Dealing with Doubts Transcript/Program 3

By: Dr. Gary Habermas; ©2003
Are you exhausted day after day, thinking about your sin and wondering if you are really accepted by God?



Today on The John Ankerberg Show, are you a Christian who doubts? Why is it that after placing belief in Christ, you are plagued with questions about your faith? Why do you live each day wondering if you are truly a Christian and doubting whether God has really forgiven your sins? You fear going to hell, but aren’t sure you will go to Heaven. Why do you have these doubts? Is there a biblical way to conquer your depressing thoughts of unbelief? Can you really get rid of all your doubts? Today John’s guest is Dr. Gary Habermas, chairman of the Department of Philosophy and Theology at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia. He is the author of more than 21 books, including a book on doubt called The Thomas Factor. We invite you to join us.

Ankerberg: There are people in the church and secretly they’ve got these doubts and it’s just eating away at them. Then there’s some people that say, “I want to believe, I am a Christian, I want to believe. I can’t gear it up. I can’t believe. What’s the matter with me?” What is all this that’s going on?
Habermas: Well, to recap briefly, we said that doubt is uncertainty about God or one’s relationship with Him and that manifests itself in a lot of forms. Is Christianity true? Did I say the right words? Personal assurance. Pain and suffering. Answers to prayer. And so we divided doubt into three categories:
Factual doubt – which is the least complicated. The answer to factual doubt is “the facts.”
Emotional Doubt – which we might think the answer is the facts, but really it’s not. It’s changing the things we say. Because over and over in Scripture, we read that what we say to ourselves – “As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he” [Prov. 23:7] – over and over again, what we see is the things we tell ourselves determine how we feel. So in the Psalms, the Proverbs, and the Epistles we are told to change what we say, change our thinking.
Here’s an interesting contrast. Romans 1 and 2, that catalog of sins at the end of Romans 1. “They believed a lie,” it says. Romans 12:1-2: “I beseech you therefore, brethren, give yourself to God as a living sacrifice” – by changing the way you think. The contrast is this: Those who engage in sin, believe a lie. Those who engage in truth, change the way they think. We change our moods by what we tell ourselves.
Here’s the most liberating thought on this subject of emotional doubt that I can think of. You can’t change, perhaps, what is happening to you right now; but you can change what you’re saying to yourself about what is happening to you, and you can do that immediately. The normal Christian response is, “Who gives a rip! If I can’t change what’s happening to me, then…” They missed the point. What’s happening to you does not cause as much pain as what you tell yourself about what happens to you. I can’t affect all the things that happened to me, but I can change what I think immediately. It’s like taking two aspirins and going to bed. I can change what I say now that causes my most pain. Change what you say, you change how you feel. And that’s in our power. So, what we don’t realize when we say, “Lord, why is all this coming down on me?” the answer is, the Lord is not doing anything to you. Change what you’re thinking. That’s the worst pain.
Ankerberg: But, you’re not talking about this is just intellectual; this is not just “positive thinking.”
Habermas: It’s not.
Ankerberg: Tell me what else this is.
Habermas: Well, here’s the difference between “positive thinking” and Christianity. Christianity says that I don’t pull myself up by my own bootstraps. Either, number one, works don’t do this. I can’t save myself. It comes through the grace of God through our Lord Jesus Christ. We say “I do” to Him in light of who He is and what He’s done. That’s one stage. This is not positive thinking.
Ankerberg: And He gives you a gift.
Habermas: And He gives us a gift, which is freely given. It’s not positive thinking.
A third way in which it is not positive thinking is this. It is not by my power that this is done, it is by God’s power. I do not, by thinking good thoughts – “Rah! Rah! I’m a big, tough guy! I’m doing some mental weightlifting.” It’s not like that at all. God has said you’ve got the Holy Spirit. We’re talking to believers who doubt. God says you have the Holy Spirit. Practice some disciplines. You move into concert with Him by thinking the correct things, we tap His power, we tap into Him. So from start to finish, from unsaved to saved, to doubting, we’re not “positive thinking” here, we are following His directions and tapping into the power He has already given to us. It’s by God’s power that this is done.
