Living for Eternity
The Sin of Unbelief
Turn to John 7. Last Sunday and this Sunday there is an insert in your bulletins entitled, “Ministry Involvement at Elim.” This is one of a number of position statements we have at Elim. And over the next number of months, the elders will be going through these and doing a little editing and then placing them in the bulletin as we get them completed. So, if you have not already, we would like you to read through that, so that all of us understand better our heart here for each of you at Elim and our relationship and involvement in ministry. The section of Scripture we are going to look at this Sunday is entitled in my Bible, “Division of People Over Jesus.”
“Some of the crowd therefore, when they heard these words, were saying, ‘This truly is the Prophet.’ Others were saying, ‘This is the Christ.’ Still others were saying, ‘No, for is the Christ going to come from Galilee? Has not the Scripture said that the Christ comes from the seed of David and from Bethlehem, the village where David was?’ So a division occurred in the crowd because of Him. Some of them were wanting to seize Him, but no one laid hands on Him. The officers then came to the chief priests and Pharisees, and they said to them, ‘Why did you not bring Him?’ The officers answered, ‘Never has a man spoken like this!’ The Pharisees then answered them, ‘Have you also been led astray? Have any of the rulers or Pharisees believed in Him? But this crowd which does not know the Law is accursed.’ Nicodemus (he who came to Him before), being one of them, said to them, ‘Does our Law judge a man unless it first hears from him and knows what he is doing?’ They answered him, ‘Are you also from Galilee? Search and see that no prophet arises out of Galilee.’”
John 7:40-52 (LSB)
This pattern of belief and unbelief will continue to the very end of the Gospel of John. And I have only selected a few passages to highlight this:
- 5:38 – “And you do not have His word abiding in you, for you do not believe Him.”
- 6:64 – “‘But there are some of you who do not believe.’ For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe.”
- 7:5 – “For not even His brothers were believing in Him.”
- 8:45-46 – “But because I speak the truth, you do not believe Me. Which one of you convicts Me of sin? If I speak truth, why do you not believe Me?”
- 12:37 – “But though He had done so many signs before them, they still were not believing in Him.”
And this will continue all the way to chapter 20, where Thomas says that unless I see the nail prints and place my fingers in the holes in His hands, “I will not believe.” This morning’s message is entitled “The Sin of Unbelief.” I suppose we could ask the question, why do some believe, while others do not? I guess the long answer to that question could be many reasons. Yet if we spoke about the short answer, we can find this very easily in the book of John, for Jesus simply says:
“But you do not believe because you are not of My sheep.”
John 10:26 (LSB)
And then John will give a very blunt explanation of that statement. And this is one of those difficult passages that says what it says and we must accept it from the Judge of all the earth who always does what is right.
“But though He had done so many signs before them, they still were not believing in Him, so that the word of Isaiah the prophet might be fulfilled, which he spoke: ‘Lord, who has believed our report? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?’ For this reason they could not believe, for Isaiah said again, ‘He has blinded their eyes and He hardened their heart, lest they see with their eyes and understand with their heart, and return and I heal them.’”
John 13:37-40 (LSB)
And John is also very clear that those who truly believe are those who believe to the end. For John, if you are not one of Christ’s sheep you will never believe. Or you may have a superficial belief for a time, but then walk from Christ. For walking away from Christ when at one time you may have claimed to believe only demonstrates a lack of real faith. For Jesus said in John 8:31, that those who truly believed would abide or continue with Him. And the same John wrote in 1 John 2:
“They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they were of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be manifested that they all are not of us.”
1 John 5:19 (LSB)
In other words, they ultimately proved by their actions that they were not true believers, the same thing we see here in John’s Gospel. Now many of them hung around for a long time even when they were openly opposed to Christ. But all of them, except those who truly believed, eventually would walk away. And I do want to explain that this is different from one who might be struggling with their faith or maybe having some doubts about their faith. Where an experience may cause someone to become angry with God or someone’s wrong teaching may place some doubts in our mind. We can look at the life of Peter where a lack of courage caused him to deny his Lord, yet it convicted his heart so greatly, didn’t it? So, we need to be encouraged by that. But we also need to be warned here as well, because being angry at God or giving an ear to false teaching, can often be the start of falling away from Christ.
