Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Is Unbelief Sin?

Unbelief is not sin in itself. Sin is the exertion of will (decision, determination, action) in opposition to God. Unbelief is a gut reaction, an assessment of God's character and his word. Adam and Eve did not believe God nor what he said to them, and the result  was choice exerted in opposition to God. The unbelief wasn't the sin, the action it led to was. Unbelief is a state of heart and mind in regard to God which leads to sin.

Unbelief, therefore, is not a sin that can be condemned or forgiven, though the sin it leads to certainly can be. Unbelief itself is merely the spiritual and soulish framework from which sin arises, but not sin itself. As such, neither faith nor unbelief can properly be thought of as works as sin can. They underlie works but are not works themselves.

Whereas it is true that a sinful heart is unbelieving, and it is an undeniable consequence that an unbelieving heart will be sinful; sinful and unbelieving are not synonymous. They are interrelated but not equivalent. Whatever is not of faith is sin, which I think is about the same as saying whatever is of unbelief is sin. The sin is not the unbelief, the unbelief is not sin, sin is what happens when one acts without faith.

To those who argue that if Arminian tenets are true, faith is a work and unbelief is a sin which cannot be forgiven, I say think again! Unbelief is only a state which keeps one from entering into God's promises. It is not unbelief that results in judgment, but unbelief that keeps one under the condemnation for their sin. So, unbelief is not a sin for sin is an act of the will, but unbelief is the state of heart and mind that produces sin and keeps one under the judgment for it.


  1. The request "Lord, I believe. Help Thou my unbelief." comes to mind in support of your point.

    Grace and peace.

  2. Yes, I think it does, Pumice. Not only does it put forth the possibility of belief and unbelief existing at the same time, i.e. a conflicted attitude rather than sin, but Jesus betrays no righteous animosity toward the unbelief admitted to.

  3. Hey SLW,

    I hold strongly to Arminian conditional election, but see faith as not a work while unbelief is a sin.

  4. Hello JG,
    Nice to hear from you again.

    Thanks for giving me some perspective, which helps me ask you a question. What would a person in unbelief be doing which would be sinful for the doing of it?

  5. Excellent point, and meshes quite well with James' contention that faith without works is dead: dead things do not sin because they do not DO.

    Now, you have a difficulty in John 16:8-10 where Jesus describes the work of the Holy Spirit to convict the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment, and further defines "sin" as "men do not believe in me". Of course, that "definition" makes a hash of the standard definition of sin as "breaking the Law of God", so a lot of people other than you will be sent scrambling for an explanation.

    The explanation is given in your previous post: Jesus not only actually died for all men (and expecially for those who DO believe in him!) but he also died for the sins of the whole world. However, one should think of Jesus' death as a "loan consolidation" rather than a declaration of bankruptcy, in that all sins are condensed into one sin: unbelief. But if the terms of the "debt" have been translated into units of "unbelief", then the "legal tender" to "pay" that "debt" should be denominated in terms of "faith". This factors in Paul's contention that *forgiveness* must necessarily be by faith and not by works since "good works" doesn't pay off the "debt of sin", but only prevents you from slipping deeper into "debt". As in real life, cutting up the credit cards may be a first step in getting debt free, but cutting up the credit cards, in itself, doesn't pay off the existing debt on them.

    I put everything in quotes because sin does not, in actuality, map to debt. Rather, it maps to "capital crime".

    1. I would not classify John 16:8-11 as definitional. To wit: "And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment; concerning sin, because they do not believe in Me; and concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father and you no longer see Me; and concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world has been judged." The sin is not that they do not believe (i.e. that is not the definition), but that because they do not believe there is a conviction of sin. Similarly, Jesus ascending to the Father after the resurrection is not the definition righteousness, but because he did they can be convicted about righteousness (which is in Christ). Finally, the ruler of this world having been judged is not the definition of judgment, but is the means by which the world can be convicted concerning its judgment.

      Of course, since I don't see unbelief as sin in itself, I couldn't see all sin as consolidated into unbelief, although I would say all sin comes from unbelief.

  6. Interesting perspective, but I would have to disagree. There are outward acts and inward actions that people make and all of them are sin. The very decision not to believe is an inward action of the heart and mind therefore sin has taken place.
    Taking James 4:17 Therefore, to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin. Here you see an example of not doing something becoming sin.

    Matters of the heart and mind are inward actions of sin no outward action takes place.
    Mat 15:19 For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. One can do all these things inwardly and not have taken any physical outward action.

    If your heart harbors unforgiveness and you don't do anything. Sin resides in your heart.

    Neglect and omission are sins.