Ankerberg: Continue that. I mean, people come in and they received Christ and His gift by faith, believed, felt, the whole ball of wax that they were saved. They went on, hit some obstacles, all of a sudden they don’t feel saved, okay? So they need to learn some things. They go in and out. Then they get the doubts. So advise those folks right there that felt like they got in, and now they think, “Am I really in? Did I do it right? Did I do something wrong?” What’s happening here?
Habermas: I send folks like that home with a homework assignment. Take a sheet of paper, divide it into three columns and when a doubt occurs to you, for some of these people, it’s 10 times a day. I mean, it’s a plaguing, debilitating thing. Put a day down, put a time down. Second column: what am I saying to myself? “Life’s a bummer.” “God doesn’t care.” “I may not be saved.” “I may be going to hell.”
And for each one of those, take a little block and over on the far right column put the answers, put biblical answers: “God does not send saved people to hell.” “Salvation does not depend on how I feel. It depends on what’s been accomplished.” If I already start feeling better by what I say to myself, maybe, just maybe, I should start saying different things to myself. Again, Proverbs 15:15: “He that is of a cheerful heart hath a continual feast.” We make that cheer. We respond to things. We all know people, no matter what happens, they’re cheerful. That comes from what we say to ourselves and how we act.
So I tell the person, “Every time it comes up I want you to respond this way. And then, when you get done, you’ll see how this journaling over the next two weeks, over the next month, you’ll see how you’re going and you start responding this way to things.” This list gets shorter and shorter. This list gets longer and longer. But there’s things a person can begin applying right there. The easiest remedy is Philippians 4:6-9. Paul says, “Be anxious for nothing” and then he gives four bits of advice. He says, again:
  1. Pray
  2. Praise
  3. Change your thoughts from these anxious thoughts to these thoughts.
  4. Practice these things.
This is pastoral advice from the apostle Paul who says you can try these things. And here’s the best thing to do. Next time you’re going through it, try praising. Next time you’re going through it, change what you’re saying to yourself and see if you don’t feel better. You can change moods like this. [Snap of a finger.] Most of the time, you can change moods right away. It has to do what you’re saying.
Now, if a person tries it and it works once, maybe they’ll try it twice. Now, there’s some band aid remedies you can do. A band aid remedy is this: next time you get down, go ride a bike, swim, walk with a friend, call a friend on the phone, go jog, fish, watch a ball game and get engrossed in it. Those will work, but they’re like snipping weeds off at the surface. That’s like saying I want to get the weeds out of my lawn, so I’ll run the lawnmower. We know they’re up next week. They will work because why? You’re changing your focus. The minute you start thinking about jogging, you’re not anxious. If you quit jogging, you start getting anxious again.
But the second kind of remedy is more powerful because the spiritual remedies go for the roots. You go after the poison that’s into your system and you get it out. You spray each one of those weeds individually, or in the old days you’d pull it up by the roots.
Ankerberg: Slow it down. A teenager came to me and said, “You mean to say that faith is not feeling? Because if I can be feeling lousy and that’s faith, what difference is there between being a Christian and where I was before?”
Habermas: Okay. I was speaking at Stanford University a few years ago. I was doing this very thing. And this young lady in the crowd said, “Question. What you’re saying is going to work because these are psychological laws. But,” she said, “all you’re doing is mind-bending.” And that just caught me by surprise. You’re going to change your mind, you’re going to change your thoughts, but you’re mind-bending. And all of a sudden I thought to myself, “Listen, if Christianity is false, all I’m doing is mind-bending. Hey, but if you feel better for it, aspirins aren’t Christian but they make you feel better so you take them. I said, “Wait a minute.” I said to her, “If Christianity is true, you’re not mind-bending. If Christianity is true, the facts are true, then I should think in line with the facts. And if Christianity is true, I have truth and I have the feeling, I’d bring my mind in accord with this and the result is feeling the best for the best possible reasons. It’s true and I’m in line with it.
