Q & A

Why do some people not believe?

On occasions we have all wondered why so few people respond to the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. The glorious message of divine love and mercy so often falls on deaf ears. Invitations to come learn about God, who loves us all and wants to bring us to heaven when we die, are stoutly rejected. One would think that people would be zealous in their desire to know such a loving God, but the opposite is the case. This is because of the nature of man.

We Are All Flawed

The descendants of Adam are spiritually flawed. (If there is any doubt about that just look around at the state of our world today, or read history, and the evidence of man’s sinfulness is plain to see). Not only are we born into a sinful world, we are born with a fallen nature that leans in the direction of sin. For example, God inspected the heart of man in the days of Noah and commented upon his condition: “The Lord saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time.” (Genesis 6:5). After the flood, the Lord confirmed his statement about man’s evil heart: “Never again will I curse the ground because of man even though every inclination of his heart is evil from childhood.” (Genesis 8:21) The heart of man is exceedingly sinful.

Since we have a fallen nature that desires to sin, the pursuit of God is not a priority. We don’t naturally gravitate towards things spiritual. Yet, in spite of our fallen nature, God has remained near “so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us.” (Acts 17:27)

Choices to Make

Since God “is not far from each of us,” unbelief is inexcusable. God can be found by those who seek him. He is not hiding, nor does he make it difficult for any to find him. Through the natural world (Romans 1:20) and displays of his divine power, God has provided evidence to help seekers find him. For example, when Israel went to occupy the Promised Land they sent men “to spy out the land.” They came to the city of Jericho where the prostitute Rahab provided them with protection in exchange for the protection of her family when the army of Israel came against Jericho. Rahab had heard what the God of the Israelites had done in Egypt and she believed. Those who died when Jericho fell had access to the same information as Rahab. The difference is that she chose to do something about what she had heard.

Seeking God

God has not been silent in declaring his desire to be found by those who seek him:

  • “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” (Jeremiah 29:13)
  • “But in their distress they turned to the Lord, the God of Israel, and sought him, and he was found by them.” (2 Chronicles 15:4)
  • “But if from there you seek the Lord your God, you will find him if you look for him with all your heart and with all your soul.” (Deuteronomy 4:29)
  • “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6)Unbelief cannot be attributed to a lack of convincing evidence. “Even after Jesus had done all these miraculous signs in their presence, they still would not believe in him.” (John 12:37) Why? Were the miracles not sufficiently spectacular? The apostle John explains one aspect of the struggle with coming to faith in Jesus: “Yet at the same time many even among the leaders believed in him. But because of the Pharisees they would not confess their faith for fear they would be put out of the synagogue; for they loved praise from men more than praise from God.” (John 12:42-43) These Pharisees saw the weight of the evidence and the direction in which the evidence pointed – to the Lord Jesus Christ. But something was more important to them than belief, namely their own pride; they found the compliments of men more satisfying than the praises of God.

It is not in the nature of man to see himself as God sees him. None of us thinks we are as bad as we really are, hence the need for the convicting ministry of the Holy Spirit. Jesus said he would send the Holy Spirit, who will “convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment.” (John 16:8) Through the Spirit’s ministry, we are convicted of our sinfulness and our need to be redeemed. On the Day of Pentecost those who heard Peter’s message “were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?'” The Spirit had convicted them of their sinfulness and, in desperation, they cry out for deliverance. They are told, “Repent and be baptised everyone of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit… Those who accepted his message were baptised.” (Acts 2:37-41)

The ministry of the Holy Spirit is seen working in the life of Lydia and her family as they listened to Paul telling them about the crucified and risen Christ. “The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message. When she and the members of her household were baptised, she invited us to her home.” (Acts 16:14-15) Like those on the Day of Pentecost, Lydia also had her heart opened by the Holy Sprit and responded to the gospel by being baptised. But not everyone has been so responsive.

Resisting the Holy Spirit

Stephen was the first Christian martyr. He shared the redemptive message of Christ with an audience that proved to be unreceptive. “You stiff-necked people,” he said, “with uncircumcised hearts and ears! You are just like your fathers; you are always resisting the Holy Spirit… When they heard this they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him… they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, dragged him out of the city and began to stone him.” (Acts 7:51-58)

The Holy Spirit was being resisted, the illumination of the Spirit was being rejected. They were behaving just like their forefathers, who also resisted the Holy Spirit.

In the city of Antioch, Paul made his customary visit to the local synagogue and preached the gospel there. “We tell you good news,” Paul said. “What God promised our fathers he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising up Jesus… I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you.” (Acts 13:32-28) The following Sabbath “almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord.” However, the Jews became jealous “and talked abusively against what Paul was saying.” Paul responded: “Since you reject it [the gospel] and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles.” (Acts 13:44-46) The Jews at Antioch made a conscious decision to reject the gospel by resisting all the overtures God was making to them.

Paul was brought before governor Felix and ” discoursed on righteousness, self-control and the judgement to come, Felix was afraid and said, ‘That’s enough for now! You may leave. When I find it convenient, I will send for you.'” (Acts 24:25) (Many reject the gospel because it is not ‘convenient’.). Felix’s rejection of the gospel is confirmed by his conduct. “When two years had passed, Felix was succeeded by Porcius Festus, but because Felix wanted to grant a favor to the Jews, he left Paul in prison.” (Acts 24:27) This is not the behaviour of a man who had become a believer.

At his trial before Agrippa and Festus, the Apostle Paul gave a fearless proclamation of the gospel. “At this point Festus interrupted Paul’s defence. ‘You are out of your mind, Paul!’ he shouted. ‘Your great learning is driving you insane’ ‘I am not insane, most excellent Festus,’ Paul replied. ‘What I am saying is true and reasonable. The king is familiar with these things… King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know you do.’ Then Agrippa said to Paul, ‘Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?” (Acts 26:24-28) The tone of Agrippa’s words shows he rejected the gospel. His unbelief was his own choice.

And so it is today. People hear the gospel and many reject it. Yet God is not silent. What he said in ancient times is still applicable for our generation. “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your heart.” (Hebrews 4:7)