Two, Part VI: Faith vs Unbelief


Unbelief is really just faith going in the wrong direction; as in Eden, we make an unconscious or conscious choice to go with Satan’s word rather than God’s Facts. Unbelief leads to bondage. The cycle of unbelief has become apparent in my own life many times as God has replaced old thinking patterns with new. I’ve finally encapsulated it in this brief summary.

1. Unbelief is the swallowing of a lie.

2. The lie generates fear.

3. Fear births the desire to control.

4. The desire to control prompts self-effort.

5. Self-effort produces tension in the body and mind.

6. Tension puts a lid or a cap on our abilities.

I’ve seen this truth lately regarding the music I play. Lies I swallowed 25 years ago generated fear (“maybe I won’t succeed”). The fear birthed a desire to control (“I must do something to insure I succeed”); this desire produced self-effort (practicing feverishly). The self-effort ended up producing certain amounts of tension in my mind and in my hands, arms, and shoulders. That tension kept me from achieving the speed I’d had in the early few years before I swallowed the lies, before “grown up” thinking infected the childlike wonder with which I was learning to play banjo and guitar.

Think about this paradigm in your own life. Marriage relationships. Parenting. Jobs. And especially our relationship with God.

The lighting of the bomb fuse that blows up this false self is to replace wrongly directed faith with true faith. The lies in me have been replaced with truth – faith in the God who has given me a certain set of abilities for certain good reasons. This leads to a whole new set of inner and outer actions.

The new paradigm looks like this:

1. Faith is the swallowing of the truth.

2. This truth generates a sense of sufficiency.

3. A sense of sufficiency births a God-confident attitude about playing music.

4. The God-confident attitude causes me to play music with more of a sense of joy and purpose.

5. The sense of joy and purpose creates ease and spontaneity in playing as I look to reprogram the tension in my body with this new restful, confident sufficiency.

6. The clearing of tension takes the cap off my abilities.

7. I more fully enter into my God-given purpose in life.

So we ask ourselves, “Where else is the unbelief paradigm affecting my life?” The answer is that wherever there is fear, strain, and tension in the life of a believer, there is an inner lie causing it.

It all starts with our identity in Christ, which is the subject of the last installment of Two.

Winner of 147 Grammys (or so), Ron Block is the banjo-ninja portion of Alison Kraus and Union Station. When he's not laying down a bluegrass-style martial-arts whoopin' on audiences around the world, he's taking care of his donkey named "Trash" and keeping himself busy by being one of the most well-read and thoughtful people we know.


  1. Tony Heringer


    Amen. This reminded me of Tim Keller’s book “Ministries of Mercy.” In it, he describes the impact of the Fall. He describes four “alienations” that result from Adam’s sin. He represents them by concentric circles which is helpful when dealing with mercy ministry as there are usually a combination of needs to address before you can bring the true and central issue to light. An outside-in approach to those hurting or in need coupled with the offering of the Gospel which works from the inside-out. It’s not an either/or but a both/and approach. Great book, but I digress…

    Working from the inside-out, man is first alienated from God. Adam hides from Him. It is critical for the follower of Jesus to open her self up to Jesus. In doing so she allows God to work on the whole and not just the parts she has made “purty”.

    As an elder at my church, I’ve had the honor of counseling folks in all types of suffering, but this piece is always central — what is true? What does God tell you and I in His revealed will — His Word? Massaging the truth not only helps those I counsel but I come away from those times strengthened and humbled knowing that there but by the grace of God go I (a feeling captured somewhat in Barliman’s song “I’ve Got News”). I can’t render judgment because I know I’m capable of the same type of behavior or if I look at the heart of the matter I’ve committed worse sins. Body life is critical for turning unbelief to belief; for bringing us out of the darkness and into His healing, holy Light.

    Second, we are alienated from ourselves. Here’s what Keller says “Originally the human soul was integrated, harmonious whole, but now there is disintegration. Where there was peace there is now shame, fear and a tormenting self consciousness (“I was naked”). Unhappiness, guilt, fear, loss of personal identity, depression, anxiety, substance abuse, suicide, sexual problems—all stem from our loss of fellowship with God.”

    The root word for integrity has the same Latin root as the word integer – whole numbers. To have integrity is to be whole. Psalm 15 best describes this type of man. The man of integrity, like James Bond’s favorite drink, is stirred but not shaken.

    Thirdly, we are alienated from other people. Keller: “Rebels against God do not need to only hide from God, but also from each other. The first marriage squabble, complete with blame-shifting and backbiting, immediately ensues (Gen. 3:12-13)! Now self-centered with their inner passions at war with one another, all sinful humans are on a collision course with others (James 4:1-3).” There is hate in the world of all kinds because we are sinners. Jesus said “happy are the peacemakers” for the sons of God love while the sons of Satan hate. But, the sons and daughters of God sometimes forget. As my good friend Bob Carter says “Christians need to be filled because we leak.”

    Finally, we are alienated from Creation. Here Keller says “Once a ‘friend’ under our dominion, the natural world is now hostile to us….Nature is not only in decay, but it is no longer ‘under us’ as before the Fall. The point of the curse is that the ‘dust,’ the earth, will only very reluctantly yield to us some of its riches. Only with the greatest effort does man learn to get along with the physical world. And even though we may eke out an existence, the earth itself will eventually win, for to it we return. We will fight the dirt all our lives, and in the end we will be six feet under it. The great preacher George Whitefield, in order to make this point, would ask his audience, ‘Dost thou know why the wild animals fear and growl and shriek at thee? Because they know thou hast a quarrel with their Master!” I think that is why I love Ash Wednesday service, it reminds me of my mortality and that Creation also groans for Christ return to set things back to rights.

