Confessions of an unbelieving believer

Confession“What do you do that an atheist can’t do?” This was the beginning of a conversation I had with God a few years ago. Did you ever notice that whenever God asks you a question, He’s not looking for information? Actually, it’s usually the beginning of revelation…for me. And I was about to get a big one.

Now, I didn’t perceive any rebuke or condemning tone in the voice. More that of a gentle loving father. But as the leader of a local church, He had my attention. At this point in the conversation, I was sure there was plenty that I could do that an atheist couldn’t do. Of course, I was about to have my world turned upside down.

Here’s essentially how this conversation went…

“What do you do that an atheist can’t do?” I heard from God.
“I can preach…” I countered…
“Atheists can motivate people with inspiring words too,” came the return.
“I can teach the Bible”
“So could they if they studied it and were trained to do so…”
“We have very moving times of worship during our services…”
“There are talented atheist musicians and songwriters that can move people’s hearts, even to tears, too”
“I can give good counsel…”
“So can their psychologists and counselors…”
“I can give people principles for a better life”
“So can they…”
“We have stronger families and marriages…”
(No response…)
Then I remembered a Barna group statistic I saw where it found that atheists have a better track record in successful marriages than Christians…that was depressing.

At this point, I was getting the basic idea of what God was driving at…
“Okay, I give up. I guess there wasn’t much that I could do, or that we do in our church services, that atheists can’t do.”

The only sure thing I knew I had over the atheist was that I believed I was going to heaven when I died. They don’t….but they don’t care about that either.

Now I was ready for revelation…

And the revelation was two-fold: First, there are many things that Christians can do that atheists can’t do, but all of them require faith and/or a demonstration of the supernatural power of the Spirit.

The second revelation was personal and hard to take. I was an unbelieving believer.

I was stunned.

Here I was, a so-called “Bible-believing” Christian for about 25 years at this time. And I was no cessationist. I was a Spirit-filled Charismatic pastor, fully convinced that the gifts of the Spirit and everything in the Bible is for today, even having had many personal encounters with God. Now suddenly realizing that I have bought into a brand of Christianity that isn’t much different that being a good atheist.

Oh yes, I agreed that all of the word of God was inspired and 100% truth…I just didn’t believe it. You see, you only believe what you practice. And I didn’t practice most of what it said I should be doing…apparently, other than things that atheists could do in their own power.

Very little in my activities, or the activities of my church, resembled anything we see Jesus doing, or in the book of Acts, nor did it have near the same world-changing effect on my culture that they had. Our so-called “Spirit-filled” services were still very predictable and at a very human level. Oh, we had great worship, occasional prophesy, tongues, the usual Charismatic fare…. Nonetheless, we had essentially the same relational squabbles and problems that unbelievers in the world have. We faced the circumstances and issues of our every day life just like unbelievers did…on a human level. We had the same limitations and powerlessness as they in just about everything. And we thought that was normal! I hadn’t seen that Paul actually rebuked the Corinthians for acting like mere human beings (1 Cor.3:3).

I was believing in Jesus, but I wasn’t believing like Jesus. Jesus’ life and ministry was not my standard for Christian living and ministry. My culture and what other churches are doing was my standard. As Jonathan Welton points out in his book, “Normal Christianity,” I was an “average” Christian instead of a “normal” Christian (see link below).

What I finally saw was that what we do and value in our version of Christianity was not what Jesus and the New Testament writers did and valued. They went around doing good by healing the sick, casting out demons, and raising the dead. We trust medicine, psychology, and have funerals for those things (and I’m not against any of these things). We value knowledge, seminary degrees, charismatic personalities, eloquent preaching, good programs, and scholarly teaching. Again, none of that’s bad, in and of itself, but we fail to see that Paul trusted in and valued something else. And he actually rejected his religious scholarship in favor of real experiential knowledge of Christ and walking in Holy Spirit revelation (Phil.3:4-8) .

Paul wanted his worldly Spirit-filled Corinthians to trust in something totally other-worldly too. Look at what he said to them…

“And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power,  5 that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.” (2 Cor.2:4-5)

Do you see that? Paul wanted them to actually put their faith in the supernatural power of God more than just clever preaching! We do the opposite. We value and trust persuasive words and are fearful and suspicious of supernatural power.  We’re no show and all tell. We want to argue people into the kingdom rather than demonstrate it.

