Recently, I have been thinking much on the issue of unbelief. It’s kind of an ugly word…unbelief. In the context of Christianity, unbelief is the dreaded enemy of our soul. Unbelief ruins many more Christian lives than immorality – it just isn’t as obvious to the eye. So many of us might be tempted to think that, because we have believed on Jesus for salvation, we are now believers. Interestingly, that is not necessarily the case. In John 2:11 it says that, after Jesus turned the water into wine, many of His disciples began to believe in Him. I have always been moved by that statement in the Bible. Jesus had disciples that had been attaching themselves to Him and what He was doing without actually fully believing in Him. After the wedding wine miracle, they became believing believers. Prior to that miracle, they were connected to Him but not convinced of Him. When the miracle spoke to them of His divine powers, they entered into the realm of believing and trusting Jesus for more than they had previously. I think we could use a high dose of a similar experience in the Church today.
You probably have never met a Christian who boldly declared that he or she has full and perfect understanding of God, His ways, and how things operate in His Kingdom. If a person ever declared that to me, I would likely give some intentional push back against his or her presumption. None of us has complete or perfect theology. We are all in process of learning the new, embracing maturing understanding, and releasing things that we once believed were true. At the very least, we are regularly tweaking for greater accuracy our theological positions on certain doctrines as God imparts greater understanding to us. If your theology never changes at all as you continue to follow Jesus, then it is likely that you have become lazy or prematurely satisfied in your personal pursuit of knowing God. Since it is a given that all of us Christians are going to come up short of a perfect theology somewhere in our beliefs, then I personally want to err on the side of potentially believing more than I should have believed than less than I could have believed. I would rather believe too much than not enough. I know that last statement will trigger some of you who are reading, but that is part of why I am writing this today. Analyze yourself and determine which is more likely:
Are you more likely to live out your faith believing too much or not enough?
It is a humbling question for sure because it forces us to acknowledge that we all have room to grow in our understanding of God and His ways. I believe there are two primary categories of unbelief. The first is what I call the unbelief of ignorance. We cannot proactively believe anything which has not first been presented to us. All of us lived this way before God sovereignly awakened us to the truth of the Gospel. We were living in the unbelief of ignorance. We were sinners by nature and by choice. We did not understand that our sinful ways were personal treason against the highest and holiest Judge in existence. We were fully ignorant about the depth of our depravity. It never occurred to us that we were living in condemnation before God. Then the Gospel came, the Spirit awakened us, we saw and understood the truth, repented of our unbelief, and we were forgiven and saved by the mercy and grace of the God of whom we had been previously ignorant. Our unbelief was replaced by saving faith. Prior to this, we did not know what we did not know. We never would have known those Gospel truths had God not initiated the process of countering our unbelief of ignorance with the presentation of His truth. While the unbelief of ignorance is passive unbelief, it is still poison to our souls. How good of the Father to come after us the light of His love to chase away the darkness of our unbelief of ignorance.
The second type of unbelief is far more sinister. This is the unbelief of refusal. This type of unbelief can actually occur in the life of true Jesus-followers. What does it look like when it exists in us? The process often plays out like this: we are ignorant of a truth that God wants us to know and believe. Through some means of His own choosing, He imparts knowledge to us and calls us to explore, to consider, and eventually to give ourselves to that truth He is offering. This often happens to us as we study the written Word, listen to a sermon, or hear His guiding voice in prayer. God is constantly teaching us through the ministry of the Holy Spirit (John 14:25-26; 16:13), so it should be zero surprise when the omniscient Spirit of God seeks to impart to you truths which you have never before seen or have previously refused. We are such slow learners therefore He is such a patient instructor. Now, the trouble may arise when God begins to impart to us truths that are uncomfortable, inconvenient, humbling or costly to us. Sometimes His lessons come to us at a price that our flesh is reluctant to pay. God is understanding and compassionate but, mark it down, He is not okay – for any reasons – with us refusing to change our beliefs to align with His instruction. When He is teaching us, He fully expects for us to conform to His truth and pay any associated price. When we do so, our spiritual growth continues, we deepen in intimacy with the God who loves us, and we position ourselves to receive even more wisdom and truth from God. When we do not comply, we hold our former position, we seek to avoid His truth, it is then that we have entered into the unbelief of refusal. In fact, I should strengthen my description of this type of unbelief. It is not merely refusal. It is rebellion. When this occurs, we are stuck. We spiritually stagnate and eventually experience some form of loss of the full benefit of even those things in which we have believed (Matthew 13:12).
I want to be a believing believer. I really do want my entire life to conform to His Word, His works and His ways. If we are to run this race and finish well, we must repeatedly remind ourselves that it is an ongoing marathon. We run it by faith every day. If we will run successfully, we must stretch continually. God has initiated a stretching program for all of us who have been sought out by Him to run this marathon. If you avoid the stretching component, you will eventually cramp up in your race. You will get sidelined. You will eventually stop running due to injury that could have been avoided. I have learned that He assigns to me the deepest moments of stretching in the season right before He leads me to tackle the highest approaching hills. Sometimes, we may not feel we need to be stretched. We have run well thus far, and our former pre-race exercises have suited us just fine. Be careful with that presumption. He is stretching you because He alone knows what is coming. You need to believe Him. We must continue to pursue Him. Your former experience in your assigned marathon may not look anything like what is coming in the next leg of the race. The unbelief of ignorance will be countered by greater offers of truth and experience with Him. He will not leave you in the dark. What you do with the truth He reveals will either remedy your ignorance or, should you resist His offer, usher you into the unbelief of refusal and rebellion. Don’t go there.
Tell the Father today that you want it all. Tell Him you are willing to believe Him for more. Declare to Him in prayer that you are committed to remain a believing believer. He will protect you from error, and Jesus promised us that Holy Spirit would guide us into all truth. That is liberating, friends. That is emboldening! This is the offer of God.
Do you believe Him?