What is Unbelief?
The opposite of faith is doubt
, or unbelief. We stand strong in Christ by faith (see II Corinthians 1:24); however, the reverse is also true: we fall away from Christ through unbelief
. "Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall"
(I Corinthians 10:12).
James likened a doubting person to a wave of the sea, unstable, driven to and fro: "But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed. For let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord"
(James 1:6). Jesus' disciple Thomas refused to believe that Jesus had risen from the dead until He saw the risen Lord. Jesus said to Thomas, "'Reach hither
thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing.' And Thomas answered and said unto him, 'My Lord and my God.' Jesus saith unto him, 'Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed'"
The Bible mentions two kinds of unbelief. One kind of unbelief is doubt accompanied by a desire to believe
: "Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief"
(Mark 9:24). Jesus had mercy on the father who said this, for this man's son was possessed by an evil spirit
. Although the father had his doubts, he was willing to exercise faith as small as a mustard seed (Luke 17:6), so Jesus healed his son. Another kind of unbelief is an obstinate, hard-hearted refusal to believe
: "Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God"
(Hebrews 3:12). This kind of unbelief not only hinders the supernatural work of God (see Matthew 13:58) but also brings about God's righteous anger and swift judgment.
Take warning from those who fell away in unbelief:
- Some no longer have faith at all (II Thessalonians 3:2).
- Some have shipwrecked their faith (I Timothy 1:19).
- Some have left the faith for the doctrines of devils (I Timothy 4:1).
- Some have denied the faith by not providing for their family (I Timothy 5:8).
- Some have cast off their first faith (I Timothy 5:12).
- Some have turned aside after Satan (I Timothy 5:15).
- Some have erred from the faith for the love of money (I Timothy 6:10, 21).
- Some will overthrow the faith of others (II Timothy 2:17-18).
- Some are reprobate [disqualified] concerning the faith (II Timothy 3:8).
Unfortunately, not everyone who sets out on the road to salvation
will hold fast to faith in Jesus, for many will fall away in unbelief. Hebrews 10:38-39 tells us, "Now the just shall live by faith: but if any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him. But we are not of them who draw back unto perdition [the opposite of salvation]; but of them that believe to the saving of the soul."
The Bible is very clear that faith in Jesus Christ is the only way of salvation — both initial salvation from sin and ultimate salvation from judgment. This is why we are warned: "Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves. Know
ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates?"
(II Corinthians 13:5).
Perhaps the most profound example of unbelief in the Bible comes from the generation of Israelites who failed to reach the Promised Land. Those Israelites were the same ones who experienced the brutal oppression of slavery, they witnessed God's plagues upon Egypt, they watched the Red Sea part for them, they trembled at God's power revealed at Mount Sinai, they tasted bread from heaven, and they drank water from a rock.
But what happened to that generation? They wandered in the wilderness for forty years and did not enter into the Promised Land (except for Joshua and Caleb) because of their unbelief
. "But with whom was he grieved forty years? Was it not with them that had sinned, whose carcasses fell in the wilderness? And to whom sware he that they should not enter into his rest, but to them that believed not? So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief"
Those Israelites were initially saved: they were delivered from the bondage of Egypt, they were spiritually baptized in the Red Sea (I Corinthians 10:2), and they were led by a pillar of cloud and fire through the wilderness. But then, "the Lord, having saved the people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed them that believed not"
(Jude 1:5); they were broken off like a branch from a vine (Romans 11:20-32) because of their unbelief. As a result, that generation did not reach their final destination of salvation in the Promised Land.
Consequences of Unbelief
The sobering truth is that unbelief will keep you from the promises of God, but more importantly, unbelief will prevent you from obtaining salvation
. Don't be deceived: those who cast off their faith and depart from God — even if they knew Him at one time — will not inherit the Kingdom of God
, unless they repent and get back on the path to salvation. This may be a hard word for some to receive, but it is biblical truth. "Am I therefore become your enemy, because I tell you the truth?"
Unfortunately, many churches preach an imbalanced, watered-down version of the Gospel by downplaying the consequences of disobedience and underemphasizing the cost of salvation. Yes, truly salvation is a free gift to all, but it is not cheap.
Those who cannot give up all to follow Jesus are not worthy of Jesus (see Matthew 10:38). Salvation is a lifetime journey
that requires dying daily to yourself and learning from (being discipled by) the Savior. Jesus said, "If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me"
The Bible presents salvation not as a carefree cakewalk, but as a serious faith walk. There is an enemy of your soul (the "tempter" — see I Thessalonians 3:5) who seeks to draw your heart away from faith in Christ and get you caught up with the entrapments of the world so that you fall away. "Ye therefore, beloved, seeing ye know these things before, beware lest ye also, being led away with the error of the wicked, fall from your own steadfastness"
(II Peter 3:17). You must guard your heart diligently and cling to Jesus Christ so that you do not lose faith. "Therefore fear, lest, a promise being left us of entering into his rest, any of you should seem to come short of it ...
Labor therefore to enter into that rest, lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief"