The Power of Active Faith
Overcoming the Stronghold of Unbelief: Lesson 13
Due to Adam’s sin, we were all born into a condition of not knowing our God. Unbelief, therefore, is the primary obstacle that every person on earth needs to overcome, since the faith connection to God has to be restored in order for us to be saved by His grace.[i] Surprisingly, unbelief continues to be the primary obstacle that believers need to overcome.
But wait! Wouldn’t it make more sense to say this of un-believers? Certainly, unbelief is a huge obstacle for them—they’re still spiritually blind from birth—but that doesn’t diminish its power and effectiveness against those of us whose eyes have been opened by faith. In fact it is often (if not always) the thing that we don’t see which trips us up.
All Christians will tell you that they believe in Jesus. But have we been “blinded” by the light? The all-important issue of believing doesn’t end there. The demons also believe that the Father and Jesus exist, but they take no joy or peace in believing it, nor do they live yielded to Him in trust and obedience.[ii]
Since we are saved by grace through faith, it is entirely by means of faith that we are meant to access all that grace so freely supplies.[iii] For instance, God’s Word says that we who believe can be filled with all joy and peace “in believing.”[iv] If this is not what you are experiencing all day long, then perhaps there are a few things you still need to learn about recognizing and overcoming the stronghold of unbelief which may be quenching your faith.
The Power of Active Faith
Believing is the active power of the new life—the power that activates the life that God desires to give us by His grace. The critical issue is believing God’s written Word with a full heart of faith. John says that he wrote his gospel in order for us to believe and to find life by believing (review Beholding the True Image).
But these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. John 20:31 ESV
What John means by life is more than mere existence and it is not limited to heaven only. John is writing about a quality of life that is filled with joy, peace and love—what the Bible calls eternal life, New Creation life, or abundant life. Peter says that through believing we can find joy in the midst of trials and even receive the “end” or goal of our faith, the “salvation” of our souls—that is, experience peace and confidence of heart and mind in this life.
In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials… Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. 1 Peter 1:6, 8-9 ESV
There is evidently a way to hold our faith, even in the midst of hard trials, so that we have inexpressible and glorious joy—deep, inward encouragement. This is not will power. You cannot fake this kind of joy or work it up by your own efforts.
This joy is something anyone can experience by learning to fully believe God’s truth in the midst of a trial. But not just any truth will do! The feeling of being tried in our faith comes directly from a lack of trust in God about the situation. Therefore, being united by faith to the right truth about God will automatically begin producing joy in you as your trust is restored.[v]
That is the power of active faith upheld by the Holy Spirit. Such joy is the fruit of dealing with unbelief and learning to activate faith with the truth of God’s Word.[vi] But know this: Very often your feelings, your understanding and your circumstances will seem to be shouting out that God’s Word can’t be true for you.
Unbelief is a stronghold that the enemy has built into every believer. We all have limits to what we are presently able to believe about God (“Does He love me in this?”) and to what we are able to believe God for (“Will He help me with this?”). If this were not so we would already be filled with the joy that Peter says can be ours in the midst of our trials—just as Paul and Silas experienced in prison.[vii]
If we are not there yet, it is vital that we begin to learn to recognize the ways in which our own unbelief is limiting our growth in the Lord and keeping us bound to patterns of the past.
Unbelief is also a block to healing. Jesus could not do many healings in Nazareth because of the town’s spiritual climate of unbelief.[viii] The lack of miraculous healings and supernatural events in the Western church may be a warning sign that a climate of unbelief surrounds us also.
Believing God at His Word
Biblical faith is fully believing God at His Word, even in the face of great adversity. Such faith believes that God is true to His Word.[ix] Unbelief is the opposite of faith in God and His Word. Unbelief is the sin of hardness of heart that doesn’t trust God’s Person, purposes or promises. Unbelief is the stronghold that kept God’s people out of the land promised to them as their inheritance.
Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion… As I swore in my wrath, ‘They shall not enter my rest.'" Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. Hebrews 3:7-8, 11-12 ESV
Forty years of wandering in the wilderness happened to the children of Israel because they drew back in fear and unbelief from following God and Moses into the Promised Land, their place of “rest.” Have you been wandering, seeking rest, yet finding none?
Our promised place of rest is “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding”—the peace that Jesus gives us in any situation whenever we surrender our fears and our obedience to Him and abide in Him.[x] There is no peace without complete surrender. There is no abiding in rest without being willing to trust and obey.[xi]
Sometimes we have to labor to enter that rest.[xii] Always we have to keep watch lest the enemy “draw us away” from our new life of trust and obedience.[xiii] Our promised land is a life of abundant joy and peace lived in close relationship with Jesus Christ in this life and the next. Although heaven is promised to all who believe, God’s Kingdom on earth is promised to those who engage the battle of fighting to exercise their faith.
From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force. Matthew 11:12 ESV
A convincing temptation to doubt God’s Word precipitated the Fall into sin. So convincing is the enemy’s deception, that at critical points in our growth we will find it much easier to believe the lies that the enemy has sown into our lives, than the truths from God’s Word that the Holy Spirit is seeking to teach us. Forewarned is forearmed!
