Overcoming Unbelief, Part 2
I remember the first time I heard teaching from Matthew 10:7-8. Carolyn and I were newly married, newly baptized in the Holy Spirit, and attending a charismatic church in central Florida. It was an exciting time in our lives! God’s Word came alive after the baptism in the Holy Spirit, and we began to understand the gifts of the Spirit in a new way. Prior to this experience, you could say we were “unbelieving believers!”
But I struggled that night with the teaching, even though I knew as biblical truth and through our recent experience the validity of the gifts of the Spirit. Let’s look at the passage and I’ll explain:
And as you go, preach, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers,raise the dead, cast out demons. Freely you have received, freely give.” Matt. 10:7-8 NKJV
Jesus just commissioned the twelve disciples with His authority and power to go to the tribes of Israel proclaiming the inauguration of God’s kingdom on earth through Jesus. They are not only to proclaim and teach, but they are to demonstrate the works of God’s kingdom through healing the sick, freeing the demonized, and even raise the dead. They are commissioned with a continuation of Jesus’ ministry (see Luke 4:18).
The speaker then transitioned to describe how the commissioning of these twelve disciples was later extended to all future disciples. In fact, the great commission given to all disciples in Matthew 28:18-20 includes the commissioning account found in Matthew 10:7-8 and other accounts in Mark and Luke. Therefore, all disciples today are still sent by Jesus to proclaim the gospel through preaching, teaching AND demonstrating the works of the kingdom, i.e., healing, deliverance, even raising the dead. By the way, in my book Receive Your Miracle Now!, I provide a solid argument biblically for the continuation of the gifts of the Spirit for disciples today.
But that night thirty years ago, I struggled with this teaching. I was okay with disciples today being commissioned to preach the gospel, and even heal the sick and free the oppressed. But wait a minute, my mind struggled with healing the lepers and raising the dead!
My human understanding placed a “box” or limit around God, what I thought God could or should do. Even though I was newly baptized in the Holy Spirit and believed in the continuation of the gifts of the Spirit, I was still an “unbelieving believer” with things I couldn’t understand or reason. I was bringing God and His Word down to my level of understanding. But remember what Isaiah 55:8 says, “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,” says the Lord.” (NKJV)
Years later, I would come to believe that God can heal ANY disease, and God CAN raise the dead! This doesn’t mean that all will be healed, or every dead person will be raised back to life, but His Word and commission invites us to believe for God to work miracles as we believe and pray. Since that night, I’ve met several people who have been used by God to raise the dead, my experience eventually caught up to what God’s Word says.
Let’s continue our discussion of the negative consequences of unbelief. Learning to recognize unbelief or limits we place on God is the first step toward being filled with faith to believe “all things are possible with God!”
Unbelief in Nazareth
Then He went out from there and came to His own country, and His disciples followed Him. And when the Sabbath had come, He began to teach in the synagogue. And many hearing Him were astonished, saying, “Where did this Man get these things? And what wisdom is this which is given to Him, that such mighty works are performed by His hands! Is this not the carpenter, the Son of Mary, and brother of James, Joses, Judas, and Simon? And are not His sisters here with us?” So they were offended at Him.
But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own country, among his own relatives, and in his own house.” Now He could do no mighty work there, except that He laid His hands on a few sick people and healed them. And He marveled because of their unbelief. Then He went about the villages in a circuit, teaching.” Mark 6:1-6 NKJV
After the miracle accounts in Mark 5, Jesus traveled about 25 miles southwest from the western shore of the Sea of Galilee to His childhood hometown of Nazareth. When the Sabbath came, He began to teach in the synagogue (vs. 2).
Luke’s gospel provides a more detailed account of what He taught in the synagogue that day (Luke 4:14-30). Mark did not record what Jesus taught; it seems his primary interest was the negative response of the people toward Jesus and His ministry. Mark writes that the “people were astonished at His teaching,” and then asked, “where did this man get these things?”
It wasn’t Jesus’ wisdom, or depth of His teaching, or miracles that trouble them; rather, it was His heritage and bold proclamation that He is the promised Messiah! His humble beginnings did not point to His greatness.
“Is He not the carpenter, the son of Mary …” The crowd’s human knowledge and reasoning caused them to stumble over the real identity of Jesus.
The idea that Jesus, their hometown carpenter, could be inaugurating the kingdom of God was outrageous; it did not conform to their preconceived ideas about how God would and could act.
Sadly, their preconceived ideas became an obstacle to faith. Like the “outsiders” described earlier in Mark 4:12, they “look and see but do not perceive, and hear and listen but do not understand.” (NKJV) The people of Nazareth were blinded by their own judgments of God and Jesus.
Often, our preconceived ideas of how God will or should act become stumbling blocks to our faith and relationship with the Lord. Our carnal nature and human reasoning can easily be offended with God and with others. We judge (predetermine) how something should be and become offended when God or others take a different course than what we expect.
God is merciful, gracious, and always good. But God’s behavior can be unpredictable. God does not conform to our preconceptions about Him, nor does He need our permission! Don’t be offended at God when God does not act or respond as you believe He should.
