[The] disciples said to [Jesus], “See, now You are speaking plainly, and using no figure of speech! Now we are sure that You know all things, and have no need that anyone should question You. By this we believe that You came forth from God.” Jesus answered them, “Do you now believe? Indeed the hour is coming, yes, has now come, that you will be scattered, each to his own, and will leave Me alone. And yet I am not alone, because the Father is with Me. These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” (John 16.29-33).
Our Lord Jesus was always gentle and very powerful with His words. Even when He had to point out sin in the lives of people, His words were tempered with kindness and compassion. The Lord Jesus spoke plainly about His departure from the world. The Twelve seemed to understand Him a little better. They expressed confidence and belief in Him. But He knew them better than they knew themselves. His question, “Do you now believe?” (John 16.31) is a gentle rebuke. The disciples would sadly discover that they were unbelieving. This question from Jesus is extremely important for you to consider as well.
Considering the context of the question, we find three important truths:
- Many think they believe when they are actually unbelieving. “It is granted to you on the behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer” (Philippians 1.29). If God’s grace were not apparent in our lives, we would not believe. The problem is that many simply intellectually assent to the truth of the Gospel, but never really depend upon it. People are given over to the world, to self-righteousness, to sensuality, and/or a combination of all of the above. Many know they need to change, but they remain uninformed and powerless to do so. The Jewish people of Jesus’ day trusted in Moses. If they believed Moses, they would have believed Jesus Christ; Moses wrote of Christ. But they didn’t believe in Moses’ writings, so they will not believe in the words of Jesus Christ (see John 5.46-47). Thus, they were actually unbelieving while thinking quite the opposite.
- Many believe but are still influenced by unbelief. Unconverted people have no faith at all. But once we are saved, that does not mean unbelief is eradicated in us. Unbelief still influences us. “The flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish” (Galatians 5.17). John 16.27 indicates that the apostles believed Jesus came forth from God, but that faith was weak and insufficient. We find that out when they leave Jesus alone to be arrested and crucified. Exposure to truth and practice of the truth leads are the means to perseverance and hope.
- Many who believe must face tribulation to reveal the vestiges of unbelief. None of this appeals to us, of course. But we need tribulation. When Peter walked out upon the water to meet Jesus, he saw success at first. Then the wind was boisterous and fear welled up within him. He began to sink and cried out for Jesus to save him. Jesus caught him and said, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” (Matthew 14.30-31). If our faith is false, we will make a shipwreck of it and of a good conscience before the Lord as soon as we hit stormy seas. We need the presence of the Lord, but we must not forsake that presence. Jesus asked, “Do you now believe?” It was asked to put the Twelve on alert. Later, that question would help them recover from their faithlessness. If your faith does not grow in proportion to your trials, you will fall in the day of adversity.
Many think they believe when they are actually unbelieving. Second, many believe when they are still influenced by unbelief. Third, many who are believing will face tribulation revealing the unbelief that still exists. Paul writes, “Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves” (2 Corinthians 13.5a-b).
- Test the reality of your faith. Is your faith built upon the rotten foundation of man’s words and philosophy? Have you deceived yourself into thinking that this world is all there is? Then you may yet be in your sins. Acknowledge your unbelief before God. He will convict you of sin, righteousness, and judgment. Sincere faith overcomes the world, works through love, and purifies the heart (cf. 1 John 5.4; Galatians 5.6; Acts 15.9). Not all have faith (2 Thessalonians 3.2). But do you?
- Test the degree of your faith.
- Do you believe even though you cannot see? We need to keep an eternal perspective. Our hope is tethered to the unseen realities of eternal life (Hebrews 11.1).
- Do you believe even in the face of great challenges? Abraham “contrary to hope, in hope believed …not being weak in faith …He did not waver at the promise of God through unbelief, but was strengthened in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully convinced that what He had promised He was also able to perform” (Romans 4.18-21). You know your faith is strong when contrary to hope, in hope you believe.
- Do you believe and press on even when life is overwhelming? “Remember without ceasing your work of faith, labor of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ in the sight of our God and Father” (1 Thessalonians 1.3). We press on because the source of our energy to work for Christ is found in our faith in Him.
When we struggle with faith, it is best to be open and transparent with God. We ought to pray, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief.”
“You will be kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials” (1 Peter 1.5-7). Trials are permitted by God to the degree that they reveal unbelief in us. That’s why we count them all joy. But persistent faith will bring us closer to the image of God’s Beloved One. May the Lord Jesus increase our faith so that we might stand in the evil day in which we live.