Let us never forget that the Word of the Lord is the effective instrument by which everything that now exists was created. All of creation is a testimony to the truth and power of God’s Word to create and to sustain life.[xiv] It is impossible that God could ever speak forth a Word that would not be true—His Word is truth.[xv] He cannot lie.[xvi]
Yet, there is one whose word should never be trusted. From the beginning God’s Word has been contested by Satan. He seeks to “father” us into believing his lies, seeing from his distorted perspective and walking in his false ways.
You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father's desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. John 8:44 ESV
God seeks a people who will serve Him in Spirit and truth.[xvii] God’s answer to the Fall was to cultivate a son of Adam who would believe God at His Word and therefore become the spiritual father to a nation of restored believers.
In calling Abraham, God promised him great things which Abraham at first gladly believed.[xviii] Notice, however, that God did not make it easy for Abraham to go on believing the promises. The unexpectedly long delay between the promises and their fulfillment (with the birth of Isaac) severely tested Abraham’s ability to believe God’s Word.
Just like Abraham, we too have been given magnificent, life-giving promises through God’s Word. Some of these promises have to do with who He is to us; some have to do with who we are in Him; some have to do with what our life in God could become.
Just as it was with Abraham, God’s delays may make it hard to believe His promises. Sometimes they may seem impossible to believe at all. We may stagger in unbelief, but we must learn Abraham’s way, who, “contrary to hope, in hope believed,” if we are to reap the full life of faith offered to us and enter our Promised Land.[xix]
By which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature. 2 Peter 1:4 ESV
Unbelief Is Believing in Un-truth
There are two formidable challenges to everyone’s faith: our own understanding and our feelings. We are not to lean on our understanding or be led by our feelings.[xx] Trusting in God with our whole heart means the quality of our new life will depend upon our ability to find joy and peace through our faith in God even when our understanding can’t understand and our feelings are kicking and screaming. That kind of believing in God is hard work at times, but this is the real work we are called to do.
Jesus answered them, "This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent." John 6:29 ESV
It was unbelief in the truth of God’s Word that broke the world God created. Believing in untruth has been breaking hearts and breaking down lives ever since. Watch out for these deceptive, deadly “Ds”: doubt, discouragement, despair and depression—they are all rooted in active unbelief, even if surrounded by passive faith.
Jesus has come that we might know the truth. And by the truths He shows us and by the faith He gives us, we would be made free. However, for His truths to work for us, we often have to work very hard at believing them and become adept at casting down all unbelief.
Even a tiny bit of unbelief can be sufficient to block the faith we are seeking to exercise from liberating our heart. However, fully believing the truth will automatically restore peace, joy, confidence in God and bright hope into our hearts.
So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, "If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." John 8:31-32 ESV
Fortunately, we do not have to work at believing in God and His Word by will power and good intentions. No stronghold can be defeated in our own strength. God is gracious and willing to help us with our areas of unbelief.
Be bold in confessing your distrust as the sin it is. Don’t be afraid to admit to God how often unbelief may be ruling over you. He sees it clearly and loves you anyway! Unbelief in God’s Word can block healing, keep us from receiving the blessings of God and prevent us from entering the Kingdom on earth, but it cannot separate us from His love.[xxi]
No one prayer can guarantee humility or ultimate victory, but the distraught father’s prayer for his son’s deliverance is a good beginning, “Lord, I believe; help [me overcome] my unbelief!”[xxii]
The Way to Freedom
The most difficult thing about getting free of unbelief is recognizing that it is working on you, since it feels so natural and seems like reasonable reaction given the circumstances. But we are called to the higher life of an active faith based on what is “unfelt” and unseen—the rock-solid promises of our God!
1) Be ready to pounce on any deflating or despairing thought, realizing that any loss of bright hope or confidence is not coming from
your true self, but from a spirit of unbelief.
2) Take full responsibility for agreeing with it: Repent, renounce and carry it captive to Christ until you see something in Him that restores your trust and confidence in God.
3) Turn to the Father and release gratitude to Him that He loves and accepts you even when your faith is riddled with unbelief!
Get the grace of believing He loves you--even in your times of unbelief!
Father, it is not my faith that saves me—I am being saved by Your love, Your truth, Jesus’ Blood, and the Holy Spirit’s power. Forgive me for taking credit for what I believe (for You alone opened my eyes) and for turning a blind eye to what I have not been believing (that You have already shown me to be true). I cast down all past pride and fear. I want to become able to see this hidden stronghold when it is blocking me. Help me to believe what You believe.
Take It to Heart!
Don't just give these truths a "head bob"! For further study and for help working these truths into your heart and life, see The Power of Believing part 2 (Head to Heart Guide 13) and "work out" with exercises, discussion questions, review of main points, digging deeper, more scriptures, model prayers, renunciations/affirmations and practical steps of life application.
Scriptures and Foot Notes
[i] Ephesians 2:8
James 2:19, Ephesians 2:8, Romans 15:13
[v] Romans 15:13
[vi] Hebrews 4:1-2
[vii] Acts 16:25
[viii] Mark 6:5-6
[ix] Psalms 56:4 and 119:81
[x] Philippians 4:7
[xi] John 15:1-17
[xii] Hebrews 4:11
[xiii] James 1:16
[xiv] Genesis 1:1-3
[xv] John 17:17
[xvi] Numbers 23:19
[xvii] John 4:23
[xviii] Genesis 15:1-6
[xix] Romans 4:16-25
[xx] Proverbs 3:5; Romans 8:14
[xxi] Romans 8:37-39
[xxii] Mark 9:23-24