3 Pitfalls of Doubt for the Religious

Some people wear their scars on the outside. Life circumstances make it obvious that there is a need for wholeness and healing. We love to see God’s grace and mercy transform regular humans into what 2 Corinthians calls a “new creation.” The addict turned counselor. The depressed turned joyful. The wanderer who finds the way back home. I have been a first hand witness of restoration so complete that it was hard to imagine that the history of the friend sitting across the table was a real story.

As someone who grew up in the walls of the church, my history somehow led to a paradoxical doubt that God could work the same redemption in my life. I see freedom and new life for other people, but not for myself. I know what to do, who to talk to, how to pray out loud in a variety of situations. I wonder if you, like me, are quite good at the game of appearing whole. The prideful giving without first receiving. The sick striving that looks just like the priorities of our culture and day in age.

This type of story is in need of Jesus as healer just as much as any more shocking tale. In fact, it is far scarier to me that we could attempt to heal ourselves and end up missing the point of our need for Jesus entirely. 

Does your doubt, when it comes to God, have less to do with whether or not this cosmic story of redemption happened or not, and more to do with getting stuck in doing the right things for the wrong reasons?

I find myself often going back to a passage of scripture that was written pointedly toward the religious folk. Those who know how to do all the right things and seemed to be on the right foot with God. The ones who got it all wrong and ended up murdering the Messiah instead of worshipping him. In fact, when Jesus walked the earth Luke 4:18 records how he began his ministry quoting from the book of Isaiah 61 to the people who were already “in church.” 

As was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written,“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,

because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed.

To begin with, the religious people thought his plans to restore and  proclaim sounded great, but there was a turn in their perspective just a few verses later that resulted in a strange reversal that is somehow completely absent from my Sunday school memories. Luke 4:28-29b says, “When they heard these things, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath. And they rose up and drove him out of the town and brought him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw him down the cliff.”  Off a cliff! The pious, pew-sitters heard the plan of Jesus and tried to throw him off a cliff. This is at the very beginning of Jesus’ earthly ministry and already the people who think they are on God’s side are vehemently against His ways of bringing healing to the world. I wonder how often I’ve chased Jesus out because I didn’t see sense in his way.

The tension throughout this passage of the words and ways of Jesus versus the thoughts of the religious are all too familiar. The religious were sure of the wrong things (their rightness) while doubting what Jesus said was the truth.  In the same way, there are three pitfalls of doubt that are easy to fall into for both the ancient Pharisees and those who have been following Jesus for a long time.

We doubt we are the poor, captive, and blind: 

I wonder if the leaders, sitting before Jesus as he broke the news that he was the fulfillment of everything God had done, saw themselves in the words he said that day. Or did they only pin them on the unlucky outsiders? Were they poor? Maybe not physically, but they were spiritually bankrupt. Were they captive? They were not in prison, but perhaps the sin of pride, greed, and jealousy hidden inside kept them in bondage. Were they blind? They saw Jesus in the flesh, but could not see the spiritual truths he shared.

We don’t like to identify ourselves as the poor, captive, and blind, but if we doubt our need we miss the good news of the gospel. There are many unflattering, difficult truths about who we are as sinful humans, and we like to doubt them. That underlying doubt pulls us away from the great freedom that is in Christ. If we pridefully strive, we may look good on the outside, but miss out on the power of the gospel that sets us free. Sitting in our need we should see that Jesus is our only hope. This should produce grateful joy, not religious striving.

 If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.

1 John 1:8-10

We doubt he could love “those people”:

In the midst of this oft quoted story is a piece that is more overlooked. Jesus reminded the religious people of two stories they obviously knew. They were, after all, in charge of teaching and often memorizing large chunks of what we now call the Old Testament. But he pointed out something they had failed to see in the overarching plan (Luke 4:25-27). To paraphrase; God’s desire wasn’t only for the healing and wholeness of his people, but for outsiders as well. Elijah was sent to a widow in a distant land. Elisha healed a leper who happened to be an oppressor of Israel. God isn’t limited in his love and extends his forgiveness and mercy to those who might be overlooked at best, hated at worst. 

You would think that the revelation of God’s great love for the entire world would be invigorating, but instead, the people who thought they knew God best were enraged at the thought. When we see our standing with God as a product of what we know, do, or where we grew up, there becomes a false hierarchy.  The people the religious leaders wanted nothing to do with were eventually the same ones who Jesus dramatically rescued and used to share the gospel with the world. The one who stole. The one who murdered God’s people. The shady woman. Yet Jesus also rescued from among the religious. Disciples who secretly came to ask him questions at night. Those who after Jesus died and rose were able to show how every piece of prophecy had been fulfilled before their eyes in the Savior they just crucified. All people are “those people” when it comes to our need for freedom that is only possible through Jesus.

We doubt restoration is possible in our lives:

The people wanted to throw Jesus off a cliff in their anger. That Jesus would choose to have mercy on outsiders must have felt like a serious accusation to their own perceived righteousness. The Pharisees  insistence on their own abilities, knowledge, and assumed special status as the most loved, or at least most right, faction was the very thing that kept them from humbly receiving from Jesus. How could they need to change? They were already following all the laws, and even adding to them! They didn’t even consider that people who spent a lot of time trying to be near to God could need just as much restoration in their hearts as those who had spent their entire life trying to flee his presence. 

 From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.  All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation;  that is, in Christ God was reconciling[c] the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.  Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.  For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

2 Corinthians 5:16-20

Holly Hawes writes to tell the stories of what God has done, especially through her experiences of infertility, foster care, and adoption. She is 30-something and has been married to Josh since 2010. She is Mom to a teenager by adoption, a child she’ll meet in heaven and often “bonus kids” via foster care. She loves creativity, the PNW, books, flowers, and sharing Jesus with hearts that need him.

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