Monday, January 30, 2017

The Evil of Unbelief

It doesn’t take much consideration of the gospel message about Jesus Christ to know that God has done all the work in our salvation, and we enter into the experience of this salvation by faith. Whenever the gospel goes out, our response to the gospel is some expression synonymous with, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved”.[1]

One of the quintessential expressions of this relationship between God’s work and our belief is stated by Jesus like this, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”[2] God loved and gave; we believe and live. Simple as that.

However, the other side of this is expressed in a parallel thought regarding unbelief. Jesus continued,

“For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.”[3]

While many would like to think that people believing in Jesus is just one of the many ways of thinking about God, and whoever does not believe in Jesus has no accountability to him simply because Jesus is not their thing, God makes very clear that unbelief is our choice of relationship to him, and we will be judged accordingly.

Let’s make this clear, that relationship with God is judged by our faith not our works.[4] God’s Book does not teach that those who do good works will be rewarded by God with salvation. The notion that we do our best and God does the rest is false. God has done everything, and what we do with that is measured by only two opposing choices: belief or unbelief.

One question, then, is why people would be condemned simply because of unbelief. Or, is it even fair to say “simply”? Is thinking that unbelief is a simple matter part of the problem?

It seems like we treat belief as if it is a real substance, while unbelief is simply not having that substance, no big deal. If someone believes we need peanut butter in the pantry as a source of protein, and I’m allergic to peanuts so I look to lentils for my protein, not having peanut butter in my pantry is no big deal. That’s just one way of getting nutrition, and there are other options.

However, in God’s reality (the reality by which all others are measured), both belief and unbelief are substances. It is like the difference between a bottle of water and a bottle of poison. If we have only one or the other, the effect of drinking the one we have is profoundly different. Both have a real substance to them, but one promotes life and the other death.

So too, when God says that believing in his Son saves us from condemnation and gives us eternal life, while not believing in his Son leaves us under our condemnation and secures our eternal death, he puts every human being who has ever lived in the same accountability regarding our relationship with him. No longer are unbelievers outside of his realm, so to speak, not responsible to him as the monarch over his domain since they are not in his domain. Rather, unbelievers will be judged by God as monarch since their unwillingness to enter his domain is a declaration of animosity against him.

You see, unbelief is a statement of belief about God, and about his Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. Unbelief in God believes things about him that are not true. When people prefer the worldview of goo-to-you evolution, their unbelief in God is a declaration that they believe he did not create the world as his Book describes. When people prefer the worldview of atheism, their unbelief in Jesus Christ is a belief that God does not exist and the evidence for Jesus Christ is meaningless to them.

In the same way, when people choose their own way through life, promoting a spirituality that believes every kind of spirituality will reach God no matter how contrary it is to God’s Book, their unbelief in the God of the Book is a belief that relating to him as God is unnecessary. They might believe he does not exist, or that his standard of holiness and righteousness and purity are ridiculous, or that he is inferior to other gods and spiritualities, but there is no doubt they have a belief about him that justifies their unbelief in him.

In the past couple of days, I have grappled with the seriousness of these matters as they are expressed in this verse from God’s Book: “Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God.”[5]

What stood out the most was the partnership between an “evil” heart and an “unbelieving” heart. Why would an unbelieving heart be evil? Why would our hearts be evil to decide we don’t believe in God and what he has written about his Son?  Why can’t unbelief just be nothing, the absence of something, but with no measure by which we could be judged?

The answer is because of what our unbelief declares about God. Unbelief declares that God is unbelievable; that what he says in his word that should bring faith to life is not true. Unbelief is calling God a liar. Saying his breathed-out words are not true is calling God a liar! Yikes!

Here we are, puny specks of dust on a puny little planet that is invisible in our galaxy and solar system, let alone in the whole universe, and we approach God with our confident unbelief as if we are an authority on him and what he is like, rather than the Book he has written about himself and his Son standing as an authority over us by which we will be judged for our response.

