Often in my life as a Christian I have been struck with great fear or doubt, times where I began to question the legitimacy of what I believed. No matter how long you’ve been a Christian, there will always questions that are unanswered and events that will cause us to doubt. We must constantly wrestle with the fact that our faith will never be complete until the End of the Age. Doubt is a regular place of tension in which all believers live. Inevitably, we all come to a point where we ask, “Is Christianity really worth it?” How we answer that question can either destroy or defend our faith for the rest of our lives.
There are many ways to combat doubt, but as we read the next sections of Acts I was struck with one phrase that was extremely comforting as I reflected on the gracious sovereignty of God to have included it for the church today.
Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he found him, he brought him to Antioch. So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.
Acts to this point has been a glorious recounting of the Great Commission moving from Jerusalem and out into the regions of Judea, Samaria, and beyond. Growth throughout the early church is happening not only in number, but also in diversity (rf. Acts 10). Self-identification of the movement is becoming an important distinction as Jewish converts are needing to dissociate from the past and Gentiles are coming under the name of Jesus. But no matter what your background, the common banner of Jesus as the Christ – the Messiah – is a distinguishing mark. We see for the first time where the name “Christian” originated from. It was here amongst the Greeks in Antioch that a legacy begins. A legacy that will stretch to the four corners of the world and over thousands of years to today.
One of the great lies of the devil is to make you think you are alone, not simply that you are cut-off from community but that you are the only person who has ever struggled with your sin, brokenness, or doubt. Do not forget that if you call yourself a Christian, you are not alone in your struggles. You and I stand on the shoulders of many, many who have gone before us – those who have struggled and come out on the other side.
Hebrews chapter 11 famously recounts the heroes of the Old Testament who lived out their faith despite being in the midst of deep and dark struggles. So many familiar names are mentioned but my favorite is how the author ends this section, simply in awe of the numerous men and women who have faithful testimonies.
And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson and Jephthah, about David and Samuel and the prophets, who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies. Women received back their dead, raised to life again. There were others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated— the world was not worthy of them…
There is an abundance of testimonies found in the Bible that should inspire us and strengthen our faith in God. But not only those found in the Bible, but also so many more that have come after.
After the canon of Scripture was closed (that is, the Bible was finished being written) there were many great Christians who helped teach the early church and helped carry Gospel-truth to the next generation amidst much confusion and growing heresy - Clement, Polycarp, Irenaeus, Origen, Athanasius, Tertullian, Augustine, to name a few. These men are commonly known as the Church Fathers. The Church Fathers were the disciples of “The Disciples” of Jesus Christ, receiving first-hand accounts of the teachings and works of Jesus, along with the many of the original letters to the churches from Paul and others.
The Church Fathers laid down in writing great wisdom for the early church distinguishing truth from heresy, addressing important topics such as “Is Jesus really God?” Here is an excerpt from the Nicene Creed written in 325 AD:
We believe in one God,
the Father almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all things visible and invisible.
And in one Lord Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
begotten from the Father before all ages,
God from God,
Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made;
of the same essence as the Father.
Through him all things were made.
For us and for our salvation
he came down from heaven;
The Church Fathers were pastors themselves and wrote a myriad of letters to the early churches which were crucial to maintain true Christianity as new theology, doubt, and controversy arose. Their works were essential to set the theological and scholarly foundations of Christianity as we know it today. You and I can rest assured that the object of our faith is genuine, having been examined under meticulous scrutiny and having stood the test of time.
By the end, most of the Church Fathers died for their faith. Tertullian, famously wrote, “The blood of martyrs is the seed of the church.” When we think of doubting our faith, when would that doubt be any stronger than in the face of death? But there are many who have faithfully held onto Christianity even though they were subject to great and cruel torture and eventually death. Doubt may come into our lives but let us not allow our faith to shrink back when hardships come, especially when there are those of our brothers and sisters who have died for the name of Christ. Our faith comes from a long legacy of those who have considered Christianity not only a last resort but the primary resort. Look at what Ignatius spoke in the face of being eaten alive by lions.
“Now I begin to be a disciple. Let no one, of things visible or invisible, prevent me from attaining to Jesus Christ. Let fire and the cross; let wild beasts; let tearings, breakings, and dislocation of bones; let cutting off of limbs; let shatterings of the whole body; and let all the evil torments of the devil come upon me; only let me attain to Jesus Christ.” (110 AD)
There were countless numbers of men and women who have died for the name of Christ. It was recently reported that nearly 1 million Christians have been martyred within the last decade even. If there are Christians who are able to willingly die for Christ, then we should be encouraged to live for Christ.
There is an even longer list of inspiring Christians we should look back on to bolster our faith today. People like the Reformers (Martin Luther, John Calvin, Ulrich Zwingli, Jane Grey) who fought to show that our salvation is on the work of Christ alone and nothing of the work of man. Others like the Puritans (John Owen, Anne Bradstreet, Jonathan Edwards) some of the first North American theologians who carried Reformed Christianity over the ocean and strengthened it through discipline, devotion, and the exegetical elevation of the Word. There are also a multitude of famous missionaries from every era (Florence Young, George Müller, George Whitfield) who have shown us what faith, sacrifice, and prayer truly behold when done with a heart for the lost and the glory of God. Even the preachers and teachers of our modern day (Paul Tripp, Steven Lawson, Paul Washer) who continue to preach the Word faithfully and diligently, applying it to the lives and souls of their congregations, illuminating the Bible and believing in its relevancy and centrality for the generations to come.
Doubt is inevitable in this life. You are never called to be without doubt. When you find your faith in a place where you begin to ask, “Is Christianity really worth it? Is it all really true?” Remember there are countless others who carried the name “Christian.” They asked the same questions but found God to be true and worthy of living and dying for. So brothers and sisters, run the race which is set before you with endurance and perseverance and surely “you will receive a rich welcomed into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:11) by all the Saints who have gone before you. May we declare in the face of doubt the same as Perpetua, a young girl martyred at the age of twenty-two (in 203 AD), “So can I call myself nought other than that which I am: I am a Christian.”