So, ask yourself the apologetic questions. Is Christianity true? Answer: yes. How should I think? I can’t think bad thoughts about true things. I bring myself into accord with this. Did Jesus die? And I tell people, stay on track. You want to “what if” about everything. If you came to see me, John, here is all I have for you: Did you trust Christ as your personal Savior? Yes. Then what are you saying to yourself? I might be going to hell. Listen, stay on track: is Christ the Son of God? Yes. Died for your sins? Yes. Was He raised from the dead? Yes. Did you say “yes” to Him, did you say “I do”? Yes. Here’s what you’re saying to yourself: All those who are in Christ Jesus – and we know what comes after that – they are raised to the heavenlies, we learn in the book of Ephesians. [Eph. 2:6] They’re saved. That’s what you tell yourself.
And you say, “Yes, but what if…” Can’t go there; you’re bad at this.
You know, you tell a person, I was horrible at it, the what ifs.
Ankerberg: Give me two more “what ifs” here and that is, the fact is of if Faith is Not a Feeling, what is faith? What is true faith?
Habermas: Faith is a choice. Faith is Not a Feeling. Feelings come as a result of the things we say to ourselves. First of all, I want a true foundation. I want to know Christianity is true. If it’s true, I say “Yes” to it. I make a decision. And I think, again, the closest human analogy is this: a woman dates a man, a man dates a woman. They know each other. They think they know each other better than anybody else in the universe, but they’re not married until they say “I do.”
Alright, supposedly, you’ve got the best facts. You say “I do” and you have an ideal marriage. Saying “I do” is a step. It’s a choice and you do it. Sometimes when you’re married you have bad feelings and sometimes you have good feelings. We know there are causes for that and there are things you do about that. But feeling unmarried doesn’t make you unmarried; and feeling married, if you’re not, doesn’t make you married. Emotions are good. Now this is a very important step, too. Emotions are God-given realities. They’re wonderful. They’re spiritual alarms. When we start feeling badly, we should stop back and count what’s going on. So there’s a lot of things going on there, but it’s not a feeling. Faith is a choice. I say “I do” and I’m married. I say “I do” to Christ and I’m saved.
Ankerberg: C. S. Lewis, I think, was the one that said he was brought kicking and screaming over the line. You listen to his testimony. He was riding on a bus and all of a sudden this feeling came over him and yet it’s almost like he went, you know, on a scale of one to a hundred to 51 percent. So he was in, but he still had a whole boatload of things he was struggling with. Is that true Christianity? Is that more what we ought to be expecting is that you make that commitment and you’re saying, “Should I have made that commitment?” In other words, is there still doubt in there? Is a person saved? I mean, do you know the whole ball of wax once you say, “I believe”?
Habermas: Well, in the parable only God separates the wheat from the tares. Only God knows bottom line. But a very common experience with Christians, I’ve talked to so many who have gone through this sort of thing and it’s very common experience. In fact, here’s how common: I am not aware of an issue that is more common among Christians. When I go out and speak on this subject, I’ve said, “If you have never doubted, please come up and tell me and I will add you to my list.” Over the years I’ve had one person. You say, “Well, they just didn’t want to come up and talk to you.” But a lot of these things are in classes where I have 50 students standing in front of me. I know them. They’ve got to get past my lectern as they get out the door. They’ll say things, and I know a lot of them very well. I’ve had one person in 25 years tell me they haven’t doubted. And you know what I did in that case? It was a lady, I called her husband over and said, “Has she doubted?” I figure your spouse will know these things better than you will. One taker. Everyone else has gone through it. Then you go through the Bible and you see it in Abraham; you see it in Job; you see it in David; you see it in Jeremiah; you see it in the Minor Prophets; you see it in John the Baptist; you see it in Paul. You think, “Wow! This might be kind of common.” But the good news here is that the Good News has nothing to do with our feelings. We can feel bad and we can feel good. When you’re high, that doesn’t mean you’re saved or unsaved.
