Luke 1 includes one of the most revealing cases of the seriousness of unbelief. You remember the story of godly Zacharias, the father of John the Baptist. Zacharias was a devoted priest who suffered because of a single episode of unbelief. His story illustrates just how seriously God takes this sin.
Scripture says Zacharias was “righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless” (Luke 1:6). Here was a pious man who wore the robes of his respected position. He ministered before the altar of incense, which represented prayer and supplication, acts of pure worship. In short, Zacharias was faithful and obedient, a servant who longed for the Messiah’s coming.
One day as Zacharias was ministering, God sent the angel Gabriel to tell him his wife would have a son. Gabriel said the son’s birth would be a cause for rejoicing for many in Israel, and he gave Zacharias detailed instructions on how to raise the boy. Yet, as the angel spoke, Zacharias trembled in fear. Suddenly, this devout man’s mind was filled with doubt, and he gave in to terrible unbelief. He asked the angel, “How do I know you’re telling me the truth? After all, my wife and I are old” (see Luke 1:18).
God didn’t take kindly to Zacharias’ doubt, and he passed this sentence on the priest: “Behold, thou shalt be dumb, and not able to speak, until the day that these things shall be performed, because thou believest not my words” (Luke 1:20, my italics).
What does this episode tell us? It says unbelief shuts our ears to God, even when He is speaking clearly to us. It shuts us off from fresh revelation and it keeps us from intimate communion with the Lord. Suddenly, because we no longer hear from God, we have nothing to preach or testify. It doesn’t matter how faithful or diligent we may be; like Zacharias, we bring on ourselves a paralysis of both our ears and tongue.
“Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).
What is our “time of need”? It is whenever we have failed our blessed Lord. The moment we sin, we are in need of grace and mercy, and God invites us to come boldly to His throne, with confidence, to receive everything we need. We’re not to come to Him only when we feel upright or holy; we are to come every time we are in need.
Moreover, we do not have to wait to get our souls cleansed. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). John says we are not to try to work at being cleansed, over hours, days or weeks. It happens instantaneously, as soon as we come to the Lord.
So, do you have the faith to believe in God’s instantaneous forgiveness? Can you accept instant, uninterrupted communion with the Father? That is exactly what Scripture urges us to do. You see, the same faith that saves us and forgives us is also the faith that keeps us. Peter says we “are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Peter 1:5). What an incredible truth.
Yet, our unbelief prevents us from accessing God’s keeping power. And over time, as we face sin’s continual onslaught, we may start to despair. Beloved, this simply shouldn’t be. God has given us wonderful New Covenant promises, but they are of no use unless we believe and appropriate them. Our Lord has pledged to put His law in our hearts, be God to us, keep us from falling, implant His fear in us, give us power to obey, cause us to walk in His ways. But we have to fully believe this.
Sin makes us want to hide from God’s presence. Here is the essence of unbelief among Christians: when we sin, failing God, we tend to run from His presence. We think He is too angry to want to commune with us. How could He possibly share intimacy with us when we’ve sinned so grievously?
So we stop praying. In our shame, we think, “I can’t go to God in this condition.” And we begin trying to work our way back into His good graces. We’re convinced we just need time to get ourselves clean. If we can stay pure for a few weeks, avoiding our sinful habit, we think we’ll prove ourselves worthy to approach His throne again.
This is evil unbelief, and it’s a crime in God’s eyes. When we confess our sin, including our besetting habits, God doesn’t interrogate us. He doesn’t demand proof of repentance, asking, “Are you truly sorry? I don’t see any tears. Do you promise never to commit this sin again? Go now, fast for two days a week, and pray for an hour every day. If you make it that long without falling, we’ll commune again.”
When Jesus reconciled us to the Father at the cross, it was for all time. That means that if I sin, I don’t have to be reconciled to God all over again; I’m not cut off from the Lord, suddenly unreconciled. No, the veil of separation was rent permanently at the cross, and I forever have access to God’s throne, through Christ’s blood. The door is never closed to me: “In whom we have boldness and access with confidence by the faith of him” (Ephesians 3:12).
The Bible states clearly that if one of us sins, we have an advocate with the Father in Jesus Christ. We may stand outside the door of His throne room, feeling rotten and unclean. But if we stay there, refusing to go in, we’re not being humble; we’re acting in unbelief. “Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).
Over the years, many sincere Christians begin to drift in their faith—perhaps because of deep disappointment in a previous experience. To step forward in faith, they must "cross over" that disappointment, trusting God in a new way.
Perhaps you're trusting God for a blessing to your family or children. Or you're believing Him for a certain ministry to be fulfilled in your life. Maybe you are seeking God for freedom from a habitual bondage or you want to break free from some inner struggle that holds you back from trusting Him.
Some of us need outright miracles, supernatural interventions in our lives or in the life of a loved one. In short, God has called all of us to cross over. When Israel came to the Jordan River, God desired that not one of His people be left behind.
Any experienced Christian will tell you that there is never a time when you're more subject to fear, anxiety, doubt and uncertainty than when you're poised to cross over your Jordan. Why? Because you're on the brink of possessing the land God has called you to inhabit. That's the time the enemy—and our flesh—put up resistance.
Life is always easier on this side of the Jordan because it's comfortable; nothing is being asked of us. But when God stirs us toward movement, suddenly the things that once made us comfortable become uncomfortable to us. They begin to feel static, decaying, even death-like. If we persist in staying in our comfortable place, we risk losing our vision and passion for life in God.
Joshua wasn't immune to this temptation. When God called him to action, here was the first instruction He gave: "Be strong and courageous" (Joshua 1:6). God spoke this to Joshua three times within four verses because He knew that Joshua needed to hear it.
To do what the Lord has called us to, we each must summon our strength to take it on. We have to stir up courage. For some, this could mean the courage to forsake things that have given a false sense of comfort. If you're stressed, disturbed or disrupted in your spirit, ask the Lord to show you why. If He is asking you to let go of something, that could be your first move in stepping forward with faith.
“Nevertheless, lest we offend them, go to the sea, cast in a hook, and take the fish that comes up first. And when you have opened its mouth, you will find a piece of money; take that and give it to them for Me and you” (Matthew 17:27, NKJV).
Although Jesus had just explained that they were actually exempt from the temple tax, He tells Peter, “Lest we offend them.” In other words, lest our testimony be diminished in their eyes; lest they should be able to point to us on the street and say, “Thieves! They don’t pay the temple tax!”
The Apostle Paul said it this way: “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful; all things are lawful for me, but not all things edify” (1 Corinthians 10:23, NKJV). Yes, there are things that may be permissible in our Christian walk, but we must still consider the potential impact on those around us.
Let me give you an example of this. The man who led me to the Lord began by coming to my door week after week, sharing the Gospel and telling me about how he used to be a drunk, a womanizer, and a gambler. Although I outwardly resisted his words, I could not deny that this man stood before me as a life completely transformed by the grace of God. It was something I had to reckon with. I even offered him a beer one time in order to test him. You see, if he had taken it, or if I had gone to his house and seen him with a glass of alcohol at his table, I might not be a Christian today. I would have assumed that he was a man just like me who had simply added religion to his life. Sure, he could have argued, “But it’s just a little thing!” However, in my opinion, things were black or white. If he were truly a new creation, as he explained Christians were, old things should have passed away. There was no middle ground as far as I was concerned.
And so to this day, I recognize the significance of Jesus’ words when He said, “Lest we offend them.”
Carter Conlon joined the pastoral staff of Times Square Church in 1994 at the invitation of the founding pastor, David Wilkerson, and was appointed Senior Pastor in 2001.