Believe It Or Not?
Stacey S. Padrick
If you had asked me a few years ago what I believed about God, I would have responded, "I believe God is fully in control. I believe He cares about me and holds my future in His hands." Yet after being diagnosed with a life-changing illness, I struggled to believe the truths I once had so easily proclaimed. Tempted to question God's sovereignty, tempted to assume that His control waned as my crises mounted, I clung shakily to scriptural truths—truths directly challenged by apparent reality.
What are some of our foundational beliefs as Christians? Salvation through faith? The sovereignty of God? The authority of Scripture? We rightly emphasize in the church, "Know what you believe." Yet while seeking to grow in spiritual knowledge, we must just as diligently believe what we already know—believe, in the deepest places of our hearts, the truths foundational to our faith.
During crises in my life—an incurable illness, a broken relationship, a lost job—or even in less shattering but more typical daily trials—a strained budget or a deadline at work—the Holy Spirit has revealed to me the incongruity between my professed biblical beliefs and the beliefs that govern my heart. In the midst of rushing streams of thought, the Spirit prompts me to stop and ask myself, "Stacey, what are you believing right this moment? To what are you listening? What is true?" As I repeat the scriptural truths I know, the subtle lies upon which I was feeding turn bitter in my mouth. Graciously, the Spirit convicts me that my thoughts, which I had excused as "sensible," are in fact sin—the sin of unbelief.
Then and Now
Ever since the Garden of Eden, unbelief has blinded and defeated God's people. Satan's ploy for Eve to eat the apple was based upon the temptation to disbelieve God's character and question His commands. During the exodus, the faithless Israelites compelled God to cry out, "How long will these people treat me with contempt? How long will they refuse to believe in me, in spite of all the miraculous signs I have performed among them?" (Num. 14:11).
In the New Testament, Jesus reprimanded His disciples, whose unbelief hindered them from casting an evil spirit from a boy: "O unbelieving generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I put up with you?" (Mk. 9:19, NASB).
Today, Satan is as relentless as in the days of Genesis in deceiving us to doubt what we know to be true—particularly about the character of God and who we are in Christ.
God's Unimpeachable Character
Caricatures of God abound in the secular world, which misrepresents Him as anything from an oppressive tyrant to an absentminded Santa Claus. But Satan's distortions don't stop out side the church doors. Subtly, he riddles our foundation of faith with tiny holes of unbelief that us, like Eve, to question God's commands.
During trials, I have caught myself reasoning: You know, God has got a lot going on down here, and it is only understandable that now and then He overlooks some things. I can't really expect Him to attend to all the details in my life, now can I? That is the lie. The truth is that my God calls every star by name (Is. 40:26). He does not lose track of details! "His understanding no one can fathom" (v. 28).
I often must ask myself, Do I wholeheartedly believe that God is sovereign—even at this moment, when life feels out of control? When my doctor diagnosed my systemic lupus, my mind reeled. What will this mean for my future? My work? My ministry? The dreams I thought God gave me?Certainly, this disease slipped by Him somehow. Yet, through Scripture and His still, small voice, He reminded me that He had complete knowledge and control of my body and my future. My diagnosis in no way affected His will and plans for me.
Unless I firmly believe God's love for me is unchanging, and that His ways are good and righteous, I cannot wholly trust Him with my decisions—or my life. The degree to which I know and believe in God's character is the degree to which I can and will trust Him . . . and consequently obey Him.
Our Position in Christ
Because many of us only halfheartedly believe who the Bible says we are in Christ, we live half-effective lives, defeated more often than victorious over sin and the challenges before us. For years, I unintentionally discounted what Scripture says about me as a new creature in Christ: that I am the righteousness of God in Christ (2 Cor. 5:21); that I'm free from condemnation (Ro. 8:1); that I am fearfully and wonderfully made (Ps. 139:14); that God is for me (Ro. 8:31). Yet, what I believe about myself influences my attitude and actions.
Until we believe and claim that we have been given authority over sin and the enemy, we will not have the power to live as Christ has called us to live. Until we believe that God loves us unconditionally, we will not be able to surrender our lives and dreams to Him with full abandon. When we continue to believe what the world or the accuser (Rev. 12:10) tells us about ourselves, rather than what God tells us, we are quenching the Spirit of Truth and allowing lies to choke the good fruit that God wants to bear in our lives.