    1. Sword,
      Welcome to the Sounds.

      I don't know that we do not disagree. I have no problem with seeing sin as inward as well as outward. Generally, the inward will be in place before the expression of the outward. Sin is will exerted in opposition to God, and can be expressed by things such as determination, decision, AND [outward] action. Neglecting to help someone in need is sin in it's omission of doing what God wants done, and abiding in hatred of another person, or to not forgive is sin as well in that it is not God's will for our living.

      The point I was attempting to make in the post was that unbelief is not of the willful sorts of things that are actually sin, but instead is an attitude of heart toward God that makes those willful things possible.

    2. Not sure what you mean by "willful sorts of things". Unbelief in itself is willful in that it resides and is the foundation of all Atheist.

      Belief is the psychological state in which an individual holds a proposition or premise to be true. Unbelief is the opposite.

      In ether case it's an act of the will.

    3. Not that I buy your definition of belief, but even if I did, how is a psychological state properly an act of the will?

    4. Actually that's not my definition. It came from Wikipedia. Probably should have used another source. I'm not to fond of Wikipedia. I don't believe it's a psychological state. The part that caught my eye on the definition was "an individual holds a proposition or premise to be true."

      Belief - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia is the psychological state in which an individual holds a proposition or premise to be true. Contents. 1 Belief, knowledge and epistemology;

      If I were to bottom line it, it's something one chooses to do. We choose to believe or not believe and in doing so it is an internal willful action.

    5. Holding a proposition or premise to be true is not a sufficient framework for understanding faith as it has been discussed in this post. Really, such an idea is more properly associated with with logic rather than faith (or belief). The psychological state phrasing is just a very sloppy and ineffective way of trying to incorporate the subjectiveness required to capture some aspect of the notion of faith (Hebrews 11:1). Even if that definition incorporated the subjective aspect of faith in a better way, it would only be capable of referring to a specific point of doctrine or a theorem. That is not what has been discussed in this post.

      In those passages of scripture that truly get to the gist of faith (e.g. Genesis 15:6; Matthew 9:28-29; Hebrews 11:6) the issue of faith (and therefore the issue of unbelief, see Romans 1:21) is one's reaction to God--a person's sense of the character and ability of God. It seems to me this is more properly in the realm of sentiment rather than will, and particularly conscious choice. People don't wake up one day and say to themselves, "from this moment on, I choose to believe in God," and then walk in faith. Instead, they have some sort of Holy Spirit encounter, and a reaction that is a realization of the trustworthiness of God that results in a relationship with Him.

    6. Hi SLW,
      It seems to me that this post is about your opinion of unbelief not being sin.

      Faith as we know comes from God. (Rom 12:3)To every man He has dealt a measure of faith. We also know that faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God(Rom 10:17). I think in a nut shell these scriptures would be sufficient to believe where faith comes from and have some understanding. We may want to drop Wikipedia's definition of belief since it's not the best out there.

      God has always existed and He created man in His image. Hence, Adam was created and had a blessed relationship with God to a certain point. I think we would both agree that God gave Adam a measure of faith when he was created. God spoke to Adam and he heard the words of a good and faithful God whom he believed in. So, perhaps to your point one did wake up and choose to believe in God. (I can only imagine the immense peace that Adam felt at the sound of God's voice with nothing hindering)unlike in today's world.

      Out of interactive relationship Adam kept growing with God. Like a child does and believes and trusts his father. At some point in time the enemy comes to discredit the relationship and words of faith given to us by God. Choice is present for the heart and mind to will and decide to believe God and His word or not. The will/mind/and emotions work hand in hand. You can believe God's word and forgive or you can decide based on your sentiment not to believe God's word and sin. Harboring unforgiveness internally is sin.

      In addition, we should walk by faith and not by sight holding God and His word to be true and dismiss logic as in (Hebrews 11:1).

      You also say in your post "It is not unbelief that results in judgment". It seems to me that in Rom 1:18-21 men are without excuse and make a willful choice to not believe and become corrupt and they end up receiving the wrath of God.

    7. First let me specifically address a couple of points you made:
      So, perhaps to your point one did wake up and choose to believe in God.
      This is non-sequitur and begging the question. Adam choosing to do anything does not follow from the prior statements. Adam cannot be assumed to have chosen to believe because he heard and believed and then have his believing offered as the proof that he chose to believe.

      Out of interactive relationship Adam kept growing with God.
      An assumption not explicitly communicated in the Genesis account nor implicitly apparent from what is there.

      It seems to me that in Rom 1:18-21 men are without excuse...
      I think you are misapplying what is cited in the text. Belief and unbelief are not referenced, but a willful suppression of known truth. If anything, what is addressed is not unbelief being judged with wrath, but belief willfully being ignored in order to avoid truth. This is more akin to what the Pharisees were guilty of if we extrapolate from Jesus encounter with Nicodemus (John 3:1).

      So I think, despite your objections, my conclusion still holds that belief and unbelief (at least in any salvivic sense) are not works (of the will) but are reactions of the soul (sentiment).


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