This has become an epidemic in our Christian culture. We know that there have always been those who fall away from the faith. Where maybe lifestyle has taken them away. Where there is no longer a desire to live for Christ. But this epidemic in our Christian culture seems to be different. We saw last week that the root cause of unbelief is not necessarily the lack of facts, but it is the will to not believe. And many through social media have latched onto this by presenting a philosophy that became common in the sixties and that is a term called deconstruction. This has motivated those who might call themselves former Christians or believers, to assist others in the church to get out of their faith, and to do it well. And in many ways, this is not new, for I am sure that we are aware of many who maybe grew up in the church who are nowhere now to be seen.
But this is different. For many years it was displayed as a running from Christ. Yet this is more like something that is viewed as a coming home, a resting in something that was always missing in a life. Because for the most part, many of these have kept their good upbringing. They love their spouse and children. They work hard, and they live honestly. So, they have kept many of the virtues of Christianity, but they have abandoned Christ and His church. And therefore, many of the blogs they read are helping them to get beyond Christianity, and do that well. To not feel guilty for leaving the faith, disappointing Mom and Dad. To be able to feel good about their newfound circumstances and lives. So, this is all part of what was taught as deconstruction years ago but has become a major attraction to many today. The sins are not necessarily alcoholism, drugs, addictions, extra-marital affairs, or abuse. No, the sins of this epidemic are the abandoning of Christ, the pride of being self-sufficient, self-righteous, and a confidence in the ideas and power of mankind to do well by himself.
This morning I have received some help from Jon Bloom who works with Desiring God, regarding this term deconstruction which first came from a French philosopher named Jacques Derrida in the sixties. Derrida taught that over the course of human development, man naturally taught certain truths so that he was able to survive. Therefore, the beliefs that mankind came up with were derived from his own experiences, and not by any kind of divine revelation that gave any kind of absolute truth. Bloom, who does not agree with this, but explains deconstruction, wrote:
“Therefore, deconstruction asserts that human language at best communicates, not absolute truth, but how a certain individual conceives of truth at a certain moment in time, in the contexts of his … influences.”
Jon Bloom, What Does ‘Deconstruction’ Even Mean?
Therefore, someone who believed in something might be told that because the circumstances surrounding an ancient author would be vastly different from ours today, then we cannot assume what he writes could ever be any kind of absolute truth now. He goes on to say that:
“For Derrida, there is no meaning outside the text of a philosopher’s written work — no absolute truth that the writer is shedding light on for the reader … Which means that there is no absolute truth inside the philosopher’s text either.”
Jon Bloom, What Does ‘Deconstruction’ Even Mean?
In other words, what someone wrote in the past has no truth bearing today. And this is fine and dandy for secular writings, but greatly dangerous when applied to inspired Scripture. In other words, the truth that may have been right for Paul in his day may be different for you and me today, because this is where truth comes from. It comes from our relationships and experiences today, for it is through these that we discover truth. I am not sure if the culture made an about-face on some issues that they would truth today. That they would really apologize for it because to them is always changing or fluid.
Now deconstruction does not necessarily have to be associated with Christianity, as it is more of a general term used to deconstruct anything that we may have been taught. And there are things in our minds growing up that may be needed to have been changed or altered, we will talk about that in a few moments. But here is some of the attack against Christianity according to many that teach deconstruction. Bloom writes this (again, not his view, he is just helping us to understand):
“The belief that one has reached the single correct Meaning (or God, or ‘Truth’) provides a wonderful excuse for damning those with whom one disagrees as either ‘fools’ or ‘heretics.’”
Jon Bloom, What Does ‘Deconstruction’ Even Mean?
In other words, because you and I hold to the teaching of the Bible, we are then able to say everything else outside of God’s truth is incorrect. Which gives us the privilege of saying that we are right and everyone else is wrong. Deconstruction emphasizes that this is not fair. Deconstruction would help people to see that just because Christians hold to these views, it does not mean that other views are wrong. And true, there may be differences among Christians within orthodoxy, as there may be different views on a topic, say eschatology, end times. That both are understood from the Bible, but people have come to different understandings of the same passage. It does not mean that they can both be right, but it can mean that two people are sincerely desiring to understand what God has said.
Now his can become a little cloudier as some teachings of the Bible can come more from tradition than the Bible, or because others do not view the Bible with the same authority, they may not accept it for its face value. An example of this might be the whole patriarchal understanding, that husbands have been given the responsibility to lead, and that men have been called to be pastors and elders in the church. I looked up patriarchy online and here was the definition:
“Patriarchy is a system of relationships, beliefs, and values embedded in political, social, and economic systems that structure gender inequality [that’s a bad phrase!] between men and women. Attributes seen as ‘feminine’ or pertaining to women are undervalued, while attributes regarded as ‘masculine’ or pertaining to men are privileged.”
