Recognizing Unbelief 4

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.

Recognizing Unbelief 3

Numbers 14:2-4 (NKJV) 2 And all the children of Israel complained against Moses and Aaron, and the whole congregation said to them, “If only we had died in the land of Egypt! Or if only we had died in this wilderness! 3 Why has the LORD brought us to this land to fall by the sword, that our wives and children should become victims? Would it not be better for us to return to Egypt?” 4 So they said to one another, “Let us select a leader and return to Egypt.”

This week we have been studying the symptoms of a spiritual disease that afflicts the body of Christ. The disease is unbelief and it cost a whole generation of Israelites their inheritance in the Promised Land of Canaan. Unbelief works its way into the hearts and minds of believers and we are all subject to its affects. We must be on the lookout for the symptoms. These symptoms are things that we do or feel that show we have been infected. If we can identify them early enough it is easy to treat them. If we wait too long we will find that unbelief is very difficult to overcome.

We have studied two major symptoms of unbelief. When we feel that we are beginning to doubt he truth of God’s word, we are feeling affects of unbelief. We need to go back to the Word and put it into our minds again. We need to remind ourselves “God is not a man that he should lie” and that “what he says he will do.”

The second symptom is similar. Israel saw tremendous miracles and yet when it came time to enter the Promised Land they could not bring themselves to go in. They doubted God’s ability, or power, to help them overcome the enemies before them. We must be on the lookout for this subtle symptom. We do not doubt the general power of God. When faced with a difficult problem, what do we look to for a answers? If we do not see the power of God as a practical solution, we may be under the influence of this symptom of unbelief.

Today let us look at another warning sign that we are in danger of unbelief. Whenever the generation of Israelites that did not go into the Promised Land came under pressure, it seems that the first thing they did was complain about Moses. Another symptom of unbelief is hating God’s messengers. Israel blamed Moses for bringing them into the wilderness. They seemed to forget that it was Moses who, by the power of God, delivered them from Egypt.

When we are affected by unbelief, we usually want to find someone to blame for our situation. Unbelief never wants to take accountability. When we are in unbelief we tend to justify our condition. When someone comes along with a word of encouragement, it is common for those in unbelief to get angry. The reason is that unbelief does not want to believe!

Since we are in a place where we do not think we can believe we do not like to hear someone exhort us to believe. This is a warning sign. When the pastor’s messages always seem to annoy you, you might want to ask yourself, “Is there some unbelief in my heart?” When you hear a faith message and your response is, “That’s easy for him to say. He’s not in my situation.” That could be unbelief speaking.

I remember a time not that long ago when we were under some intense financial pressure. I came into the living room and my wife was watching a preacher that we have always appreciated on the television. He was speaking about how God would meet needs. I believe he was talking about the principles of giving and receiving, but in truth I was so pressed I am not really sure what he was preaching. All I know is it made me mad.

I told my wife, “He is not in our situation. He can’t possibly understand what we are facing.” Why was I upset with him? He was not even in my house he was on the TV. I was upset because I was struggling with unbelief.

There was some truth to what I was saying. However, I have said many times as I preached to others, “I may not know exactly what you are going through, but the Word is true and Jesus knows.” Unbelief does not want to hear that. I justified my anger and rejected the encouragement the Word from this messenger could have brought to me.

When we notice we are responding negatively to God’s messengers it is time for an unbelief self-examination. If we have been facing some real trials and we are upset because the messenger is speaking the Word concerning our situation, we need to repent of our unbelief. Pray and ask the Lord to help us receive the Word.

Moses was not out to destroy Israel. He was God’s method of deliverance. However, the more they gave in to hating God’s messenger, the more he was unable to help them. Eventually they were so filled with hate for Moses that they rejected every word he spoke. I have seen this happen in church far too often.

A person goes through a difficult time. Unbelief begins to take hold. They get offended at something I preach that God wants to use to help them. I never preach anything from the pulpit that is aimed at something I know about a person privately. I often say things that I have no idea are speaking to specific situations. I have had people come to me and ask who told me their problem. I tell them it must have been the Holy Ghost, because I have no idea what they are talking about!

