Daily Bible Studies & Sermon Notes

Escaping Unbelief
Pastor Steve Schell
John 8:13-23, 32, 44
Jesus was gentle with common people and sinners, but He became quite confrontational when He dealt with people who were very religious. In the passage we’re reading today it’s obvious He was very frustrated with the unbelief in this group of Pharisees who were confronting Him. We know from statements He made elsewhere (Mt 23:1-36) that He felt the Pharisees were damaging people, not helping them. But He was also angry about what they were doing to themselves. They had ended up in a condition in which they could no longer see what God was doing, even when He was powerfully at work in front of their own eyes. In fact, they had become so spiritually blind it was almost miraculous. How could people who were very religious have so little faith? As we listen to their dialogue with Jesus, He makes several observations that reveal the sources of their unbelief. One by one He points to the real reasons they were rejecting Him, and as we’ll soon discover, those reasons had nothing to do with the arguments they were using to try to discredit Him. Their unbelief didn’t come from a disagreement over certain passages in the Bible; it came from much more human sources.

Today we’ll examine the three sources of unbelief to which Jesus pointed in the hearts of His opponents. And as we consider each one we’ll discover that they are just as common today as they were then, and just as dangerous. If we recognize any one of them in our own hearts, it must go, but if, as we listen to Jesus, we find none, then seeing them for what they are, enemies of faith, will help us refuse those impulses when they come to tempt us… because all of us have to deal with the flesh, the world and the devil.

Debating the Pharisees (vs13-18)
• DBS (Tues-Sat)

In this encounter Jesus is exposing the sources of unbelief in very religious people, but He could just as well be talking to non-religious people. The attitudes that produce unbelief are the same in both, because the underlying forces that produce unbelief are a matter of character, not faith, which is why He confronts them so forcefully. He’s not being rude; He’s telling the truth bluntly in the hope that they will actually listen to Him. He’s telling them the truth because the truth can set them free (v32).

The flesh (v15)
The first source of unbelief to which the Lord points is the flesh. He says the Pharisees were judging “according to the flesh.” Now, the most obvious meaning of those words is that they were evaluating Him using only the information which their natural senses and reason could perceive. They refused to recognize any spiritual input. But the question behind that attitude is why? Why would someone refuse to look beneath the surface to see the spiritual realities at work in a person or situation? After all, everyone senses those realities to some degree. Even children, or maybe I should say especially children, recognize a “healthy” or “unhealthy” person or environment. Yet this group of people refused to follow the leading of their heart and were demanding more proof.

What attitude causes this type of reaction? I believe it’s fear. To step out in faith requires boldness; it’s risky, and some people simply refuse to put themselves in a vulnerable position. They want to be safe more than they want to be right. So if God shows them something, which if they acknowledge it to be true will require them to do something risky, they turn away and pretend they need more proof. That way they can’t be blamed for rejecting it; they’re “wisely” waiting for more information.

What we need to see in this encounter is that Jesus doesn’t accept that excuse. Yes, He says they are judging according to their flesh, but He doesn’t believe they are helplessly trapped by their flesh. If they chose to listen to their heart, to judge according to their spirit, He knew they still had the capacity to see who He was, and believe. In fact many of them did (vs30-31).

The world (v23)
So first of all, Jesus said they didn’t believe because they were judging Him “according to the flesh.” But then He exposed a second source of unbelief. He said, “You are from below, I am from above; you are of this world, I am not of this world.” The term “world” (cosmos) may include many things, but there is one thing it certainly means. The “world” is the atmosphere of ungodly culture and unbelief which surrounds all of us. In other words, those who are “of the world” are the people who are following the crowd. They let others do their thinking for them. It’s a form of passivity. Rather than spend the energy to investigate a matter for myself, I join the herd and follow along. It’s easier to believe what everyone around me believes. But if these Pharisees were going to see Jesus for who He really is, then they would have to ignore the peer-pressure, listen to what He was saying, watch what He was doing and use their own discernment. They would have to separate themselves from their “world.”

The devil (v44)
All of us have to deal with the fear of stepping out in faith, and all of us have to decide if we’re willing to walk away from the crowd. But we also face another source of unbelief that’s more subtle, harder to recognize and far more sinister: Every thought that passes through our brain does not come from our own flesh or the world in which we live. Doubts come into our mind which are sent there by the devil. They are like the fiery arrows which an ancient enemy would shoot over the walls of a city that was being attacked (Eph 6:16). If a person does not realize that these “arrows” exist or recognize their source, he or she can be deceived into believing them. And those thoughts actually increase in intensity when a person begins to turn toward God. An unseen struggle erupts inside the mind. Strange, hateful feelings toward Jesus may arise from nowhere. Or if I begin to really listen to the truth about Jesus, I may suddenly become confused or feel sleepy. It seems something or someone wants to prevent me from believing. And in this dialogue with the Pharisees Jesus exposes this opponent. He calls him “the devil” and says he’s a murderer and a liar. Then He tells them they have so fallen under the influence of this flow of thoughts that they have become the devil’s “children” in the same way as believers who listen to God become His “children.” What a horrible image: to be called the devil’s children. But again, we need to remember that if there were no hope for them Jesus would not have confronted them with this truth so passionately. There was still hope for them in His heart. He hoped that the truth would set them free.

The power of truth (v32)
Lies are dangerous. They have a source of power behind them that’s evil. But truth also has a source of power behind it: the Holy Spirit. And the power behind truth is greater than the power behind lies. During that conversation in the temple courtyard, Jesus exposed three sources of unbelief. First, He said people were making decisions based on their flesh, not the witness of the Spirit. We saw that fear can prevent people from deciding to walk in faith with God… because it’s risky. Second, He said people were following the world. They were passively submitting to peer-pressure, rather than using their own discernment. And third, He said people needed to wake up and recognize the doubts the devil was inserting into their thoughts. They needed to know that they were being affected by a spiritual enemy.

Truth exposes lies; it exposes bad attitudes; it exposes assaults sent against us by the devil himself. Armed with truth the human will is set free to make informed choices: either to remain under the control of fear, passivity and deception or to break free and embrace the God who loves us so much that He sent His Son to tell us the truth… and then die for us, and rise again. Jesus told people the truth because He loved them and wanted to help them escape unbelief. If we love people, we will do the same.

1) Give an example of a time when you resisted walking in faith because it was risky.
2) Where do you feel the influence of peer-pressure on your faith? What truth has God given you to set you free?
3) We all experience the “fiery darts” of the enemy, unwelcomed thoughts that enter our minds. How do you resist those thoughts when they come?
4) Name a truth that has set you free from something.  

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