Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Unbelief Is Sin, and We Must Put It Out of Our Lives

Words can be used in more than one way and can have more than one meaning, depending on the context. The word "law" in the Bible can mean different things depending on the context. Sometimes it means the first five books of the Bible. Sometimes it means the body of law including animal sacrifices and rituals practiced by the Israelites and Jews since the time of Moses. Sometimes it means God's eternal spiritual law. The fact that the word "law" can mean different things becomes evident when you read Paul's writings about the law.

Faith and the law are sometimes contrasted. "Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? Of works? No, but by the law of faith. Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law. Or is He the God of the Jews only? Is He not also the God of the Gentiles? Yes, of the Gentiles also, since there is one God who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith. Do we then make void the law through faith? Certainly not! On the contrary, we establish the law" (Romans 3:27-31).

"For the promise that he would be the heir of the world was not to Abraham or to his seed through the law, but through the righteousness of faith. For if those who are of the law are heirs, faith is made void and the promise made of no effect, because the law brings about wrath; for where there is no law there is no transgression" (Romans 4:13-15).

Yet, when it comes to the spiritual law of God, faith is included in the law. Faith is part of the law, that is, the law of God requires faith.

"Faith" means belief. It is described as the evidence of things not seen in Hebrews 11:1: "Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen". The word itself means belief, but in the biblical sense it is belief in and of God. We exercise faith when we believe in God and Jesus Christ but also believe what God says. Just believing God exists is not enough. "You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble!" (James 2:19). The demons believe God exists, but they do not believe what He says. For example, they do not believe that "it is more blessed to give than to receive" (Acts 20:35).

The Bible does not say, but it is possible that lack of belief, of trusting faith, in God's warnings was a contributing cause of Lucifer's sin. It is unlikely that God would fail to give Lucifer and all the angels instruction in His way of life after He created them. And that instruction in all likelihood must have included warnings about the consequences of turning away from God's way of life towards vanity and self-centeredness. God is love (1 John 4:16), and the Bible shows a clear pattern of God warning those He loves about the consequences of disobedience (Genesis 2:16-17, Deuteronomy 30:19, Ezekiel 3:17, Revelation 22:18-19). It is likely therefore that God warned Lucifer and all the angels of the consequences of disobedience. Yet Lucifer sinned. No evil influence was around to tempt Lucifer, yet even without temptation, he chose the way of vanity. It seems unlikely that he would deliberately choose a path of misery for himself, yet he may not have believed God's warnings. He may have chosen to experiment with vanity to see what is was like for himself, to see if it was a happier way of life than the way of outgoing love that God taught him. He may have doubted God's warnings and instructions and chosen to find out for himself by experimenting. And we see the results of his unbelief all around us and even in our own lives.

Faith, belief and trust in God's word, is required by the spiritual law of God. It is part of loving God with all our mind and heart. Therefore, unbelief in God's word is sin. When we doubt God's word, we transgress the law, and we sin. Why? Jesus said that faith is not only a matter of the law, but one of the three weightier matters of the law.

"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone" (Matthew 23:23).

And since faith is a weightier matter of the law, to fail to believe God's word is transgression of God's law and is sin (1 John 3:4).

When we read or study or hear God's word, we must believe what God says. If we doubt God, we sin by our very doubts.

True repentance must include repenting of our doubts in God's word. To put sin out of our lives, we must learn to believe every word of God.

And our belief, our faith, must be living faith. We must act on what we believe. We must believe and obey every word of God. That is what "living by every word of God" means (Matthew 4:4). We believe and obey God. Our belief causes us to obey and our obedience is motivated by our belief. We learn by obeying to trust God's word and to trust that God has all knowledge and wisdom, that all things are possible for God (Matthew 19:26), that He will never lie to us (Titus 1:2, Hebrews 6:18), and that we can trust His promises (Proverbs 3:5).

"What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, 'Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,' but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, 'You have faith, and I have works.' Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble! But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect? And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, 'Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.' And he was called the friend of God. You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only. Likewise, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out another way? For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also" (James 2:14-26).

How do we build faith? Can we choose to believe?

