The Failure of Thomas is Among Us

The apostle Thomas has become famous. We call him Doubting Thomas. There. That’s a good tidy label. Now we’re done with him, right?

No, we’re not done with him. In fact, I believe that Thomas’s sin is one of the most prevalent sins in the church today, and one of the most dangerous if we want to move on with Christ.

The heart of Thomas’s famous sin was that he didn’t believe the testimony of the other apostles about the resurrection of Jesus. His position was, “If I don’t see it, then I don’t believe it.” We can’t pick on Thomas exclusively; the rest of the apostles had just done the same thing: not believing Mary when she told them about meeting Jesus in the garden. And then they refused believe the boys who had met Him on the road to Emmaus.

That’s where a whole lot of the church is. “Sorry, I haven’t seen what you see. I don’t believe it.” We might be talking about Bible truth or moral conduct or the work of the Holy Spirit ; the issue is that we don't believe what someone else has seen, but we ourselves have not (yet) seen.

I’ve seen Thomas’s sin often when judging other believers. Recently, I had reason to be involved in an online conversation with some self-appointed judges of America’s theology. I know: futile conversation, and mostly it was, but it illustrated this disease: “Unless what you’re teaching lines up with my beliefs, I won’t accept it, even when it’s supported scripturally.” I once spoke with a man about an area of moral weakness. “Everybody tells me I have blind spots, but I just don’t see it,” he replied with a straight face.

How many times have we seen this when God does something new or unusual: Someone we know experiences something new and unfamiliar (gold dust, laughter, shaking, or just a new understanding of an old passage of scripture), and many believers shout “Oh, that can’t be God!” Wait! Your brother, your sister, have just told you what they experienced and you don’t believe it? Or perhaps a father among us declares a new truth that we haven’t known before, and we reject it as unfamiliar. I’m not talking about receiving heretical doctrine from people who would compromise the gospel of Christ: in fact, that is about the only thing we’re to judge and reject. We, on the other hand, have taken the example of the Bereans to a completely unhealthy, intellectual extreme that takes us into the realm of rebellion and isolation more than it protects us.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen pastors declaring a Biblical truth to their people, and the people won’t see the truth they’re being taught. We join in the self-sufficient sin of Thomas: “If I don’t see it for myself, I won’t believe it.” It happened in the Book of Acts, when Peter was out jail. It happened when the boys on the Emmaus Road reported home, and in that context, Jesus chews out the apostles for not believing someone else’s experience: “He rebuked their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they did not believe those who had seen Him after He had risen.” (Mark 16:14)

And that’s the heart of the issue: we won’t believe someone else’s word, someone else’s experience. Put into spiritual language, we won’t believe or receive the testimony of our brothers and sisters. And judging from his reaction in Mark 16, that’s not acceptable to God! Sure, there are screwballs trying to hoax us (think of the emails you’ve received from Nigerian princesses) but God has equipped us to avoid being hoaxed.

There are at least two reasons why this kind of Thomas-type fear is inappropriate:

1) God has made us to be a community, not a bunch of isolated individuals. “We are members of one another,” is how the NT says it. That means that I’m not complete without you, and I cannot hear all that God is saying to me by myself. I need you to hear some of it.

2) God has given us a tool – a weapon, if you will - to be able to distinguish the truth from the lie. It’s called discernment, and He requires us to use it. Discernment is a gift of the Spirit; it is not a gift of a suspicious mind. It requires exercise, but with this gift, we are able to discern good from evil, truth from the lie. This is not about “I know and understand;” this is about hearing the echo of truth from the Spirit of God about whom Jesus said, “He will guide you into all truth.” The capacity for discernment is His responsibility, not ours: He expects us to recognize the truth when we’re faced with it, even when it’s weird, and He equips us for that work from His Spirit.

A pair of brief testimonies of my own: recently, I was faced with a tough decision. I had difficulty seeing through all the emotional clutter to understand the direction God was pointing; both the “where” and the “when” of the issue were beyond me. So I asked a handful of folks with whom I have a covenant relationship. They were unanimous in their counsel: this is the direction and now is the time. I still didn’t see God’s direction myself, but I trusted their counsel, and made the decision. In hindsight, they were completely accurate, and had I not listened, I would have made a very bad decision, which would have hurt both me and my family.

Second: some years ago, I was faced with some very unusual people, who were behaving very strangely in church, in their “renewal service.” Their behavior – which I am omitting intentionally, as it is not the point – set off every alarm in my mind, but my spirit was at peace in the midst of it: I concluded that this – as strange as it was – was God. The next several months proved it right: my mind had missed this one, but my spirit had recognized His spirit in this.

So here’s the bottom line: God has equipped us to discern the truth from the untrue, and He requires us to exercise it: with that equipment, He expects us to receive the testimony of our brethren: if they have experienced something in God, if they give us their testimony, we are expected to receive it: when they grow, we are to grow with them! Yes, we discern, and yes, we throw out the garbage (and there’s plenty of that!), but we must receive the truth when our brothers and sisters share it with us, even if we don’t see it ourselves.

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