Be careful of human reasoning; it is often blind to God’s perspective and His promise to you. The writer of Proverbs underscores this principle,
Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths. Prov. 3:5-6 NKJV
The English word acknowledge comes from a Hebrew word yada, which means to know intimately. The same word is used in Genesis when the Scripture says Adam knew Eve. When we know God intimately and trust Him completely, we avoid human reasoning that can take us off God’s path and purpose.
God’s promises transcend your current perspective and circumstances. Focus your mind on what God has done or is doing. Refuse to entertain thoughts and reasoning that question God—that’s unbelief. Faith receives the promise as reality, often before your understanding or senses can fully grasp what God is doing.
Nazareth experienced no miracles, only a few sick healed through the laying on of hands. In Mark 5, we observe faith making a demand on Jesus; as a result, miracles occur as normal.
Unlike Matthew and Luke, Mark does not soften or omit Nazareth’s offense and unbelief that seems to limit the power of the Son of God. Mark desires to highlight the necessity of faith—at least a basic receptivity to God’s power at work in Jesus—as a factor for healings and miracles.
Few things seem to cause as strong a human reaction in Jesus as a lack of faith, or conversely, great faith. For example, the centurion in Matthew’s gospel was commended for his great faith, as well as the woman from Tyre with a demonized daughter (see Matt. 8:10; 15:28). While Jesus can and does heal or answer prayer for those weak in faith, great faith also invites God to grant our request. Learning how to grow in faith, as well as receive the gift of faith is needed by all of us.
There is nothing impossible with God. All impossibility is with us when we judge God’s promises through the negativity of unbelief.
Is God currently revealing promises to you that seem impossible? Is it possible that unbelief is hindering your faith?
Have you ever been concerned about your finances?
Most of us have at some point in our lives. Carolyn and I, like many married couples, were concerned about the debt we had incurred soon after our marriage. During the fall of 1991, we attended a financial seminar at our church. Prior to the seminar, we read and heard many present-day testimonies of God’s miraculous provision. We were confident God would do it again for us. During the seminar, God gave me a word regarding our finances.
The meeting facilitator advised participants to set financial goals, as the starting point to live debt-free. That’s when God spoke to me. It was not an audible voice, but the Holy Spirit spoke to me, “You will be debt-free by October 1st, 1992.” I wrote this word on a piece of notebook paper and placed it in my Bible and began to pray over it.
We put into practice some of the biblical financial tools we learned from the seminar and we continued to pray and stand in faith, based on the word we received. We would be debt-free by October 1st, 1992.
During the summer of 1992, the Lord instructed us to sell a small franchise business we had started two years prior. By the end of that summer, someone offered to buy the business for twice our original investment. God was moving our “debt mountain” in the unseen realm! Soon, our natural realm would manifest God’s plan for this season of our lives.
On October 1st, 1992, we closed on the sale of the business and received a sizable check that paid off all our existing debts! The remaining funds God used as “seed” money to propel us into ministry and the mission field. It began by understanding God’s promises for financial provision in His Word. As we heard the testimonies of others receiving financial breakthrough, our faith increased. Finally, when I received the word from Jesus that we would be debt-free, faith was released in our hearts to see our mountain move. We could stand on His promises, other’s testimonies, and His personal word to us!
Nazareth could have had a revival, instead, they rejected the move of God because they could only see Jesus from a human perspective.
Nazareth could have been a revival center, an apostolic hub like Antioch became for the early church. Instead, it is remembered as Jesus’ hometown that rejected Him and His ministry. God’s power was limited because of corporate unbelief. There were people and families God wanted to free and heal from the enemy’s oppression in Nazareth. But their corporate unbelief affected the entire city!
Paul directs the Corinthians,
Therefore, from now on, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him thus no longer.” (2 Cor. 5:16)
The people of Nazareth hindered what Jesus wanted to do for them because they only saw Him according to the flesh. Jesus won’t force Himself on anyone, nor does He force His messengers and gifts He sends upon us!
Unbelief Hinders the Expansion of the Church
In Proverbs we read, “The wise woman builds her house, but the foolish pulls it down with her hands.” (Prov. 14:1 NKJV) The Church is like the wise woman—we can build with faith and purpose, or through unbelief and doubt tear down what God wants to establish—His kingdom expanding here on earth! We are commissioned to preach the gospel, heal the sick, free the oppressed and even raise the dead.
When the Church, through faith and belief, embraces her kingdom commissioning and mandate, people and families in our cities experience God’s love and power! Sure, we are to help the poor, care for widows and orphans as part of our kingdom assignment. But don’t limit the gospel to just teaching and social justice care—we are to bring a full gospel message and demonstration to help liberate people from disease and suffering!
Jesus invites the 21st century Church to build with spiritual eyes. To see others in their new life in Christ, see their prophetic calling and destiny! To honor others is to honor Jesus in our midst. As we build a kingdom culture of love, acceptance, and empowerment of others in our churches, we position ourselves individually and corporately for miracles and breakthrough. We position our churches for apostolic outreach like we read of in Acts 13.
If you are struggling with unbelief, ask Him to forgive you of your unbelief and then ask Him to replace that unbelief with faith. Commit yourself to walk with Him closely and position yourself for an increase of faith. Next week I’ll discuss more practical ways to overcome unbelief and increase our faith.
For a more in-depth look at this topic, watch the Passion Church message, “Overcoming Unbelief, Part 2”