“Why Persist in Unbelief?”
But it is not as though the word of God has failed...
There are times, especially in large crowds, when I think, How can so many people persist in unbelief? How can multitudes who have read the truth live their lives without embracing the gospel, without ever investigating it? Then I remember that at one time I was in the exact same position, “having no hope and without God in the world” (Eph. 2:13). And I remember, after opening my mind enough to entertain even the possibility that the gospel could be true, how long it took me to act upon it.
The reason wasn’t because the truth was hard to find. The reason was because the truth was hard to embrace. As a sincere skeptic learning about Jesus I knew He was the Christ long before I obeyed the gospel. So why the reticence to embrace Him? Because I knew there are consequences to belief.
As a Christian, it’s easy to look at unbelievers and wonder why they persist so long in unbelief. Don’t they see the evidence? Don’t they see the beauty of the Scriptures? Don’t they see God’s love for them? They would be fools not to obey! We think people come to hear the gospel with a blank slate wanting to believe the truth when that is hardly ever the case.
Thomas Nagel, a professor of philosophy at New York University once admitted,
“I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers. It isn’t just that I don’t believe in God and, naturally, hope that I’m right in my belief. It’s that I hope there is no God! I don’t want there to be a God; I don’t want the universe to be like that.”
When we approach skeptics and hold up a beautiful verse like John 3:16 we may wonder, How could the beauty of these words not overpower their skepticism? How beautiful and true do words have to be to conquer the human heart?
Somehow, the answer lies in freewill. God gives us the dignity of choice, the freedom to disagree with Him. The Bible doesn’t say, “Say these words in this order and they will believe.” Instead it warns us that most will respond with rejection and some even outright hostility. Even Jesus didn’t convert everyone! On one occasion, Jesus told a rich, devout young man that to go to heaven he would have to do the one thing he wasn’t willing to do. And Jesus let him walk away. (Mk. 9:17-22)
The gospel is still powerful. (Rom. 1:16) “It is not as though the word of God has failed.” (Rom. 9:6) The gospel is hard to accept because it requires change. For the saving word to be planted we must swallow our pride first. (Jas. 1:21) As messengers for God sharing the gospel with our neighbors we have to appreciate #1 – the power to save is in God’s word and #2 – God gave us the will to choose. This is why salvation depends on faith. (Rom. 1:16)