By “not believing in the name of the only Son of God” we are not just missing out on peanut butter while enjoying our lentils. We are not simply missing out on one trail that leads to God because we are going to find him on another.

Rather, we are not only missing out on God because we have rejected Jesus as, “the way, and the truth, and the life”, calling him a liar in his claim that no one comes to the Father except through him,[6] but we are “condemned already” because every alternative way of spirituality, or atheism, or agnosticism, or religion, leaves us as sinners under the sentence of death.

God’s word is very clear that, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,”[7] and that, “the wages of sin is death”.[8] God is also clear that, “there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”[9] Without faith in that “name”, meaning the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, no one is saved out of their sins, and no one is freed from the condemnation against their sins.

While this is a life and death issue, it is so immersed in good news and grace that we must keep this perspective at all times. Yes, God must bless those who believe with eternal life, and condemn those who have evil hearts of unbelief. However, the two are kept side-by-side so we will never hear of condemnation alone while we live.

Yes, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,”[10] but the good news continues with, “and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.”[11] Yes, “the wages of sin is death,”[12]but God’s word completes the thought with, “but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”[13]

God’s ongoing invitation to every unbeliever is this: “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.”[14]

At the same time, God gives such warnings of the deadly results of unbelief that we are without excuse in the judgment. It is as simple as, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.”[15]

Struggles with unbelief are not new. Satan has been offering alternatives to God ever since God created the first two human beings.[16] However, it is not because there are life-giving alternatives to God. Sadly, all the other roads do lead to the same place, but not one of them can lead to heaven since they all require unbelief based on the belief that God is a liar. All those roads keep us in our sin, hence under the condemnation our sins deserve.

If you have come along far enough to feel the conviction that every unbelief towards God comes from an evil and unbelieving heart, call out to God in repentance and faith that you believe in your heart that Jesus died for your sins, that he was buried, that he rose from the dead in victory over sin and death, and you want to live by faith in him for the rest of your life. Confess to God that your unbelief makes you the liar, not God, and that you come to the cross of Jesus Christ for mercy and forgiveness. And confess your faith that Jesus Christ is indeed “the Christ, the Son of the living God”,[17] and for that reason you confess him as, “My Lord and my God!”[18]

And, if you want to believe, but seem sabotaged with a lifetime of experiences that have made your hurts and heartaches embitter you towards God, and hide your true self behind mine-fields of self-protection, God has graciously given us a prayer for such an occasion. In the words of another person who saw the need to believe, but struggled to do so, we are invited to pray like this, “I believe; help my unbelief!”[19]

Again, keep it simple: “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.”[20]

© 2017 Monte Vigh ~ Box 517, Merritt, BC, V1K 1B8 ~
Unless otherwise noted, Scriptures are from the English Standard Version (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.)

[1] Acts 16:31
[2] John 3:16
[3] John 3:17-18
[4] Ephesians 2:8-9 makes this abundantly clear, as does the whole of the New Testament part of God’s Book.
[5] Hebrews 3:12
[6] John 14:6
[7] Romans 3:23
[8] Romans 6:23
[9] Acts 4:12
[10] Romans 3:23
[11] Romans 3:24-25
[12] Romans 6:23
[13] Romans 6:23
[14] Romans 10:9-10
[15] John 3:36
[16] Genesis 3 shows how Satan first lied to Adam and Eve, luring them into sin, and bringing death into the world through that sin. He now wants us to pick from the millions of alternative ideas about God because, if he can keep us from believing in God, he thinks he can minimize the glory God receives. Of course, God’s holiness and justice are just as much glorified in the condemnation of sinners as his holiness and justice are magnified in his salvation of sinners. The only thing is whether we are among those who glorify God by his justice against our sin, or those who glorify God as the beneficiaries of his judgment against his Son.
[17] Matthew 16:16
[18] John 20:28
[19] Mark 9:24
[20] John 3:18

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