Inevitably all of us are going to come face to face with many people who do not believe in God, nor in Jesus Christ and His Gospel! Some people may be hostile toward the Gospel, while others are simply passively indifferent. Regardless of their emotional stance, both kinds of unbelievers are in the most dangerous position possible, having their souls in danger of being lost and separated from God for all eternity. It is tremendously helpful to think theologically about unbelief and why unbelievers are in their present state. Considering this topic should produce worship and gratitude for us who have believed, realizing the mercy of God on our lives. Furthermore, it should equip us in understanding how to evangelize those who are in a state of unbelief.
Foundational Theology of Unbelief
Even when the evidence is clear many people do not believe. This is clearly illustrated in the Gospel of John after Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. Contrary to unbiblical thinking, belief is not the product of environmental conditioning, education, financial success, good parenting, etc. This becomes very clear when we allow the Bible to speak particularly about the spiritual condition of all of humanity.
The devastation of sin: Scripture teaches that every human being is born in sin (Ps 51:5, Rom 3:23, 5:12), and has a sinful nature that has tremendous ramifications. Sin has so tainted every person that their minds are darkened to spiritual truth to the point that they “are not able to understand” (1 Cor 2:14). Sin has so depraved every human being that they are driven by their own sinful desires. Everyone without Christ is governed by the “desires of the body and the mind” (Eph 2:3). Jesus made it clear when he said, “And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed.” (John 3:19-20). The lost world who is still in their sin not only loves the darkness, but also hates the light. The Apostle Paul teaches that those lost in their sin are held by the “snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will” (2 Tim 2:26). These are all devastating consequences of sin which give us the insight into why people do not believe. Unbelief is the product of the sin nature, the devil, and a love for sin!
The need for an outside intervention: To put it biblically, unbelievers are “dead in their sins and trespasses” (Eph 2:1). They cannot help themselves, nor are we as believers able to help them. We can and must preach the good news to them, but only God can open their heart (Ez 36:26-27, Acts 16:14) to receive Christ as Savior. They must have a direct help from God. He is the one who must “make them alive” (Eph 2:4). This is clearly illustrated in the life of the Apostle Paul. He was very religious and yet was hating Christ and killing followers of Christ. It wasn’t until Jesus Himself “called” him by name on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:4) that his eyes were opened and He came to faith in Christ. In the same way, Jesus calls those who are dead in their sins and they hear His voice and are made alive.
We might become discouraged about the state of unbelievers, except that God has promised that the mission of Jesus will not be thwarted. Jesus came to the earth with a mission to save those “whom the Father has given Him” (Jn 6:37). Jesus knew clearly that His sheep would hear His voice and come and follow Him (Jn 10:27). In the same way we can have confidence that we will see unbelievers come to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. We should expect to see God’s Kingdom being moved forward as the Church preaches the Gospel to an unbelieving world.
Response to Unbelief: Preach & Pray!
How should we respond to those who are in a state of unbelief? The most important thing to do is to have mercy upon all men and to live peaceably! When we understand the theological reasons for unbelief, this should move our hearts to have mercy upon all men. This mercy is shown best by extending love to them. We must continue to share the Gospel with them in a loving manner. Ultimately, we must pray for them, that God would soften their hearts and open their minds. And we must be ready and expect the Lord to use us to “plant & water” knowing that only God is the one who gives the “increase” (1 Cor 3:6-7). Here are several ways we should respond when we experience the rejection of unbelievers:
1. Expect hostility & rejection. (1 Pet 4:12)
2. Don’t fear. (1 Pet 3:14)
3. Love your enemies. (1 Pet 3:9)
4. Trust God. (1 Pet 4:19)
5. Be respectful. (1 Pet 3:15)
6. Be prepared to make a defense. (1 Pet 3:15)
7. Find comfort with your church family. (1 Pet 5:9)
When we think back to our own state of unbelief, it should cause us to be full of gratitude for God’s present mercy in our lives. If it were not for the grace & mercy of God, we would still be in an unbelieving state. Reflecting back should cause us to be the grandest of worshipers, giving praise to God for the incredible love that He has lavished on us (1 John 3:1, Romans 12:1).