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The High Cost Of Unbelief

The High Cost Of Unbelief poster

Sin is the most expensive thing in the universe; whether pardoned or unpardoned nothing is as costly. If you’re not a Christian, the cost of sin is so high that you will never pay the debt. Throughout all eternity you will never be able to make a final payment.

If you’re a Christian, the payment for your sin falls on the sin-bearer Jesus Christ. But even so, the sins that we commit in this life have consequences. If I murder someone, I must pay the debt even if I have been forgiven by God.

Which sin has the severest consequences? Most of us would probably say moral sins—because they break up the family and cause guilt and shame. But perhaps an even greater sin is that of unbelief. In fact, this sin lies at the root of all others.

The supreme example of unbelief is the nation Israel’s failure to enter into the land at Kadesh-Barnea. The New Testament says that the Israelites had “an evil heart of unbelief” and it exhorts us to make sure that we do not have such a heart in departing from the living God. In the book of Mark, six times we have the expression “hardness of heart” and in most instances it refers to the disciples. Yes, God’s choicest saints can have hearts filled with unbelief.

Recall that in Numbers 13, twelve spies had been sent into the land so that the Israelites could know how best to conquer their enemies. Ten of the spies said that the enemy was too formidable, the walls were too high, and the giants were too tall. Two of them, namely Joshua and Caleb, said that the report of the ten spies was accurate—Canaan did look formidable—but with God’s help the Israelites could conquer it.

What happened? The nation sided with the majority. In fact, they threatened to stone Joshua and Caleb and even wished that they would return to Egypt. How much did the nation Israel pay for the sin of unbelief?

The first payment was the discipline of God. The Lord says, “How long shall I bear with this evil congregation who are grumbling against Me? I have heard the complaints of the sons of Israel which they are making against Me” (Numbers 14:27). And so God issued the judgment: the entire adult nation of Israel would die in the wilderness and only the younger generation under twenty years old would get to see the land. And so the children also would suffer because of the sins of their parents. They would see their parents bones bleached in the sunlight. All because of unbelief.

And how does this apply to us? In the New Testament, Canaan is referred to as the place of spiritual blessing. And God has blessed us with all spiritual blessings in Christ, but it is possible for us to not enter into the land—we can live in a spiritual desert. And one way we can tell if we’re living there is whether or not we have the spiritual resources necessary to actually help others—either Christian or non-Christian—in their spiritual journey. In the wilderness you spend most of your time with survival—finding just enough food and water for yourself. One Christian said, “I am a cup half-filled trying desperately to spill over.” Isn’t that the picture of many Christians today? They scarcely have enough spiritual food for themselves much less for anyone else.

Perhaps you have wondered, as I have, why God’s judgment upon the Israelites was so severe. The only answer that satisfies is that unbelief is such a great sin. It strikes at the very personhood of God—His love and faithfulness. And John wrote, “If we disbelieve God, we make Him a liar.”

But also, unbelief exalts the enemy. In choosing to side with the majority, the nation Israel was in effect saying that the giants in the land were just as great as God. There are some people who think that Satan is so strong that they dishonor God by ascribing such strength to the enemy. If we exalt the enemy, we will conclude that defeat is inevitable. So while we must recognize the awesome power of Satan and the flesh, if we ascribe too much power to them it is at the expense of the power and the strength of God.

A second payment was the loss of the blessing of God. After all, the nation was supposed to enter into the land that flows with milk and honey. They were not to be wandering in the desert for another forty years. In the land, they were to have victory over the cities of Canaan—one at a time. They were to walk over their enemies with confidence because God would be with them. Also, they were to settle down in the land, planting crops and raising families.

But instead, they spent their time aimlessly in the desert. Walking in the blistering sand, experiencing the purposelessness of their existence. And that’s what unbelief does to the people of God: it robs them of spiritual blessing. “Christ could do no great miracle among them because of their unbelief.”