As I struggled for years with a particular sin in my life, I believed that I was powerless to change. My pleas to God to change me only left me frustrated. Then a mentor and a Bible study showed me that by the blood of the cross, sin had lost its hold over me, and by the Holy Spirit I do have power to change. When I began praying from the position of a redeemed child of God with authority over sin, rather than as defenseless prey before a roaring lion, I experienced release.
How to Uproot Unbelief
Unbelief is subtle, but it is not invincible. I have learned through practicing the following steps that it even the frailest of us can move decisively from unbelief to belief.
1. Confess and repent of unbelief. Disbelief often leads to disobedience. Therefore, when I confess sin in my life, I take time to examine the thought processes that preceded my disobedience. I ask Christ to shine His light upon my thoughts and help me discern the lies I've been believing. As the Spirit reveals my inaccurate images about God's character and about myself as His child, I must renounce my resistance to scriptural truth. By His grace and with only a mustard seed of faith, I can begin believing the truth He shows me. Like the father of the demon-possessed son, I can be honest with God and say, "I do believe; help my unbelief" (Mk. 9:24, NASB).
2. Claim the truth—morning, noon, and night. Paul told Timothy, "Watch your life and doctrine closely" (1 Tim. 4:16).
As a defense against the subtle lies of Satan, I have drafted a statement of faith listing foundational truths that are "unnatural" for me to believe. Taken from Scripture and written in the first person, this doctrinal affirmation helps me know and believe the truth about God's character and my position as His child. Portions of that statement can be found in the.
Try writing your own statement of beliefs highlighting verses that address truths you struggle to believe or that confront lies you've accepted about God or yourself.
3. Believe it! I review and repeat verses in my doctrinal affirmation until I firmly believe them. Sometimes I choose one verse and meditate upon it for many mornings, training my thinking to align more closely with Scripture. Then as I am confronted with lies or distortions, I am better able to resist by claiming what is true. For example, lately I have meditated upon the truth that I am complete in Christ (see Col. 2:10, NASB). As my day accelerates and I rush to finish all I planned to accomplish, I remind myself that I need not "perform" in order to be acceptable before Him. I am already complete. Similarly, if I begin to struggle with my singleness, I remind myself that I am already complete in Christ and need not wait for a spouse to feel whole.
4. Practice it. Ask yourself throughout the day, "What do my actions and attitudes indicate that I believe?" For instance, do I believe that God can help me through this challenging project at work . . . or that it's all up to me? Do I think that my car breakdown was a surprise to Him . . . or do I believe that He both knows and will provide for my needs? Am I anxious about this project . . . or trusting that He will equip me? Am I complaining about a disappointment . . . or thanking God for what He will do through this apparent defeat?
Then, act as if what God's Word says is true—regardless of your feelings. For instance, even when a long-awaited opportunity is lost, act as if God has a future and a hope planned for you (Jer. 29:11, Prov. 23:18). Even when you feel powerless to change, act as if you are a new creature in Christ, and sin has no mastery over you (2 Cor. 5:17, Ro. 6:14). Even when you feel guilty, act as if there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Ro. 8:1).
When asked to speak in front of a group, I'm tempted to let fear rule me. To combat that temptation, I personalize Scripture: "God has not given me a spirit of fear but of power" (see 2 Tim. 1:7), and "I do not fear, for God is with me. He is holding me by my right hand" (see Is. 41:10). I can then walk to the podium acting as if I am completely unafraid.
"But that seems like pretense!" you may argue. Perhaps. Yet, as C. S. Lewis discusses in Mere Christianity, we must often pretend something is true even when it doesn't feel true. When I act as if I love my neighbor (treating her kindly, praying for her welfare) rather than waiting until I feel love toward her, I am living what should be characteristic of my experience as a believer. Lewis writes, "Very often the only way to get a quality in reality is to start behaving as if you already had it." For we who are in Christ, the truth—such as that we are beloved of God—is reality; we need only start living it. When I act as if what Scripture says about God and myself is indeed true, I am living more in reality than when I act upon my feelings.
When Christ called people to believe in Him (Jn. 3:1516, Jn. 5:24, Jn. 6:40), the words to believe referred to a continuing act—a daily conscious practice. Similarly, Paul exhorted the Corinthian believers, "Now brothers and sisters, I want you to remember the Good News I brought to you.... You are being saved by it if you continue believing what I told you. If you do not, then you believed for nothing" (1 Cor. 15:1–2, New Century Version, emphasis mine).
Let us remind ourselves regularly and encourage one another daily to continue to believe in our hearts and minds the foundational truths we profess.
"Now may the God of all hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing"
(Ro. 15:13, NASB).