At that moment, they have a choice. They can receive the help and encouragement the Word was meant to give or they can get upset with messenger. I have seen people do both. When they get upset with the messenger, their irritation usually grows until nothing I say is right in their eyes. I told one woman, “At this point if Jesus walked into the church you’d complain about which door he came in!”

The cause in the life of Israel was unbelief. The result was that the devil robbed them of their destiny and their blessing. The cause in our lives is usually the same and the result will be the same. We need to be careful when we are put out of sorts by the preaching of the word or the encouragement coming from others in the church. It may be that they are doing something wrong. If that is the case just forgive them.

It could also be that you are having “one of those days” that we all have on occasion. You got up on the wrong side of the bed. I would ask my mother what was wrong and she would often say, “Everything in general and nothing in particular.” I know we can all relate to that. If that is the case, tomorrow will probably look better.

However, if you find that every time you hear the Word of God it is irritating, you are probably in unbelief. Do not be afraid to examine your heart. God knows us. He knows that sometimes things just get to us. It is not a sin to find yourself in some unbelief and hating God’s messengers. It is a sin to stay there once you recognize it.

If you do recognize this symptom, you might want to pray this. “Father I am sorry for allowing unbelief in my heart. I know you love me and I choose to believe your Word. Thank you for the messengers you have sent into my life. I believe they have my best at heart and I know if you have given them words for me it is only to help. Thank you Lord for caring enough to tell me what I need to hear and thank you for the obedience of your people.”

Recognizing Unbelief 2

Psalm 95:9-10 (NKJV) 9 When your fathers tested Me; They tried Me, though they saw My work. 10 For forty years I was grieved with that generation, And said, ‘It is a people who go astray in their hearts, And they do not know My ways.’

This week we are studying ways we can identify when unbelief is trying to enter our hearts. Last week we looked at the pattern of unbelief and its end result in the life of Israel. Although some of the things I am saying today overlap, I want to come from the perspective of how we recognize unbelief so we can put a stop to it long before it robs us of our destiny or our blessing.

Yesterday we looked at the first symptom of unbelief. That is doubting God’s Word. When Israel was at the edge of the Promised Land they could see that everything God said about the Land was true. They also saw the strength of the enemies they faced. How could they know that God would help them overcome those enemies? They could know because the promise passed to them for generations was that God would give them the land. They could know he would give it to them because God said he would.

The Word of God is truth. Let me quote again a verse from yesterday that should put doubting God’s Word to rest.

Numbers 23:19 (NKJV) 19 “God is not a man, that He should lie, Nor a son of man, that He should repent. Has He said, and will He not do? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?

Not one thing God has ever said is a lie. He will do everything he said he would do. He often does not do them in the way we think he will. He often does thing in a different order than we think is the proper priority. He almost never operates on our timetable. However, he always does what he says he will do. We must stand on his Word and trust him. When we start to question the truth of his Word for our situation today, that is unbelief.

Today I want to look at the next symptom that indicates we are coming down with unbelief. It is unbelief to question God’s power. This one is very subtle. We would never openly question that God Almighty is able to do anything. Yet questioning God’s power is even more common than questioning God’s Word. That was the father’s problem in Mark 9.

Mark 9:22 (NKJV) 22 And often he has thrown him both into the fire and into the water to destroy him. But if You can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.”

I believe this man came to Jesus because he believed he could to something for his son. When the “rubber met the road” he simply was not sure. He questioned Jesus power in the face of the trial. I believe that is what happens to us.

Unbelief is the inability to take general faith in what God can do and translate it into faith that God will meet my need now. It is not that we question God’s power in principle. It is that we begin to question God’s power in our situation. If we are honest, we have to admit that we have all been there. We usually do not recognize the symptoms as what they really are.

We believe that God can heal anything. However, when get the diagnosis of cancer from the doctor we know that our life is threatened. It is a different thing to know that God will heal me than to know that God can heal.

We believe God is a provider. However, when the bill we cannot pay comes in the mail, it is a different thing to believe that God can provide and that he will provide for me where this need is concerned.

We know that God holds our future in his hands. We know that God has a destiny for each of us. However, when we do not see anything change and we do not know what path to take in life, it can be difficult to overcome the fear that we will ever have a good life or a life that makes a difference.

