help my unbelief

The Evil of Unbelief

Behold, now is the accepted time;
behold, now is the day of salvation.
(2 Cor. 6:2)

Murray McLellan

If I do not know whether God is for me or against me, I can have no rest. I must know that God is for me, or remain in the sadness of unrest and terror. My safety depends on God being for me, and my peace of mind depends on my knowing God is for me. Nothing can calm the tempest of my soul except the knowledge that I am his and he is mine. Nothing else matters except settling this question regarding my relationship to God. I must know that my soul is out of danger before I can be quieted in spirit. To be left in uncertainty is too much to endure.

We need certainty. Nothing but certainty can soothe our fear. The man who can go about the lesser things of life while uncertainty hangs over his eternal destiny—with that great question between his soul and God still unsettled—must be either sadly hardened or altogether wretched. My prayer for you, dear reader, is that through the word of God given in this message, you might find peace—peace with God, resulting in blessed peace in your heart.

Take heed to the Word of God, dry and thirsty sinners. “… Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation” (2 Cor. 6:2). There is a Savior for sinners—Jesus Christ the Righteous. Him I proclaim to you. He is the Lord. He has all authority to save or to damn unbelieving rebels. Now—today—he calls sinners to repentance. His Spirit, whom he has sent, will not strive with men forever. Thus now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.

Indeed, “now [God] commands all men everywhere to repent, because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained” (Acts 17:30-31). Since you do not know what tomorrow will bring, since it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment, behold, now is the accepted time, behold, now is the day of salvation. Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved.

Mark 16:16 tells us that he who believes will be saved, but he who does not believe will be condemned. John writes, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:14-15). “He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God” (John 3:18). “He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him” (John 3:36). The Scripture continues to testify.

“To Him [the Lord Jesus Christ] all the prophets witness that, through His name, whoever believes in Him will receive remission of sins” (Acts 10:43). “But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness” (Rom. 4:5). “… It pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe” (1 Cor. 1:21). “And this is His commandment: that we should believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ …” (1 John 3:23). “… He who does not believe God has made Him a liar, because he has not believed the testimony that God has given of His Son” (1 John 5:10).

God demands faith. God holds accountable and responsible everyone who self-righteously and lawlessly refuses to believe, and adds this rejection to the heap of sins that will condemn them.

Many who know the truth of God’s sovereignty and election still are lovers of self more than they are lovers of God. Others make God out to be a liar (which you do if you are not a believer). Both of these attitudes reflect unbelief. One set of unbelievers sees themselves as more gracious than God, and in their heart of hearts, they blame God for their unbelief. Another set views unbelievers as victims—since God alone grants spiritual life. Rather than seeing God’s election as great hope, they subtly blame God for unbelief. These ideas run contrary to the Word of God.

James declares, “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am tempted by God’; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he Himself tempt anyone” (James 1:13). Unbelief is evil. James continues:

But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death. Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning. Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures. So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath; for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God. Therefore lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness, and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. (James 1:14-22)

Receive the word of the gospel with meekness. However, do not just hear it—obey it. Do what it says. Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.

Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God—yet hearing the testimony of God concerning his Son is not enough. You must believe it. In repentance, yield to the conquering Son of God—the Lord of glory—the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.

If you do not believe, you are guilty and God will judge you as such. You cannot use the doctrine of election or any other excuse to get out from under your guilt. “You, o man, are without excuse.”

Do not confuse pity for a victim with compassion for a sinner. Compassionate believers feel sorry for people who get what they deserve, even while they recognize that those people have willingly made the choices that lead to eternal suffering. If you are a genuine believer, you should have the kind of compassion on others that Jesus had on you—you who had no excuse. You chose to sin; you chose to fulfill the desires of your flesh and of your mind. Or do you simply view yourself as a victim of ignorance and circumstance? No, we who are born again know what we deserved. We remember that we were wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked. We cannot excuse sinners on the grounds that they do not know any better; neither can we arrogantly cast aside pity toward sinners because “they made their bed and now they have to lie in it.” Neither attitude reflects the kind of compassion Jesus had toward us.

