The Difference Between A Non-Believer And An Unbeliever
Speaker: Bonnie Sala | Series: Guidelines For Living | Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life.” John 14:5-6
He is known for being strong willed, stubborn, and doubting. His name: Thomas, one of the twelve disciples who walked with Jesus. Mentioned a dozen different places in the New Testament, Thomas is usually thought of as a “show me” sort of person, short on faith and long on doubt. But, is this characterization really accurate? Or was Thomas a perpetual pessimist, the kind of person who describes the partially filled glass of water as “half empty” instead of “half full?”
There are definitely people who constantly are negative. You’ve no doubt met this kind of person who always feels bad when he feels good because he’s afraid that he will feel worse. But is it fair to think of Thomas this way?
To paint Thomas with this broad stroke isn’t really fair to the man. Certainly, he was practical, pragmatic, cautious, but there is a great deal of evidence that suggests Thomas was not so much of an “unbeliever” as a “non-believer.” What’s the difference? The individual who is non-believing only wants evidence. He wants the truth. He wants an object for his faith. He or she is merely looking for rational evidence to support his or her faith. This person wants the facts, then responds to them in a positive manner.
The unbeliever, however, is often biased and prejudiced. The attitude of unbelief is that which refuses to accept any evidence no matter how well-substantiated and how certain.
It is the first attitude to which God always responds.
After the resurrection, Thomas was missing when Christ appeared to the disciples. When the others said, “We have seen the Lord,” Thomas didn’t attack them for what they had seen. He simply spoke for himself saying, “`Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hands into his side, I will not believe it'” (John 20:25).
A week later Jesus appeared to the disciples. The doors were locked, and the curtains pulled on the windows, and suddenly Jesus appeared in their midst. Then Jesus spoke directly to Thomas and said, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe” (John 20:27). What happened? A non-believer became a believer.
There is nothing in the text to suggest that Thomas did put his hand in the nail-prints of our Lord, but the text says, having been confronted with the risen Christ, he immediately cried out, “My Lord and my God!” His confession was personal–“My Lord and my God!” That was it. The matter was settled.
There are two things to note here. The first is that Christ met Thomas (and He meets us as well) at the point of his need. When a person is honest and sincere–he or she wants to know–Christ will always reveal Himself to that person. Early in His ministry Christ challenged, “If anyone chooses to do God’s will, he will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own” (John 7:17). That promise is still valid today.
The book of John explains that the Holy Spirit, “the Spirit of truth…will guide you into all the truth.” (John 16:13) As a person seeks to know God, it is the Holy Spirit Who gives us an understanding of spiritual things, and increased hunger for God.
The second observation here is that Christ met Thomas at the level of his faith. He didn’t reject him because of his personality or his cautious reserve. Commit as much of yourself as you can based upon what you do understand. And in time, you will find that more and more becomes apparent. That’s the way faith works.
Resource reading: 1 John 1:1-10