Two Kinds of Unbelief

by Craig Dyer

When does an evangelist not need to evangelise? When can we relax from sharing the gospel and calling people to believe it?

Never, it seems.

Not even in the company of believers. John wrote his Gospel with a crystal clear intent: … 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, emphasis mine). John also shows us the surprising nature of unbelief and sets it up in John 7 by showing two kinds of unbelief.

#1. Easily-spotted unbelief: flat-out rejection.

In John 7:1, Jesus avoided Judea since the Jews were seeking to kill Him. What was His crime? Verses 21-23 show that the Jews were angry with Jesus because He had healed a man on the Sabbath who had been paralysed for 38 years.

This is unmistakable unbelief. They didn’t stop to consider the inconsistency and irrationality of their judgement on Jesus. Their gut instinct prevailed because they hated Him (v. 7). Even when, in v. 19, Jesus asked the crowd why they sought to kill Him, they responded by attributing His assertions to demon possession.

#2. Easily-missed unbelief: skin-deep appreciation.

‘Pushy Parent Syndrome’ is all around us. Behind the scenes of big-budget TV talent shows, the camera reveals a young performer’s family and friends in their desperate longing to see him or her succeed. This is nothing new. Jesus had pushy siblings to deal with. His half-brothers saw the forthcoming Jewish feast as the perfect opportunity for Jesus to go and showcase His considerable talents.

Verse 3-4 read, “So his brothers said to him, ‘Leave here and go to Judea, that your disciples also may see the works you are doing. For no one works in secret if he seeks to be known openly…'”

They advised Jesus to pursue the Big Time; go where the crowds were. Do impressive things; grow His popularity. These brothers had lived under the same roof as Jesus and still thought He was amazing. And they wanted others to appreciate Him, too.

John’s Gospel is a record of what Jesus said and did, written so that readers may believe that Jesus is the Christ and have life in His Name (John 20:31). Yet here was John telling us in verse 5 that not even his brothers believed in him.

Their brand of unbelief wasn’t cold and brutal like the Jewish leaders. The family was approving and appreciative, but their unbelief flourished as they watched what He could do, but not listen to what He said. Since the Wedding at Cana in chapter 2, Jesus had spoken of His time. Again verse 6 and 8 He told them that His time had not yet come. He was talking about His death. Yet no one asked Him what He meant.

Millions today, likewise, will say they believe in Jesus and it looks like saving belief. They are alert to, and excited by, the possibilities of what He can do for them. However, they are deaf to, and bored by, the centrality of His cross. Their desire for temporary benefits from Him makes His suffering for our sin repugnant. They just don’t get it.

Some of the Jews in the crowd at the feast thought Jesus was marvellous as well. Verses 12-13 read, “… some said, ‘He is a good man’ … Yet for fear of the Jews no one spoke openly of him.”

They marvelled at His words (v. 21). They upheld Him as good. But they calculated that He wasn’t worth getting into trouble for. So they kept quiet about Him. Does that not come very close to describing average evangelical Christianity today?

Saving belief centres on what Jesus did on the cross for sinners, and is willing to take up the cross to follow Him. Let’s show people the mirror of John 7. These things are written that we might spot unbelief. And that by believing we might have life in His Name.


Craig-Dyer2Craig Dyer is training director at Christianity Explored Ministries and associate pastor at Harper Church, Glasgow, Scotland. Convinced of the power of God’s word to change lives, he summarizes his work as “equipping hundreds to train thousands to rescue millions.”