divine intervention from angels and from God Himself and the Holy Spirit. And then there was no other explanation for the teaching of Jesus, His power over disease, His power over demons, and His power over death except that He was God exercising divine power. And that was all a constant public display, all those healings and all those casting out of demons, going on all the time, day after day after day, plenty of evidence, plenty of reason to believe. Even people who didn't know the Old Testament very well, even Gentiles could get the message such as the centurion whose story begins in verse 2 of this chapter.

The centurion, a Gentile, an outcast, a part of the Roman occupying army, despised and hated, probably having responsibility over the collection of taxes which the Jews despised, a tax collector being the most despicable person of all. This outcast, this outsider, this centurion had come to faith in Christ and a faith that was so great that in verse 9 Jesus said, I have not even seen faith like this in Israel. There was plenty of reason to believe that Jesus was the Messiah, God in human flesh, the Savior, the Redeemer, the Promised One, the Coming One. And some did believe, the centurion believed, and some of Jesus' disciples believed, certainly the apostles believed, but most people came short of believing. So as you study the story of Jesus, you see all of this proof, all of this unanswerable evidence that Jesus is God's Son met with attitudes that are short of faith.

What you see is criticism, questioning, indifference, rejection, curiosity, fascination, hostility, hatred and conspiracy to execute. So you have the great model of pure faith in the centurion and then you have this mass of people in the middle who are somewhere in that spectrum that I just recited for you, something short of faith. And then you have those who believed but their faith was mingled with doubt. And that tended to be the more common characteristic of the believers. And you know that because how many times do you hear Jesus address His apostles this way, go you of little faith?

Why do you doubt? I mean, that's the story of the apostles. We would like to think that they had a faith equal to the centurions, but they didn't.

It's amazing. One of the reasons the centurion's faith was so pure and not mingled with doubt was because he didn't have the same expectations the Jews had. It was the Jews' expectations that tended to create their doubt. They had a certain expectation for what Jesus should do, would do, and when He didn't do it, they were fraught with doubt.

A Gentile wouldn't have those kinds of expectations, not knowing the Old Testament the same way and not being a part of the Jewish tradition and culture. And when you come to the apostles themselves, they were all doubters. We think of Thomas as the doubter, but Thomas wasn't the only doubter, they were all doubters. Jesus said in Matthew 21, 21, if you have faith and don't doubt, you can do this and this.

Your problem is you have too much doubt mixed with your faith. Amazingly, at the end of Matthew 28, 17, this is after the resurrection. The eleven disciples go to Galilee, Judas is obviously dead, committing suicide. They go to the mountain where Jesus designated and He shows up. They saw Him, they worshiped Him and said some were doubtful. They doubted from the beginning to the end. They're still doubting after the resurrection. That's why they're characterized so often as the little faith association.

You could could write a book, the apostles, subtitled The Little Faith Association. You find that again in Mark and a couple of places in Mark and one place in Luke chapter 12. So doubt was not an uncommon thing.

In fact, it was characteristic of those who were the most devout, the apostles, those who had been chosen to be the first generation of preachers the Lord would train. And here then we find doubt on the part of John the Baptist, the greatest man who ever lived. Doubt is very real for people who believe.

It is reality, but it is not an acceptable reality and it needs to be addressed. Moses doubted God, Gideon doubted God, Elijah doubted God, Jeremiah even expressed doubt. The apostles doubt and here John the Baptist doubts.

We understand that. Coming face to face with doubt is coming face to face with ourselves. And that's why this is an important passage because it's going to help us to be able to deal with doubt. Now what do we mean by doubt?

Well some people say it means confusion or perplexity, but let me just give you a simple definition. Doubt is a struggle to believe. It is a struggle to believe. It is something that prevents me from fully believing. It can be momentary, it can be prolonged.

It can be permanent. But I want you to understand how the gospels deal with doubt. Whenever Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, the gospels deal with a doubting person, listen to this, it's always a believer.

It's always a believer. There is one occasion in John 10 24 where it says the Jews were saying to Jesus, how long will you keep us in suspense if you are the Christ, tell us plainly. But that wasn't honest doubt. That wasn't a struggling to believe. They were fixed in their hatred and unbelief.