You see, Jesus seemed to think that believers would lay hands on sick and they recover (Mk.16:17-18). Apparently, unbelieving believers don’t. I used to say that’s for special people with a healing gift. And my prayers were begging God to do something He told me to do. I said “amen” to the theory of “Christ in me” (Col.1:27), seated in heavenly places (Eph.2:6), but I acted like He was “out there” somewhere. I lived like an orphan, waiting for Papa to come home. Like the elder brother, waiting for things He said I already had (Lk.15:31).  And I certainly didn’t believe that I could raise the dead! (Mt.10:7,8).  But Jesus seemed to think I should do all of these things in the normal course of ministry, and even greater things (Jn.14:12). You see, I said God’s Word was true, but I didn’t really believe it with my actions. My faith was humanistic, based on what I could understand with my intellect and do naturally, and the Kingdom of God coming to earth was something that only happened when Jesus returned. My small and powerless Christian world was being rocked at its very foundation.

And this is the version of Christianity I saw all around me. And this facsimile we call faith is taught to us everyday, even in popular Christian music.

To give you an example of what I mean, while I love Jeremy Camp’s music, I realized that his popular song, “Walk by Faith” was actually teaching something else. For the chorus states, “I will walk by faith, even when I cannot see…” But isn’t faith, by definition, always when we cannot see? (2 Cor.5:7). I mean, when we can see it, it no longer requires faith, right? Do you see what I mean? We have adopted this absurd view of faith that isn’t actually faith, but we think it is.

But again, I saw that my “faith” was more influenced by my culture and popular teachers of doctrine than by what God actually says in His Word. I realized I had changed what He said about me and how I was supposed to live into something compatible to my cultural surroundings. And it’s cultural because we don’t really believe in miracles, signs, and wonders as a matter of course in our naturalistic Western churches, even though these are happening with regularity through very common people in other parts of the world.

The problem with cultural influence is, if you say something long enough, and it sounds biblical, it becomes orthodoxy. And as Sam Soleyn points out, “Cultural longevity legitimatizes absurdity.” And we have inherited almost 500 years of humanistic, enlightenment Christianity that teaches us a lot of good things but denies the miraculous and supernatural (unless to say it’s the devil doing it), which makes our Churchianity look more like Greek philosophy than Kingdom reality. Of course, we can just dismiss and demonize people who dare to believe what the Bible calls “normal” as hyper and extreme, a false gospel. I laugh at the utter irony of it all when I think about it now.

So this paradigm-changing revelation of my unbelief was the beginning of a journey for me. And I certainly haven’t arrived yet, but I know I’ve left the shore! Since this encounter, I have been contending for a life of faith, taking God at His Word, learning from the best who walk in this supernatural Kingdom reality, and learning to do what I see my Father do (Jn.5:19; 20:21). I have seen hundreds of people healed, many on death’s door, many of incurable diseases. I have seen financial miracles in my own life and in the life of others, and hopeless marriages restored. I have seen people miraculously set free from all kinds of demonic strongholds, and best of all, I have had many love encounters with my heavenly Father as I learn to rest in His embrace.

Now, we have also not seen miracles when we thought we should. I have had people literally die in my hands as I was praying for their recovery. But many are living now that wouldn’t be because we risked taking God at His word. I still see too much sadness and not enough joy and victory. But I’m never going back to my old powerless “unbelieving” orphan Churchianity again. It’s too late for that. I’m determined for Jesus to get His full reward in and through me. I will live in the tension of believing what I cannot see more than what I can see. To get out of the boat of my comfort zone and learn how to walk on the water with Jesus until my experience matches my understanding.

Beloved, this world we’ve been called to is too broken, too crippled, too sick, too hopeless, and too bound by Satan’s lies and bondages to just sit back and let him destroy the very ones Jesus paid a terrible price so they could be free. It really matters what we believe.

I think it appropriate to end with a line from Jonathan David Helser’s song, “Earth Like Heaven” that I believe is what’s happening to me, and what I see happening all over the body of Christ in this hour…”She’s not dead, she’s just sleeping…and she’s waking up.”

