Why We Choose Belief or Unbelief

What makes a person choose to believe or not believe?  Here we see some perplexing examples but also a clear answer from Jesus.

Today’s Reading

Second Kings 20-22; John 6:45-71

Selected Verses

But they did not listen, and Manasseh led them astray to do more evil than the nations had done whom the Lord destroyed before the people of Israel.  2 Kings 21:9

And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.”    After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. So Jesus said to the Twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” John 6:65-67

Reflections

People choose to believe or not believe, but without the work of the Spirit in a person’s heart there will be no inclination to believe.

Today’s reading demonstrates the ups and downs of the kings of Israel and Judah.  Hezekiah had led Judah in a period of faithfulness like none before him.  We also read about Josiah who repaired the temple, rediscovered the book of the law, and led the nation to revival.  But in between these two godly kings was Manasseh who had the longest and worst reign in the history of Judah.  He led the people to do more evil than the Canaanite nations that God had judged and destroyed under Joshua.  How do these things happen? Why would a great and godly king (Hezekiah) have such a wicked son (Manasseh)? How does such a wicked king (Manasseh) father such a godly son (Josiah)?

Clearly, something is at work in these fathers and sons besides mere heredity or environmental influence.  The difference, we discover, is God the Father who draws people to Himself (John 6:44).  It is the Spirit who gives life (John 6:63).  It is Jesus whose body and blood gives eternal life to the one who believes in Him. Those who heard Jesus either responded with disbelief and even disgust, or they drew near to Him concluding like Peter did when he said, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:68-69).

Think about it

To whom will you go?  Jesus’ words either comfort or repel you.  If you believe, you may be sure it is the drawing of the Father and the life-giving ministry of the Spirit.  If you do not believe, but are troubled by your unbelief, that, too, is the work of God in you.  Call to Him for faith to believe and grace to repent of your sins and come to the Bread of Life.  You are not controlled by your family history or outward circumstances either for good or bad.  Your choice reflects your heart.  May God give us His Spirit so that we can believe!

Seeking Darkness or Light

Whether you seek darkness or light says a lot about your true spiritual condition. Today we read of the worst example ever and a warning from Jesus.

Today’s Reading

1 Kings 21-22; John 3:1-21

Selected Verses

There was none who sold himself to do what was evil in the sight of the Lord like Ahab, whom Jezebel his wife incited. He acted very abominably in going after idols, as the Amorites had done, whom the Lord cast out before the people of Israel.  I Kings 21:25-26

Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”  John 3:3

Reflections

Those who do evil avoid the light.  They are not concerned about entering the Kingdom of God.  They run from God, rather than seek Him.

Ahab exemplified a man who “sold himself to do what was evil in the sight of the Lord.”  On a whim, he ordered Naboth executed on trumped up charges because he had property that Ahab wanted.  He worshiped idols.  He was completely self-centered.  Whenever he didn’t get his way he was “vexed and sullen.” His conniving wife, the evil Jezebel, urged him on.  Ahab’s death came by God’s providence even though he had disguised himself in battle.  As prophesied, the dogs licked up his blood in the vineyard he had taken from Naboth.

Jesus gave the Pharisee Nicodemus a stern warning.  No one can see the kingdom of God without being born again, being born of the Spirit.  Yet, Jesus goes on to say, it is not as if there are people who are desperately seeking to enter the kingdom and cannot find a way.  The fact is that people love darkness, not light, because their deeds are evil.  They hate the light.  If they did what was true they would come to the light.

Ahab sought the darkness.  All those who are not born of the Spirit seek the darkness.  None of them are concerned about entering the kingdom of God.

Think about it

How about you?  Have you been born again?  If so, you will do what is true.  You will flee the darkness and come to the light.  You will love the light not the darkness.  If you are not sure, but are concerned about making sure that is a good sign the rebirth has taken place or is taking place in you.  Pray for God to do His work of bringing new spiritual birth to your soul.  I’ll see you in His kingdom.

Born of God

Without a new birth, brought about by God, even the most informed people do not receive His Word but persist in all kinds of pagan abominations.

Today’s Reading

1 Kings 14-15; John 1:1-28

Selected Verses

They did according to all the abominations of the nations that the Lord drove out before the people of Israel.  1 Kings 14:24

He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

John 1:11-13

Reflections

Solomon’s apostasy led to the division of the kingdom under Rehoboam and Jeroboam.  Neither of them was humble or repentant, but they continued in the path taken by Solomon.  The divided kingdom stayed at war during the lifetimes of these two kings.  They continued to worship other gods.  Their practices mirrored those of the peoples that God had evicted from the land when Israel entered.