Today we say “to see is to believe” but in the Bible it is the opposite: to believe is to see. Psalm 27:13, “I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living.” It was faith that caused the psalmist to see the blessing of God. And remember the words of Christ to Mary and Martha at the grave of Lazarus. “Said I not unto thee, that, if thou wouldest believe, thou shouldest see the glory of God?” Believing comes before seeing.

But without faith we never experience those impossibilities—those special favors of the Lord. We wander in a spiritual desert without the refreshing streams of Canaan.

Third, the nation lost the presence of God. The next day they decided to flaunt the command of God and go up to the hill country and attempt to conquer the Canaanites after all. Moses warned them that they would be defeated, but they didn’t take no for an answer. Moses added, “The Lord is not with you.”

Note this: whenever we live in unbelief, we have a tendency to manipulate, to take charge of situations whether God is with us or not. Waiting on God and seeking His will, seems to be so impractical when there is something to be done—so many people plunge ahead “heedlessly”—presumptuously. And of course, the Israelites were defeated.

The test of a man or woman of God is how they act when they are in a tight place. When you are faced with a difficulty, it’s easy to compromise, to forge ahead regardless of what God has said. That’s what happened to Israel, and that’s what happens to all of those who live in unbelief.

There is a divine commentary on the experience of the Israelites in Psalm 78 where the text says, “they limited the Holy One of Israel” (v. 41, KJV). Unbelief limits God.

How can we know whether or not we have grown accustomed to unbelief? First, I must ask: Do we delight in the Word of God? In Hebrews, we read regarding the Israelites that “the Word preached to them did not profit them not being mixed with faith in them that heard it.” Notice that—the Word of God is of no profit if it is not mixed with faith. And that’s why we begin reading our Bibles at the start of a new year, but quickly move on to other things and forget our resolutions! It’s because the Word if it is not mixed with faith, can be very dead.

Second, our faith or unbelief is clearly seen by the prayers that we pray. Those who live in unbelief will find that their prayers degenerate to trivia and inconsequential matters. They never ask God for anything that is bold and imaginative. Down deep within they think He wouldn’t answer prayer anyway—so why bother? I must confess that many of the requests that I have made known to God are unworthy of Him. Only a person of faith can ask for that which borders on the impossible. Unbelief asks for that which is predictable, that which is so inconsequential that it probably would happen anyway!

Finally, we must ask whether we are experiencing the deserts of life. If we find we have nothing for ourselves, much less anything spiritual to share with our friends, relatives, and the unconverted world, we can be quite sure that we are living in the desert. It’s a sign that our faith has been eroded and is shriveled.

God delights in faith—those who come to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of them who diligently seek Him out. And sometimes God teaches us faith by withdrawing feelings or taking us through a dark valley that we might believe His bare Word regardless of the circumstances. There was a man who felt very badly that he seemed to be left out of many of the blessings of God. People would testify of this miracle, or that miracle—this answer to prayer or that one. But he never seemed to have those kinds of experiences. In a dream, he saw a line of people and Christ went to each one and laid His hand on them and blessed them. But when Christ came to this man—the one who was having the dream—Christ took two steps back and said, “I know I don’t have to bless you because you will continue to believe and love Me anyway.” The man was encouraged; he saw that the Christian life was one of faith. Believing God with or without the tangible evidence of His answers and blessing. Without faith we cannot please Him.

But how do we get faith? First, we must call unbelief a sin—God calls it “an evil heart of unbelief.” We must confess it and forsake it as we would any other sin in our lives. And then second, we must live in the Word of God. “Faith cometh by hearing and hearing by the Word of God.” Not just reading the Word brings faith, but hearing it. That is reading it with an open, responsive heart. And faith will be built up in our lives.

Unbelief has an incredibly high cost: faith can bring us many blessings. As Spurgeon said, “A little bit of faith will take your soul to heaven but a great deal of faith will bring heaven to your soul.”