We know that God is love. We know that God loves everyone. For many people it is very difficult to believe that God loves them. They may have been rejected as a child. They may have had bad experiences in the romantic realm. They may just be an awkward person who never fit in. Whatever the reason, it can be very difficult to make the connection between God’s ability to love everyone and God’s ability to love you.

This list could go on and on, but I think you get the idea.

I am not saying that we should chasten people who do not seem to be receiving from God by accusing them of not having enough faith. Even if that is true, you have been in their shoes far too often to accuse them. We also must realize that we do not know their heart nor all the details of their circumstances. God does not condemn and neither should we. Besides, we are not looking at unbelief in our neighbor’s life. We are looking at unbelief in our lives.

What is behind this symptom of unbelief? I believe God showed me something a number of years ago that can help. Hebrews 11:1 tells us faith is “the substance of things hoped for.” If we have no hope, faith has nothing to grasp in our hearts. What is hope? There are many good definitions, but I like to think of hope as possibility. If I have hope, that means it is still possible to see something change. When I do not have hope I have lowered the level of what I think is possible.

This is the problem for many believers. We do not recognize this as doubting God’s power but it is just that. Jesus told the father in Mark 9 that all things are possible to him who believes. When we are truly believing God, we see anything as possible. That does not mean we know exactly how God will meet the need. We just know that it is possible for God to meet the need.

Life wears on all of us. We do not live in perpetual excitement and success. Sometimes we must be faithful through difficulties and delays. Sometimes there is just not much going on in life. It can get boring. Sometimes there is too much going on and we get overwhelmed. All of these things and more will tend to erode what we see as possible. When that happens, our faith loses its grasp on the power of God.

This is not something that is obvious. It is not something that happens suddenly. We simply find that we just do not expect God to do the things we used to expect him to do. We find that we lean more on natural solutions than supernatural ones. The theological possibilities are no longer practical possibilities in our minds. Although we would not see it that way, we are doubting God’s power. This is a symptom of unbelief.

What should we do to treat the symptom? The first remedy is always the same. Go back to the Word of God! Read his promises and meditate on them until faith comes. (Romans 10:17) However, God showed me a particular word that I think is a general remedy for this symptom.

Hebrews 11:6 (NKJV) 6 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.

God is. That is a simple statement but if we allow it to resonate in our hearts, there is no way we will doubt God’s power. He really does exist. If he exists than anything is possible. There is more in this verse than just that thought. There is certainly more in the bible to help overcome the symptom of a lack of hope. God has used this simple thought in my heart to rekindle what I already know to be true.

God is so all things must be possible. From there I can build.

Recognizing Unbelief

Numbers 13:32-33 (NKJV) 32 And they gave the children of Israel a bad report of the land which they had spied out, saying, “The land through which we have gone as spies is a land that devours its inhabitants, and all the people whom we saw in it are men of great stature. 33 There we saw the giants (the descendants of Anak came from the giants); and we were like grasshoppers in our own sight, and so we were in their sight.”

We have spent some time dealing with a major enemy of our faith, unbelief. We have looked at this enemy from a number of angles beginning with the father of demon-possessed boy in Mark chapter 9. He believed but recognized that unbelief had crept in. His response was the same you and I should have when we recognize unbelief in our lives. “Lord, I have faith but help my unbelief.” Jesus helped the father and the Holy Spirit will help you.

Last week we spent our time in Hebrews 3. A whole generation of Israelites lost both their destiny and the blessing of God because of their unbelief. We looked at the pattern that caused unbelief to grow to that point in their lives. Below is a list of some of the steps Hebrews 3 defines as things that led to their unbelief.

1. Testing God by not believing he would help them when he had done so much for them in the past.

2. Going astray in their hearts. Gradual changes in lifestyle that draw us farther and farther from God.

3. Not knowing God’s ways. They did not spend time meditating on the promise or in his presence so they did not know what he was really like.

4. The deceitfulness of sin. Sin is designed to look good to our flesh but the wages are always death.

These are all steps in the process that led Israel to the depth of unbelief that denied a whole generation the Promised Land.

Today I want to begin looking at some ways to detect unbelief in our own lives. They are similar to the patterns we have already discussed, but I want to talk about how they manifest in us. The devil’s main weapon against a believer is deception. He disguises things like unbelief until we yield our own will to them. If we recognize the warning signals, we will not be deceived. I call these things unbelief detectors.

