(The principles shared here are gleaned from both The Prodigal Paradigm and The Grand Spiritual Assumption.)
We’ve mostly divided the world into two categories: believers and unbelievers. The believers are those who have trusted in Jesus Christ as their Savior (and some add to that the concept of lordship: Jesus must be believed in as Lord as well as Savior). Those who haven’t believed in Jesus as Savior (and Lord) are the eternally lost and, consequently, are hell bound. The basic controlling premise is that believing in Jesus is the only way to heaven and the only escape from hell. Hence, the believers are the eternally safe, good guys, and the unbelievers are the eternally condemned, bad guys.
But the fact is the Bible never presents the issue in these terms. The Bible is constantly urging believers to continue to believe and unbelievers to begin to believe. There are unbelieving believers in the Bible as well as believing unbelievers. The cookie cutter presentation of believers and unbelievers is simply not a Biblical concept. It is messier than that, sort of like the kitchen at breakfast time on Mother’s Day!
The Bible is very clear that the Israelites that God led out of Egypt were all considered as God’s people or as together constituting His son (Ex. 3:7, 9, 10; 4:22; 5:1). Yet both before they were physically redeemed from Egypt (Ex. 4:5, 8, 9; 5:22; 6:9; etc.) and after they had been redeemed from their slavery to Egypt by “an outstretched arm and with great judgments (Ex. 6:6, the miraculous ten plagues),” this people owned by God Himself struggled with unbelief. They were clearly believers who would not consistently and persistently believe. They had their “ups and downs” in that category. So much was this the case that many think, contrary to the clear statements of the Scriptures themselves, that this people had never really believed at all because they certainly did not persevere in their faith. And the fact that they were so obstinate, stiff-necked, and rebellious to the very end of their lives only goes to prove that the perseverance of the saints is not a Biblical doctrine. Such a doctrine has been foisted upon Christendom rather than being a product of careful exegesis. The Bible simply does not teach such a doctrine.
The Bible explicitly says that they were believers in the one, true God and that God Himself identified them as His people. And His identification included all of the people coming out of Egypt, to the last man, woman, and child. Believers (in the true God) can live lives of unbelief!
There are also believing unbelievers in the Scriptures. Possibly this description should be attached to most of those individuals that we meet in the four Gospels. The people that Jesus came to minister to were already believers in the one true God. Consequently, Jesus did not come to lead His audience into an initial (first-time) relationship with God. They already had that. So when the angel tells Joseph to name the baby that he and Mary would have Jesus, he was not indicating that this baby would someday save the Jews from hell. Rather, He would save them from their sins since they were already His people (Matt. 1:21).
Yet, for the most part, these believers in the one, true God did not believe in the Messiah-Son that their God had sent to them. Hence, they would commit the unpardonable sin of not believing that Jesus was the promised Messiah (Matt. 12:28-32) even though they believed in God and in the prophecy that their God would send a Messiah to redeem them as He had done to their forefathers in Egypt.
Theirs was a recognition problem. They believed that their God would send a Messiah; they were hesitant to believe that Jesus was that Messiah. This made them believing unbelievers! They believed God and His promises, but they didn’t believe that Jesus was the fulfillment of those promises. The unpardonable sin is not forgivable as long as life is lived upon this earth (in the age of Jesus’ first advent to the end of the next age, the millennial reign of Christ). The unpardonable sin does not carry an eternal penalty, however. No one will miss heaven and be forced to go to hell because of his rejection of Jesus as God’s Messiah.
But life isn’t about finding the true path to heaven any way. It is about fulfilling the purpose that God had (and that He has revealed) for mankind, each and every person, when He first created him, male and female. That purpose is clearly stated in the Scriptures as walking by faith in God as he fulfilled the delegated role of exercising dominion over all of God’s creation.
So, when I use the phrase believing unbelievers, I refer to those outside the Judeo-Christian faith (unbelievers in that sense alone) who are, nevertheless, responding to God (believing in Him, trusting in Him) in a way that pleases Him. Rather than making a long list that a person must believe for him to have a relationship with God, like orthodox Christian apologists might do, God only lists two necessary things that should characterize a person. First, he must believe that God exists. That is, he must believe that there is a Supreme Being to whom he is accountable. And second, he must believe that God rewards presently and in this lifetime those who seek Him.
In the same way, when I use the phrase unbelieving believers, I refer to those who are part of the Judeo-Christian faith (hence, the term believer), but who, nevertheless, do not walk by faith in their daily lives (so consequently, the term unbelieving). Although it may be impossible to perceive the reality present in this group, the fact remains that these individuals are not persevering “in the faith” either. They may be in conformity with the outward expressions of their faith, but since their hearts are far from a faith resting upon God and His promises, they are not persevering in a way that pleases God. Rather, they are like the apostles caught in the storm in the boat with Jesus asleep in the stern. They were toiling as hard as they could, but they were not trusting God in the process. Hence, when Jesus was awakened, He rebukes them saying, “Where is your faith?” Steadfastly trying to carry out the will of God without the exercise of faith is not persevering in the faith. It is abandoning faith altogether while adhering to religion. Jesus never condoned an outward obedience given without an inward faith. And that is what an unbelieving believer basically is giving.
So the terms believer and unbeliever are only meant to describe the kind of response a person is giving in a particular situation. Was he trusting God when he was doing whatever he was doing? If so, then he is, at that moment (or, with respect to that particular situation) a believer. Was he lacking trust in God when he was doing whatever he was doing? If so, then he is, at that moment (or, with respect to that particular situation) an unbeliever.
So simple. Yet so profound. Are you trusting God right now as you read this article? As a believer, what were you trusting God for as you read it? As an unbeliever, what were you refusing to trust God for as you read this article? A faith response will be recompensed at the Judgment Seat of Christ/God. An unbelieving response will also be recompensed. Will you have gained or will you have lost by the response that you gave? Were you an unbelieving believer, a believing believer, an unbelieving unbeliever or a believing unbeliever? It makes a difference now. It will make a difference in the coming Judgment.
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