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About Mel Wild

God's favorite (and so are you), a son and a father, happily married to the same beautiful woman for 36 years. We have three incredible adult children. My passion is pursuing the Father's heart in Christ and giving it away to others. My favorite pastime is being iconoclastic and trailblazing the depths of God's grace. I'm also senior pastor of Cornerstone Church in Wisconsin.
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34 Responses to Confessions of an unbelieving believer

  1. walkthwalk92 says:

    I really enjoyed reading your Confessions of an unbelieving believer, and thank you for sharing.it. Hoping that many more will read and appreciate the truth in it. God Bless

    • melwild says:

      Thank you for reading this and for your encouraging comments. I felt compelled to write it. It ended up being a bit long, but I too hope that people will be blessed by this testimony and that it will en-“courage” them to risk taking this awesome, scary, joy-filled journey of faith. It’s really worth it. Blessings to you too.

  2. Fantastic post. I’ve had this conversation with God, too! That was when He began to teach me how to walk on water (not literally, but you know what I mean!). It’s been a wild ride ever since!

    May I reblog on Sunday?

    Thanks for reading my post on the Christian Gazette. 🙂

    In Christ,
    Tami
    \o/
    Praising Jesus who invites me to live like I believe His Word!

  3. melwild says:

    Thanks Tami, and amen! It’s a wild ride but I wouldn’t want it any other way.

    And you’re welcome on reading your blog. It looks great and I really liked your testimony in “Rise, Kill, Eat…” Good stuff! I want to read more when I get more time!

    Yes, you may reblog any of my posts. I appreciate that. 🙂

    Blessings to you.

  4. Reblogged this on Lessons by Heart and commented:
    Do you agree with the Bible 100%? Do you believe it 100% – now that is the question. Enjoy this thought-provoking article by Mel…his is an excellent blog, by the way. Spend some time reading his other posts.
    May the Lord’s face shine brightly upon you today. \o/

  5. Kathleen says:

    Thanks for the breakfast for the soul this morning, it was wonderful to drink deeply of the words the Holy Spirit impressed upon you. Found myself nodding through the whole post, not skimming a single word, but loving it all. Thank you Thank you!

    • melwild says:

      You’re very welcome!. I’m glad you could relate. God is doing some awesome things these days with His sleepy bride. We’re waking up! Exciting times. Be blessed.

  6. Cindy Powell says:

    Bravo! So grateful to have happened upon this post. It always encourages my heart to hear the stories of others who have been awakened to the true gospel message. Been on that journey myself for some years now. It’s cost a lot, but I wouldn’t trade a thing. I can’t bear the thought of failing to lay hold of EVERYTHING it cost Him so dearly to purchase for us. It really is such a terrible insult to the price He paid when we settle for so very little. Many blessings and much grace to you as you continue on the journey–may your words awaken many to the amazing truths of our King and his kingdom!

    • melwild says:

      Thank you for your encouraging comments. And I know about the cost. But like you said, He’s the One who paid the ultimate price so we could be with Him as His sons and daughters, to know Him and make Him known. And the world He loves will get the benefits when they see Him rightly represented as a good Father, seen in His glory…in and through us (Col.1:27). As Bill Johnson has said, the world deserves an encounter with God. And we’re it. So, it’s worth it all to get out of our little boats and learn how to walk on the big water with Him! Many blessings to you too!

  7. topetychus says:

    Really enjoyed this. It also gave credence to a revelation from the WORD I received via the Holy Spirit not quite long. I pray believers get to Wake Up! before it’s too late. Our Faith and Works as “believers” just have to be in sync, directly proportional NOT inversely proportional. It’s only then we can be True Believers. God help us all.
    http://topetychus.wordpress.com/2013/09/14/free/.

  8. waltsamp says:

    Your post is very humbling and inspiring. I have a post “The Reformation of American Christianity” at http://waltsamp.wordpress.com that comes at Christian renewal from a different, and less encouraging, way. However, I feel that I am being Spirit-led in my desire to contribute what I can to bring about a new reformation. Thanks for the uplift.