The Scripture does not excuse the guilt of those who do not believe; it establishes their guilt. Where do the New Testament preachers tell sinners to pray to God so that he might give them faith? Or where do they tell sinners to “keep reading the Word and wait—hoping that God might open your heart and enlighten your eyes”? Where do they exhort unbelievers to “keep on with your praying and attending church and wait for God to call you or grant you life”?

Or do they call for immediate faith and repentance?

Do the evangelists and teachers of the New Testament charge God with the unbelief of sinners? Whom do they blame for not believing? Whom do they blame for not repenting? Who is responsible for not believing and not repenting: so responsible they deserve the pit of hell?

“But the … unbelieving … shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.” (Rev. 21:8)

“The master of that servant will come on a day when he is not looking for him, and at an hour when he is not aware, and will cut him in two and appoint him his portion with the unbelievers.” (Luke 12:46)

“Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God.” (Heb. 3:12)

“… he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” (John 3:18)

“… he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.” (John 3:36)

Whatever you do to try to gain God’s attention or favor will be of no avail apart from repentance and faith, “for whatever is not from faith is sin” (Rom. 14:23b).

  • Does unbelieving prayer glorify God?
  • Does unbelieving reading the Bible glorify God?
  • Does unbelieving attending church glorify God?
  • Does unbelieving singing glorify God?

No – without faith it is impossible to please him (Heb. 11:6). Those in the flesh cannot please God (Rom. 8:8).

The most important aspect of faith is its object; faith itself has no virtue or merit. This is a vital distinction. If believing that God tells the truth and feeling sorry for sin were all that God required from sinners in order to forgive their sin, the Son would never have had to become a human being and die in the place of sinners. Forgiveness rests on the fact of payment for sin. The substitutionary work of Christ is the ground on which God forgives sinners; faith is the vehicle by which sinners access that forgiveness.

Faith is not a work. It is ceasing from work. Unlike many who focus on what kind of faith they must have, the Scripture is not occupied with descriptions of the right kind of believing. Scripture points us, not to what we must do in order to believe, but to what Christ has done. It proclaims the person and work of him who is Lord and Savior. When people puzzle over the right way of believing or repenting, they demonstrate a self-righteous perspective. Their thoughts proceed from an evil heart of unbelief; they are occupied with what they have yet to do to connect to Christ’s work, instead of being occupied with Jesus Christ and what he has done. This would be similar to an Israelite bringing the lamb for the sacrifice and puzzling over the right mode of laying his hands on the head of the sacrifice. What if he would not take the lamb to the priest because he was not sure how to lay his hands correctly, or in the proper direction, or with adequate pressure? Would you not say, “It is about the lamb—the blood of the lamb. Just touch the lamb. It dies instead of you.”

The fire consumes the lamb instead of consuming you. This pictures the wrath of God, spent on the Substitute to come. This sacrifice is not about your work or your actions; it is about the lamb. The question is not “Did you touch the lamb correctly?” It is instead, “Did you touch the correct lamb? Did you touch the lamb that God appointed to take away sin?”

Faith is not our savior. Faith was not born at Bethlehem and did not die on Golgotha for us. It was not faith that loved us and gave itself for us—that bore our sins in its own body on the tree. In fact, our faith is not a perfect faith. All faith this side of glorification is imperfect, and God demands perfection. But oh … an imperfect sinner, with imperfect faith, who rests in the perfect Savior, is delivered from the wrath to come.

Faith can expiate no guilt, can accomplish no propitiation, can pay no penalty, can wash away no stain, and can provide no righteousness. It simply takes us to the cross—to Christ the Lord where there is expiation, propitiation, payment, cleansing, and righteousness. Faith adds nothing to the cross. It acknowledges the sufficiency, fullness, and suitability of the glorious Lord and his perfect, finished work. Faith is nothing except as it lays hold of Christ, which it does by laying hold of the testimony concerning him. “ … Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God.” (Rom. 10:17)

Over and over, we have the testimony of the Scriptures:

In John 8:32, Jesus said, “And you shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free,” and in verse 46, “… If I tell you the truth, why do you not believe Me?”

