Understanding Unbelievers

Written by Mark Farnham

On February 24, 2016

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One of the primary reasons Christians do not share their faith freely is fear. This fear comes in many forms. Some are afraid to be mocked or ridiculed. Others are afraid that they will be asked questions they can’t answer. Some fear the high levels of discomfort they experience when they do try to witness. Others fear that they may experience persecution of some kind.

One of the most important truths that can be learned to alleviate fear in witnessing is the nature of unbelievers according to the Bible. In other words, God tells us in his Word exactly what is happening inside the heart and mind of every unbeliever. By learning this, believers can approach unbelievers with more confidence, knowing that regardless of his appearance, every unbeliever shares the same basic characteristics in relation to God.

You Don’t Have to Prove God Exists!

Although Scripture has much to say about the nature of unbelievers, no passage is as clear and definitive as Romans 1. In this chapter we have a detailed description from God’s view of the inner workings of the unregenerate human heart. By coming to understand the Bible’s teaching in this chapter, we can begin to shed the irrational fear of sharing the gospel that often grips us.

Every unbeliever already knows God exists and knows some things about him (1:18-21)

The question that often arises when people consider sharing their faith is, “What if someone demands that I prove God exists before they will believe?” This is a difficult question, but the answer is surprisingly easy—you don’t have to. These verses are clear about what the unbeliever already knows. Repeatedly we are told here that unbelievers already know God, and are in a relationship of wrath with Him. In verse 19 we see that what the unbeliever is able to know about God is already clear to him for the very reason that God has shown it to him. If God shows someone something, it is unmistakable. Verse 20 tells us that even God’s invisible attributes are clearly understood by the unbeliever every time he looks at the world. This corresponds with Psalm 19:1-2, which tells us that the heavens proclaim God’s glory every day. Theologians call this natural revelation, and Romans 1:20 tells us that this has been true ever since the world was made.

The net effect of this knowledge is that the unbeliever has no excuse for not believing in God. The phrase “without excuse” is a translation of the Greek word apologia, from which we get the word apologetics. In other words, the unbeliever has no way to plead ignorance before God if he does not believe, because he already knows God exists.

He also knows certain truths about God. Verse 20 tells us that the unbeliever knows quite a bit about God, even though His attributes are invisible to the human eye. The reason this is true is that the knowledge of God is implanted in every person who is born. This implanted knowledge of God is part of being made in the image of God. Being God’s image begins with inescapably knowing the One we are called to reflect. Specifically, people know God is eternal, all-powerful and divine. This last item speaks to God’s holiness and otherness. God’s deity is contrasted to our creatureliness. He is wholly different than we are because he is God and we are not. In addition, he cannot tolerate sin. God’s holiness is the root of his wrath against sin, which has been revealed to every unbeliever (v. 18). That is, the unbeliever knows he is guilty before God

The implications of this are critical. Every unbeliever I talk to, whether he wants to admit it or not, knows God exists and knows that he is guilty before God. Even if he denies knowing God, in his heart he knows God and knows that God’s wrath is awaiting him if he does not repent. That means that I am talking to someone who is trying to avoid the obvious—God exists and man should believe him.

The question that arises from this, however, is why some unbelievers resort to atheism and deny God if they know him to be true. How can the Bible say that all unbelievers truly know God? We’ll address this in the next post.

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  1. Chaplapreneur

    Good post Mark. I think that is the fascinating thing about talking to atheist is knowing this Biblical truth, even though we may be talking back and forth about God’s existence, that is not the real conversation. The conversation on the heart level is about who is in charge. Is God in charge or not? Is there something outside of yourself that has the right to tell you what to do?

  2. Thomas Overmiller

    Mark, thanks for sharing this. I wholeheartedly agree. Rather than PROVE the existence of God, I should POINT to the fact that God exists, and the evidence that Psa. 19 and Rom. 1 highlights. People in far-flung places in the world are not looking for a God who is hard to find. Not at all. Instead, they are running from a God who is blantantly obvious.



  1. Who is in Charge? – Chaplain + Entrepreneur = Chaplapreneur - […] I just read a great post dealing talking about witnessing to unbelievers.  Here is the link Understanding Unbelievers . […]

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