How Do I Break Free from Patterns of Unbelief?
How can I believe that my heavenly Father truly loves me when he won’t take away my insomnia or chronic pain? How can I trust God with my future when my whole world has exploded at the revelation of my spouse’s infidelity? How can I possibly believe that God knows what’s best for me when he calls me to turn from desires that feel completely natural? How can I entrust my child to the Lord when they’re about to inflict irreversible damage on their body?
Living by faith is difficult. We all struggle every day to remember, believe, and make choices based on God’s Word and his promises to us in Christ. Words on a page can feel meaningless when painful circumstances don’t change. What helps us nurture belief in these hard moments, days, and years?
Unbelief Is a Matter of the Heart
Our flesh looks at these situations and says that God hasn’t given us sufficient evidence that he’s worthy of our trust. But faith is not a matter of evidence. Scripture gives us testimony after testimony of people who had abundant evidence to trust God but still chose unbelief. The Israelites saw God perform over a dozen miracles rescuing them from Egypt, culminating in the parting of the Red Sea. And yet, in a matter of days, they doubted God’s ability or desire to keep them alive in the wilderness. Jesus fed over 5,000 men with nothing more than five loaves and two fish. But later, the crowd refused to believe his explanation of the miracle. His followers drastically decreased after this incredible display of his power and sustaining kindness.
Faith is a matter of the heart, not the eyes. Apart from God’s grace, all of us are born with dead hearts that cannot believe what is evident in all creation (Rom. 1:19–20). But in the new birth, God makes our hearts alive, and we believe. This is saving faith. And yet, this heart transplant does not guarantee an easy road of faith. We still struggle, and so much of our struggle with sexual sin comes down to unbelief.
Every time we give way to temptation, we’re believing those deceitful arguments and choosing to live in a world that’s fundamentally untrue.
Lies about God, ourselves, and others become powerful arguments for giving in to sin. After all, our heart says, God doesn’t care, God won’t deliver me, God can’t meet me in this moment—but sex can. Sex always delivers, sex has never let me down, and unlike God, sex doesn’t ask me to believe, just feel. Every time we give way to temptation, we’re believing those deceitful arguments and choosing to live in a world that’s fundamentally untrue.
Where Does Unbelief Grow?
I’m convinced there’s one primary behavior that keeps us stuck in patterns of unbelief: isolation. A man in one of our biblical support groups worked in the mold remediation business, and he compared sexual sin with mold. It grows in the dark, in hidden places, where nobody sees it, and before you know it, it’s infected the entire house.
Why does sin love darkness? Because in the darkness, no one can challenge your unbelief. Over time, that unbelief has a compounding effect. You don’t only believe all the lies that keep you going back to your sin, you also believe the lies that keep you from confessing your sin to others: My sin is too heinous, too dirty to tell others. I won’t survive the consequences of my actions. I can live a double life without anyone ever knowing.
Where Does Faith Grow?
At Harvest USA, I’ve asked dozens of men what the most helpful thing about their experience with us was. They almost always say the same thing: “Having other brothers to walk with me in this battle.” The most helpful thing wasn’t our staff’s expertise or our profound materials, but other group members, week-in and week-out, hearing their struggles and reminding them of the truths of the gospel.
I just finished a 20-month group with 12 men. At the end, I gave them one specific warning: Don’t go back to hiding. Don’t isolate yourself after this group finishes. That is the fastest way to guarantee going right back to old patterns of unbelief and sin. Hebrews 3:12–13 says,
Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.
Notice the two words accompanying “evil” and “sin”: “unbelieving” and “deceitfulness.” Sin deceives us, leading to unbelief, which causes us to turn away from God—his precepts and his promises.
Isolation is the soil in which unbelief grows. But the body of Christ is the good soil through which our Father causes our faith to go from strength to strength.
One of the most powerful weapons to guard against unbelief is genuine fellowship with the body of Christ. This is where we’re known, exhorted, comforted, and pointed back to the truth over and over again. This passage assumes that even going one day without other Christians reminding us of the truth leaves us vulnerable to sin’s hardening effects on our hearts. Do we give other Christians that level of importance in our lives? You will if you remember that this life is a spiritual battle, and lone rangers are the first to get picked off.
Ultimately, Jesus is your closest friend. He’s the one who never stops praying for you that your faith may not fail (Luke 22:32). He sympathizes with how excruciatingly difficult it is to trust in our heavenly Father (Luke 22:44, Heb. 12:4). And he uses his people as his mouthpiece to remind you of his love, care, goodness, and power over your life. Isolation is the soil in which unbelief grows. But the body of Christ is not only an effective spiritual weed killer, it’s also the good soil through which our Father causes our faith to go from strength to strength (Ps. 84:5–7).