Four times in a brief conversation, he looked me in the eye and angrily stated, “I don’t believe you.”
This came from a close friend, one with whom I’ve walked for many years. He was asking me some direct questions, and I was answering them honestly. However, he wasn’t getting the answers he wanted, and instead of letting that shift his assumptions, he chose to double down on his false accusations. At one point, he even said, “God has told me not to trust anything you say.” There it was, the God card, used to trump the relationship. A friendship can’t exist where words are not trusted.
Admittedly, this man had been engaged in gossip about me by others who intended to destroy our relationship and get their own way with him. I knew it had been going on, but I did not want to join that game to fight it. I hoped our years of relationship would have counted for something. They haven’t yet, but still, I wasn’t going to repeatedly answer ridiculous allegations for someone who no longer cared what was true.
It’s incredible how people can express love and respect for you in one breath and call you a liar with their next. I believe in you; I just don’t believe you.
I’ve been down this road before; so has Jesus. I know this will be hard to hear for some, but the essence of the Gospel is not that we believe in him. That’s easy to do. Many profess Jesus to be their Lord and Savior, who will not believe him when he seeks to reveal his truth to them. Professing belief in Christ will not lead you to his fullness. We only get there by believing him when he shows us what’s true, especially when it’s something we don’t want to be true.
That’s what is going on with Peter in the story Matthew tells (Matthew 16). Jesus asked him who people said that he was and then asked Peter what he thought. His resounding affirmation of who Christ was, “the Son of the Living God,” is one of his greatest moments, and Jesus is thrilled with his answer. He tells Peter that he is a rock, and on that rock, he would build his church. Peter believes in him. When Jesus went on, however, to say he was headed to Jerusalem to be delivered over to the leaders of the city where he would suffer at their hands and die, Peter would have none of it. He discounts the very words of the one he just proclaimed to be God’s Son.
Of course, Peter couldn’t see the necessity of his friend’s death in Jerusalem and wanted to prevent it. In Peter’s response, however, Jesus hears the voice of Satan and rebukes him. “You are only looking out for your own interests, not God’s.” It is one thing to believe in Jesus and quite another to believe him when his interests run counter to ours.
I have often caught myself arguing with thoughts in my head that I had to admit later were God’s leading. When he invites us into his reality, it will challenge our own comfort and the false conclusions others have sown in our hearts. This is the crux of faith, not a doctrinal stand about the nature of Christ, but learning to believe him when he nudges us into his reality is the essence of discipleship. What good is it to believe in him if we don’t believe him when he speaks?
He wants to show you what’s real and not real about the circumstances you swim in, the lies you’ve been convinced of, and the selfish motives you are serving to your own hurt. Following him at moments like that is what will lead you into the joy and power of his kingdom. If we choose not to see or believe him when his reality conflicts with our own preferences, we aren’t following him. We’re just following our inclinations and signing his name to it.
It’s time for a new generation of men and women not just to profess a belief in him but actually to learn to follow even in the most challenging thing he might ask of us. Those who help transform the world know his love enough to recognize his voice and trust his intentions toward them enough to follow him even when we prefer not to. People who pray at his leading even when it is counter to their interests, and follow him even when it’s not their preference, become agents of his glory in a broken world. Discovering what he wants you to know, no matter how uncomfortable, is the way to live. Everything else is just a smokescreen, even our most passionate confessions.
The most significant transformations in my life have often come after the most painful obediences where I was being nudged to act in ways my flesh resisted. In time, however, when I could enjoy the fruit of my following, I was so grateful I’d taken the road he invited me down. When I expressed my gratitude to him for all that followed, I’ve heard him say things like, “I simply showed you what was true, and you dared to believe me.”
That daring to believe him rarely comes easily, but I have never regretted it. This is what believing him means.
Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book.
But these are written that you may believe[b] that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing, you may have life in his name.
Many of my previous blogs and articles like this have been compiled into a 365-day devotional to encourage your heart into the greater realities of living loved and recognizing his ways. You can order your copy of Live Loved Free Full here.