Ankerberg: Go the opposite way. You know, you’ve got Abraham. He started down that trail, did some marvelous things, but he did some terrible things while he was walking with the Lord. Okay? What’s the test for a person who looks back and says, “Did I really trust enough?” Is this part of your answer in terms of the will? Is this where you were going in your third category?
Habermas: That the person says, “I have done enough?”
Ankerberg: Well, no. The fact is, did I trust enough?
Habermas: Well, this might be heresy in some circles, but as common a question as I get is this one: “Did I say the right words?” Well, you know, what’s so incredible about this is, there is no “sinner’s prayer” in the New Testament.
Now, I think it’s convenient. If the person says, “What can I do?” I think it’s convenient to pray with them. But there’s no ideal sinner’s prayer. And we know from the Old Testament, “Man looks on the outward appearance, God look on the heart” and yet we say – I can’t tell you how typical this is, I know you’ve heard it – “Well, see, I’m struggling with this word ‘repent.’ I don’t know what it means. And I…and I….” And then somebody tells me, “I should have said this, and I go back and I pray it again. And then…I’ve said everything.” And I say to them, smilingly, “Well, if you accepted Christ 25 times, you should have covered all the bases by now.”
“Well, yeah. I’ve covered all the bases. But what if the definitions, the words change and I… Oh, but what if I’m saying the right thing but I don’t really believe what I’m saying?” They have all these levels of responses, and the crazy thing is, the Bible never gives us a prescription for this prayer. It’s what’s in the heart.
Now, back to the spouses who say to each other, “Tell me you love me,” and so on. The husband or wife doesn’t say, “Well, there’s a magic thing here and if you say exactly the right words, I’ll….” The reason they’re asking you is because they’re in love. And the person who says, “I want Jesus to pat me on the head. If He would send me a letter and say, “You are my child,” it would be the most incredible, liberating, freeing thing in the universe. I could turn my attention to working for Him forever. That’s where most people are. But the incredible thing is, you have to stay on target: “Is Christianity true?”
“Have you said ‘I do’?”
“Then you’re saved.”
“But what if… what if….”
“Obviously you didn’t hear. Is Christianity true? Did you say, ‘Yes’?”
“Yeah, but what if I didn’t say….”
“You didn’t get the point.”
That’s like saying… you can always look at the marriage certificate, but we don’t have that when we trust Christ. The Scripture says all things…now, even people who believe they can lose their salvation, even that kind of belief. If they’re really worried about this, I take it to mean the vast majority of those want it and, “Move in. It’s free.”
“Whoever comes to me, I will in no wise cast out,” Jesus says in the book of John. [John 6:37] So, people want to bring everything else and they want to dump the kitchen sink into this discussion and that’s not what salvation is. “Is it true?”
And finally, when I’m telling the person, they say, “Alright. Alright. Yes, it’s true.”
“Did you do it?”
“Yes. I did it.”
“What are you saying about it?”
“I’m saying, what if I’m going to hell?”
“No. You’ve done it!”
And I’ll tell you what. Here’s when a person gets victory, when they start making themselves focus, single-mindedly, on what they’ve done and they don’t take this “What if.” They make themselves push onwards. And the person who learns to say to himself, “God, in His Word, is not about what I’ve done, it’s about what He’s done for me. And if I’ve said ‘I do’ to Him, it’s free. And if I’ve done it, dare I even think that I have eternal life?” First John 5:13: “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know” – not think or hope – “know [now] that you have eternal life.”
Here’s the bottom line: the more successful we are at telling ourselves the right things, the better we’ll feel. Now here’s some other good news: no matter how badly you feel, you’re just as saved as if you’d done the right thing.
Ankerberg: Okay. We’re out of time this week. Next week is the last shot you’ve got at all these folks. Three steps to correcting misbeliefs and going over Philippians 4 and giving some real life illustrations of how these people can settle, how they can arrive, settle, have peace, that they’re saved and God has accepted them. It’s important. Join us next week.

Read Part 4

Leave a Comment