And my first response is well, okay. I then looked up the definition in Funk and Wagnalls dictionary (1979) and it defines patriarchy this way:
“A system of government where the father or the male rules [or leads] … Government by men.”
Funk and Wagnalls ‘79, 480
So, we see that even in the case of just over forty years the definition of patriarchy has gone from the understanding of male leadership to something which is degrading to women. And we do understand that the world’s concept of the biblical teaching on marriage is so skewed, for we definitely hold to husband leadership because that is what the Bible teaches. But certainly not the kind of dominant leadership that has often been understood. But responsible leadership that loves, for the Bible teaches that the husband is to love his wife and lead his wife. But even within Christianity, you may have those who hold to Paul’s teaching, while others would say that was Paul’s teaching in his culture, but it is not applicable to us today. Yet Paul gives clear instructions for the husband to take responsibility to lead his wife and children. Therefore, we have no option but to teach and defend this truth. And to teach that this somehow is not the case today is a massive slippery slope in our teaching and theology!
And though deconstruction was not specifically against Christianity, it has found its way there. It first landed more on the criticism of traditionalism, which it could be said that deconstruction generally started to mean, “a critical dismantling of tradition and traditional modes of thought.” This began the process of neglecting those who spoke of absolutes or who claimed to be authorities. As Bloom says that those who “claim to speak from a privileged perspective about what truth is.” Therefore, when someone speaks for God, then that one is now questioned. Bloom wrote that “Christian experiences of deconstruction are complex and often very painful.” And we understand that, as deconstruction has currently fallen in the lap of Christianity, and it is very painful to see, as we see it at the very heart of the evangelical church.
Now we also need to understand that there are some ways in which the church needs to always make sure that the church is biblical, as many views of the church may grow out of traditionalism or for other wrong reasons. This must be the case with infant baptism, for there is no way a person could read their Bible and land on baptizing infants. Once infant baptism, however, became a tradition, people will find ways to support it from the Bible. But there is no way that a person would ever come to this conclusion if it had not been established in the past. So, to make sure that our practices as a church must always be examined to make sure they are biblical, every generation must do that so as to be careful to be able to defend their belief from the Bible, as we can never rely on the teachers of the past to do this for us.
However, the term deconstruction is not really the right term here. For making sure that we are being biblical is not deconstructing our faith, but it is confirming our faith, isn’t it? And it is not changing our faith to make sure that it aligns with the current culture or the truth statements of the day. No, it is taking the timeless principles of the Bible and making sure they are understood properly today. We need to confirm our faith all the time. This is partly why you are here this morning. This is why we all need to study and to meditate on God’s Word. And when deconstruction says that there are no absolute truths, the church must respond resoundingly to that and say no, a thousand times no! Because, in your notes, truth is unchanging and truth is absolute. Now, if we are speaking of ways in which Christians have misrepresented the truth, then yes, it is right, the process is good. But it is not a process to discover our own, current-day truth; but is a process to make sure we know what God has already said.
Again, we want to be careful here that the church and our Christianity are biblical. Paul Tripp warns that our faith can become a culture where traditions become truth. And just as a Christian is to examine himself to see if he is of the faith, so too should a church, to see, to be certain it is biblical. Again, this is about making sure we are properly doing ministry according to the absolute truths and principles that God has given to us in His unchanging Word. And even with traditions, there is always the carefulness that we do not reject something too quickly which has been a pattern for the church for a long time. Many good practices have become part of the church because they are based upon the truth of the Scriptures, and therefore, it would be foolhardy to question them too quickly. Hebrews 13:7 confirms this point:
Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you; and considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith.”
Heb 13:7 (LSB)
So, we can see the value in making sure that the church is biblical. We can also see the dangers of those within the church who do not hold the Bible to the same standard, and therefore, bring false teaching into the church. So, the clear biblical teaching is rejected. But deconstruction at its extreme is what is happening to those who have walked away from Christ and His church. These are not those who are here polluting the church from the far outside, as per se the secular culture. No, they are a false trumpet blowing beside the church, a voice that at one time came from within the church. Bloom describes these as:
“A significant number of those who formerly professed an evangelical faith use deconstruction to describe their departure from Christianity altogether.”
Jon Bloom, What Does ‘Deconstruction’ Even Mean?
