Most Christians are very comfortable speaking of believers and unbelievers. Those terms have been pre-loaded for us after being used in the same way for hundreds of years. So, when we use the term believer, we know that we are talking about a person who has believed in Jesus, who has been given eternal life, who has been forgiven of all of his sins (past, present and future), who is saved for all eternity, who has been justified by God, has been regenerated by the Spirit of God (or born again), and who has the Spirit of God dwelling in him. Right?
Likewise, when we use the term unbeliever, we know that we are talking about a person who has not believed in Jesus, who is spiritually lost, who remains in his sins, who is not regenerated, who does not have the Holy Spirit nor eternal life dwelling within, and is doomed to spend an eternity in hell. Of course, there are many other negative things that are included in the term unbeliever. I’m not trying to avoid any of them. If you want, you can re-read the first paragraph and simply say to each one of those descriptions that the unbeliever is not like that. But we all understand what is being said, right? All of this can be, and generally is, summarized in this one concept: a believer is a Christian; an unbeliever is everything else.
I gave my Bible studies a little quiz not long ago. It was a true/false quiz so it could be taken as an introduction to our Bible study. I was trying to gage how well each person was progressing in re-thinking the message of the Bible. If some of the various topics set forth in it need to be redefined, then it follows that the message of the Bible will need to be adjusted accordingly. If I gave it to you, how would you do? Don’t worry. Today God grades on a curve, but in the day of judgment, He will grade our works, looking for a proper productiveness based upon our differing abilities or capacities as we presented them to the Spirit of God for His usefulness. In short, today is the day of grace; that future day will be the day of justice. Here is the true/false test: Which of the following are an accurate description of ALL believers in the Bible?
1. They are spiritually redeemed.
2. They are justified by faith.
3. They are saved by grace through faith.
4. They are kingdom bound.
5. They are persevering in their faith.
6. They are born again.
7. They believe in Jesus.
8. They have eternal life.
9. They have the indwelling Holy Spirit.
10. They are members of the Body of Christ universal.
11. They will be resurrected in the resurrection of the righteous.
12. They will be glorified according to Rom. 8:30.
13. They have been forgiven so that they can become sons of God.
14. They have been reconciled once for all to God.
15. They have received Christ's propitiation for their sins, past, present, and future, to pay for their pre-Christian sins as well as for their future sins.
16. They have believed in God's revelation to them.
That was pretty easy wasn’t it? I hope it was. Now for the answers: are you ready? All of the statements are false except for one, the last one. How did you do? If you are like those in my Bible studies, even after sitting under my teaching since the Great Flood (or maybe it just seems that way!), you probably didn’t do too well. Now is the time to work on re-studying God’s Word to discover exactly what it says. We have believed what others have taught us because it seemed to explain God’s Word adequately. But the more we lay aside what we’ve been taught and delve into the text on our own, we begin to uncover the incorrect assumptions underlying many of the doctrines that we have accepted.
In the case before us presently, we’ve made the terms believer and unbeliever refer to categories of people, rather than to kinds of action! The Bible doesn’t really group people into two categories, believers and unbelievers. It speaks of people believing or not believing; it describes people who are responding to God and those who aren’t. But the key is this: the same people can be responding in one instance, but not be responding in the next one. The same person can be a believer one moment and an unbeliever the next without any of the theological baggage (and that is just what it is: baggage. May it be forever lost in transit!) that has been attached to those terms being true of them.
Rather than seeing these terms in the sense of a lost group of people and a saved group of people, we ought to be seeing all people as one group. some of this group are believing while others are not believing. Then they can change into the very opposite from what they are presently: those who had been believing may stop believing and become unbelieving persons while those who were not believing may start believing.
Instead of designating two different groups of people, the terms believers and unbelievers actually designate two different kinds of lifestyles. These are very fluid and changeable. But the terms, at least how the Bible uses them, do not refer to a person’s eternal destiny at all. The terms only refer to the manner given individuals are responding to the spiritual warfare in which they are presently engaged and nothing more.
All of God’s creatures are struggling in the spiritual warfare that they are fighting. All have some knowledge of the way God wants them to respond. Some are doing a better job than others; but all are struggling. They need our help, not our judgment. We must begin to see everyone through this lens rather than the distorted lens that we have manufactured through our errant synthesis of the Bible’s teachings. When we begin to understand people in this light, it makes us begin to wonder about a lot of other things, right? So, we have begun an awesome journey, but there is so much more to be studied and learned.
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