The first warning sign is questioning God’s Word. God’s Word is not like other books. It is filled with God’s power and reveals God’s will. It is also a directive from God himself. His Word must be obeyed if we want to be successful. One of the keys to victory in my life has been the revelation that God’s word is truth not just true. What is true can change from day to day or even moment to moment. Truth never changes.

Hebrews 4:12 (NKJV) 12 For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.

The truth of God’s Word never changes but it is also a higher truth than what we see with our eyes. Hebrews 11:3 reveals that God used his word to create the world. This is a reflection of what we see in Genesis 1 where we read, “God said” and created things came into being. The revelation truth in God’s written Word can also change the created world around us once we receive it and it produces faith in our hearts. (Romans 10:17)

Israel did not have the written word of God but they did have the promise of God. The Abrahamic covenant was their identity. The promise God made to Abraham was very specific. His children would be slaves for 400 years in a foreign land. God would deal harshly with those of that land and bring them out with a great deliverance. Finally, he would lead them back to Canaan and give them that land as an inheritance. (Genesis 15:12-16)

Israel would have passed this promise down by oral tradition if not in written words. They must have recognized how much of what God said had already happened to them. Yet when it came time to enter the Promised Land, they questioned that God would do the rest of what he said he would.

It is often difficult for us to believe the Word of God when faced with physical challenges. However, we must remember that this is the Word of God and not the word of man. God will do what he said he would do.

Numbers 23:19 (NKJV) 19 “God is not a man, that He should lie, Nor a son of man, that He should repent. Has He said, and will He not do? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?

Once again, I must point out that condemnation is not what I am talking about here. The devil will make sure that we question God’s word and then condemn us for doing so. God does not condemn us but he will convict us and point out to us when we are wrong. His motivation is not condemnation but restoration. He wants us to be successful. To be successful we must trust and obey his Word.

I also want to say that we all experience resistance from our natural mind and our flesh when it comes to trusting our lives and circumstances to words in a book. That is normal. However, we must beware when we feel that questioning go deeper. If we begin to doubt that the word of God is true, unbelief is rearing its ugly head.

This is a subtle thing. No one who is a true believer just decides the Bible is not true. Just like all aspects of unbelief, it works its way in through disappointment and the everyday pressure of life. However, we must be on the lookout for this symptom so we can treat it immediately.

I find that questioning God’s word usually begins with a statement something like this. “I don’t see how God could take care of this problem.” We must remember that the “how” is up to God. Believing his Word is true is up to us.

I also find that doubting God’s word will usually begin to lead to compromises in our behavior. If we doubt his promise, it is easy to begin to doubt his commandments and principles. It seems that just a little compromise could not hurt. Discouragement and the pressure of the battle can lead us to believe that we just need a little rest. However, to believe God’s word without question requires that we believe and obey all his Word not just the parts we like.

This subtle symptom of unbelief will manifest in different ways in different people. Ask the Holy Spirit to help you identify it in your heart. Whatever way it manifests the remedy is the same. We must begin to consider the promise and not the circumstance. We must speak the Word of God and not the unbelief that is trying to take hold. We must remind ourselves that what we entrust to God he is well able to take care of. Finally, we should praise and worship God, reminding ourselves of how he has kept his word in our past.

Abraham took these steps. We read about them in Roman’s 4. His situation was as impossible as any you or I will ever face, but he chose to believe the promise of God instead of all the physical evidence. In the end Abraham, who was 100 years old and Sarah, who was 90 years old, had the child God had promised.

Watch out for this warning sign of unbelief. Do not question the truth of God’s Word. You may not understand something in the Word and you can ask questions about that, but when it comes to the truth of the Word and God’s faithfulness to the promise, accept it and unbelief will not have a door to enter.

Unbelief is the Result of a Pattern 3

Hebrews 3:7-11 (NKJV) 7 Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says: “Today, if you will hear His voice, 8 Do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, In the day of trial in the wilderness, 9 Where your fathers tested Me, tried Me, And saw My works forty years. 10 Therefore I was angry with that generation, And said, ‘They always go astray in their heart, And they have not known My ways.’ 11 So I swore in My wrath, ‘They shall not enter My rest.’ ”

Hebrews 3:13 (NKJV) 13 but exhort one another daily, while it is called “Today,” lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.

