I 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.”
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.”