Doubt & Unbelief: What’s the Difference? (Luke 7:18-30)

At some point in life, everyone gets disappointed.  We all aspire to be a person of impact in the world; and in fact, I don’t know anyone who doesn’t want to better themselves and help others, especially those that they care deeply about.  Likewise, we all have expectations of others; especially those closest to us.  We want them to thrive and succeed in life and we are willing to make personal sacrifices to help them achieve their hopes and dreams.  But things don’t always go according to plan, and sooner or later we will all face disappointment of some sort or another. 

There are many ways to deal with disappointment in our lives, but the two most basic ways are to embrace it or flee from it.  Disappointment can make us stronger or it can break us down, depending upon how we respond to it.  Think of it like a fork in the road, you can go left or right but you can’t go straight ahead because the road conditions have changed.

When it comes to matters of faith, I love what Pastor Steven Furtick has to say about disappointment in his sermon entitled Invisible Prisons.  “God uses disappointment to grow our faith and the Devil uses disappointment to destroy our faith,” according to Pastor Furtick.  So, how can disappointment be used in two different ways with different results?  It all depends on how we respond to it.  Disappoint can lead to doubts, which should cause us to ask questions and seek understanding.  Or, disappoint can lead to unbelief and a loss of faith, which can cause us to flee the situation or reject the person that we think caused it.  From a faith perspective, doubt should cause us to run to God for answers, while unbelief general results in someone turning away from God and fleeing from Him presence.

In our focal passage today, we find John the Baptist in prison because of his reproof of Herod’s marriage to Herodias among other things.  John, the forerunner of Christ, had achieved great success in his ministry prior to being locked up by Herod.  So much success that some of the Israelites wondered if he might be the Messiah.  But John, quickly and humbly pointed them to Jesus.  You may recall that John identified three reasons why Jesus was greater than he.  Jesus was more powerful, His baptism was greater, and He is the judge.  John used the analogies of a winning fork and fire to describe Jesus’ role as judge.

In fact, it’s that last reason that has John wondering as he sits in prison hearing the reports come in from his disciples about all the great and mighty works Jesus has been performing in Galilee.  You see, John expected Jesus to separate the wheat from the chaff with his winnowing fork and he expected Him to burn up the chaff with an unquestionable fire.  But as Pastor Furtick puts it; “Where’s the fork; where’s the fire?”

John’s musings give rise to doubt and he send his disciples to Jesus to ask the infamous question, “Are you the One?”  John hasn’t lost his faith in Jesus as the Messiah, but he suddenly and surely has doubts.  How do I know that?  Because doubt causes us to run to God for answers!  Unbelief causes us to turn away from God and flee His presence.  By virtue of his disciples, John ran to Jesus seeking answers.  John had an expectation of what Jesus would be, and He was turning out to be something entirely different.  And John, wanted some answers.

If we are honest with ourselves, we will say that all of us have expectations of God.  We each have a mental picture of what we think God is like and what we think He will or should do in our lives.  When He acts in a way that is contrary to that mental model, we find ourselves exactly where John was that day.

So, how do we respond when facing situations such as this?  We dive deep into God’s Word in search of answers to our questions.  I hope you will join us on that journey as we unpack the story of a doubting John the Baptist as recorded in Luke 7:18-30.

If you are unable to join us in person for this study, please feel free to download the Bible study materials for your personal use by following one of these links: PowerPoint Slides, PDF File

If you have been blessed by this series or have questions or prayer requests, please drop us a note on the Contact Us page.  For more information on this Bible study series please see Doubtless Living: The Gospel of Luke.