"Unbelief" is Only a Characteristic of Unsaved People, Not the Saved
Updated: Nov 25, 2022
The teaching of "unbelief" towards true believers is a fairly common component of certain branches of Christendom, namely those who adhere to revivalism and/or forms of Keswick-type of theology. The teaching is eisegetical in nature and projects most often out of false or corrupted sanctification, which stems most frequently from corrupted soteriology. That is stated in general but the broad brush cannot pass over every single preacher that teaches this. Some teach it genuinely, but out of ignorance. Below are Biblical reasons why unbelief in scripture is a characteristic of unbelievers, i.e., those that are unsaved.
1. No regenerate person in Scripture is said to be in unbelief.
No example of a saved person in Scripture is said to be in unbelief. No NT text states or implies that believers are in unbelief or disobedience. The same applies to the OT. Unbelief is always a reference to lost people. Common sense prevailing, unbelief = unbeliever. The two words mean the exact same thing. Unbelief comes from an evil heart (Heb 3:12), which is never a saved heart. The saved have a new and regenerate and circumcised heart (De 30:6; Jer 4:4; Col 2:11-15; Rom 5:5; 2 Cor 5:17). It is not a sin that saved people can even commit, for the just live by faith (Hab 2:4; Rom 1:16-17; Gal 3:11; Heb 10:38), by the faith of Jesus (Hab 2:4; Rom 1:17; 3:22; Gal 3:22) and they are “faithful” (Rev 17:14), and cannot lose their faith. Heb. 10:38-39 specifically speaks against it, relating such to lost people, “of them who draw back unto perdition” (v 39a).
Seven times in Hebrews 3:7-4:11 we read that the children of Israel were in unbelief, that they were unbelievers (lost), which is confirmed by tons of evidence throughout the Bible, such as Num. 14:1-45; 16:41-50; De. 4:23-40; 5:27-29; 9:4-8, 12-13, 16-24; 29:2-4, 10-28; 30:11-20; 31:24-29; 32:15-43; Jud. 2:10-23; 8:33-35; 1 Sam. 8:7-8; 2 Ki. 21:10-15; Ps. 78:8-72 [especially vv. 8, 10-11, 17-22, 30-38, 40-42, 56-62, 72]; 81:8-16; 106:6-33; 2 Cor. 3:12-4:4; Heb. 3:6-4:11; Ju. 1:5. Hebrews 3:18 declares, “to whom sware he that they should not enter into his rest, but to them that believed not?” There is only one rest and that rest is entered at salvation (Heb. 4:1-11; Matt. 11:28-30). The people of unbelief have never entered His rest.
Unbelief refers to lost people only. Unbelievers are in unbelief, not believers. The terms are synonymous. In the sixteen years since my conversion, there has never been one moment where I was in unbelief. The idea is revolting. If I could be in unbelief then I wouldn’t be just. I would expose myself to be a false believer.
2. In scripture the words translated as unbelief refer to the unregenerate, the lost.
“Apeitheo” a verb translated as unbelief (and derivatives) and disobedient appears sixteen times in the NT: Jn. 3:36; Ac. 14:2; 17:5; 19:9; Rom. 2:8; 10:21; 11:30-31; 15:31; Heb. 3:18; 11:31; 1 Pet. 2:7-8; 3:1, 20; 4:17, and is always of the unregenerate. No NT text states or implies that believers are in apeitheo, in unbelief or disobedience.
“Apisteo” an adjective related to the verb “apeitheo” is translated as “believe[d][th] not” and “not believe” in the NT: Lk 24:11, 41; Rom 3:3, and always refers to unbelief of unsaved people.
“Apeitheia”, the related noun and translated as “unbelief” or “disobedience” appears seven times in the NT: Rom. 11:30, 32; Eph. 2:2; 5:6; Col. 3:6; Heb. 4:6, 11, and is employed in the NT for the unregenerate alone.
“Apistia” also a similar noun and translated as “unbelief” appears twelve times in the NT, seven of which appear in Paul’s epistles: Rom. 3:3; 4:20; 11:20, 23; 1 Tim. 1:13; Heb. 3:12, 19, which Paul consistently translates only for the unconverted. Jesus does likewise in Matt 13:58; 17:20; Mk 6:6; 9:24; 16:14 (the apostles are saved here, but this word “apistia” also carries the meaning of unfaithfulness, which is not unbelief, and disobedience. Furthermore, at this point, they did not have the indwelling Spirit of God).