Like repentance, faith is a gift (Acts 11:18, 2 Timothy 2:25, 1 Corinthians 12:4-9), but also like repentance, we have our part to play. God gives repentance as a gift. "When they heard these things they became silent; and they glorified God, saying, 'Then God has also granted to the Gentiles repentance to life' " (Acts 11:18). But though repentance is a gift, God does not force us to repent. There is an aspect of repentance that is a matter of choice. We must choose to repent. God does not repent for us. Likewise, though faith is a gift, we must choose to believe God.

How do we do that?

"So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God" (Romans 10:17). In principle, this would including reading. We can build faith by hearing or reading the word of God. But we must strive for an attitude of belief as we hear or read God's word, the Bible. To a degree, we can choose to believe or not. We can choose to believe. Then, after choosing to believe, we can reinforce that choice by acting on it. Action reinforces belief.

For example, I might read the scriptures about tithing. I might study that subject and learn that the Bible teaches that God requires that I tithe but will supply my needs. Here are some of the scriptures I might read: "And all the tithe of the land, whether of the seed of the land or of the fruit of the tree, is the Lord’s. It is holy to the Lord" (Leviticus 27:30). " 'Will a man rob God? Yet you have robbed Me! But you say, "In what way have we robbed You?" In tithes and offerings. You are cursed with a curse, for you have robbed Me, even this whole nation. Bring all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be food in My house, and try Me now in this,' says the Lord of hosts, 'if I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you such blessing that there will not be room enough to receive it' " (Malachi 3:8-10).

"For it is written in the law of Moses, 'You shall not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain.' Is it oxen God is concerned about? Or does He say it altogether for our sakes? For our sakes, no doubt, this is written, that he who plows should plow in hope, and he who threshes in hope should be partaker of his hope. If we have sown spiritual things for you, is it a great thing if we reap your material things?" (1 Corinthians 9:9-11). "Even so the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should live from the gospel" (1 Corinthians 9:14).

"But this I say: He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully" (2 Corinthians 9:6). "Therefore do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you" (Matthew 6:31-33).

After reading these scriptures, and others on the subject, if I am honest with the Bible, I will see that God teaches that I should pay my tithes and trust Him to provide for my needs. I may also read this: "Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding" (Proverbs 3:5).

Now, I may not think I can "afford" to tithe. Maybe there is not enough income to pay for my rent and food and other necessities and also tithe. But it is clear from the above scriptures that God commands I tithe and then trust Him to provide what I need. So how do I develop faith in God's word concerning tithing?

I can start by wanting to believe. I can choose to believe. Then, to reinforce that choice, I can act on that belief.

Can I instantly banish all human doubts in my mind? Maybe not. Yet I can control my actions. I can choose to base my actions on my belief that God is faithful and He will take care of me as He promises. So I can ignore my doubtful "feelings", and pull out my checkbook, get an envelope and a stamp, write the check for my tithe and prepare it for mailing, then walk over to the mailbox and mail it. And if I am afraid I might spend the money in my bank account and bounce the check before the Church deposits it, I can buy a money order with cash and mail it.

As I put one foot in front of the other and put the envelope in the mail box, I am committing myself to trust and believe God's promises that He will provide for me. Maybe on an emotional level I might have doubts I cannot fully get rid of, because I am human, yet as I put my doubts aside I weaken those doubts, and as I put my faith and trust in God into action, my faith will be strengthened.

So I can choose to believe God in my actions. Even if I feel I cannot control my emotions or doubts totally, I can control my feet. I can control my hands. I can write a check or buy a money order. I can walk to the mailbox. Those things I can control. And it is the action part of faith that is the most important. God sees that I believe Him because I put belief in His word into action. Maybe the first time I do this I feel I am sticking my neck out. But God sees I am learning, I am choosing, to trust Him and to BELIEVE HIM. He sees that by what I do. And God can then bless me and increase my faith.

