May 11, 2015

Believe it or Not: 5 Types of Doubters, Pt 2.

by Clint Archer

fire rescueI have no doubt that you remember last week’s Part 1 post covering the first two types of doubters. Jude said to have mercy on them (Jude 22) as there are genuine believers who may for one reason or another momentarily think like a unbeliever.

1. Cautious Believer

Doubting Thomas is the poster-boy for this demographic. These are genuine believers who buy into the overall package of what Scripture says about life, the universe, and everything, but find it difficult to swallow a particular point of doctrine. (Granted the resurrection is a crucial point to choke on, but Thomas was only demanding what the other disciples already had).

2. Confused Believer

John the Baptist wasn’t living up to his moniker when he expressed a flickering doubt as to whether Jesus was the Messiah or not. But his confusion is understandable in the absence of dispensationalists’ charts and study Bibles. He didn’t even know of the second coming. But his doubts were easily dispelled by a simple reassurance.

The final three categories venture onto the darker shades of the spectrum of doubt, “shading into unbelief” (as B. B. Warfield explained).

3. Curious Asker

Nicodemus, at his first appearance in John’s gospel narrative, is not a disciple of Jesus. He meets Jesus covertly (“at night”) in order to question him (John 3). But unlike his compatriot Pharisees, Nicodemus was not trying to ensnare Jesus in his words (Mark 12:13), but had a sincere curiosity. He was trying to understand. And Jesus responds with teaching. By chapter 7 Nicodemus is defending Jesus to the rabid Pharisees (John 7:50); by the time of the crucifixion he is with the disciples in burying Jesus’ body (John 19:39).

When an unbeliever has sincere questions about Scripture, doctrine, or any “how can these things be?” enquiry, our response ought not to be too skeptical, but to drop what we’re doing and minister the word of God to them.

However, we also need to exercise discernment to distinguish between a curious asker and his evil twin: the convinced attacker.

4. Convinced Attacker

This cadre of unbeliever also has doubts. But they are not asking you questions in order to resolve confusion, but to spread the contagion of their doubts to you. They ask questions like “How can you believe the Bible when Matthew says Judas hanged himself and Acts says he died by falling off a cliff?” A curious asker might really want an answer in order to allay his doubts; a convinced attacker is trying to mock you or shake your faith.

Can this type of person be reached by the gospel? Yes. But you need to extend your help carefully.

Jude 22-23 “And have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh.”Hazmat

When you rescue someone who is engulfed in the flames of false teaching, you risk catching alight yourself. You need to approach them with fear for your faith and “snatch” them (harpadzō, i.e. like a harpoon).

The word for garment is the word for the undergarment worn directly on the body. Without getting more graphic than Jude did, the image is one of handling this unbeliever’s questions the same way you would handle someone’s stained underwear.

The good news is that these rabid unbelievers can be saved. Case-in-point: Paul.

1 Tim 1:13 “Though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent [i.e. committed attacker]. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief.”

5. Committed Apostate

This is the most tragic category of all. The label of “apostate” dangles over a spiritual corpse that is twitching like a zombie. Being dead is one thing, but the walking dead are dangerous and contagious.

An apostate is one who has been part of the family of God and then turned his back once for all.

Hebrews 6:4-6 “For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt.”

You can’t share the gospel with them, show them the love of Christ, impart to them the influence of the Holy Spirit, or even show them a miracle—they have already tasted it, seen it, and then they spat it out.

God can still do a miracle, but from a human point of view there is nothing more we can do for these people.

One example is Hymaneaus. In 1 Tim 1:19-20  “… By rejecting this [the faith], some have made shipwreck of their faith, among whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme.”

2 Tim 2:17-18 “and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, who have swerved from the truth, saying that the resurrection has already happened. They are upsetting the faith of some.”

Clint Archer

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Clint has been the pastor of Hillcrest Baptist Church since 2005. He lives in Durban, South Africa with his wife and four kids.
  • wiseopinion

    I do have a question….you said “An apostate is one who has been part of the family of God and then turned his back once for all.” Can one be flirting with apostasy who know the truth (i.e. raised in a Bible believing church) who are falling away from the Truth of Scripture and not only believing skewed doctrine BUT also teaching it?” What does one do when faced with dear sisters and brothers in Christ who are wandering way off the narrow way into the wide path of emergent, contemplative, ritualistic, seeker friendly, and experience driven worship and faith based on what man says rather than what God says? What does one call someone who has jumped the fence and yet still say they are Christians?

    • The method God gives us to re-label a professing “believer” as an “unbeliever” is church discipline (Matthew 18). Once the church puts them out of the church, we are told to “treat them like a tax collector” i.e. an unbeliever. The elders of the church need to be involved if a person is teaching error contrary to the doctrine of that church.

  • Enjoyed reading those. I confess that due to my own mood sometimes I’ve treated someone like a convinced attacker who may have really been a curious asker. I’ve felt guilty after.

    When I’ve erred in the other direction, I’ve felt like maybe my time was wasted, but I did it with good intentions so it wasn’t really sin.

    I hope God will give me the grace to err on the side of treating people like curious askers rather than the convinced attacker if I’m going to err in the future!


    • You’re welcome.

  • Jane McCrory Hildebrand

    I also have a question; when you refer to the committed apostate “being part of the family of God”, are you referring to someone who has actually been born again or has just been taught spiritual truths, but never truly converted. I have heard different interpretations on what it means by “being partakers of the Holy Spirit” in Hebrews 6.

    • Good question. No, the apostate is one who was never genuinely saved. 1 John 2:19 “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us.”

      A genuine believer cannot lose his/her salvation (Jude 24; Rom 8:30-39; etc).

  • tovlogos

    Excellent, Clint — thanks.
    I am glad you mentioned John 7:50; 19:39. Nicodemus’ journey to salvation should be acknowledged; showing that not everyone is immediately receptive to the gospel; but still on his way.
    The hypothetical reference in Hebrews 6:4-6 is also useful to Jewish believers who believe the messianic reality through Jesus; but are subject to doubt by the strong influence of Judaizers, effectively mixing the precepts of the New Covenant with Mosaic tradition, such as in Acts 15:1…Circumcision in and of itself in not a problem; and is not the issue; but the dividing the heart (which has spiritual ramifications) of the believer to include more than Jesus only — faith through grace.

    • Yes, the dramatic conversion of Paul is a rarity; many come to the full understanding of the gospel over time in stages, like Nicodemus.

      • Jane McCrory Hildebrand

        Clint, thank you for that point that, “many come to the full understanding of the gospel over time in stages”. That is a lesson I am still learning. I make the mistake sometimes of thinking that everyone must have had that big aha conversion, that knock me off my donkey experience, when in fact some people have been raised in the faith and do at times have doubts. Thank you for that reminder.

  • Johnny

    What about “struggling closet unitarian”? I wonder sometimes if that’s a bigger unspoken issue for some, namely in light of other Abrahamic religions such as Judaism and Islam?

    • Well, I can’t speak for Muslims and Jews, but I am sure almost all Christians at some time in their study of Scripture bump against the mystery of the Trinity. I’d counsel the “closet unitarian” this way: The Bible clearly teaches the Trinity is a reality (you’d have to go to the texts that prove that, like the baptism of Jesus for example), but it is not a sin to admit your brain is smaller than God’s, so some things we need to believe because God’s word says it, not because it makes perfect sense to us how it all works.

      That is not the same as saying “Just believe, don’t ask questions.” It is committing to believe what God says, and trying to understand it, while simultaneously admitting we are finite beings investigating an infinite Being.
      How does election and man’s responsibility work together? I don;t know, but they do. Or Prayer and Sovereignty? Etc.

      Hope that helps.