The Israelites went ahead of God by organizing an army, planning a strategy, and striking out on their own. But when the enemy saw them, they chased the Israelite soldiers “as bees do” and destroyed them (see Deuteronomy 1:44).
I have seen horrible cases of believers who have never entered into God’s rest. The Lord brought them to a place of severe testing—a family crisis, a financial struggle, a marriage problem—but they did not wait for God to act. Instead, they accused Him of neglect and tried to solve their crises on their own. Today, those believers have no rest, no peace, no sense of God’s presence, and they live in constant doubt. They seem to go from one crisis to another and all they can talk about is their latest problem. Yet every bit of their confusion is caused by one thing: unbelief.
The Psalmist says, “We spend our years as a tale that is told” (Psalm 90:9). This psalm is speaking of unbelievers. What is the title of their tale? It is These All Lived and Died in Vain. It’s the same story we hear people tell of unbelieving grandparents: “They lived all their years in gloom. They did nothing but murmur and complain and they died alone and forgotten.”
This is the dread of unbelief. It cuts off your spiritual history, so that all that’s remembered of you is a wasted life. When Israel’s young generation asked about what happened to Grandma and Grandpa, they were told, “They murmured and complained all the time. They had nothing to live for, so they just sat around waiting to die.”
True believers are determined to trust God even if their prayer isn’t answered. It doesn’t matter if all their goods are taken away, or even if they face death. They desire to enter God’s rest. What is the evidence of such a life? They have “ceased from [their] own works” (see Hebrews 4:10). They no longer lie awake at night trying to solve their problems in their own wisdom and skill. Instead, they turn everything over to Jesus. It doesn’t matter whether they end up in gain or loss. Their only focus is that God has a plan, and that He is working it out in their lives.
“The hand of the Lord was against them, to destroy them . . . until all the generation of the men . . . were wasted out from among the host” (Deuteronomy 2:15, 14). Here is some of the strongest language in all the Bible regarding unbelief.
You may say, “But that isn’t the language of grace. God doesn’t deal that severely with unbelief today.” Not true. The Bible says that today, under grace, “without faith it is impossible to please him; for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him” (Hebrews 11:6).
This sin of unbelief cannot be isolated to a single issue in our lives. It spills over into everything, tainting and defiling every detail of our walk.
Israel’s doubt wasn’t just limited to God’s ability to slay their enemies. Their doubt spilled over into their trust for daily provisions. They doubted God’s ability to protect their children. They doubted whether He would lead them into the Promised Land. They doubted that He was even with them. That’s why God told them, “Turn you, and take your journey into the wilderness . . . for I am not among you” (Deuteronomy 1:40, 42).
If we have unbelief in one area, it spreads into every area, defiling our whole heart. We may trust God in certain matters, such as believing He saves us by faith, that He’s all powerful, that His Spirit abides in us. But do we trust Him for our future? Do we believe Him to provide for our health and finances, to give us victory over sin?
Unbelief leads to the sin of presumption. To presume is to dare to think we know what’s right. It’s an arrogance that says, “I know the way,” and then acts on its own.
Here is yet another sin that Israel committed in its unbelief. When God told them to turn back to the wilderness, they didn’t want to obey. Instead, they came to Moses and said, “Okay, we sinned. But we’ve got it figured out now. We’re ready to obey God’s command to go up against the enemy.” And they took matters into their own hands.
Many doubting believers make a tragic mistake in a significant way: When they fail in a matter of faith, they turn to the flesh. They do what they think must be done, but they proceed in their own wisdom and skill. Faith always resists acting in fear and waits for God to work. Faith is never willing to make something happen by going ahead of God.
Jesus came as a prophet and a miracle worker to His own house, Israel. Yet, “He did not many mighty works there because of their unbelief” (Matthew 13:58). What an incredible statement. Unbelief limited even Christ’s power to work.
We see other tragic results of unbelief throughout the New Testament. The disciples couldn’t cast out a demon from a small child because of their unbelief—and Jesus rebuked them for it (see Matthew 17:14-21). After the resurrection, Christ was shocked again by their unbelief: “[He] upbraided (rebuked) them with their unbelief and hardness of heart” (Mark 16:14). Moreover, Paul says of the Jews, “Because of unbelief they were broken off” (Romans 11:20).