Also, the disciples asked Christ to increase their faith. "And the apostles said to the Lord, 'Increase our faith.' So the Lord said, 'If you have faith as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, "Be pulled up by the roots and be planted in the sea," and it would obey you. And which of you, having a servant plowing or tending sheep, will say to him when he has come in from the field, "Come at once and sit down to eat"? But will he not rather say to him, "Prepare something for my supper, and gird yourself and serve me till I have eaten and drunk, and afterward you will eat and drink"? Does he thank that servant because he did the things that were commanded him? I think not. So likewise you, when you have done all those things which you are commanded, say, "We are unprofitable servants. We have done what was our duty to do" ' " (Luke 17:5-10).

What does this mean? As I read it, Jesus is teaching them to have a humble attitude about their good works. We should not think we are something great because we obey and serve God and do good works. We should humble ourselves, realize that total obedience and service to God is only our just duty, and we should think of ourselves as unprofitable servants. With that kind of humility, God can give us more of the gift of faith. He can increase our faith.

But we still must choose to believe God.

There are scriptures that show that unbelief and disobedience go together. Israel in the wilderness was disobedient and could not enter the promised land because of unbelief. Unbelief and disobedience are spoken of as if they are almost synonymous. Notice: "Now with whom was He angry forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose corpses fell in the wilderness? And to whom did He swear that they would not enter His rest, but to those who did not obey? So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief" (Hebrews 3:17-19).

But Abraham set a positive example. He believed God and God counted his belief in God's promises, His faith in God's word, as righteousness. "Then He brought him outside and said, 'Look now toward heaven, and count the stars if you are able to number them.' And He said to him, 'So shall your descendants be.' And he believed in the Lord, and He accounted it to him for righteousnes" (Genesis 15:5-6). "For what does the Scripture say? 'Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness' " (Romans 4:3). Yet elsewhere, Abraham's faith is directly connected with his obedience. "Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect? And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, 'Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.' And he was called the friend of God. You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only" (James 2:21-24). And it is clear that Abraham's obedience was important to God. "And I will make your descendants multiply as the stars of heaven; I will give to your descendants all these lands; and in your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed; because Abraham obeyed My voice and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes, and My laws" (Genesis 26:4-5).

"Now it came to pass after these things that God tested Abraham, and said to him, 'Abraham!' And he said, 'Here I am.' Then He said, 'Take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.' So Abraham rose early in the morning and saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and Isaac his son; and he split the wood for the burnt offering, and arose and went to the place of which God had told him" (Genesis 22:1-3). "And Abraham stretched out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. But the Angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, 'Abraham, Abraham!' So he said, 'Here I am.' And He said, 'Do not lay your hand on the lad, or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me' " (Genesis 22:10-12). "Then the Angel of the Lord called to Abraham a second time out of heaven, and said: 'By Myself I have sworn, says the Lord, because you have done this thing, and have not withheld your son, your only son—blessing I will bless you, and multiplying I will multiply your descendants as the stars of the heaven and as the sand which is on the seashore; and your descendants shall possess the gate of their enemies. In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice' " (Genesis 22:15-18).

Abraham's faith worked together with his obedience. Likewise, Israel's unbelief worked together with their disobedience. Faith and obedience go together and unbelief and disobedience go together.

God is looking for the combination of believing what He says and doing what He says, both faith and obedience. He wants our obedience to be motivated by faith and our faith to be confirmed, proven, and strengthened by our obedience.

And to put sin out of our lives, which is what these days of unleavened bread represent, we must put unbelief out of our lives. As we learn to live by every word of God (Matthew 4:4), so we must learn to believe every word of God.

Let us learn to read, study, and believe the Bible more than ever, trusting God's word to be true, and living by it.

Here are links to posts related to this subject:

"A Key to Faith", dated December 19, 2011, link:

"Why Should We Believe?", dated June 13, 2012, link:

"Faith Is More than Believing God's Promises", dated August 21, 2012, link:

"Renewing an Atmosphere of Faith in the Church of God", dated August 27, 2012, link:

"How Faith Works with Repentance", dated March 26, 2013, link:

" 'Good Intentions', without Believing God, Is a Recipe for Disaster", dated August 4, 2013, link:

"How Do You Know God Leads Your Understanding of the Bible?", dated January 4, 2015, link:

"Two Approaches to Understanding the Bible", dated March 10, 2015, link:

Here are links to related chapters or sections in Preaching the Gospel:


Chapter 9 - Repentance

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