That was just their unbelief trying to put Jesus on the spot. Every true expression of doubt in the four gospels relates to believers. Doubt is something that is part of being a believer. So we again go back to what the man said, Lord I believe, help my unbelief.

And you can identify with that and so can I. There have been times in all of our lives when in the midst of our believing we struggled with doubts. Some of you are going through that even now. Doubt is presented as a believer's problem. So we shouldn't be surprised to find the apostles having little faith in doubting. We shouldn't even be surprised to find a believer, John the Baptist, a godly prophet, struggling with doubt.

If the greatest man who ever lived had some doubts, if the twelve apostles who were with Jesus had some doubts, then maybe it's understandable that we have some doubts as well. Now to give you the picture, we don't want to think less of John than we should. John believed that Jesus was the Messiah. He asks the question here, are you the ha-ercomonos, are you the coming one?

That is a messianic title that appears in the 40th Psalm and the 118th Psalm. Are you the coming one? While he knew he was, chapter 3, verse 16 of Luke, John answered and said to the people, "'As for me, I baptize you with water, but the coming one,'" there he uses that messy anic title, "'the coming one who is mightier than I and I'm not fit to untie the thong of his sandals, he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.'" So John was talking about the coming one.

He was pointing to the coming one. And of course, the day came when Jesus appeared and John says he pointed to him and said, "'Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world,'" and then he baptized Jesus and then the Father said, "'This is the one who is my beloved Son.'" And so there was no mistake, the Holy Spirit came down and just settled on him. John knew he was the coming one. So we affirm that John is a believer.

He's a believer. At that time, he was so convinced that Jesus was the coming one, the promised Messiah and Redeemer that he said, "'My basic work is done.'" And in John 3.30, he said to the people, "'He must increase and I must decrease.'"

Time for me to fade away, I'm done. I was to be the forerunner. I was to announce the Messiah, to point to Him, to present Him, I've done it, I fade away. In every sense that we can look at John's encounter with Jesus, we have to conclude that John believed Jesus was the coming one.

The Father affirmed it, the Spirit affirmed it, Jesus Himself affirmed it. And then in verse 18 of Luke 3, John went on with many other exhortations preaching the gospel to the people. He didn't stop his ministry, he went on preaching, preaching Jesus Christ and the gospel, the good news, Messiah is here, the kingdom of God has come, Messiah has arrived. And his message was always this, repent, repent, repent, because unless you repent, you can't participate in the kingdom of God, you have to repent of your sin. Well he was a strong preacher, he was a hellfire and damnation preacher. In fact, there's not a lot of compassion in his preaching. It was very strong judgment that he preached, and he called for repentance.

And he didn't mince any words. Verse 19, Luke 3, and this sets the stage, when Herod the tetrarch was reproved by him...whoa! When Herod the tetrarch was reproved by him, Herod the tetrarch, he was king over Galilee and Berea, those adjoining areas where Jesus was ministering and where John had ministered.

And he was a petty king. He was of the family of Herod the Great. He was one of Herod's sons. John the Baptist had occasion to confront him, and when he did, he reproved him on account of Herodias, his brother's wife.

He was real specific. Now you've got to know this, Herodias was a woman married to Herod's brother. Now Herod Antipas, as he was called, the tetrarch, had lots of half-brothers. He had one half-brother named Philip who had this wife named Herodias.

When this wife was married to Philip, Herod Antipas, the one here, seduced her and stole her and married her. Now what makes it even more bizarre is that she was the niece of Philip. So he married his niece, and she was also Herod's niece. So they're just passing around incestuous relationships. No matter how you look at this, it was wicked, multiple marriages, seduction, divorce, incest. And when John had the occasion to meet Herod, he pointed it all out.

And that wasn't all. It says in verse 20, he also talked to him about all the wicked things which Herod had done. He just hid him right between the eyes with all the wickedness he had done. Now as a result of that, he did more wicked things, added this also, here's the most wicked, he locked John up in prison. He locked him in prison.

You're not going to stand for somebody rebuking him in public. So he slammed him in a dungeon down underneath Fort Machaerus some miles east of the Dead Sea, the northern end of the Dead Sea, out in the wilderness, barren, rugged place. It was a summer palace.

And Herodians had a lot of summer palaces, including Masada, this was one. They took John out and threw him in prison. The reason he didn't kill him was he was very popular at the time, he wanted the popularity to kind of die. He took him out of circulation for a while and he did. He kept him in prison at least a year before he executed him.

And you remember the story of how he died, don't you? There was a party and Salome came and danced and Herod said, what do you want? He was prompted by her mother, get rid of that prophet, I want his head on a platter, and that's what happened.

Out they came in the middle of the party with his head on a platter. So John's faithfulness cost him his freedom and it cost him ultimately his head. So some of these disciples, back to chapter 7, show up at the prison and they report to John what Jesus is doing. They give him this update. Now remember, John has been in prison for months and months. He hasn't seen anything or heard anything and he's beginning to doubt.

Does he believe Jesus is the coming one? Sure. Does he have ample evidence?

Of course. I told you what he personally would have had the whole family history of. Sure he believed, he believed, no question. But doubt was growing on the edges of his faith, just wasn't going the way he thought it should go. So some of his loyal disciples who were up in Capernaum, 60 miles at least or more, maybe even 80 miles from where John was in prison, took the whole trek all the way down there, walked all the way down through the Jordan Valley, all the way over the tip of the Dead Sea down to the east to wherever this place was, and they told John what they had seen and heard. And so John, verse 19, summons two of them, sends them to the Lord saying, here's the question, are you the expected one or do we look for someone else? It's like saying, are you the Messiah?

Are you the one promised in the Old Testament? And at that point, we are now coming face to face with John's doubts. What created those doubts? What caused him to doubt what he believed? Why is he saying, Lord, I believe, help my unbelief? Why would he ever say, or do we look for someone else?

Why would he ever say that? I mean, with the Father speaking out of heaven, this is my beloved Son, with the Spirit descending, with Jesus affirming, why would he even ask that? Well, doubt had crept in. That hadn't destroyed his faith. I think it's a tremendously interesting point, you need to understand this, that his faith is proven by the way he reacts to his doubt. If he had no trust in Jesus, he wouldn't go to Jesus to ask Jesus to dispel his doubt.

That to me is so interesting. He is asking Jesus, whom he believes in and doubts at the same time, to resolve his doubt. And he knows that Jesus is the only one who can resolve that doubt.

So he's really struggling against a weakness in the flesh. He's struggling against a temptation, and he did what you always need to do with doubt, you go directly to the Lord, not to somebody else or to nobody. The worst thing you can do with your doubt is keep it to yourself. He's saying, I've got some doubts and I need to get an answer, and the way to get the answer is to go directly to the Lord. And in that sense, he proves his faith. If he had no faith in Jesus, he would never ask Jesus to be the one to resolve his doubts.

Feel that way if you want to get your doubt resolved, go to the Word of God, not to any other place. You're listening to Grace to You as John MacArthur, Chancellor of the Masters University and Seminary, began a study that shows you how Jesus helped John the Baptist and how he can help you have assurance of your salvation. It's titled, When Believers Doubt, and keep in mind, we have both the audio and written transcripts of this study available on our website, and they are great tools for reviewing this material again and digging in at your own pace.

To get your copy of When Believers Doubt, get in touch today. To download the transcript and the MP3s free of charge, go to, or if you'd prefer the two-CD album, that is also available, and there's free shipping on that. To purchase the CD album, call 800-55-GRACE or go to And keep in mind, at our website, you'll find more than 3,500 of John's sermons available all free of charge in MP3 or transcript format.

Start downloading now at So as a great complement to our audio study, I would encourage you to get John's book, Saved Without a Doubt. It's an ideal resource for anyone who's struggling with assurance. Among its helpful features, 11 test questions from the Apostle John's writings that will help you see whether you're clinging to genuine salvation. To order the book Saved Without a Doubt, call 800-55-GRACE or go to our website, Now for John MacArthur, I'm Phil Johnson. Thanks for starting your week off with Grace To You, and join us tomorrow when John looks at common reasons people question the Bible and how you can fight those doubts. It's another half hour of unleashing God's truth, one verse at a time, on Grace To You.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-06-15 10:05:56 / 2023-06-15 10:16:32 / 11

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