Is it possible to believe God but not obey Him? In our culture, we tend to think of belief as knowledge or mental assent to something. I believe the Bible, but that doesn’t mean I do what it says. But belief, as the Bible defines it, is more than just mental assent. Applying our culture’s definition to the words “believe” and “faith” in the Bible can mislead us.
King Zedekiah is an example. The Bible explains that he “did evil in the sight of the Lord” (2 Kings 24:19). During his reign, Nebuchadnezzar laid siege to Jerusalem and destroyed it. We read in Jeremiah 21 that sometime during the siege Zedekiah asked Jeremiah to inquire of the Lord if perhaps He might cause Nebuchadnezzar to withdraw. He sounded like a true believer, saying, “Perhaps the Lord will deal with us according to all His wonderful acts.” His allusion to God’s acts implies confidence in the God who parted the Red Sea, demolished the walls of Jericho, made the solar system stand still for Hezekiah, and more. He hadn’t obeyed God, but his message was like, “I believe You destroyed our enemies before. How about some help now?”
Was Zedekiah a case of belief without obedience? No, because in God’s economy belief requires both knowledge and commitment/action. That is why Hebrews 3:18-19 says that those who were “disobedient” could not enter His rest “because of unbelief.” Obedience expresses what one truly believes. James 1:22 says, “But prove yourself doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves,” delude themselves thinking they believe when their disobedience proves that they don’t (Jas. 1:22-27). James must have been from Missouri, the Show-Me State.
In light of his profession, how do we know that Zedekiah did not have biblical belief for salvation? First, he appealed to the Lord only when the situation became desperate. Second, there is no sign of repentance. I don’t mean the “Oops, sorry” kind, but a tire-screeching U-turn from idolatry to sackcloth, like the repentant humility of his great, great-grandfather King Hezekiah when he prayed to be saved from the Assyrians (2 Kings 19:1). Third, what he told himself out of Jeremiah’s hearing was that he was invincible, boasting, “Who will come down against us? Or who will enter into our habitations?” (21:13).
How is this relevant to you and me? Many of us say, “Oh yes, I believe in God and I pray every day.” But is the prayer selfish or made for the sake of God’s glory? Is there demonstration of an insatiable hunger for His Word? Where is frequent repentance from sin? Where is selfless love, putting off anger, trust in God instead of being anxious? Titus 1:16 says, “They profess to know God, but by their deeds they deny Him.”
If you find yourself professing one belief but functioning by another, ask yourself, “What am I really wanting right now more than to please God?” Take the U-turn of repentance now. “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments” (John 14:15).