16 For who, having heard, rebelled? Indeed, was it not all who came out of Egypt, led by Moses?
17 Now with whom was He angry forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose corpses fell in the wilderness?
18 And to whom did He swear that they would not enter His rest, but to those who did not obey?
19 So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief.
We all have favorite passages of Scripture that speak to us over and over again, that remind us of who we are in God’s eyes or who we would like to be. We memorize verses, use them as part of our arsenal in spiritual warfare, strengthen ourselves with God’s holy Word whenever we feel our faith or hope is flagging. And then there are those Scriptures that we look at and say, “That was me” or “That IS me” or “There but for the grace of God go I.” For me, one of those passages is found in Mark, when the father of a demon-possessed child asks for Jesus’ help. When Jesus tells the man he just needs to believe, the man replies, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24)
Unbelief is an insidious beast, creeping in without our awareness, slipping in through the back door of our faith. Unbelief starts with doubt and dissatisfaction, or it starts with our minds seeking logic over faith. Unbelief is the sole fruit of the atheist, the constant companion of the agnostic, and the bane of all true Christians. Unbelief causes us to ignore the promises of God, to doubt God’s sovereignty in our lives, to come to a new belief that God is not who we once thought He was in our childlike faith. It is a sad irony that some people think they have “matured” in their faith when their unbelief has stripped away His power and replaced Him with some nebulous and uncertain “Deity” to whom they infrequently pray.
But unbelief is what we cannot afford.
In today’s verses from the letter to the Hebrews, we see the fruit of unbelief. The writer asks a series of questions about those who were denied entry into the Promised Land. Who rebelled against the Word of God? The very people who had been saved from slavery! How often have we found ourselves among that group? How often have we all rebelled against the clear leading of the Holy Spirit only to find ourselves enslaved in sin again? We find ourselves freed from bondage and we pull loose from God’s guiding hand to run off to a new slavery. Why? Because we don’t believe. We don’t believe it was God who freed us, instead taking credit ourselves. Or we don’t believe that He demands continued obedience. Or we don’t believe that God’s Word is entirely true, and so we rebel against the parts that don’t make sense to us. Yes, unbelief is a far easier route than seeking wisdom and trying to be obedient to God.
With whom was God angry? God is angry with anyone who refuses the eternal life He promises. (John 3:18) But although our Lord God is a jealous God, His anger is a righteous anger, a wrath saved for only the rebellious ones who know Him and still refuse Him. Will we be among the walking dead, those who wander through life with God’s grace all around us and still refuse to believe? Will we be among those who were told about the great riches of the Promised Land and still doubted? Or will we rather step out in faith, trusting God will give us life even when logic and doubt tell us otherwise?
Who will not enter into God’s rest? Those who are not obedient. Obedience is not just rules and laws, it is following the right path, going the right direction. When we are disobedient, then we deviate from God’s will for us. How then shall we find the way? How can we accomplish His will for us, how receive His promises, if we are constantly refusing to follow Him? As John the Baptist said, we need to yield fruit that is worthy of repentance (Matthew 3:8-9)–i.e. we need to be following our repentance with new actions that are obedient to God’s will. We need to quit trying to go our own way and instead follow God’s way. And our obedience needs to follow not from legalistic, works-based “faith” but from a whole-hearted belief and trust in God’s wisdom and love. (Hebrews 11:6) If we trust that Jesus Christ is the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6), then we will follow Him everywhere.
Unbelief has no place in our faith. Yes, when we have questions, we should bring them to God, bring them to the Word of God, bring them to God’s anointed shepherds, and seek answers. What we should NOT do is simply ignore our doubts and let them fester and infect our faith. We should seek to build our faith, never settling for our faith just the way it is. Christ Jesus is the solid rock foundation of our faith, but we do need to keep building the house, we do need to maintain the walls and windows, and we do need to be sure our faith can stand up to the wrack and wind of Satan’s relentless assaults.
I have set the LORD always before me;
Because He is at my right hand I shall not be moved.
Brothers and sisters, seek greater faith today. Let us seek His will for our lives, and put off all doubt and unbelief. Let us seek God’s Holy Spirit to strengthen and guide us. Let us seek God’s Word–the Holy Bible–to bolster our faith, to be the buttresses and soaring arches of our belief. Let us all hold fast to the beginning of our confidence to the very end, knowing that the Author and Finisher of our faith awaits with open arms. And if ever some niggling doubt comes creeping in, let us cry out to Jesus, “Help my unbelief!”
Holy Father God, help my unbelief. Help me to stop following my own way. Break me of my rebellion and pride. Teach me how to be trusting and obedient. My heart cries out to You, the living and almighty God. Calm my soul and give me greater faith, for all I want in this or any other life is You. Amen.