“Apeitheis” likewise, the related adjective for unbelief or disobedience and appears six times in the NT: Lk. 1:17; Ac. 26:19; Rom. 1:30; 2 Tim. 3:2; Ti. 1:16; 3:3, limits such unbelief and rebellion to the unregenerate.
The adjective "apeitheis,” and "apisteo," the nouns "apeitheia,” and “apistia,” and the verb "apeitheo,” all denote “unbelief” and are translated as such (or derivatives) and all demonstrate that those who are in unbelief are unbelievers and unregenerate. Because they are unbelievers they have not and cannot enter into God’s rest (Heb. 3:19), which is salvation (Heb. 4:9-11; Matt. 11:28-30).
3. The synonyms and antonyms of the word “unbelief” further reflect this truth.
The word “unbelief” is synonymous with only unregenerate terms, as noted in the Thesaurus. For example: non-belief, agnosticism, heresy, apostasy, irreligion, heathenism, godlessness, nihilism, scepticism, cynicism, disbelief, incredulity, etc. None of these terms describe the saved.
The antonym of unbelief is belief and faith, characteristics of all saved people. The “just live by faith” (Hab. 2:4; Rom 1:17; Gal 3:11; Heb 10:38), while the unjust don’t, for they are unbelievers, in unbelief.
4. The Old Covenant was not one of works but of faith. Salvation has never changed.
The Old Covenant is the foundation of the New. Despite the infrequency of the occurrence on its pages of the terms “faith” and “to believe,” the religion of the OT is obviously as fundamentally a religion of faith as the NT. Abraham is the father of our faith, and if we believe like Abraham, we can also be justified (saved, declared righteous) like him (Rom. 4:1-8, 18-25). Nowhere is the demand of faith treated as a novelty of the new covenant, or is there a distinction drawn between the faith of the two covenants; everywhere the sense of continuity is prominent (e.g. Jn. 5:24, 46; 12:38, 39, 44; 1 Pet. 2:6), and the “hearing of faith” (Gal. 3:2, 5; Rom. 10:16-21) is conceived as essentially one in both dispensations, under both of which the law reigns that “the just shall live by his faith” (Hab. 2:4; Rom. 1:17; Gal. 3:11; Heb. 10:38). Heb. 11 speaks of this and vv. 1 and 6 speak to the faith required, whether OT or NT, to be saved. Those that believe and come to God will be rewarded with salvation and eternal life, which is what Heb. 11:6 is teaching. All the saved live by faith (Heb. 11) and no saved person does not, for “without faith it is impossible to please him” (v. 6). “Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God. But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.” (Rom 8:7-9). Heb 11 is directly connected to Heb. 10:38-39, chapter 11 actually describing what faith is (“Now faith is” v. 1), what it actually means to the fact that “the just shall live by faith” (Heb 10:38), the faith of the redeemed. All of Gods true people through the new birth live by faith. Those that don’t, those in unbelief, are unsaved.
Living by faith and obeying Gods Word go hand in hand. Those who do not obey Gods Word are unsaved people. True converts hear God’s Word (1 Jn. 4:5-6; Jn. 8:43, 45-47; 10:1-5) and keep it; they keep God’s commandments (Jn 14:15-24; 15:10-14; 1 Jn. 2:3-5; 3:22-24), because they love Him (1 Jn. 4:19; 5:1-3; 2 Jn. 1:6; Jn. 14:15-24; 15:9-14).
People that don’t obey Gods Word are unsaved. That’s precisely how all these passages read: Num. 15:39-41; De. 12:32; 13:3-4; 26:16-19; I Sam. 15:22-23; 1 Ki. 8:23, 57-58, 61; Ps. 18:20-30; 25:10; 40:8; 103:17-22; 128:1; Matt. 7:20-27; 12:47-50; Mk. 3:31-35; 4:21; Lk. 17:5-10; Jn. 7:16-18; 8:31-32, 51; 10:25-27; 14:15, 21-24; 15:10-14; 17:6; 2 Cor. 2:9; Eph. 2:10; Heb. 10:36; Jam. 1:22-25; 2:14-26; 5:7-11; 1 Jn. 2:3-6, 15-17; 3:22-24; 5:1-3; 2 Jn. 1:5-6; Rev. 22:14-15.
