Consequences of Disbelief

Can you imagine Jesus not being able to do mighty work?

In my daily Bible reading, I was recently reminded of this fact as I read Mark 6:1–6.

Verse 5 plainly states, “Now he could no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them.” The following verse says He “marveled because of their unbelief.” I was saddened at this reminder that our lack of faith can impede the Lord’s work in our lives and, perhaps, in the lives of others.

Some may object that such a limitation of Jesus’s ability contradicts the doctrine of the omnipotence of God. Commentators have rightly noted that Jesus can do anything, but in certain instances He chose to limit His own ability in accordance to human response (see, for example, John A. Broadus in the Matthew volume of the American Commentary series, and James A. Brooks in the Mark volume in the New American Commentary series).

Mark’s language is bold and clear: with just a few exceptions, Jesus was not able to do any mighty works in His home town of Nazareth because of their unbelief. Choices made to believe or not believe cannot be blamed on God, but must be seen as a part of human decision and human will to turn away. Disbelief has devastating consequences!

Some time ago, a speaker at a conference for college students reportedly said that the doctrine of free will is a heresy. This often-quoted phrase is at the heart of much theological discussion. What is free will? What does it mean? Is it a heresy, or is it a true part of our human nature?

I believe freedom to exercise or refrain from trust in God is a God-given part of our human nature which enables choice.

Of course this must be balanced against the sovereignty of God. God’s sovereignty rightly expresses and explains the power of the Lord God in life, salvation, and human destiny. There are many questions that must be asked in regard to the doctrine of free will as well as the doctrine of sovereignty. Does God in His sovereignty override any and all responses? Some say yes, believing His sovereignty extends to all parts of human decision and destiny.

Many years ago there was a popular song entitled, “God is in Control.”  It was sung by thousands of believers because it affirmed God’s power and strength. Why was it so popular? Because it is true. But, does its truth mean that all human decisions and actions are directed by God? How does the doctrine of free will intersect (and interact) with His sovereignty? That discussion has been going for centuries and will continue for many more.

Questions about the relation of God’s sovereignty and human responsibility began in the Garden of Eden where scripture reports a serpent dialoguing with the newly created man and woman. Obviously, it deals with the issue of God’s intent, described in Genesis 2:17: “But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”

Genesis 3 recounts the fact that Adam and Eve did, in fact, disobey God. The account of the Fall does not minimize the choices made by the man and woman as they listened to the voice of the serpent—the evil one in reptile form—and disobeyed the Lord. Was this an expression of free will? Or was it, as some say, a divinely-orchestrated act of God’s sovereignty? What cannot be denied is that a new day dawned for humanity. A new consciousness came upon both man and woman when they disobeyed God and ate of the tree of good and evil.

One of the saddest stories I know is found in Mark 10:17–22, where Jesus counseled the rich young ruler. Sadly the rich young man went away sorrowfully. Why was this discussion recorded for us? I have heard it taught that Jesus set the young man up, knowing the young man had no choice to forsake all and follow Him. I don’t find this in the text. I believe the young man did have a choice and he made the wrong choice. Choices made to believe or not believe cannot be blamed on God, but must be seen as a part of human decision and human will to turn away, as did the rich young ruler.

The consequences of the choices made in Genesis 3 extended to Jesus’s day and continue to this day. No one is immune from the consequences of the decision of Adam and Eve, nor are we unaffected by subsequent decisions of disobedience and disbelief by those who have gone before us. The free will God has granted human beings continues to be the source of much blessing and much pain. God did not create robots that would dutifully follow him in a mechanical fashion and obligatory motion. He wants men, women, boys, and girls to follow him out of love, out of devotion, and out of intimacy.

God’s gift of free will was a powerful gifting, but with it comes powerful responsibility and horrendous consequence. The reign of terror, the stain of racism, the shame of pornography, and so many other ills in our twenty-first century world demonstrate the results of centuries of disobedience and evil choices. Thankfully, on the brighter side, much good that has been done as people have chosen the way of the Lord and tried to follow Him with all their hearts.

Let it not be said of us that Jesus could do no mighty works among is because of our unbelief. When confronted with the occasions to trust and obey or to disbelieve and disobey, let us choose trust. What a force for good our obedience becomes!

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