And before we are too quick to be thinking, Mark this would be good for so-and-so to hear, let us remember where this starts, it starts with church folks. It begins with exactly what we spoke about last Sunday. It doesn’t begin by declaring the Bible wrong, but it begins with our reluctance to be confident about what the whole Bible says. It can begin with our personal Bible study, that passages that at one time we praised God for, now we read them and we think things like, uhm, not so sure about that. It is still teaching the same Bible stories to our kids or to that Sunday school class, but not with the same heart and passion for everything that God teaches. And it sneaks into our prayer lives, that things we at one time knew the Lord hear and would answer, now they are prayed more out of habit or wanting to show a good example to our children. They no longer are the plea of a heart that trusts fully in God for all things. So, it is a church that prays but doesn’t really pray. It is a church that praises but doesn’t really praise. Because on the outside things look the same but, on the inside, they are not. And some of you may be experiencing this to some degree in your own lives right now. You know that you put on a good front, but inwardly you don’t have much faith in the God of the Bible. You need to beware here. For all the real excitement of Christianity for you is more in the past, but today is more about going through the motions.
And again, I want to stress here that this is different from examining our hearts to make sure we are of the faith. For many great saints have been so concerned about truth and their relationship with God, and their faith in God, that they have wrestled with God. Sometimes it is good for someone who has accepted Christianity but never has done the hard work of really discovering all that God has said, so that their faith only answers simple questions, but not the harder and deeper ones. There have been many great men and women of faith down through history who agonizingly have battled over their faith and it has proven to them to be more precious than gold. This would be part of the prayer that we would have each one us:
“And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in full knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and without fault until the day of Christ.”
Phil 1:9-10 (LSB)
Well, that is my introduction. Seriously, in closing look at verses 47-48:
“The Pharisees then answered them, ‘Have you also been led astray? Have any of the rulers or Pharisees believed in Him?’”
John 7:47-48 (LSB)
See, this is a different kind of battle. For this is not a battle against the world in the sense of those who come from a none-church background. No, this attack is coming from those who have been around Christianity. And like these religious leaders in Jesus’ day may ask you, are you sure you have not been led astray? Are you sure that what you were taught in Sunday school by Steve Levitt? Are you sure that’s right? For look at us, we are good-living people. We are successful, and we even know everything you do about Christ and Christianity. Yet do we believe in Him? No.
Realize the Bible makes no apologies about the fate of such people who deceive in this way. For in the book of Hebrews, the writer speaks of those who were at one time part of the church. It says they were once enlightened. In other words, they had the opportunity to hear the gospel, but they did not inwardly embrace it but only tasted it. They knew of the goodness of God but have chosen over time to turn their backs on it. They even experienced the work of the Spirit in the sense that they saw the Lord work in the lives of others. Yes, the Bible gives a grave warning to those so close to Christianity, yet they eventually would walk away from Christ who gave His life. For they would walk away from the only gospel that would ever save them. And Jesus, in Mark 9, warned those who might cause a young one from coming to Christ. Warning that if a person through his words, through a blog (maybe doesn’t use the word blog), through unbelief, through doubt, might cause that young one to stumble. Then it would have been better that a millstone be tied around that person’s neck and that he was cast into the sea. That seems harsh Mark. Because don’t you know that kind of talk causes division. For this makes division not only in the church but also in the world. Verse 43, “So a division occurred in the crowd because of [Christ].” So, how do we respond? Verse 31, “But many of the crowd believed in Him.” Verse 40-41:
“Some of the crowd therefore, when they heard these words, were saying, ‘This truly is the Prophet.’ Others were saying, ‘This is the Christ.’”
John 7:40-41a (LSB)
On our family WhatsApp, we have been bantering around what church might look like over the next number of years. And the need to get back to the basics. So, we got talking about bare-bones Christianity, grass-roots Christianity, or whatever you want to call it, because John the gospel writer is very simple in this sense. Here are some thoughts, some absolute truths:
- Jesus Christ is who He says He is.
- So, I must repent and follow Him as Lord.
- His Word must be my guide.
- My will must be conformed to His will.
- For He is making me into the likeness of Himself.
- And this is all for His glory!
Let’s pray. Lord, we have been given so much. Your Word is a treasure of everlasting, absolute truth. For heaven and earth will pass away, but Your Word will never pass away. So, might we therefore, value Christ and value His truth. May we cherish it, and passionately teach it to others. And all God’s people said, amen.