I believed as a child. How do I get back to belief?

This question came in recently.

"How can I believe? I want to believe like I did as a child but cannot get back to true belief."

There seems to be many out there that have had a similar experience. They were introduced to the story of Jesus when they were children, believed in him, but became unconvinced later in life. This is a common story that I hear often as I've communicated with atheists, agnostics, skeptics, and secular humanists. So let's think about this question a little deeper.



It reminds me of a story in the gospels. A man asks Jesus to cast a demon out of his son. It's a particularly nasty demon. Jesus' disciples had already tried to cast it out, and it didn't work. The man had apparently had begun to believe that no one would be able to cast the demon out. When Jesus arrives, this distraught father ask Jesus to cast the demon out and then uses this phrase, "if you can."

Jesus tells him that all things are possible for him who believes. The man says, "I do believe; help my unbelief." 

How could this man be both a believer and an unbeliever?

If we can answer that, we will be on our way to dealing with the question asked at the top of our post.  In fact it seems that this subscriber is asking a very similar question. He has believed in the past but is finding it hard to hold on to that belief now that he is faced with new information. So let's look once more at the question posed. This subscriber writes,

"I want to believe like I did as a child but cannot get back to true belief."

 The question implies something interesting, especially in these words "I cannot get back to true belief."

The term "true belief" implies that there is such a thing as "false belief."

The greek word used for belief (which is important because it's used all through the New Testament) is πιστεύω Pisteuó. You can look it up online... or I could just give you the definition. I'll give the definition. 

GREEK : Pisteuó / ENGLISH : Belief = affirm, have confidence, persuaded, convinced. 

That's why it's translated as "belief" in most cases, and sometimes translated as "faith." Notice how simple the definition is. It means that you are convinced that something is true. 

The bible does not teach that there is true or false belief. It does teach that there are people who, even though they have believed, act as if they haven't. It does not, however, negate their belief.

What is false belief except no belief at all. Another way to put it is unbelief.

So let's go back to the original idea of "true" and "false" belief.

If true belief = that I truly believe.  That is essentially the same thing as simply believing. There is no belief that is any more or less true. You can't half believe a single truth. However, if there were 2 claims, you could believe half of the claims.

I'll use this analogy. Bob says to John, "I can fly."

At this point, John can choose to either believe or not believe Bob's statement. There is no partially believe, or falsely believe. He makes a judgment based on the information he's received.

Now let's say that Bob says to John, "I own a cat, I can walk on water, and I have a green emerald mounted in my rib cage in place of a heart."

Now John could choose to believe or not believe any of the the three statements. He could choose to believe that Bob, in fact, does have a cat. However, John would likely disbelieve the other two claims that Bob has made.

So, this analogy points to what happens with Christian truth claims. Each individual claim that Christ or his followers have made can be either believed or disbelieved. No single claim can be half believed or falsely believed.

It's possible to have belief and unbelief at the same time, but not on the same issue.

Now someone might say, I only believe half of the claims made by the bible. Is the person that only believes half of the biblical claims a believer? Said another way,

"does someone have to believe everything in the bible to be a Christian?"

The answer obviously has to be, "no."

For anyone to believe EVERY claim in the bible they would have to know every claim in the bible. There are many Christians who have never read the bible all the way through. Christians all over the world insist that reading the bible is not what makes someone a Christian. Secondly the bible supports this. Add to that, the idea that there were centuries where there was no bible in many languages, however there were still Christians who spoke those languages.

So, this brings us to another question. How much of the bible do I have to believe to be a Christian? Another way to say it would be,

"is there a certain thing(s) that I have to believe to be a Christian?"

The answer is, "yes."

It's all through the book of John. The best known spot is probably John 3:16.

"Who ever believes in him (Jesus) shall not perish but have eternal life."

This is the gospel in a nutshell. As we've said in a previous post, whoever believes that Jesus is the giver of eternal life, and believes that he will give it to them has it. It's so strangely simple that many people seem to miss it. The transaction is all about belief.

Eternal life is given to those who have believed in Jesus for it.

The same subscriber asked a related question as I talked with him. You may not see at first how it relates, but allow me to share the question, and we will connect the two ideas.

"Once saved always saved? Or can I lose my salvation."

To answer that question we need to understand what happens when we first believe in Jesus. 

When we first believe in Jesus for eternal life, we come alive. Jesus explains it a few different ways. 

"...whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life."

Notice the phrase "crossed over from death to life." Everyone crosses from life to death. Everyone dies, but as Jesus puts it, only those who believe go the other direction. Only those who have believed in Jesus for eternal life have COME ALIVE.