Living by faith results in obeying Gods Word, a massive evidence of true faith.
5. Unbelief refers to lost people and never to the saved, noted in a brief survey of its appearance in Scripture.
(a) Unbelief in Matthew 13 and Mark 6 refers to Lost Jews
"And he did not many mighty works there because of their unbelief." (Matt. 13:58).
“And he could there do no mighty work, save that he laid his hands upon a few sick folk, and healed them. And he marvelled because of their unbelief. And he went round about the villages, teaching.” (Mk. 6:5-6).
Very obvious lost Jews, who rejected Jesus because they were unbelievers. Unbelief clearly referring to lost unbelievers.
(b) Unbelief in Romans 3 refers to a Lost Condition
"What advantage then hath the Jew? or what profit is there of circumcision? Much every way: chiefly, because that unto them were committed the oracles of God. For what if some did not believe? shall their unbelief make the faith of God without effect? God forbid: yea, let God be true, but every man a liar; as it is written, That thou mightest be justified in thy sayings, and mightest overcome when thou art judged." (Rom. 3:1-4).
The unsaved Jews were in unbelief. As noted in this passage, to the ludicrous statement that unbelief is a characteristic of a saved person, I say, God forbid!
(c) Unbelief in Romans 4 refers to a Lost Condition
"He staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God; And being fully persuaded that, what he had promised, he was able also to perform. And therefore it was imputed to him for righteousness. Now it was not written for his sake alone, that it was imputed to him; But for us also, to whom it shall be imputed, if we believe on him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead; Who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification." (Rom 4:20-25)
Had Abraham remained in unbelief over the truth that God was teaching him that through him and Sarah —in spite of their old age and the impossibility of it humanely speaking— would come both seeds like the stars (many regenerate people) and the seed —the Messiah— he would have remained unsaved. But he didn't. He believed and was saved, which is recorded for us in Rom. 4:20-25. In the context of Abraham's salvation, the contrast is being made between the previously lost condition of Abraham (staggering at the promise of God through unbelief, which he had been since God had preached the same truth to him multiple times already) with his saved condition ("strong in faith, giving glory to God"). He didn't reject God's Word as an unbeliever, though he had staggered at it, but received it and was saved.
(d) Unbelief in Romans 11 refers to Lost Jews and Also All Lost People in General
"Boast not against the branches. But if thou boast, thou bearest not the root, but the root thee. Thou wilt say then, The branches were broken off, that I might be graffed in. Well; because of unbelief they were broken off, and thou standest by faith. Be not highminded, but fear: For if God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest he also spare not thee. Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God: on them which fell, severity; but toward thee, goodness, if thou continue in his goodness: otherwise thou also shalt be cut off. And they also, if they abide not still in unbelief, shall be graffed in: for God is able to graff them in again. . . . For as ye in times past have not believed God, yet have now obtained mercy through their unbelief: Even so have these also now not believed, that through your mercy they also may obtain mercy. For God hath concluded them all in unbelief, that he might have mercy upon all. " (Rom 11:18-23, 30-32).
All of these references of unbelief is referring to lost people. The first three to the Jews specifically (vv. 20, 23, 30) and the last one to both Jew and Gentile alike (v. 32).
(e) Unbelief in 1 Timothy 1 refers to Paul's Lost Condition Before Salvation
"Who was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious: but I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief." (1 Tim. 1:13).
Thats pretty self-explanatory. What Paul did before he was saved, though it be wicked, was in ignorance, because he was in unbelief.
(f) Unbelief in Hebrews 3 and 4 refers to Lost Jews in the Wilderness.