We read these biblical expressions:

“Those that know the truth”

“Those that obey not the truth”

“Belief of the truth”

“Acknowledging of the truth”

“The way of truth”

“We are of the truth”

“Sanctify them through Your truth”

Man’s difficulty in believing has its root in self-righteousness. Some people approach God with earnest and determined labors, struggling and praying in hope that God will take pity on their efforts. But where has God said that he will respond to unbelieving earnestness or unbelieving prayers? Where has he listed either of those attitudes as the means through which he will grant faith and repentance?

Do you see that these are deceptive self-righteous acts? These are man’s self-made ladders to climb out of the pit.

God commands all men everywhere to repent. Does he give directions to them on how to obtain that repentance? He commands sinners to believe the testimony of his Son. Does he give directions to them of something they must do to induce him to give them faith?

God at this very moment says:

“… All day long I have stretched out My hands to a disobedient and contrary people.” (Rom. 10:21)

Jesus says, “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matt. 11:28-29)

“…The one who comes to Me, I will by no means cast out.” (John 6:37)

“How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!” (Matt. 23:37b)

What did the leper find out about Jesus in Luke 5:12-13? Jesus told him, “I am willing,” and immediately that leper believed, for the leprosy left him!

“But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him” (Heb. 11:6). Believe “… that he is a rewarder…” i.e., believe that he is willing!

God recorded his truth in the Scriptures. To say that I know he is able, but I do not know if he is willing, is not to believe what he has said. The gospel is the revelation of his willingness to receive sinners. His Word is truth.

“But you do not have His word abiding in you, because whom He sent, Him you do not believe. You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me. But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life. I do not receive honor from men. But I know you, that you do not have the love of God in you” (John 5:38-42).

Does God reveal himself as a God abundant in mercy? Does he reveal himself as a pardoning God of grace—so willing to save sinners that he sent his only begotten Son and gave him up to death and judgment to redeem them? Is Jesus Christ revealed to us as a compassionate and gracious Lord who will receive all who come to him?

What of those who say, “I am willing to be saved. I want to be one of his elect, but I do not know if he has chosen me. I have been praying that he would reveal himself to me and give me faith.” Do you hear the self-righteousness and sinful blasphemy in this? The sinner proclaims that he is more willing than God is—than Jesus is. Is that the testimony of Scripture?

No. They are not willing simply to believe in Christ. They do not know him and thus they do not love him. They view him as a stern and hard taskmaster. This is unbelief. This is calling God a liar and declaring oneself more gracious in heart than God is. In fact, those who say this, blame God for their own unbelief (i.e., “God, I would be in the kingdom, but you will not give me faith. It is your fault, God, for my condemnation.”). They view their unbelieving self as a victim – a victim of God and of his sovereignty. They think and act even as their father Adam did … “It is the woman you gave me.” Unbelief is pride rearing its ugly head and calling God a liar.

Sinner, you know you cannot excuse your sin. When you stand before God, every mouth will be stopped and the whole world will be guilty – they will not be victims.

Unbelief is not misfortune; it is sinful. To steal once is bad, but what about continual thievery? What guilt there is in even one moment’s unbelief, let alone continual unbelief! Let the thought of this guilt cut your conscience. Tremble as you think what it is, not for a day or for an hour, but for a whole lifetime, to be an unbelieving person!

To say, “I cannot believe” is akin to saying, “I am so tired that I am not able to lie down.” Believing in Christ is no work; it is resting in Jesus Christ. The issue is that you will not believe. What you call your inability, God calls your guilt!

What kind of sinful heart refuses to repent and believe and then blames God – calling him a stern and austere Master? God commands you to believe and to repent. We are saved through faith in Christ: not by efforts to induce an unwilling God to give us faith.

In going to Christ, we take God at his word. We believe that he will fulfill his word and act according to his character. We base this trust upon what he has revealed about himself. God commands you to believe, and so long as you do not believe, you make him a liar. You reject the truth. You believe a lie. God commands you to believe and not believing is your worst sin.

People deceive themselves that they are trying to believe and thus in their minds, they lessen their guilt. Actually, they increase their guilt, for they do not believe God’s testimony concerning his Son; they reject the very truth he reveals.