Yesterday we began looking at the pattern that led to Israel’s fall to such a level of unbelief that they could not enter the promised land. The first identifier that this pattern was taking hold is that Israel tested and tried God. They did not trust God when faced with the evidence that he had met every need they faced in the wilderness. We must be careful that we do not allow his same pattern to become established in our lives. It is easy when faced with the trials of life to forget that God has been faithful. When we are faced with yet another inevitable challenge, we must remember what God has done and trust that he will do it again. That will stop unbelief from taking hold.

Verse 10 shows us the second identifier that will tell us a pattern of unbelief is being established. It says that God was angry with that generation because they “always go astray in their hearts.” The term go astray is very revealing. To go astray means to get off course gradually. We stray from the path God has for us.

As a pastor for 37 years, I have watched many people go astray in their hearts. It does not start with gross sin or rebellion. It starts with subtle changes in priorities. There may be subtle compromises to our faith or our behavior. At first, it is easy to justify these things. We might even say that we are trying to bring balance into our lives. The problem is that to go astray is by definition something that is gradual.

Once again, let me stress that we are talking about patterns. There are sometimes good reasons why there may be changes in our lives that could look like we are going astray. If these are temporary things that demand time or attention, there is nothing wrong with that. We must examine our hearts. If we are maintaining our relationship with the Lord inwardly and our hearts are still “stayed on the Lord”, that is fine. However, in my experience we often tend to be bad judges of what our hearts are really doing.

I pastor a local church and I certainly want people to be there on Sunday morning. (I want them there every time the doors are open for that matter.) That said, I watch for changes in pattern. When I see someone who always sat in the front of the church move to the back, I have to ask why? It could be that they just want a change. More often than not, it is the beginning of a pattern change. When people who came to everything start to show up on Sunday morning only, I see a change of pattern. None of that means they are going astray in their heart. It is an indication that something could be wrong.

As the one accountable for their souls I will pray for them and often ask them what is going on in their life. Their response often tells me all I need to know. More important than my asking the question is each of us asking ourselves the question. “Why am I changing my pattern of behavior? Do I have a problem with someone in the church? Am I disappointed about something? Do I feel the Lord has let me down? Am I just in one of those dry times that everyone goes through?

If you can say yes to any of those things, you might be going astray in your heart. That does not mean you are “backslidden.” It means that some patterns are showing up that could indicate a problem. What should you do?

I believe that this is not the time to decrease your church attendance, bible reading or prayer. It is not the time to back away from worship. It is the time to press into all those things. I think we need to take an honest look at our heart. We may need to sit down with the pastor or someone in authority and tell them what is happening. They have your interest at heart. They may see something you do not. It is not the time to allow yourself to be offended or the time to justify what may be a problem.

I have people that I knew were going astray tell me, “I still love the Lord.” No one is saying you do not. However, if you are going astray in your heart, you are heading toward a problem. It may not arise today or tomorrow. You may be fine for a month or a year. However, if you are off track by a few feet and do not correct your path, you will eventually find yourself miles from where you belong. The same is true of the spirit. The Lord tells us here that this was a main reason Israel was robbed of blessing by unbelief.

In the same verse, we see that they did not know God’s ways. In our church, we stress the Word of God. We also believe in experiential Christianity. It is not the Word or the Spirit but the Word and the Spirit that brings success. However, it is by the study of the Word that we learn God’s ways. Our experiences confirm what the Word says, but if we do not know the Word, we cannot know his ways.

Israel knew the power of God. Nevertheless, when they were faced with the challenges of the Promised Land, they could not go in. Joshua and Caleb had a different point of view.

Numbers 14:7-9 (NKJV) 7 and they spoke to all the congregation of the children of Israel, saying: “The land we passed through to spy out is an exceedingly good land. 8 If the LORD delights in us, then He will bring us into this land and give it to us, ‘a land which flows with milk and honey.’ 9 Only do not rebel against the LORD, nor fear the people of the land, for they are our bread; their protection has departed from them, and the LORD is with us. Do not fear them.”