For the reasons listed below, the Scriptures are clear that the Jewish sinners that fell in the wilderness, as referenced in Hebrews 3:7–4:11, were lost, and thus the serious warning is given by the Hebrews writer to the Hebrews that if their faith is reflective of the faith of their forefathers in the wilderness, then they are lost and unconverted as most of their forefathers were. This was true of majority of the Hebrews, who would make a profession but without any substance. The unsaved estate of the Jews in the wilderness is not only concluded in Hebrews but throughout the Scriptures. Consider for instance (Underlined ones are most evident): Ex. 19:3-5; 32:1-35; Lev. 17:7; 18:1-5; Num. 11:1-4, 28-29; 14:1-45; 16:3-15, 21, 28-35, 41-50; 20:2-5, 10; 21:5-9; 25:1-4, 6; 32:10-15; De. 1:26-46; 4:23-40; 5:27-29; 9:4-8, 12-13, 16-24; 11:1-32; 30:11-20; Jud. 10:16; Ps. 78:8-72 (especially vv. 8, 10-11, 17-22, 30-38, 40-42, 56-62, 72); 81:8-16; 95:7-11; 106:6-33; Is. 48:21-22; Ezk. 20:5-8, 13, 38; Am. 5:25-27; Zec. 1:2-4; Rom. 10:19; 11:26-27; Ac. 7:39-43, 51-53; 1 Cor. 10:1-12; 2 Cor. 3:12-4:4; Heb. 3:6-4:11; Ju. 1:5. The Jewish forefathers were like the multitude of Jews that followed Christ (Jn. 2:23-35; 6:2-66), contemporaries of His day (Ac. 7:51-53; 2 Cor. 3:7-4:4). Majority of the Jewish “disciples” that followed Jesus were actually lost. "From that time MANY of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him." (Jn. 6:66). Many who professed to be believers were feigning faith (Jn. 2:23-25; Matt. 7:13-23). They had ulterior motives in following Him, such as the miracles He did (Jn. 6:2) and the food He gave, etc.
Here is evidence as to why we know that Heb 3 and 4 are not describing saved people.
(i) They were in “unbelief” which means they were unbelievers. Unbelievers are in unbelief while believers are in belief. The just live by faith; in belief. Heb. 3 and 4 says they were unbelievers, seven times in fact (Heb. 3:7, 12, 18, 19; 4:2, 6, 11) and they never entered into the rest of God (Heb. 3:11, 18; 4:1-11). Unbelief comes from an evil heart (v. 12), which is not a saved heart. The text specifically says they did not believe, that they were unbelievers. Heb. 3:18 states, “to whom sware he that they should not enter into his rest, but to them that believed not?” The verb employed in Heb. 3:18 for unbelief (apeitheo) appears sixteen times in the NT (Jn. 3:36; Ac. 14:2; 17:5; 19:9; Rom. 2:8; 10:21; 11:30-31; 15:31; Heb. 3:18; 11:31; 1 Pet. 2:7-8; 3:1, 20; 4:17), and always of the unregenerate. No NT text states or implies that believers are in apeitheo, in unbelief or disobedience. Similarly, the related noun unbelief or disobedience (apeitheia) found in Heb. 4:6, 11 is employed in the NT for the unregenerate alone (Rom. 11:30, 32; Eph. 2:2; 5:6; Col. 3:6). A similar noun also translated as “unbelief” in Heb. 3:12, 19 is apistia. The apostle Paul consistently uses apistia only for the unconverted (Rom. 3:3; 4:20; 11:20, 23; 1 Tim. 1:13). Likewise, the related adjective unbelief or disobedience (apeitheis) limits such unbelief and rebellion to the unregenerate (Lk. 1:17; Ac. 26:19; Rom. 1:30; 2 Tim. 3:2; Ti. 1:16; 3:3). The adjective "apeitheis,” the nouns "apeitheia" and “apistia,” and the verb "apeitheo,” “unbelief,” all demonstrate that those who do not enter the rest of Heb. 3-4 are unbelievers and unregenerate. Because they were unbelievers they could not enter into God’s rest (Heb. 3:19), which is salvation (Heb. 4:9-11; Matt. 11:28-30).
Not only does the text indicate their lost condition through the continual use of “unbelief,” the text also tells us similarly that they were without faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Heb. 4:2 states that “the gospel preached . . . did not profit them [those who died in the wilderness], not being mixed with faith in them that heard it,” indicating that those people in question did not have “faith” (pistis) in the gospel of Jesus Christ, and it’s fairly common knowledge that those who don’t believe in the gospel are unbelievers, they are lost (Rom. 1:16; Mk. 1:15), which corresponds perfectly to what this entire context is teaching. They did not believe the word of God and their actions proved this as well (cf. Ti. 1:14-16). They heard God’s Word with their ears, feigned obedience, but did not hear and obey with their hearts (Heb. 3:7, 15, 16; 4:2, 7), because they did not believe it (which is precisely what Jesus said of them and majority of Jews in the parable of the sower, "hearing they hear not . . . their ears are dull of hearing" — Matt. 13:9-18; they represent the wayward, stoney and thorny soils — Matt. 13:3-8, 19-23). They did not "receive [God's] Word" and "incline [their] ear[s] unto wisdom, and apply thine heart[s] to understanding", they did not seek and search after Wisdom as for silver and hidden treasures and thus did not come to "understand the fear of the LORD, and find the knowledge of God" as is required for salvation (Pr. 2:1-9; 1:22-29). To all who do not respond to the reproof and calling and counsel of the LORD (Pr. 1:22-25) through His Spirit (Pr. 1:Jn. 17:7-11), "hate knowledge" and don't "choose the fear of the LORD" (Pr. 1:29), "They would none of my counsel:" says the LORD, "they despised all my reproof." (Pr. 1:30).
