UNBELIEF - Month of December 2017
By Judy NicholsDecember 1, 2017
ã€€ It’s amazing how you can read a passage of the Bible, consistently interpreting it one way and then suddenly realize there’s a whole different way of looking at it. For years I have read Hebrews 12:1, where it says to "lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us," with "the sin" meaning either sin in general or whatever particular sin one is most tempted by. There is certainly no harm in eschewing sin in all its forms. We are called to be holy and part of this involves striving against sin, as verse 4 says.
But my most recent reading of Hebrews 12 convinced me that the author is talking about a particular sin. Can you guess what it is? It really is the subject of the whole book of Hebrews but the author doesn’t specifically identify it until chapter 3. He’s telling the story of how the people of Israel complained and rebelled against Moses in the wilderness. He interrupts the story with an exhortation: "Take care, brethren, that there not be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God" (3:12). The author finishes the story and at the end explains, "So we see that they were unable to enter [the Promised Land] because of unbelief" (3:19).
He continues in chapter 4, verse 2, "For indeed we have had good news preached to us, just as they also." The Israelites had a rich heritage of knowledge of the covenant God made with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. They knew the promises contained in that covenant. "But the word they heard did not profit them, because it was not united by faith in those who heard." They knew the promises but they did not believe them. Moreover, they saw God’s hand multiple times in their deliverance from Egypt – the plagues, their ability to plunder the Egyptians, the Red Sea parting, manna from heaven, and water from rocks – but it all made no difference; they didn’t believe God was able to take them into the land.
So how does unbelief entangle us? What forms does it take? Is it only manifested in negative circumstances, or can it trip us up when everything’s okay? The fact that he says it "so easily entangles us" tells me that it can be found in many unlikely situations. It’s easy to believe we could be caught up in unbelief when we are in the wilderness, like the Israelites, when failure, sickness, relationship problems or disasters happen. "Where is God?" we ask. "How could He let this happen to me?" "Why doesn’t He do something about it?" And instead of trusting God, we go into high gear trying to solve the problem, heal the wound or illness, turn failure to success or clean up the mess. This is not to say we have no part in changing our circumstances but only whether we do it on our own, out of our own wisdom and strength, or whether we are depending on God in the midst of it.
But unbelief can also show up at the other end of the pendulum swing. King Solomon penned the words, "Give me neither poverty nor riches . . . that I not be full and deny You and say, "Who is the Lord?" or that I not be in want and steal and profane the name of my God" (Prov. 30:8-9). When everything is going just fine, it is all too easy to forget that God is the owner and provider of everything. Unbridled success breeds arrogance. Good health is taken for granted as our due. All relationships in order can lead us to think more highly of ourselves than we ought. Lack of disasters in our lives can produce apathy toward those less fortunate. All these attitudes leave God out of the equation as surely as the negative side of unbelief.
One of the big messages of the book of Hebrews is that God has spoken. He means what He says and we best take it seriously. Will we believe what He says or won’t we? The covenant He made with Israel contained not only promises, blessings that would come to them as they followed Him and obeyed, but also consequences, curses that would surely befall them if they forsook Him and did not obey. The ups and downs in the history of Israel are more than adequate to prove to us that God meant it when he said it.
So what do we do? How do we avoid the sin of unbelief or combat it if we find ourselves entangled? Psalm 119:9-11 gives us the answer. "How can a young man (or woman, or child, or elderly) keep his way pure? By keeping it according to Your word. With all my heart I have sought you; do not let me wander from Your commandments. Your word I have treasured in my heart, that I may not sin against You." This book, the Bible, has the words of God, which He still means today and which, if we will live by them will keep us pure. As we seek Him with all our hearts and treasure His words and walk by them, we will be pleasing in His sight and kept from the sin of unbelief.
© Judy Nichols 2017