Why is God’s judgment of unbelief so severe in the New Testament? It’s because believers today have been given something that Old Testament saints could only dream of. God has blessed us with the gift of His Holy Spirit. Under the Old Covenant, believers were only occasionally visited by God’s Spirit; they had to go to the temple to experience the Lord’s presence. But today God makes His dwelling place in His people. We are His temple, and His presence abides in every believer.
In the Old Testament, Abraham was occasionally visited by an angel or given a word from God. He trusted that God was able to do all He pledged and “staggered not at the promise of God” (Romans 4:20). Yet, today, Jesus is available to us at any hour of the day. We have the ability to call on Him our entire lifetime, and we know He’ll respond. He invites us to come boldly to His throne room and make our petitions known. And He gives us comfort and guidance through the Holy Spirit.
Yet, in spite of these blessings, we still doubt God in our times of extreme testing. Jesus rebukes such unbelief, saying, “Shall not God avenge his own elect, which cry day and night unto him, though he bear long with them? I tell you that he will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:7-8). If Christ were to return today, would He find faith in you?
God’s word wasn’t enough for the Israelites. The Lord had given them incredible promises, yet in the midst of their crises, Israel never trusted Him. In spite of every promise, they rendered His word useless. How? By never mixing it with faith. “The word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it” (Hebrews 4:2).
Instead, the people always demanded a new word from God. In other words: “We need to know whether God is with us in this present crisis, not just our last one. We must have a new revelation from Him for this situation.” I ask you, how could anyone forget so quickly all that God had done for them? Israel had forgotten every instance of God’s deliverance and had not allowed His past supernatural works to build up their faith in Him.
Yet, in spite of their accusations against Him, God spoke another word to Israel. He instructed Moses to tell them, “Dread not, neither be afraid of [your enemies]. The Lord your God which goeth before you, he shall fight for you, according to all that he did for you in Egypt before your eyes” (Deuteronomy 1:29-30).
Now, this wasn’t a new promise. God was simply restating what He had already told His people: “The Lord shall fight for you, and ye shall hold your peace” (Exodus 14:14).
Over and over God had told them, “I am with you. I’m going to fight for you so lay hold of this promise and don’t forget it.” Yet, here they were, trembling before their enemies and focusing on their own weakness. Finally, they reasoned, “We’re not able to go up against them.” This was blatant doubt—doubt of God’s call on their lives, doubt that He had sent them, doubt of His presence in their midst.
You may think you would never react this way, yet so many Christians today say similar things: “Lord, are You really with me? I know what You promised me, but is it really true? Can I trust what You’ve said? I need a fresh word. Please, give me some more assurance.”
We end up trembling before the enemy of our souls and it is all because we don’t believe what God has promised us. We act as if He has never said a word to us and we begin to “tempt” Him. Even though He has proven Himself to us again and again, we continually ask Him to prove His faithfulness anew, to send us yet another faith-building word. But God will speak only one word: “Believe what I have said to you. Trust Me.”
“The one who enters through the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. . . . The sheep recognize his voice and come to him. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out” (John 10:2-3, NLT).
We all need guidance for decisions in life. Yet, in a world as chaotic as ours, getting good guidance isn’t always simple or easy. Jesus says it is different for Christians. He makes it clear in the above passage that His followers—“His own sheep”—know His voice and “come to Him.” The picture is of a Good Shepherd providing His sheep with all the oversight and care they need.
Does that suffice for the hard decisions we all have to make? Each of us has serious matters to decide: “Whom do I marry? What vocation should I pursue? What is my purpose in life?” These decisions can be fraught with tension, especially if we regret poor decisions made in the past. My life has been immensely blessed by God, but I don’t want my children or grandchildren to make the mistakes I’ve made. Like any parent, I want to be able to give them the best guidance possible.
The good news is that we have a Shepherd who is a faithful guide to us in all things, no matter how faulty our decisions. He has the authority to guide us into an amazingly blessed life, regardless of our failures. Indeed, He says that is His purpose in guiding our lives: “My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life” (John 10:10, NLT).
We all know it is important to follow a quality guide. Think about the big life decisions you’ve made: Who was guiding you? What was their experience? What skill and knowledge did they use in getting you to where you wanted to go?
Some guides in life have the knowledge to get us through some troubling dilemmas. But do they also have the knowledge to carry us to the abundant life Jesus promises? As our Lord, Jesus is up to more than just guidance—He is forming a relationship. He wants us to know more than just when and where to go. He wants us to have the rich blessing of knowing Him personally in every area of life. So while we’re busy looking for an instruction manual, He’s saying very simply, “Follow Me.”