The noun pistis for “faith” found in Heb. 4:2 appears 244 times in the NT. Huge numbers of verses with the word refer to the saving faith of the regenerate (Rom. 3:28; 5:1; Gal. 2:16; etc). Only three of the 244 texts refer to the unsaved possessing pistis, each of them contrasting the saving faith that produces works with a dead “faith” that produces nothing (Jam. 2:17, 20, 24). None of the 174 instances of pistis in the Pauline epistles speaks of it as a possession of an unsaved person. Since faith is the possession of the regenerate, the people who had no true saving faith in Heb. 3-4 are not saved people who just never grew and need revival (although they surely pretended to have faith, like the Jews in Jn. 2:23-25 and 6:60-66, but they were liars and flattered God with lying lips — read Ps. 78:21-37); they are lost people who are dead in trespasses and sins.
Those who are in unbelief have the wrath of God abiding on them (Jn. 3:36), which is the same again for those in the wilderness (Heb. 3:11; 4:3). The terms unbelief and unbeliever are synonymous. They are without faith, saving faith. Believers are not unbelievers. Those are antonyms.
(ii) These in unbelief and without faith, hadn’t entered into God’s rest (Heb. 4:1-11). True believers, "which have believed do enter into rest" (Heb. 4:3) and never depart from that rest (Heb. 4:9-11; Matt. 11:28-30), are contrasted with those many unconverted that did not enter into rest, "Seeing therefore it remaineth that some must enter therein, and they to whom it was first preached entered not in because of unbelief:" (Heb. 4:6b). This passage is clear; the Israelites who died in the wilderness were unbelievers and thus never entered into the rest of God. No NT text states or even remotely implies that believers are in unbelief or disobedience and haven't entered God's rest. Only true believers enter God's rest, and all such have entered into the one rest of salvation (Heb. 4:3, 11; Matt. 11:28-30).
It was because of their "unbelief,” i.e. their lost condition, that they did not enter into God's rest (Heb. 3:11, 18; 4:3), while all born again believers do enter into God's rest (Heb. 4:3, 9-11), "For we which have believed do enter into rest," (Heb. 4:3a), which rest was (and is) in the Rock that followed them in the wilderness. Had they obeyed the word of God, they would have "labour[ed] therefore to enter into that rest," (Heb. 4:11a), which rest would have then been given to them by the Lord Jesus Christ: "Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls." (Matt. 11:28-29). "There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God" (Heb. 4:9), and they never leave God's rest (Matt. 11:28-30). Lost people can come close to entering into God's rest.
When Heb. 4:3 states, “we which have believed do enter into rest,” the aorist participle believed naturally speaks of the single act of saving faith, through which all the saved enter into the one spiritual rest, rather than a moment-by-moment continuing faith decision to possess a post-conversion higher Christian life that allegedly enables a believer to begin obeying and being faithful and doing good works or enter a second rest. The other aorist participles of “believe” in Paul’s epistles refer to the point action of the exercise of saving faith (Eph. 1:13; 2 Th. 2:12; cf. Ju. 1:5), as do the significant majority of the aorists of pisteuo in Paul generally (Rom. 3:2; 4:3, 17- 18; 10:9, 14, 16; 13:11; 1 Cor. 3:5; 15:2, 11; 2 Cor. 4:13; Gal. 2:16; 3:6; Eph. 1:13; 1 Th. 2:4; 2 Th. 1:10; 2:11-12; 1 Tim. 1:11; 3:16; Ti. 1:3; Heb. 4:3; 11:6). See also The Bible Teaches Only One Rest, Not Two, Including in Matthew 11:28-30
The fact that the Jews in the wilderness were an “unbelief” and had not entered into the rest of God and had in fact “departed from the living God,” in Heb. 3-4, clearly indicates that they were unconverted lost sinners.