Why was there report so different? I believe it is because they meditated on the promise of God. They knew what God said. Therefore, they knew his ways. Combining what God said in the promise with all that God had done in the wilderness, they could come to only one conclusion. God promised the land and he would give it to them no matter what the opposition looked like!

We need to know the ways of God. We must give time to the Word of God. We must spend time in fellowship with his Spirit. Sometimes we know God’s ways but when faced with the trial we forget them. We must constantly refresh our hearts with the Word and the Spirit. God is not a man that he should lie. God will always love you and give you what is best for you.

The last indicator in the pattern is in verse 13. We need to beware of the deceitfulness of sin. One of the names of the devil is the serpent. The word also means “fascinator.” Sin will fascinate us. It will try to disguise itself as something that is not dangerous. It will seem like something that is just fun. I have heard people say “I deserve this break.” Sin is deceitful. Make no mistake, the wages of sin is death. (Romans 6:23)

Allowing sin to stay in our life will always open the door to unbelief. Israel sinned in many ways. The worst of which were idolatry and rebellion. We need to beware when we begin to place anything else in the place God should hold in our lives. We must be careful when we begin to feel that we know better than the leaders that are over us or the bible itself. A pattern of sin will steal our faith and our future.

Unbelief is our mortal enemy. We need to examine these patterns and be sure that they are not taking hold of our lives. These patterns will rob us of God’s blessing and of our destiny. Stopping them will protect our faith and release the blessing of God in our lives.

Unbelief is the Result of a Pattern 2

Hebrews 3:7-11 (NKJV) 7 Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says: “Today, if you will hear His voice, 8 Do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, In the day of trial in the wilderness, 9 Where your fathers tested Me, tried Me, And saw My works forty years. 10 Therefore I was angry with that generation, And said, ‘They always go astray in their heart, And they have not known My ways.’ 11 So I swore in My wrath, ‘They shall not enter My rest.’ ”

Hebrews 3:13 (NKJV) 13 but exhort one another daily, while it is called “Today,” lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.

This week we are looking at unbelief from Hebrews chapter 3. The writer is quoting and exhortation to Israel about their ancestors from Psalm 75. The unbelief in their life robbed them of their ability to enter the promised land. In so doing it robbed them of their destiny in God as well as the blessing God wanted to give them personally in this land that flowed with “milk and honey.” The spies sent into the land by Moses all confirmed that the land was what God said it would be. Unbelief in 10 of the spies resonated with the unbelief in the rest of their generation and they would not go into the land.

Joshua and Caleb gave a different report. If God gave them the land, he would make a way for them to take it. The first generation of Israel who was in charge at the time would not accept Joshua and Caleb’s report. After Moses rebuked them they decided to obey God, but it was too late. Their unbelief had already taken the promise from their heart.

I alluded to this earlier in the week, but I do not believe that God would not let them go in just because he was angry. He was angry. Israel, in a way, called God a liar. However, they could not go in because of unbelief not because God was angry. (Hebrews 3:19) I can only imagine how they would have reacted to Jericho or the plan God gave Joshua to take the city. Their track record suggests that their unbelief would have made taking the land impossible.

How did this first generation come to that point? We looked at one thing yesterday. They allowed mixture into the camp. Anyone was welcome to become part of Israel’s covenant relationship with God. The mixture was not a mixture of blood. It was a mixture of unbelief. We cannot isolate ourselves from the world. We must fill our hearts with the Word of God as much as possible and do our best to minimize the voices of doubt and unbelief in our lives.

Today I want to look a little more closely at the pattern that produced this level of unbelief in the first generation of Israelites. The writer of Hebrews warns us not to let the same kind of hard heart develop in our lives. How can we prevent unbelief from doing to us what it did to them? We can recognize the pattern and put a stop to it before it takes root. I do not believe that most of us are in the place Israel was, but there are many degrees of unbelief we may be dealing with. All of them are dangerous and all of them, if unchecked, can produce problems.

We can see four things in Israel’s behavior that produced this pattern of unbelief. I know that I have found these things in my life at times. If we see them and put a stop to them, we will stop the pattern of unbelief from stealing God’s will for our lives.

