So, as the Holy Spirit says:Hebrews 3:7-8, 12-13
“Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts
as you did in the rebellion,
during the time of testing in the wilderness,
See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.
In God’s Kingdom, unbelief causes us not to be able to enter in. For that first generation of Israelites, unbelief caused them not to be able to enter the Promised Land. So they wandered in the desert until a new generation emerged. Speaking of this unbelieving generation of Israelites, the writer of Hebrews says, “So we see that they were not able to enter, because of their unbelief” (Hebrews 3:19).
How do we get to this place of unbelief?
First, sin begins to lie to us about ourselves and about God. Sin either makes us feel shame and guilt–which makes us want to separate ourselves from God–or begins to make us feel like God is holding out on us. In the end, sin, if not repented of quickly, begins to erode our trust in God. Our doubts begin to creep in and God no longer seems trustworthy. This is “sin’s deceitfulness.”
This then leads to a hardening of our hearts. Thick walls of doubts and deception begin to form around our hearts as a means to protect it. If we are in relationship with someone (a spouse for instance) and they don’t seem trustworthy anymore, then we build defensive walls around our hearts in order not to get hurt. We do the same with God.
These walls–this hardening of the heart–form a stronghold in our feeling and thinking. Strongholds are fortifications of intricate lies that have been woven together. We are lied to by the enemy and told that these strongholds will keep hurt out. But what they keep out are things like faith, trust, hope and experiencing the love of the Father.
People say, “I just can’t feel God anymore” and they make the statement as if it is some indictment against God…as if He somehow distanced Himself from them. But this confession is a self-indictment about the self-protective walls we’ve allowed to surround and harden our hearts.
Unbelief is sin. Unbelief is rebellion. Unbelief is a choice. Often, it is the by-product of a hundred little choices. And it is very different than uncertainty. A life of faith is full of uncertainties. But a life of faith is also full of trust, full of hope, full of love for God, full of intimacy with God. Unbelief separates us from God.
Just as unbelief kept the Israelites from entering the Promised Land, it keeps us from entering God’s Presence. Unbelief keeps us from experiencing and encountering the Holy Spirit. Unbelief keeps us from entering into the gifts of the Spirit. I know because I lived in that specific unbelief for years.
We, as the American Church, have to stop celebrating unbelief as if it is a natural and inevitable part of following Jesus. It’s not! Uncertainty is a natural and inevitable part of the faith journey, but unbelief is not. Not distinguishing between the two is harmful to the process of discipleship.
Compared to our Christian brothers and sisters on the continents of South America, Asia, and Africa, North American Christians are steeped in the sin of unbelief. And the first step to ridding ourselves of sin is repentance. The proper response to our unbelief is not to accept it as “normal” but to repent of it and renounce it in Jesus’ name.