(iii) Not only were they called unbelievers, they had “an evil heart of unbelief” (Heb. 3:12). Evil unconverted men have evil hearts, while saved people have regenerated and renewed hearts (Matt. 12:35; Lk. 6:45; cf. Ezk. 36:26). Nowhere does God in His Word ever refer to the regenerated heart as evil, even in a disobedient condition (King David is a good example) or in a moment of grievous sin (such as when Peter denied Christ thrice). The “evil heart of unbelief” that the individuals possessed here led them to depart, to apostatize from God (Heb. 3:12). The verb "depart" or apostatize in v. 12 is also employed in 1 Tim. 4:1, referring to lost people, “Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils” (cf. Lk. 8:13; 13:27). While the verb can be used for believers who depart from or fail to complete a task (cf. Ac. 15:38), nowhere does the NT state that truly saved people apostatize— they don’t. Thus, to affirm that regenerate individuals have “an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God” (v. 12) is quite problematic. Nor is the problem alleviated by the fact that the warning of v. 12 is addressed to “brethren” —Paul was a Jew, and he wrote Hebrews to his Jewish brethren according to the flesh (cf. Ac. 1:16; 2:29, 37; 3:17, 22; 7:2, 37; 13:15, 26, 38; 22:1; 23:1, 5-6; 28:17, 21; Rom. 9:3).
Clearly, just as many of Moses’ Jewish "brethren" in the wilderness were unregenerate, so many of Paul’s Jewish "brethren" warned in the book of Hebrews were unregenerate, evidenced by their evil hearts, their unbelief, and their departure from the living and compassionate God (Ps. 78:38).
(iv) God has “wrath” against those who died in the wilderness (Heb. 3:11; 4:3). The lost face the wrath of God, the “wrath to come” (Matt. 3:7; Lk. 3:7), since “the wrath of God abideth” on them (Jn. 3:36), and they treasure up to themselves “wrath against the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God” (Rom. 2:5; cf. 1:18; 2:8; 3:5) as the “vessels of wrath fitted to destruction” (Rom. 9:22) and are the “children of wrath” (Eph. 2:3; cf. 5:6; Col. 3:6) facing “the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God” (Rev. 19:15; 11:18; 1 Th. 2:16) through the “wrath of the Lamb . . . the great day of his wrath” (Rev. 6:16-17; cf. 11:18), for they “shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out without mixture into the cup of his indignation; and . . . be tormented with fire and brimstone . . . the smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever” (Rev. 14:10-11). In contrast, believers “being now justified by [Christ’s] blood . . . shall be saved from wrath through him” (Rom. 5:9), since “Jesus . . . delivered [them] from the wrath to come” (1 Th. 1:10), and “God hath not appointed [them] to wrath, but to obtain salvation by [the] Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Th. 5:16).
God’s wrath against the people who died in the wilderness in Heb. 3-4 indicates that they were unconverted lost sinners.
(v) The people being addressed in Heb. 3 and 4 were warned to “harden not your hearts,” (Heb 3:8, 15; 4:7), about being “hardened through the deceitfulness of sin” (Heb. 3:13). In all the texts outside of the book of Hebrews, those who are hardened, or stiff-necked (a similar phrase) are unsaved Christ-rejectors (e.g. Ac. 19:9) whom God will not show mercy (Rom. 9:18). Thus Paul is warning them if they have hardened hearts like their forefathers in the wilderness, they are lost like them (cf. Ac. 7:51). The hardening terminology in Hebrews fits the unconverted, those who “after [their] hardness and impenitent heart treasurest up unto [themselves] wrath against the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God” (Rom. 2:5). This terminology does not suit the regenerate. The hardened heart is an unrepentant (impenitent) heart (Rom. 2:5). Furthermore, the references in Heb. 3-4 to Ps. 95:7-11 prove that those who hardened their hearts and died in the wilderness typify the unconverted, as do other portions of the Psalms where those people are affirmed to have “believed not in God, and trusted not in his salvation” (Ps. 78:22, 32 — this entire Psalm speaks of the lost condition of the wilderness Jews). In Ps. 95:8, the warning is given to lost Jews: “Harden not your heart, as in the provocation, and as in the day of temptation in the wilderness” which we read in the Heb. 3:8.