When Jesus came, fulfilling the promise of a Messiah, He was not universally received.  The gospel records show that as His ministry unfolded official opposition increased culminating in His crucifixion.  Jesus came revealing the glory of the Father, full of grace and truth.  Those who were sent to arrest Him said, “No one ever spoke like this man!” (John 7:46).

But despite Jesus’ powerful words, the nation officially rejected Him.  Why?  They were not born of God.  Those who are born of God are children of God who manifest this reality by receiving Christ and believing in His name.  Everyone is God’s creature, made by Him, but not all who owe Him their existence are His children (John 1:3,10).

Neither severe hardship such as decades of war, nor mighty works like the incarnation of God the Son automatically results in faith and repentance in people.  It takes a new birth, a birth brought about by God, to turn the hearts of sinners to Himself and to make them His children.

Think about it

If you have been born of God, then you are His child.  Your home is with Him, not here. But you and I will be there soon.  Rejoice and be faithful as you await that day.

The Heart of the Problem

Our problem is not lack of knowledge but the resistance in our hearts to believe God and to love Him more than anything or anyone else.

Today’s Reading

I Kings 10-11; Luke 24:1-35

Selected Verses

And the Lord was angry with Solomon, because his heart had turned away from the Lord, the God of Israel, who had appeared to him twice  and had commanded him concerning this thing, that he should not go after other gods. But he did not keep what the Lord commanded. I Kings 11:9,10

And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. Luke 24:25-27

Reflections

J C Ryle wrote:  “True faith does not depend merely on the state of man’s head and understanding, but on the state of his heart. His mind may be convinced. His conscience may be pierced. But so long as there is anything the man is secretly loving more than God, there will be no true faith.”

Solomon’s heart “had turned away from the Lord” and he had gone after other gods.  Did all those pagan wives and concubines have anything to do with this?  Of course (I Kings 11:3-4).  But no one forced Solomon to marry all those unbelievers.  He did it because his heart was either already turned away from the Lord or he was willing for it to be turned away.  As a result, God diminished his legacy.

The disciples walking to Emmaus had lost hope that Jesus whom they believed to be dead would redeem Israel.  Jesus told them they were foolish and “slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken.” How many times had He told them He would rise on the third day?  So Jesus spent the rest of the evening explaining to them how the Scriptures pointed to Him and to the things that had happened.  Nothing had gone wrong except the hearts of the disciples that were slow to believe the truth of the resurrection.

Think about it

God promised to give His people changed hearts–hearts of flesh not stone (Ezekiel 36:26). He did give new hearts to the disciples as Jesus opened the Scriptures to them. Has God given you a new heart, one that is turned toward the Lord and that is quick to believe?  If not, call upon Him for mercy and grace to receive new life and a new heart that loves Him and believes Him.  The heart is the problem, but God can give you a new one.

Undetected Blindness

Unlike physical blindness, spiritual blindness is a condition which cannot be detected by those who suffer from it.

Today’s reading:

Luke 9:57-11:36

My selection:

But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. Luke 11:20

Some of those who saw Jesus cast the demon out of the mute man restoring his speech doubted.  This remarkable miracle did not convince them.  They concocted a theory that Jesus was casting out demons by the power of the prince of demons, Beelzebul.  Jesus refuted their assertion by two arguments.  First, if Satan were the power behind the healing, he would be fighting against himself.  That is an illogical strategy that would surely result in the devil’s defeat.  Second, others among the Jews cast out demons, so by whose power did they do that?

More evidence won’t help

Sometimes unbelievers say they need more evidence in order to believe.  Clearly, in Jesus’ day some who saw miracles performed before their eyes refused to accept the evidence.  Seeing is not believing, to those who are spiritually blind. Unlike physical blindness, spiritual blindness is a condition which cannot be detected by those who suffer from it.  Jesus explained to some Pharisees that they could not be given sight because they did not recognize their blindness (John 9:39-41).

If you do not believe, have you considered that you are spiritually blind, unable to see the obvious?  Pray that you may receive mercy and grace to see and to believe.  In Christ  the Kingdom of God has come upon us.

For more reflections on today’s reading, see the corresponding reading in my book Cover to Cover: Through the Bible in 365 days.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

 

Why Some Repent

Do you know why some repent and others do not? How do you explain the widely differing responses of people to the severe adversity of God’s judgment? The answer is clear in Scripture.

