Can God override your unbelief?

 In Faith, Grace, Questions, Salvation, Sovereignty of God

Steven Furtick, a pastor from Elevation Church in Charlotte, North Carolina, preached a sermon titled “The One Thing Jesus Can’t Do.” The sermon was based upon Mark 6:5, and focused around the idea that Jesus is not able to overpower your unbelief in Him. But is that true? Is the Son of Man truly powerless against the stubbornness of man? To get some understanding as to where Furtick got this idea, let’s look at Mark 6:5: “He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them.” He could not do any miracles there. Furtick, in his sermon, highlighted this portion of the verse as meaning that Jesus was not able to do anything in that context.

In truth, this verse means that it was not the proper time for Jesus to act. Jesus, surrounded by great unbelief, but not overcome, made the decision not to do more even though it was completely within His power to do so. The miracles that Jesus performed were not to show His power as man, but rather His identity as the Son of Man. The people in Nazareth were made aware of Jesus, yet their hearts were hardened to His true identity.

Hebrews 13:8 says that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” The truth of this statement allows us to see that Jesus who performed miracles time and time again was still able to do so throughout his life without exception, for if He was limited, the verse wouldn’t be true and Christ wouldn’t be God. Although He chose not to heal the people of Nazareth in Mark 6:5, He was still able to heal before, after, and during this encounter. The reasons He didn’t was probably because it would fulfill His purpose of judging those who were unwilling to believe, and/or His Father in Heaven, to whom Jesus was perfectly obedient through his entire life, directed Him not to do so. Even if He performed miracles, those in his presence would remain unchanged in their beliefs of His power. No matter what miracles the people of Nazareth could have seen, their heart posture would not have changed, and they would have remained in unbelief.

But for the purpose of examining Furtick’s argument, what would it mean if Jesus could not do anything to help the people of Mark 6:5 and thus “cannot override your unbelief?” Could this mean that Hebrews 13:8 is untrue?

Interpreting Mark 6:5 to mean that Jesus was literally incapable of performing a miracle at this point in His life would render Hebrews 13:8 untrue, due to the fact that Jesus performed miracles before this moment and after this moment. If He did not have the power to perform a miracle here, yet had the power to perform miracles at points in the past and in the future, then this would mean He is not actually “the same yesterday and today and forever,” but that His power and sovereignty changes. This is obviously not the case, and therefore we cannot interpret Mark 6:5 to mean that. If it is interpreted this way, then many promises of God’s immutability, power, and presence in our lives would be deemed errant. From Scripture, we see that God is established as the unchanging Creator of all. Jeremiah is led by the Lord to a potter’s house, in which the Lord alludes that our lives are much like the clay in the hands of a potter: being shaped as He sees fit. In Romans, the allusion of the potter is again noted, with Romans 9:20-21 posing the rhetorical question,

But who are you, a human being, to talk back to God? Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’ Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for special purposes and some for common use?

The potter illustration illuminates the sovereign role of God in our lives and our salvation while minimizing our impact. As clay in the hand of a potter, we bend, twist, and shape according to God’s sovereign decretal will. We do not have the power to choose what becomes of us, or by what means we become that. To say otherwise, or to suppose that we have the final word in our salvation, is to say that clay can choose to mold itself into a bowl rather than a cup. Our salvation does not depend on our will or our exertion, our decision to invite Jesus into our hearts or our good works, but on God who has mercy. We cannot prevent God from converting us if He chooses to do so.

To illustrate this better, there are passages in the Bible that point to instances of salvation beyond the will of the one saved. In Acts 9, we see the conversion of Saul. The passage begins by saying, “But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord…” Saul was arresting Christians and putting them to death. He sought not only to drive Christianity out of Jerusalem but rather the entire world, and was actively seeking out Christians to punish right before his salvation. He in no way desired to become what he was persecuting, yet God, through His power and will alone, struck him blind and spoke to him. God called him a “chosen instrument,” and asserted that the conversion of Saul was purposeful.

If God cannot override our unbelief, and our salvation is contingent upon us, how did Saul come to such a point of salvation? There was no long period of repentance, self-established realization of the need for a savior, consideration of evidence, or changing of his ways between his acts of treachery against the church and his salvation. No, God in his grace radically changed the heart of Saul on the road to Damascus. Even still, it is common for people to have the mindset that they have enough power to overcome God’s plan for them- which is a toxic and dangerous way to think.

This concept undermines the concept of salvation as well as the idea that we need to be saved by a savior while in the midst of sin. There are striking similarities between this and the Pelagian view (as opposed to an Augustinian view), which highlights that grace is not necessary for moral obedience. In recent years, a form of middle ground, sometimes referred to as “semi-pelagianism” has arisen. This teaching focuses on the idea that grace is necessary for righteousness, but it is not given sovereignly. It teaches that one must first complete certain “steps” or initiate the relationship to receive grace. This teaching is a dangerous mix of both salvation by works and an inflated sense of man. It claims that grace is necessary but not given outright, and therefore requires an action by the receiver. This view is not backed up by scripture. In Ephesians 2:8-9, it clearly states that “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.” So that no one can boast. The Bible clearly lays out for us that our salvation has nothing to do with what we have done, but rather what has been given and accomplished by almighty God for His elect. If there is something we do to earn it or deserve it then it wouldn’t be grace. Paul expresses this clearly in Romans 11:5-6:

So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace. But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace.

In order for Steven Furtick’s ridiculous idea to be true, it would require Jesus to be all-powerful sometimes, true sometimes, honest sometimes, dependable sometimes. Even further, it would require the Bible, which highlights the unchanging and all-powerful nature of God, as inerrant sometimes. It would mean that we, as man, are more powerful than God. The mindset of needing to take steps on your own or complete certain works to become saved incorrectly represents the nature of a savior-and-saved relationship. The beautiful reality is that God, completely out of His abundant grace and mercy to undeserving sinners, plucked us from our sin without any boast of our own.

Photo by Careah Turvin

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