In John 3:2, Nicodemus stated, “We know.” He was saying that “we Pharisees know” – but they were not willing to give up their authority. Paul writes in Romans 1:4 that God raised up Jesus and declare him to be the Son of God with power—or authority as Lord. Jesus said in Matthew 28:18, “All authority has been given Me in heaven and on earth.” God made him both Lord and Christ (Acts 2:36). “Him God has exalted to His right hand to be Prince and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins” (Acts 5:31).

We preach a Christ who is Lord! We preach a Christ who is a Prophet, a Priest, and a King. The essence of repentance is bowing completely and saying, as did Paul—“Lord, what will you have me to do?” There is no anxiety in this question or in submission to this Lord, because you believe God’s testimony concerning his Son. You see that this Lord is abundantly gracious, his yoke is easy, and his burden is light. His commandments are not burdensome. This Lord gave his life for you.

This Lord, though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, that through his poverty, you might become rich.

Believing children who have grown up in Christian homes often think they lack a testimony, unlike those whom God has saved out of the gutters of this world. Their time of unbelief, however, was the more condemnable and abominable sin—for they heard the truth but did not believe. Thus, they called God a liar. They were like the Pharisees who heard the truth when the Scriptures were read in the synagogues every Sabbath; these were more sinful and rebellious than the sinners in Sodom were. In fact, a Pharisee saved is the greatest testimony of grace and the power of God unto salvation … just ask Saul of Tarsus.

If you are now not a believer, you are not willing. You will not bow to the Lord Jesus Christ. You do not find him altogether lovely. You even blame God. You see him as a stern and uncompassionate Master.

Imagine the prodigal son saying, “I am willing to come home, but my father will not call for me.” In staying in his sin, he would be blaming the father. Is this what he did? No, he went in complete repentance, believing his father to be a gracious and merciful man—who would take him in as a servant. And how does Jesus reveal the Father in the parable of this father? The father runs to him—embraces him—kisses him—puts the best robe on him—puts a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet—kills the fatted calf and eats and sups with him in great merriment.

This is the God of the Bible!

Are you waiting for a direct invitation with your name on it? Here it is: sinner—come! Is that you? All you who are weary … is that you? All you who are heavy laden … is that you? Christ died for the ungodly.

Does that describe you? Then what more are you waiting for? Why do you stand so far off? Or is the truth that, you, in self-righteousness, are not willing to come to him that you might have life? You are not willing to give up your authority. You are not willing to yield and submit to this Lord in repentance. You really do not see your accursed state, your utter sinfulness, your hopelessness. You grasp neither the duration of eternity, nor the terrors of hell. One thing I hope you do grasp is that you are without excuse.

Oh unbeliever—guilty and wretched unbeliever, “Behold, now is the accepted time, behold, now is the day of salvation.” There is a Savior for sinners—Jesus Christ the Lord—him I proclaim to you. Today he calls sinners to repentance. I do not know what tomorrow may bring. If you have read this message, and leave an unbeliever, you are no victim. You are a willing unbeliever—calling God a liar, and not believing the testimony that God has given concerning his Son.

God has raised him up. He is satisfied with the person and work of Jesus Christ. Are you? Look and live—for why should you perish?

Yet the house of Israel says, “The way of the Lord is not just.” O house of Israel, are my ways not just? Is it not your ways that are not just? “Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways, declares the Lord GOD. Repent and turn from all your transgressions, lest iniquity be your ruin. Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed, and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why will you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord GOD; so turn, and live.” (Ezekiel 18:29-32 ESV)

Compiled by Murray McLellan (an unworthy sinner upon whom God has bestowed his mighty grace. “But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God – and righteousness and sanctification and redemption – that as it is written, ‘He who glories, let him glory in the Lord’” [1 Cor. 1:30-31]). (With many thanks to Horatius Bonar.)

I neither claim nor seek originality in the following article. I seek to magnify and exalt the Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. Unto Him belongs the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen.

All Scripture quotations are from the New King James Version unless otherwise indicated.

~ Murray

About Murray McLellan
Murray is the lead church planter and Bible teacher at Grace Fellowship Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada. He and his wife Cheryl have labored in the Gospel for many years despite the many discouragements along the way. Our brother is associated with “InDepth Studies”, the Acts 29 network of church planters, and more recently the uniquely Canadian C2C church planting network. In new covenant circles Murray is a long time contributor to new covenant thought and discussion.