Today’s reading: Haggai 1-2; Revelation 16

14 And the Lord stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and the spirit of Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and the spirit of all the remnant of the people. And they came and worked on the house of the Lord of hosts, their God, Haggai 1:14

8 The fourth angel poured out his bowl on the sun, and it was allowed to scorch people with fire. They were scorched by the fierce heat, and they cursed the name of God who had power over these plagues. They did not repent and give him glory. Revelation 16:8-9

During Haggai’s time, the people of Judah in captivity in Babylon had been allowed to return to Jerusalem. They had settled down and begun to build their comfortable and fashionable homes. Haggai was sent to tell them that God was not pleased with their wrong priorities. They had left the temple in ruins while they focused on their own houses. God sent them drought. The crops failed.

The message of Haggai and the failure of the crops seemed to get their attention. But in the case of the people living under the outpouring of God’s wrath by the seven angels of Revelation 15-16, there is a completely different reaction. No matter what bowl of wrath is poured out the people do not repent and give God glory. They do not recognize His power and their sin. Their response is completely irrational. The only exception is the voice coming from the altar who give God the praise for the display of His justice and power (Revelation 6:9-11).

Adversity, in and of itself, does not produce repentance. As the bowls are poured out and one judgment is piled upon another, the cursing of God continues without diminishing. How do we explain this insane attitude toward the Sovereign and Holy God? Why did the people in Haggai’s day repent after a crop failure while the people of John’s vision dig in and curse God? The difference is that “the Lord stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and the spirit of Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and the spirit of all the remnant of the people.” This turned them to obedience and service to rebuild the temple.

Do not expect repentance and praise to God to come from rebellious sinners unless the Lord stirs up their hearts. Pray that God may show mercy to those who are under His wrath by not only sending adversity and a messenger with the gospel, but by also stirring up their hearts. That is why some repent and others do not.

 

Overcoming Faith

Believers in Jesus Christ should expect changed lives and victory over the world.

Today’s reading: Daniel 7-8; 1 John 5

14 And to him was given dominion
and glory and a kingdom,
that all peoples, nations, and languages
should serve him;
his dominion is an everlasting dominion,
which shall not pass away,
and his kingdom one
that shall not be destroyed.                                                                       Daniel 7:14

For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?           1 John 5:3-5

Daniel recorded here his visions of what was to come. He found them troubling because they were not easy to understand. We have the advantage of history and can draw some lines between the things he saw and what later occurred. The vision of the beasts seems to refer to the kingdoms of Nebuchadnezzar (Babylonia), Medo Persia, and Alexander the Great. The fourth is not so clear, but some believe it to be the Roman Empire.

What was clear was that none of these kingdoms would endure. The Ancient of Days gives the everlasting kingdom to the son of man, which clearly points to Jesus Christ. His kingdom will not pass away.

John the Apostle knew the Son of Man, his and our Lord Jesus Christ. John wrote that He was the propitiation for our sins ( 1 John 2:2;4:10). In Him we are given light and have fellowship with God and with all His people who also walk in the light with God (I John 1:7). This fellowship with God results in a changed life. This changed life includes: faith in Jesus Christ, love for God, and obedience to His commandments. Those changes demonstrate a new birth and results in victory over the world.

Should we settle for a hum-drum spiritual life? No. Not according to John. We should expect substantial changes. No, not perfection. We will always be going to Him to confess our sins and to be cleansed (1 John 1:9). If you do not see evidence in yourself of a new birth, call upon Him for mercy and grace to grant you overcoming faith.

Seeing Yourself Correctly

Seeing yourself correctly is important. Not everyone does, so how can you be sure you do?

Today’s reading: Ezekiel 32-33; 1 Peter 1

“You consider yourself a lion of the nations,
but you are like a dragon in the seas;
you burst forth in your rivers,
trouble the waters with your feet,
and foul their rivers.
Thus says the Lord God:
I will throw my net over you
with a host of many peoples,
and they will haul you up in my dragnet.                                         Ezekiel 32:2b-3

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.                                             1 Peter 1:3-5

Pharaoh was one of those people who had a faulty and exalted opinion of himself. He saw himself as a “lion of the nations”, but God had another view of him. Through Ezekiel, the Lord told the king of Egypt that he was no lion but a dragon who was fouling the rivers and who was about to be caught and destroyed.