Crossing from death to life is a one way trip. Once a believer has come alive they will always have that life. That's why it's called eternal life. If it only lasted a short time it would be called temporary life. If you could lose it, it would be called temporary life. Instead it's called everlasting or eternal life. Jesus explained it this way, 

"I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die."

He points out over and over that once someone has believed in Jesus for eternal life, it's a done deal. Once we've believed in Jesus, we're stuck with eternal life wether we change our minds or not. Jesus said it this way to Nicodemus, 

"unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”

He uses this analogy to illustrate how final the transaction is. Nicodemus actually asks, "how can this be. Can I enter my Mother's womb a second time." The answer is obviously "no." This illustrates how everlasting the life is that we receive when we believe in him. We can't lose it, any more than a baby can undo his own birth. Jesus also said,

"I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand."

No one will snatch them out of my hand. You've probably heard the term, "sold his soul to the devil." We understand in that euphemism that once you've sold your soul to the devil, you can't get out of the deal. (not that it's possible to do that, I'm just using it as an illustration.) In a similar way, when we believe in Jesus for eternal life, as it seems this subscriber did when was a child, you've sold your soul to the savior. When he says no one will snatch them out of my hand, he's telling us that the deal is final. 

Some might say, "but what if I stop believing? Do I lose my eternal life then?" 
Again, then is wouldn't be called eternal life. It would be called temporary life. Let's remember what he said about it. 

"No one will snatch them out of my hand."
"They are born again"
"They will never die"
"They have crossed from death to life."

This is a one way trip folks. That moment that you first believed you received eternal life that will never be taken away. The creator of the world has promised you that.  

Paul says it this way, "you were sealed for the day of redemption.So if you believed in Jesus for eternal life at some point in the past, then you've been sealed. You are going to be in the kingdom, whether you currently want to or not. 

So to the atheist who says they believed as a child but no longer do... sorry, you're going to be saved. Jesus promises it. If you believed in Jesus, you're stuck with eternal life. 

So how is that possible though? How is it possible to believe in Jesus, gain eternal life, but then stop believing? 

I think now, we are ready to go back to the original story that we discussed. A quick refresher the father of the demon possessed boy said to Jesus,

"I do believe; help my unbelief." 

So here's what's going on. The man is a believer in the "eternal life" sense. However he's having a crisis of faith. He watch the disciples attempt to cast out this nasty demon, and his doubt grew with each failed attempt. Worry and fear crept in to the point where he had believed that Jesus was possibly not able to cast the demon out.  

The two part statement shows us a really beautiful thing. He claims that he believes in Jesus as savior. So if the man is telling the truth, his first statement, "I do believe." tells us that at some point in the past he put his faith in Christ alone. He was born again. He has eternal life. He has crossed from death to life. He was sealed for the day of redemption. 

So he's a believer with eternal life. HOWEVER, the second part of his statement is really important. He demonstrates that he understands the ability of believers to doubt. He says, 

"help my unbelief." 

He's revealing to us that, although he believes in Jesus as the giver of eternal life, as the savior, he's having a hard time believing that Jesus can cast the demon out of his son. Even though he's got eternal life that he can never lose, he is experiencing a crisis in his life. 

His son is going through a terrible experience. He just wants it to be over. He wants his son to be restored. He's wracked with agony over the whole thing. I can't imagine how I would feel if this were happening to my daughter. 

So the man, is a believer (Christian) but doubts some Jesus' ability.

Now, back to the original question that this subscriber asked,

"I want to believe like I did as a child but cannot get back to true belief."
So in the case of the man with the demon possessed son, what did he need to overcome his unbelief? What was he asking Jesus for?

He was asking for evidence. What he needed was knowledge. He needed to know more about what Jesus was capable of.

I'd say the answer is the same. You may have believed as a child because children need very little evidence to be convinced. As adults we are naturally more skeptical. That can be a good thing. Our skeptical nature is why we accomplish things. As skeptical adults we require much more info to be convinced.

Our minds are much better at simulating contingencies and considering alternative explanations. To be convinced as an adult has required me much more study than it did when I was a child.

For the one who believed as a child, but refuses to seek knowledge as an adult, they will continue to live in a state of saved stagnation. If you've believed in Jesus, you have eternal life. If you then find yourself in place of disbelief, the thing to do is work on it.



Comments

  1. One way that helped me, though I realize this method is frowned upon, was by going to a certified Christian hypnotist. It took some time (and wasn't cheap, but was worth it) but now I'm back to where I should be.

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