What do I do when I doubt? Cheap grace says I don’t need to do anything. I believed in Jesus once, so even though my doubt leads to an unending list of questions, they don’t need to be answered and my obedience doesn’t matter. I believed and that’s the end of the matter. I don’t think that is how Jesus would answer the question.
And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.'” And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.” And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. (Mark 10:17-22 ESV)
Matthew identifies this man as a youth. He desires eternal life and is uncertain he has attained it. Bonhoeffer would say that the young man has an ethical conflict. He comes to Jesus hoping to resolve this conflict and addresses Jesus in a very respectful way. Jesus’ initial response confronts the young man with God and God’s commandments. If this man lived in our community we would call him a good man. He says he consistently keeps the commandments and Jesus does not question this. Mark’s account points out that Jesus loved this man. The Greek word for love in this instance is agape and that indicates that Jesus desires what is best for this man.
The best thing for this man is to recognize who he is questioning and obey. He is talking to God and he is going to hear a command that is specific to him. He then will have a choice. Does he desire God which will result in obedience, or does he desire to justify his current lifestyle which will result in disobedience. Our own questioning attempts to make Jesus’ commands ambiguous. I think if we were honest we’d find that more often they’re not. Jesus command to this young man was not ambiguous. The young man understood what Jesus was saying and so did the disciples who witnessed the encounter.
The only answer to the predicament of ethical conflict is God’s commandment itself, which is the demand to stop discussing and start obeying. Only the devil has a solution to offer to ethical conflicts. It is this: keep asking questions, so that you are free from having to obey. – The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
I can only learn what obedience is by obeying, not by asking questions. I can recognize truth only by obeying. Jesus’ call to the simplicity of obedience pulls us out of the dichotomy of conscience and sin. – The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Do we desire to obey or to justify our disobedience? The call to discipleship is a call to obey. Jesus’ disciples understood this, because Jesus continually reminded them. Bonhoeffer thought that the Christians in Germany had forgotten and needed to be reminded. I think that Christians in America need to be reminded as well. What do I do when I doubt? I must obey Jesus.