Peter wrote that Christians are heirs of God. It is not their own doing. They didn’t earn this status. God, by His mercy, has granted it to His people. There is a process. First, He caused them to be born again. He did it. They did not will themselves to be reborn. Jesus told Nicodemus a new birth was an absolute prerequisite in order to see the Kingdom of God (John 3:3). Rebirth is a gracious gift from God’s mercy. Second, because of that new birth, believers have a living hope through Jesus Christ’s resurrection. Whatever they hoped in before is perishable, defiled, and fading. This new living hope is in an inheritance  totally unlike any material and earthly inheritance. Thirdly, they cannot lose this hope because the inheritance is kept in heaven (not Wall Street!) for them and they are guarded by God’s power through faith for a salvation which they will see at the last time.

Do you see yourself in the way Peter described, an heir of God with a living hope? If you know the new birth has been granted to you and your faith is in Jesus Christ, you should. Consider if your view of yourself is accurate in accordance with the way God sees you. Remember seeing yourself correctly glorifies God.

Agonizing over the Lost

Today’s reading: Psalm 85-87; Romans 9

Will you not revive us again,
that your people may rejoice in you?
Show us your steadfast love, O Lord,
and grant us your salvation.                                                              Psalm 85:6-7

…I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh.                                                                                            Romans 9:2b-3

Love for unbelieving friends and family members will drive the godly man or woman to great grief, but the best thing he or she can do is beseech the Lord who alone is able to revive the spiritually dead.

The Psalmist calls out to God for his nation to again experience the blessing of God. He remembers past days when they knew the Lord’s forgiveness and enjoyed His favor in the land.  Now, that favor has been withdrawn. God is indignant with them. What can be done? The writer calls on the Lord for restoration. Only He can bring revival to the people. The Psalmist calls on God and he is confident in Him. He recognizes their foolishness, but he knows that God’s love and faithfulness are greater than the waywardness of His people.

Paul also agonizes over his people, Israel. He also sees them foolishly ignoring all that God had given them. Look at the list of blessings they have uniquely received:

They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen.                                                                                                         Romans 9:4-5

What have they done with what they have received? They have wasted it. They have turned away from their Messiah, who is God. Indeed, they crucified Him! Paul’s anguish is palpable. So much so that he would give up his own salvation if that would bring them to Christ. Of course, it would not, but we get the picture of the depth of his despair about the Jews.

What believer has not felt at least some level of despair over his or her unsaved loved ones? What can we do? Psalm 85 gives us the right approach in our prayer. Remember God’s blessings in the past. Confess any sins that need confessing in the present. Ask God for mercy and to revive those who are dead in their sins. Trust God to do what is right. Praise Him for His righteousness. Wait on Him. Repeat daily, as needed.

Silence before God

Today’s reading: Job 38-39; Acts 15:1-21

1 Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind and said:

2 “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?
Dress for action like a man;
I will question you, and you make it known to me.        Job 38:1-3

11 But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.” 12 And all the assembly fell silent, and they listened to Barnabas and Paul as they related what signs and wonders God had done through them among the Gentiles.                                                                                          Acts 15:11-12

It is good and instructive to the soul to be still before God, to listen to His Word, and to observe His mighty acts.

Job and his friends have ranted on for 35 of the first 37 chapters of the book. The complaining of Job did not relieve him nor vindicate him before his friends. His would-be counselors’ opinions and lectures did not strike home to either help Job or indict him. At last God interrupts the futile discussion and answers Job out of the whirlwind as he seems unable to hear anything soft and gentle. God hurls questions at Job to show him his weakness and ignorance. He can only be silent for he has no answers. He is stilled before the Almighty Creator who not only knows all things but has made all things.

God was also doing a great work in the days of the Apostles. The persecution sent the disciples everywhere proclaiming the gospel of the resurrected Christ. Even Gentiles heard and believed. Peter had seen this first. Paul and Barnabas were seeing amazing conversions of Gentiles, too. What should have been great news, however, was disturbing to some of the Jewish believers in Jerusalem. They could accept Gentile believers but not uncircumcised Gentile believers. We read of how the apostles called this counsel to discuss the question and to determine their policy on how Gentile believers should be treated in light of the law of Moses. Peter was helpful in clarifying the truth of the doctrine of salvation by grace alone for all who believe, Jews and Gentiles. Paul and Barnabas’ report of the work of God made all the assembly fall silent.

As we saw yesterday, there is a time to “stop and consider.” Stop the endless babble of personal opinion and pomposity. Consider what God has done in Creation and in Salvation. As the prophet wrote:

But the Lord is in his holy temple;

let all the earth keep silence before him.”

(Habakkuk 2:20)