The other day I had a long conversation with a friend about unbelief. Over the years I have thought about this topic a lot because like most believers my heart does not believe fully all the time. One of the hardest concepts for me to understand is that even Jesus’ brothers did not believe in him.
The passage starts like this. John 7:3-5.
So [Jesus] brothers said to him, “Leave here and go to Judea, that your disciples also may see the works you are doing. For no one works in secret if he seeks to be known openly. If you do these things, show yourself to the world.” For not even his brothers believed in him.
At first glance, I couldn’t understand what was wrong with what Jesus’ brothers said to him. They basically say that he should go show his works and miracles to other people. Right after that, John mentions that they were not believers. It does not seem like there is any connection between these two ideas. But Jesus, answer gives us some clues. (v.6-7,10)
Jesus said to them, “My time has not come, but your time is always here. The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify about it that its works are evil” . . . But after his brothers had gone up to the feast, then he also went up, not publicly, but in private.
The issue with what the disciples said is that they were using Jesus for their own purposes. Jesus said, that the Pharisees didn’t want to kill them because they were just like the Pharisees. They wanted Jesus to do signs and works so that they could be associated with those things. So, the qualifying characteristic for Jesus’ brothers unbelief is wanting to please men. John knew they were not believers because they wanted Jesus to glorify them, rather than God. We all struggle with this, but the truth is that we cannot believe in Jesus if the root of our lives is human approval.
If we care more about what people think than what God thinks, we are destined to a faithless life. It makes sense doesn’t it? At the heart of people pleasing is pride. Pride stands against everything faith is because faith always produces humility in who you are and what you can do. So at the core of unbelief lies pride. When I go through struggles in my faith it usually stems from an idea that I know better, or that rationally I can’t understand how God could really exist. We have to learn to fight this pride and people pleasing so that we can have a greater, more stable faith.
The good news is this: God knows we all are prideful and want to be glorified. He gives us a way to not have to strive for these things. Jesus is our way out of the depths of pride and people pleasing. The gospel is our antidote to unbelief. And it works! James, one of Jesus’ brothers was a leader in the early church and wrote the book of James.