Saturday, October 27, 2007

Unbelievers or Misbelievers...Which?

“And when Saul was come to Jerusalem, he assayed to join himself to the disciples: but they were all afraid of him, and believed not that he was a disciple.” (Acts 9:26)

As you can see from this scripture in Acts, it’s easy to do—doubt the credibility of another believer, that is. It is easy to come to the conclusion that he or she has not believed “to the saving of the soul” (Heb.10:39); and is one whose belief is merely akin to that of the trembling devils’ (Jam.2:19). But, in reality, there are those who have simply “err[ed], not knowing the scriptures” (Matt.22:29). Unfortunately, we are in danger of mistaking the two.

Misbelievers can be untaught, like Apollos (Acts 18); ill-informed, like the two despondent disciples on the Emmaus Road (Luke 24); or indisposed, like Demas, who became disillusioned with the Christian life, and captivated by the philosophy of this world (2Tim.4:10). Such individuals may hold to doctrines that are unscriptural (to our way of thinking) or display lifestyles offensive to our spiritual sensibilities, but neither of these qualifies him or her as an infidel. Paul even went so far as to tell the Thessalonian believers that people in the church who refused to follow his own teaching should be taken note of and avoided, but not ostracized (2Thess.3:14-15). They do not detract from our own faith, but neither do they add to it.

On the other hand, unbelievers may, and, in fact, should be, our friends (Luke 16:9), but they should not be part of the company we fellowship with, in the strict sense of the word (2Cor.6:14). Fellowship has been quaintly defined as “two fellows in the same ship,” and, obviously, an unsaved person and I are not in the same ship! Other than familial ties, there should be nothing that binds or yokes me together with a man or woman who has the devil for a father (Jno.8:44). I may spend a great deal of time with such an individual, but it will never be considered fellowship. Jesus was a friend of sinners, and so am I; but when He entered a ship, it was his disciples who went with Him (Matt.8:23. And when my little ship is sailing on stormy waters, it is fellow believers who are there to ride the waves with me.

How shall we tell the difference, then, between unbelievers and mere misbelievers? It’s really not so hard, if we are willing to lay aside everything but God’s prerequisite. For instance:

“Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved…" (Acts 16:31)

“That is thou shalt confess with the mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved." (Rom.10:9)

“For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” (1Tim.2:5)

“…and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ.” (1Jno.1:3)

The basis of all Christian fellowship is the recognition of Jesus Christ as the Son of God and God Incarnate. He is not only the dividing line for time, He is the dividing line for eternity. Questions of science, philosophy, and truth pale in comparison to Jesus’ question to His disciples: “Whom do men say that I am?” How a man or woman answers this question determines whether he or she is a misbeliever or an unbeliever. The former requires instruction and the latter, illumination; but they both involve submission.

All unbelievers are misbelievers, but misbelievers are not unbelievers. And they should not be treated the same.

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