When the OT speaks of those who harden their hearts, or employs similar phraseology (“hardened their necks,” “stiffnecked,” etc), these phrases refer to the unconverted, and not one text clearly deals with saved people hardening their hearts or stiffening their necks (cf. Ex. 7:3; De. 2:30; 10:16; 2 Ki. 17:14; 2 Ch. 30:8; 36:13; Neh. 9:16-17, 29; Job 9:4; Pr. 28:14; 29:1; Jer. 7:26; 17:23; 19:15). The wording in these passages and the context makes it further clear lost (and openly rebellious) people are in mind. Consider the example of the rebellious king Zedekiah who “stiffened his neck, and hardened his heart from turning unto the LORD God of Israel.” (2 Ch. 36:13). The Jews in the wilderness were a stiff-necked and uncircumcised-of-the-heart people. This is clearly referring to an unsaved condition. Stiff-necked on its own might not, but this term together with "uncircumcised in heart" definitely does. The answer to their uncircumcised and stiffnecked condition? "Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no more stiffnecked." (De. 10:16). In salvation our heart is circumcised from our flesh. "And the Lord thy God will circumcise thine heart, and the heart of thy seed, to love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, that thou mayest live." (De. 30:6). Even further, the verb rendered “grieved” in Ps. 95:10 is also translated “loathed” (cf. Ezk. 6:9; 20:43; 36:31; Ps. 95:10; 119:158; 139:21; Job 8:14; 10:1); it is difficult to think that Jehovah loathes, possesses deep-seated abhorrence and detestation of His beloved saints.
Those who tempt God in the Psalms, as those did who perished in the wilderness (Ps. 95:9) — which actually has been the case for majority Israel throughout its entire history — are unconverted (Ps. 78:18, 41, 56; 106:14). Similarly, the statement in Ps. 95:10 that those who perished “have not known [God’s] ways” indicates that those in view are lost sinners, not saints (cf. Ex. 18:20; 33:13; Jos. 3:4; Ju. 18:5; Job 21:14; 23:10; Ps. 25:4; 67:3; 95:10; 103:7; 143:8; Pr. 3:6; 4:19; Is. 42:16; 59:8; Jer. 5:4-5).
In Heb. 3-4, those to whom God swore in His wrath that they would not enter His rest (Ps. 95:11; Num. 32:10) because of their hardened hearts, are pictured as lost men, not saved people who just didn't produce any fruit.
(vi) Moses, and other preachers and prophets in the Scriptures also documented that majority of the Jews in the wilderness were false professing "believers.” They had a zeal for God but not according to God's righteousness. The apostle Paul wrote of this in 2 Cor. 3:12-16 and Rom. 10:1-8. Paul even directly stated that the Jews in the wilderness were lost (Rom. 10:5-8) referencing what Moses had preached (De. 30:12-14). Stephen preached it in Acts 7, where he likens his Jewish audience to all Jews throughout the history of Israel (vv. 51-53). Jude likewise in his short book, indicates that the Israelites who died in the wilderness do not picture saved people that are allegedly “carnal” or came short of discipleship, but lost people who are eternally damned. Speaking and warning of unconverted false teachers who are “ordained to . . . condemnation” (v. 4), Jude writes: “I will therefore put you in remembrance, though ye once knew this, how that the Lord having saved the people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed them that believed not” (v. 5). He continues by comparing these people who are “ordained to . . . condemnation” and who “believed not” to “the angels which kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation, [who are] reserved in everlasting chains under darkness unto the judgment of the great day” (v. 6) and to the sodomites who, “giving themselves over to fornication, and going after strange flesh, are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire” (v. 7). The people who did not believe and who died in the wilderness are suffering in eternal fiery torment with demons and sodomites. They are not saved people who aren't living fully for Christ. What the context of Ju. 1:4-7 requires also receives support from the fact that the unbelievers of v. 5 are “destroyed ("appollumi"). While this verb does not absolutely require eternal damnation in hell (cf. Rom 14:15; 1 Cor. 8:11; also Matt. 2:13; 8:25; 9:17; etc.), it is very commonly used for the everlasting perdition of the lost (Matt. 10:28; Lk. 13:3, 5; Jn. 3:15-16; 10:28; 11:50; 17:12; Rom. 2:12; 1 Cor. 1:18; 2 Cor. 2:15; 4:3; 2 Th. 2:10; 2 Pet. 3:9; and many other texts, including, notably, Ju. 1:11).
