“How is it right for God to judge others because they won’t believe like others? How is it right for God to demand that a person believe without proof/experiences?”
This is an example of the type of question we can hear in the world today. We can see it rise up in the hearts of many people, seeing God as wrong for commanding such things, or at the very least, not understanding why God would do so. So let us examine a few reasons why the Lord commands us in what to believe and why this matters so much.
The reason the Lord will judge us based upon faith in Christ is because we are either receiving or rejecting the truth, and more specifically, we are either receiving or rejecting God.
The Lord lays before all of mankind the truth, and we either take God as true and obey Him (John 3:33), or we say that God is a liar and we do not walk in the truth. This isn't about some mindless faith or robotic compliance, it's rooted in whether we receive or reject God's authority as God, and whether we will simply take the truth or we will resist the truth.
To oppose what is true, good, and right, and to not walk according to these things is sin. We can do this within our actions, but we can also do this in our affections, thinking, and in our beliefs. To not believe what is true means we ultimately believe a lie instead, and it means that we align ourselves with what is false.
I. Because the Truth Is Good
There is a deep bias within our hearts that resists Christ and refuses to kneel to the only true Authority in this universe, and it is rooted there because of our sin nature. Walking according to this sin nature means we rebel against God, have hard thoughts against Him, and ultimately are all disregarding God, and doing whatever we please. “No one understands; no one seeks for God.” (Rom 3:11) But God calls us all back to Him, to walk in what is good and right. It can sound to us like this is God just dictating to us His demands, but we need to recognize that those are hard thoughts about God that are springing from our fallen hearts, which disbelieve God's goodness automatically. Before we even examine the facts for ourselves we decide God is wrong, cruel, or evil—this exposes the bias of sin that is in us.
The truth is that God is actually good, and He commands us in what is good. He teaches us that the scales of the whole universe are actually bound up in this great issue of believing and disbelieving Christ. We either turn from this rebellion and rejection of God towards righteousness and godliness, or we hold fast to the unrighteousness in us.
And yes, this disbelieving God is very much a part of the unrighteousness in us. How? Because the way we live our entire lives springs from what we believe. So for God to command us in what to believe is what gets at the deepest part of sin in us, correcting the core of our being so that the whole rest of our lives follow. The fault in thinking that God is cruel for commanding us in what to believe is twofold. Firstly, it reveals that we believe God doesn't have the right to be God, and secondly it implies that what we believe cannot be counted as sin. But what we believe is very much either sinful or righteous, because what we believe is what we prize. To prize false ideas about things can only be wicked. To prize ideas in which we deny God's existence and His Word in order to do what we wish, choosing to believe false ideas in order to do so, is deeply wicked. What we believe can very much be sin, because it is deep in our wills and our believing that we choose the course of our whole life.
Correcting unbelief is about submitting to the Truth. It is about aligning with what is reality itself, what is good and right. And God reveals to mankind that aligning with all that is good, true, and right can only be done when we align with God firstly. And that continuing to reject God means we miss the path of life.
A common issue today is that many people think there are “options” for righteousness, enlightenment, truth, etc. That Jesus is simply one option over another. Yet God reveals in His Word that Christ alone is the Righteous One, and that only in our being united to Him do we walk in truth, righteousness, or light. This is why our receiving or rejecting of the Son is so central in everything that God commands. Only in receiving Christ can we walk in these things; it is only possible when we bow our knee to the authority of God. All that is truly righteous and all that is truly sinful is bound up within our belief in or rejection of the Son of God. And to continue to resist the truth and the goodness of God, choosing our sin and unbelief over the truthfulness of God, means that we choose lies over the truth, evil over good, and unrighteousness over righteousness. It is not that we choose a different option or “flavor” of righteousness, but that we reject righteousness itself.
The great reality in Christ is that He is God; He has come down from heaven bearing God's authority. And so the choice for us is whether we listen to God’s authority in Christ, or we don't. That's what believing comes down to: believing God or believing our sin. Choosing God or choosing sin. And that is why God judges us based upon this, because He judges us whether we receive His true Son, or we choose rebellion against Him (Psalm 2:2-3).
And so why is all of this conditional upon believing in Jesus Christ? Because anything that is of true righteousness will lead us to Righteousness Himself. And anything that is unrighteous will reject Righteousness, as we see in John 3:19-21: “And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.”