    • melwild says:

      Thanks for stopping by and for your encouraging comments. I do believe that God is waking us up to a new reformation of sorts. The Church is not getting weaker, she is finally waking up out of her religious slumber! His Word isn’t changing; our understanding of it, and who we are in Him is changing. We must remember that the Kingdom is always advancing, even when the status quo church isn’t. What was appropriate 500 years ago, even 50 years ago, looks broken today. So, you do have a part to play in that advancement. 🙂

      I like what Graham Cooke said about this. There are three phases to a reformation. First, the “holy dissatisfaction,” which can sound negative for awhile. We know there needs to be serious change, we just don’t know what it is yet. Second is the transition phase, where the pioneers blaze new trails in the Spirit. We often don’t recognize it for what it is at first, it looks awkward and it’s the most uncomfortable phase. Also, it’s the most challenged by those who don’t want to give up their ol’ time religion. It tends to be hybrid of old and new. I think the whole post-modern, emergent movement, the apostolic renewal in the 90’s, set the stage in the early part of this transition. But it’s still not the answer or the final change. It’s just a new version of the old, but it’s a start. And it did make us start the deconstruction of our traditions and assumptions and take a fresh look at the Scriptures. The third phase is walking in the new thing God is doing in His Church. Like the Reformation, this phase changes everything!

      I think the church at large is still in the second phase right now, but there are glimpses of the third. Things dramatically shifted in the Spirit about 5 years ago. A lot of people I’ve talked have had the same experience I had. So, it is an exciting time to be alive. We are finally finding out who we are in Christ! The bride is waking up and growing up into Christ, we are finding out what it means to be sons in our Father’s kingdom. This phase will bring real unity of the faith (Eph.4:12-16), not man-made unity.

      I will definitely check out your post. You sound like you have the heart of a pioneer. Let’s blaze some trails together. 🙂

  9. Anonymous says:

    Here is a post I wrote as to the belief that Christians can do things that Atheists cannot.
    http://climbthewell.wordpress.com/2013/09/23/doing-the-hard-thing/

    • melwild says:

      I read your post. What a great testimony of courage and persistent faith. And you’re right, we can be more than overcomers in Christ and atheists cannot. Blessings.

  10. You are so right, God never ask a question that he does not already know the answer to. After the first maybe second question it dawned on me that He is all seeing, all knowing. He’s asking a question so that I answer the question which reveals a whole new world to me. Thanks for sharing and blessings to you. I hope you continue to provide His truth to others, boldly.

    Jacqueline

  11. Pingback: What we can learn from a three-year-old | In My Father's House

  12. Pingback: The problem with keeping God in our intellectual box | In My Father's House

  13. That’s what I’m talking about! It’s so amazing that no matter how long we’ve followed Christ, periodically we have a come to Jesus moment as some say. It not long and drawn out but it’s impact is life changing whether good or bad there is no doubt that we have been marked. I thank God for inspiring you to share your conversation with him. I’m even more grateful that through humility and obedience to believe God at his word you have become an instrument of the supernatural.

  14. Reblogged this on Liv4Christ4ever and commented:
    Very thought provoking. Look at the opening question. I’d like to broaden it to what do/can you do that an unbeliever can’t?

  15. “I will live in the tension of believing what I cannot see more than what I can see”. That just says it all! Nice piece 🙂

  16. secretangel says:

    Reblogged this on The Christian Gazette and commented:
    God is calling us to higher levels of faith with Him…

  17. secretangel says:

    Amen!! He is calling us to walk in the miraculous with Him. So many think miracles were a thing of the past. Thanks for sharing this, Mel. Love it!

  18. seo says:

    I absolutely love your blog and find many of your post’s to be exactly what I’m looking for.
    Does one offer guest writers to write content for yourself?
    I wouldn’t mind composing a post or elaborating on many of
    the subjects you write concerning here. Again, awesome web site!

  19. Pingback: What are you waiting for? | Liv4Christ4ever

  20. daniel says:

    Reblogged this on Daniel Lovett and commented:
    Are we ready to give up our unbelief? It might mean change. It might get scary. You might have to love till it hurts and all of that. You might have to get up close and personal with Jesus. What does reading this blog prompt you to do? What action will we take because we read this? How will our lives change? Leave a comment and please pray for me that I can begin to experience “normal” Christianity and stop trying to just convince myself that Jesus is not lying every time I read his words.

  21. Bette Cox says:

    Reblogged this on Church Set Free and commented:
    Excellent.

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