These verses in Hebrews are, for the most part, a quote from Psalm 95 where God is warning subsequent generations of Israel not to be like their fathers. In verse 9, he reveals the first step in this pattern. He says, “Your fathers tested Me, tried Me and saw my works for forty years.”

I believe one of the warning signs that the pattern of unbelief is at work is when we test God. How do we do that? Israel saw God move for them in Egypt. When they were hungry, God gave them supernatural food. When they were thirsty, God gave them supernatural drink. God gave them victory over their enemies and led them on their journey with a pillar of cloud by day and fire by night. (1 Corinthians 10)

In all those experiences, they questioned Moses and in doing so questioned God’s care for them. They complained through every one. They tested God by interpreting every trial as one more way God and Moses had let them down. They tried God in that their complaining tried God’s mercy. Thankfully, for them and us his mercies endure forever.

When it came time for them to enter the Promised Land, this pattern had caused unbelief to grow and multiply. They simply could not believe that God would give them the land. This condition did not start when they got to the borders of Canaan. It began at the Red Sea. It continued with the waters of Marah. We see it when they complained about the manna. We see its full manifestation at the border of the Promised Land.

Life can be hard. Many things happen that challenge our faith. There is not one of us who has not had our moments when we are overwhelmed and we allowed things like Israel said to come out of our mouths. I can remember a time when I was dealing with some IRS issues. We had resolved one issue by God giving us miraculous favor. Shortly thereafter, I heard there was another IRS issue that was going to cost more than I could see any way to afford. I told my wife, “I just can’t take anymore. This is it!”

God had just delivered us. He had done something impossible and yet when confronted with the next trial I complained. I allowed unbelief to get in by not believing he would help with this second issue. Of course, he did help me. I repented of my unbelief and God moved.

The problem is not days when we allow unbelief in. We all have those. In Israel’s case, it was a repeated pattern of testing and tempting God. We must examine ourselves. If we see that pattern developing, we must recognize it as unbelief and work to put a stop to it. How do we do that? As soon as we see the pattern go to the Father God like the father of the boy in Mark 9 went to Jesus. “Lord I see this pattern developing and I don’t want it in my life. Forgive me for my unbelief and help me overcome it. I do trust in you!”

This may seem simple but it is all God asks. We do not need to do penance or prove we really trust him. We just need to repent when we identify the pattern and ask for help. He will be faithful to give it.

We will look at three more identifiers that a pattern of unbelief is developing tomorrow. Today let me close by saying that we should not take any of this as condemnation. We all become subject to this. It is just part of life. When I use the word “repent” we often associate it with feeling condemned. However, I see repentance as a call to come home. It is the Father saying to us, there is a theif who has managed to get in and we need to get him out.

Being wrong does not make us evil. Being wrong makes us human. Repent of unbelief, not because you feel condemned but because you know that getting this enemy out of your life will produce blessing.

Unbelief is the Result of a Pattern

Hebrews 3:7-11 (NKJV) 7 Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says: “Today, if you will hear His voice, 8 Do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, In the day of trial in the wilderness, 9 Where your fathers tested Me, tried Me, And saw My works forty years. 10 Therefore I was angry with that generation, And said, ‘They always go astray in their heart, And they have not known My ways.’ 11 So I swore in My wrath, ‘They shall not enter My rest.’ ”

Yesterday we defined unbelief as our mortal enemy. The whole first generation of Israelites who left Egypt lost their destiny and the blessing that God wanted for them because of unbelief. The very last verse of this chapter makes that very clear.

Hebrews 3:19 (NKJV) 19 So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief.

In this scripture, we see something about the life of Israel of which we need to take note. Although the writer is speaking about the children of Israel, it is clear that he is using their experience to warn us today.

Hebrews 3:12 (NKJV) 12 Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God;

We are not immune to unbelief. If we can understand how unbelief became so rooted in their hearts that it could rob them of so much, we can begin to identify the same pattern in our lives and stop it before it takes hold. This generation of Israelites did not start out in the level of unbelief described in these verses. Their unbelief resulted from a pattern of behavior that continued throughout their journey. It reached its full manifestation when they refused to cross into the Promised Land. They chose to believe the evidence of their eyes instead of the evidence of what they had seen God do in the wilderness.