We are meant to see the great significance of the person of Christ. He alone has the right to command us, because He is the Son of God. While we might reject a thousand false authorities, we are meant to understand that there is one true authority, and it is the Son of God. One of the great errors around this question is that of mixing together these two things: false authority versus True authority. We say it is wrong for man to command others about how to live, and this very true, something we are justified in knowing (Matt 15:9, Col 2:22, Acts 5:29, John 10:8). Yet the great error is to reject God’s authority in the name of man’s false authority (1 Thess 2:13). While we can be justified again and again in rejecting false authority (man’s authority), we must see how we are also then condemned if we reject true authority (God’s authority). In professing to hate false authority we must also love true authority; in rejecting false authority we must also submit to true authority (Matt 28:18, 6:24, James 4:7). Christ is the One who comes bearing true authority, and that is the great significance of who He is. “All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture.” (John 10:8-9)
II. God’s Perfection Is Singular
As we see the authority of Christ so we are also meant to see the perfection of Christ. Jesus is perfectly holy, good, and true. The Lord Jesus has also become our perfect intercessor, being born in the flesh, being made like us. With this, He is sinless, perfect in love, justice, and righteousness. And so, for us to reject this perfection of goodness, what does that mean of us? What does it mean about us if we reject this Son of God? If we reject perfect righteousness, goodness, and truth? If we reject the only One who has true authority? It can only mean rebellion, unrighteousness, and darkness in us. Whatever reason we think we have for choosing to do so, it can only ever be because of sin and unbelief, this unbelief that rejects the reality of Christ and thereby all that is good and truthful and right.
God is actually good and true; this is firm, like an immovable mountain. There is no shadow in God’s goodness, no lie, no hidden manipulation (Ps 145:17, 1 Jn 1:5). In every other person or idea you could consider, there are failings, imperfections, and inconsistencies in their goodness, but God is Other. This is the great wonder of God being holy—that He is perfect in goodness. We can struggle to comprehend this because we live in a world that is far from the truth of this. We do not see perfect goodness, truthfulness, light, and life. And yet, this is who and what God is. What this means then, is that anything that rejects this perfect God, for whatever reason it be, is ultimately the issue.
We can take offense at God because He is so insistent upon Himself, but we miss that God insists upon Himself because He is perfect in all things. This isn’t vanity or tyranny, it is holiness, and what it means to be God, the Creator and sustainer of all things. To reject God in this reveals the very sin in us, that we rebel against God when God has done nothing wrong to us. His Gospel commands us in life, and He is the Life He commands us towards. Should God be any less than the very thing that gives us all things? Is it wrong for God to know where life is to be found? And to be the very creator and God in Whom we find the great substance of these things? Should He be only the Creator and sustainer or the physical but not also of the substance for our souls? Is it wrong for God to be all in all, and to be the bread of life we are meant to feed upon? “For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world. I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” (John 6:33,35).
Something that can be hard for us is when God shows that He has the right as a holy and perfect God to go to the very core of us. He is our Creator, and this means that He created the inward parts of our being, not just the outward. As He created our bodies, so He created our hearts, minds, and souls. “Did not he who made the outside make the inside also?” (Luke 11:40) For God to command our believing can feel very offensive because, in a way, our believing is one of the most private places in our souls. But we must be careful to not miss the significance in who God is when He does this—that He is the only One in the whole universe that is permitted to do this, and is able to do this. Again, in everything that God is commanding us, He is showing us exactly where the problems are and what needs to be fixed; where sin is and what we must turn from. God is not shorthanded, He is able to reach into the whole of His creation and correct what is wrong, wherever the problems exist, and this includes our very hearts, wills, and thinking. God doing this is not cruel and intrusive, He is acting according to reality. He doesn't buckle at our offendedness, but is able to bear up what is true about sin even amidst all our denial and gross misunderstandings of His intentions. He is faithfully going to all areas that are wrong in His Creation, and leading us out of darkness and into what is right. The Lord is God over all of us, not just in the outward but also the inward. And when it comes to rooting out sin, He roots out not only the outward but also the inward sins, and roots out the deepest layer of our sins: unbelief. To command faith and belief is to correct what is spiritually wrong within us, and to lead us in what is true.
All of this is at the crux of what the Lord is showing us in the issue of unbelief. Unbelief is the deep spiritual condition in every single one of us, in that while God is perfect in everything, for whatever reason in us, we reject Him and do not believe Him. We resist His Word and commandments, doubt His goodness, have hard thoughts about Him, do not receive His perfect and righteous Son, and continue to do our own will in resistance to His.
If He tells us the truth, then why do we not believe Him? Because of the sin nature in us, not because He is false. He is true, so why do we reject the truth? Whether it be that I do not believe that God is good, I do not believe His Word to be true, His judgment to be real or right, His Son to be the Christ, etc, all of these things are rooted firstly in unbelief. In commanding belief, Jesus shows us what is the great root of man’s sinful condition.
The Lord Jesus says in John 8:45, “But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me.” He shows us something quite profound here, that He is telling us the truth, and if He tells us the truth, but we do not believe Him, then what does that mean? It means that the nature within us is what is at fault in the equation, not God. If we really do not believe the truth, what does that say of us?
Because God is as He says, has done all that He says, the real issue is really whatever there is in us that rejects it. Be it from pride, ignorance, or love of our own ways, all of these have a greater root found in our rejecting the Truth because of unbelief. That is why Jesus rebukes unbelief as sin, and commands our faith, because only then do we align with reality itself, in the truthfulness, goodness, righteousness, and godliness found in Jesus Christ.
“For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” (John 18:37)
“But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me.”
Why Does God Command Us to "Believe"?
Exploring the Nature, Power, and Depth of Belief and Why It’s Right for God to Insist Upon It
I. Because the Truth Is Good
II. God’s Perfection Is Singular