Acts 7:51 (NKJV) 51 “You stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears! You always resist the Holy Spirit; as your fathers did, so do you.
We have spent the entire week diagnosing the spiritual malady known as unbelief. Unbelief is very much like a cancer in the natural. When unbelief begins to take root in our spirit, it grows and eats away at our faith and confidence in God much as cancer eats away at the physical body. Cancer may affect one area of the body while other organs remain healthy. If cancer is left unchecked, it will usually kill the whole body.
Unbelief does not begin by affecting our entire spiritual life. Often it may manifest in one area, such as healing or believing in the love of God. If it is diagnosed early enough it can be removed and no real harm is done. If it remains undiagnosed, it can grow to the point where it cripples our entire faith life until we cannot believe God. When a crisis comes, we are destroyed because the unbelief is stronger than our faith. That is what happened to Israel in the wilderness.
We have studied three areas that we must monitor in order to diagnose unbelief before it begins to cause us real problems.
1. Questioning God’s Word: God’s Word is alive. It is the source of spiritual life for the believer. God used his Word to create and he gives it to us so we can use it to conform the natural to his will. When we doubt the truth of God’s Word, we are opening the door to unbelief. (Numbers 14)
2. Questioning God’s power: As with everything the devil does, this is something that is both gradual and subtle. When the power of God ceases to be a practical way to solve problems, we are doubting God’s power. This is tied to a lowering of our sense of what is possible in God. We also call this a lowering of hope. (Psalm 78:19-20)
3. Hating God’s messengers: The people of Israel always blamed Moses for what was wrong in their lives. If we begin to sense anger when the Word is preached or when people try to encourage us, this is classic unbelief. (Numbers 14:4)
I want to finish this week by looking at one more symptom of unbelief. As Stephen was chastening the Jews in the books of Acts, he points out a manifestation of unbelief that was common to them. They were a stiff-necked people. He defines how they were stiff-necked saying, “You always resist the Holy Spirit.” I believe resisting the work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts is an important symptom of unbelief.
None of us would intentionally resist the Holy Spirit. That would be like saying that if Jesus manifested in the flesh and told us what to do, we would tell him no. I do not believe any Christian would do that. The Holy Spirit does not usually deal with us in the realm of the flesh. We may feel something in our body at times, but that is not the norm. The Holy Spirit deals with us in our spirit.
We tend to believe that the most powerful manifestations of the spirit are the things that do affect our physical body. In Charismatic and Pentecostal circles for instance, it is common when people are prayed for that they “go out under the power.” They seem to faint or at least fall down when hands are laid on them. There is nothing wrong with this but if we are not careful we will think that the physical effects of the spirit are more powerful than when he deals with us inwardly. They are not. They are just manifestations of what God does in us.
God looks at our hearts not just our flesh. One of the most miraculous things about Christianity is that God is in us by the Holy Spirit. He talks to us inwardly. He reveals himself by dealing with us inwardly. Even when emotion is manifested outwardly, it begins with the Holy Spirit working inside of us.
This brings us to our symptom of unbelief. When we do not yield to his inward dealings, we are resisting him. This manifests in many ways. You may be in a meeting and the preaching of the Word speaks to the thing you have been going through. However, you make up excuses why it does not apply to you or you argue with the truth of what you are hearing. That is resisting the Holy Spirit.
The meeting progresses and there is an alter call. We have all heard stories about people who were so moved that they could not help go up front. You do not feel that kind of pressure but inside you know that you should go. The message spoke to your problem. The preacher is offering to pray about the thing you are dealing with. You think, “If I go up people will know that I have a problem. They may think something worse than what I actually am going through. After all, it is not that bad. I don’t feel like God is pushing me to go up. I’ll just pray here.”
All the time you know you should be up front. You feel that impression in your heart. If you do not obey that impression, you are resisting the spirit. Why would you care what others might think? The only reason is pride. When we allow this kind of thing to happen, we are saying that the opinions of men are more important than the dealing of the Holy Spirit.
You might say, “What if I am wrong and the Lord wasn’t leading me to the alter?” I have never known a time in my life when coming to God’s alter did me harm. You have nothing to lose and much to gain.
We resist the Holy Spirit when we know we should either do something or change something but we do not. Every time we do not yield to the inward working of the Holy Spirit, we become more susceptible to unbelief.
I do not really have to tell you when you are resisting the Spirit. You know when you are. Many times, we want the outward manifestation so we will be sure it is God. That is a little like saying I will yield to you when you make me. That is not what God wants for us. He wants us to come to the place where we are so tender to the things of God all it take is the still small voice to move us to obedience.
What should I do to combat resisting the Holy Spirit? As soon as I sense that resistance in my flesh, I must do the opposite. If I even think the alter call might be for me, I must go. I must accept the preached Word when it deals with me and not try to apply it to my brother or sister. I must do my best to obey as soon as I understand what God wants of me. One senior man of God said we must cultivate the habit of instantly obeying the voice of our spirit.
You will fail at this. We all do. When you fail, ask the Lord to forgive you and do your best to yield next time. The most important thing is that we recognize resisting the Holy Spirit as a symptom of unbelief. We must prepare ourselves to yield to him every day and in every service. I believe services are often training sessions for the believer. If we will not yield to God among family, how will we yield to God in the market place?
As with any symptom, having one of them does not mean you have the disease. They can mean you are in danger of catching the infection. It is better to be safe than sorry. I encourage you to be on the lookout for them. Ask the Holy Spirit to help you recognize if there may be other symptoms manifesting in your life. When you find one, treat it with repentance and a healthy dose of the Word of God.
Unbelief is just as dangerous to our spiritual life as cancer is to our physical life. We must take it seriously, have regular checkups and treat the symptoms immediately. That will help us have long and powerful spiritual lives.