The references in Heb. 3-4 to Ps. 95:7-11 prove that those that hardened their hearts and died in the wilderness typify the unconverted, as do other portions of the psalter where these Jews were affirmed to have “believed not in God, and trusted not in his salvation” (Ps. 78:22, 32).
(vii) How about the use of "us" in Heb. 4:1? "Let us therefore fear, lest, a promise being left us of entering into his rest, any of you should seem to come short of it." (Italics original). That this verse is not referring to true believers (of which the Hebrews writer would have included himself) is evident for two very important and evident reasons: (a) The second half of his passage makes it clear that the writer was not including himself in this group of people who had come short of entering into Gods rest: "any of you should seem to come short of ["entering into his rest"]." When we look at the next reason, it becomes evident why the word "you" is used here and not "us", and why the italic "us" shouldn't be in this sentence at all (nor the first "us" which wasn't italicized but should've been according to the underlying Greek). (b) The words "Let us" do not actually exist in the Greek manuscripts, where the passage starts with "oun" ("therefore") which means "accordingly . . . then therefore verily wherefore" and makes perfect sense in the context — which is the writer warning the Hebrews of their spurious faith which resembled that of their forefathers in the wilderness, who were mostly lost unbelieving hypocrites. That is the context, and were chapter division not there, we would continue to read this flowing thought. The translators of the KJV have added words here that did not exist in the Greek, without italicizing them, which seems strange. Furthermore, the second "us" being in italics makes it clear that the words “let us” don't belong there. Of course the writers had to add this word, because they did it with the first "us" (which strangely was never in italics). In the passage following, the writer contrasts the saved (including himself) with the false pretending "believers", as "us" versus "them" ("For unto US was the gospel preached, as well as unto THEM: but the word preached did not profit THEM, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it." - v. 2). “Us,” which heard the gospel were profited by the gospel because it was received by faith. We were saved and thus the preaching of the gospel was very profitable unto us; eternally profitable! “Them”, which heard the gospel were not profited by the Word because it was not mixed with faith. They didn't believe. They were definitely not saved. Then we get to the next passage (v. 3) which would completely contradict verse 1, if v. 1 was applicable to saved people. The writer again makes the contrast (as he has been in the first two verses) between the truly saved and these false pretending "believers" which have never entered into God's rest. "For we which have believed do enter into rest, as he said, As I have sworn in my wrath, if they shall enter into my rest: although the works were finished from the foundation of the world." (v. 3). All those that believe, truly believe unto salvation, have entered into God's rest. It happens NOT ever at some point in the Christian life, but at salvation (Matt. 11:28-30). Those that falsely pretend, like the many Jews in the wilderness, are under God's wrath, and have never known the one true rest of God.
So in summary, the Hebrews writer contrasts his Hebrews readers with their Hebrew forefathers in the wilderness, indicating their forefathers were unsaved and if they had that same “faith,” they were unsaved likewise. Then in chapter 4 he contrasts true believers with those false "believers" in the wilderness. These types of contrasts are found everywhere in Scripture. The Jews in the wilderness were practically all lost. Very very few true believers. We see that in Hebrews 3 and 4 and throughout scripture.
It is unsaved people who “alway err in their hearts“ and “have not known [Gods] ways” (v. 10), who are under Gods “wrath” and have not “enter[ed] into [His] rest” (vv. 11, 18-19, 4:3-11), who have an ”evil heart of unbelief“ that has “depart[ed] from the living God” (v. 12) and in “unbelief“ (vv. 19, 4:2) — NOT saved people! When people twist and wrest and manipulate these passages into saved people living in “unbelief,” they are severely damaging the Scriptures and the truth of scripture. They are demonstrating a serious misunderstanding on salvation and sanctification.
This idea of saved people being in “unbelief” is derived from Keswick-Revivalistic-Higher Life-Deeper life-Crucified life, et al, theology, but it’s simply not Biblically true.
Though true believers may have moments of disobedience (such as demonstrated in Matt. 17:20-21; 26:31-35; and Mk. 16:11-14; Lk. 1:18-20), unbelief is never a characteristic of the saved but rather of the unsaved. But unbelief is not the greatest issue with the unsaved but rebellion.