The generation who first left Israel grew up as slaves. They did not know how to believe God for themselves. Moses carried the burden of their faith. Moses brought the plagues on Egypt. Moses confronted Pharaoh. Moses revealed the Word of God to them in the Passover. The only thing they needed to do was put the blood of the Lamb on their doorposts. Moses did the rest.

There is a definite parallel here to our salvation. Jesus confronted the devil. Jesus paid the price of our sin. Jesus was crucified. Jesus rose from the dead. All we have to do to obtain our salvation is believe that what he did, he did for us and accept his Lordship in our lives. Just as our salvation is complete through the work of Jesus, Israel’s deliverance was complete through the work of Moses. However just as we have to “walk out our salvation” by walking in faith for ourselves, Israel had to walk out their deliverance by walking in faith through the wilderness.

What we see in these few verses is that they would not do that. They continued to expect Moses to do everything for them. They blamed Moses for everything that went wrong. He continued to be a supernatural channel for them. When they needed bread, God used Moses to call down manna from heaven. When they needed water, Moses brought forth water from a rock.

God demonstrated his love and care for Israel not only through the things Moses did but also by his mighty hand. However, nothing was enough for Israel. They refused to be thankful. They refused to trust that God would continue to bless them. No matter what God gave them they wanted more and expected Moses to get it for them.

Numbers 11:4-6 (NKJV) 4 Now the mixed multitude who were among them yielded to intense craving; so the children of Israel also wept again and said: “Who will give us meat to eat? 5 We remember the fish which we ate freely in Egypt, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic; 6 but now our whole being is dried up; there is nothing at all except this manna before our eyes!”

We see something here that contributed to the pattern of unbelief that robbed them of God’s will for their lives. First, we see the term “mixed multitude.” There were people with the Israelites who were not part of the “body of Israel.” Anyone could partake of the covenant of Israel. It was not limited to the Hebrew race. However, if you wanted to partake of the blessings of the covenant you had to submit to the qualifications of the covenant. You had to be circumcised and submit to the Law that governed the covenant.

In the camp at this time, there were many who saw the power of God and followed after that power, but they did not want the lifestyle God required of Israel. They just wanted the blessings. They created a mixture in the Israelite camp. That mixture became a voice of unbelief in the ears of Israel.

We can never eliminate the voice of unbelief from our lives. It is everywhere around us. We hear it in the media, we hear it in the news and we hear it from the mouths of people we must interact with every day. Just because it is there does not mean we must invite it into our camp so to speak. The problem with Israel was not that there were people out there who would not submit to faith in God; it was that they allowed them to become part of their inner life.

It was their voice and not the voice of the Israelites who initiated the complaint about manna. I do not believe any one of us would look at something as supernatural as manna and complain that God was not doing enough for us. However, when we open or ears to the voice of unbelief coming from the world we will begin to question things that we normally would not.

I can hear the mixed multitude saying, “Doesn’t this God of yours know how to make anything but this weird bread? How about a little meat once in a while.” God provided the perfect food for them. By all accounts, it even tasted good. The people of Israel should have seen the manna on the ground every morning and marveled at God’s supernatural provision. It was the mixed multitude that made them begin to question something that was obviously the power of God.

We must be careful of those who would bring the voice of doubt and criticism concerning God’s provision for us into our ears. Mixture always carries the voice of doubt. No one is perfect. We all have some mixture in our lives. We sometimes do not fully obey God. We sometimes want things we know we do not need and maybe should not have. It is unrealistic to think that we are only going to read the bible and go to church.

What we must do if we want to keep the pattern of unbelief out of our lives is identify that mixture and not allow it to challenge the love of God for us. We must not allow it tell us that what God provides is not good enough. We must monitor how much control we are giving to the things that cause mixed feelings and once we identify them cut them out. Jesus pointed to this many times in his teaching. One of the clearest is Mark 4:24 in the Amplified Bible.

Mark 4:24 (AMP) 24 And He said to them, Be careful what you are hearing. The measure [of thought and study] you give [to the truth you hear] will be the measure [of virtue and knowledge] that comes back to you—and more [besides] will be given to you who hear

We need to be careful of the mixture we allow in our ears, our eyes and our lives. Mixture always bring unbelief with it. We cannot afford to give the enemy that kind of foothold. Too much is at stake.

More tomorrow.