    Bringing the Gospel to bear on our lives is to see Christ heal our land, our relationships, our self image and our soul. The Spirit is working on us from the outside-in as we minister to each other and the inside-out as He abides within us making us whole again. Just like Campbell Soup that is “mmm, mmm good!”

  2. Ron Block



    That’s what Jesus came for – “He will save His people from their sins.” Not just from the consequences due their sins, but He saves us from being a sin-kind of people. He indwells and empowers and changes us, and causes us to walk in His ways and keep His statutes; He literally comes to live in and through us, as if it were us living. That’s the real Good News. Anything less is just fire insurance.

    We need to be filled, but the filling comes from within as a spring of living water rather than as the kitchen faucet filling up a tea kettle. Many of the leaks are caused by unbelief – but even Jesus needed to spend time alone with His Father, especially after lots of Spirit-expenditure or as in Gethsemane when He knew what was coming up and how much He needed to be full.

    This daily walk is by faith, in whatever area of our inner promised land we are appropriating, from first to last. It all starts with eating truth by faith. “True truth” is what builds our Body. And through that all imbalances will be corrected in our lives. It’s like eating raw food – over time, as we eat what is right rather than what merely seems to taste good at the moment, our bodies are rebuilt on quality, living food. The result is improved health, the immune system at full capacity resisting sickness, energy to be and do everything we need to do, and length of days. The spiritual life is exactly the same deal. Taking in real food by faith, even if it doesn’t taste like what we’re used to (and if we’re used to eating self-pity, for example, there is a sweet pleasure in it). But we eat what is right and good for us, and spiritual health follows.

  3. Kevin E

    Ron, you are 100% on with the steps of unbelief. I would like to add however that for some of us the “self effort” is sometime manifested not as trying harder, but rather an aversion, a steering clear or sometimes even running the issue that has the fear attached to it. Of course that does not fix the tension but merely covers it up. The healing would still come from belief in God’s sufficiency.

    Thank you so much for breaking it down to point form and taking the time to think through the various steps.

  4. Ron Block


    Kevin – Absolutely. In my paradigm of musical unbelief procrastination was a big part of it, as was a lack of endurance whenever encountering the hard bits. By “hard bits” I mean things I am supposed to be doing that I deep down didn’t believe I “have what it takes”: songwriting to a large degree, and extreme dexterity for high tempo bluegrass on guitar and banjo. God dug down to those false core beliefs and forced me to look at them for what they are – lies.

  5. Tony Heringer


    That last post reminded me of Sam’s exclamation to Gandalf at the end of “Return Of The King:”

    “Gandalf! I thought you were dead! But then I thought I was dead myself. Is everything sad going to come untrue? What’s happened to the world?”

    Yes, because of Jesus, the lies are being worked out of the universe and one day they will be completely cast out. Mmm, mmm good! Thanks for serving up some good pub grub.

    Westward ho! On to part 7. Hey! That’s the number that represents completeness – a fitting number to end Two, eh? You are a clever man my brother from another mother but the same Father. 🙂

    Note: Listening to U2’s “No Line On The Horizon” while posting which is good pub music for this virtual pub. Look forward to someone out here in the room reviewing it.

  6. Stacy Grubb


    I’m not sure how far back the archives go, but about a year or so ago Ron had a post that dealt with the fences we can sometimes build around sin to keep us out. As you said, building the fence is our own self-effort to be righteous and the nails and wood are unbelief. I tried to access that post to link it here, but couldn’t find it. Perhaps someone may know how to find it. It ultimately served as a turning point for me and that’s probably evident in my contribution to the discussion there. If it can be found, I recall that it won’t be light reading as it generated many responses, but it goes right along with what you said and offers what I found to be priceless insight.

    If it can’t be found…don’t worry, it wasn’t that great. (I hope that makes you feel better.)


    We’ve heard for years that we are what we eat. Your summary feeds well into my affection for visualization. I can actually picture myself swallowing a poison seed (a lie) that eventually takes root and spreads like a kudzu vine, smothering all that is good and fruitful. If we swallow the idea that we are hopelessly sinners, we will see that idea bloom to fruition. It’s human nature to live up to our expectations, for better or worse. To use your food analogy, it’s literally the difference between eating rat poison or a chocolate banana smoothie with kale (or something like that). To me, it’s beyond comparing junk food to healthy food because even junk food will benefit you in some way, even if only minimally as compared to a healthy diet. Poison (lies) will only tear you down, often slowly and painfully. There is nothing good to be gained from poison.


  7. Kevin E

    I just reread my post and realized it could be taken in a few different ways. What I was trying to say is that at step number 4 of unbelief, where the desire to control prompts self effort I very often run into a battle. This is where I have to decide to push through and give it my all through self effort or to give up and quit. This is the place where after hearing a superb musical performance I will go home and strive to be all I can be or leave my guitar sitting in the corner because I have succumbed to the lie that my best is never going to be good enough. This is also the place where after hearing a preacher railing about the apathy of the flock and the need to bloody our knees in prayer that we either decide to attempt to do so out of desperation or we may say, “it is impossible” and leave it totally undone’, finding any prayer afterward that much more of a grevious task for the burden that has been added to it.

    The “letter of the law is death” rings true on so many different levels. It can be the death of a dream, of a relationship but more often than not it just kills my freedom and thereby hampers my effectiveness (point 6)or point 4 if I quit early! Often we tell ourselves that we are simply being realistic never realizing that we have allowed our reality to be the picture painted by the enemy. Thankfully the effects of faith are the opposite of unbelief. I can feel alive and accepted as I am by the Creator of the Universe.

    It seem like I’ve been reading about this for years through Ron and others but it’s just now starting to sink in. Thanks for keeping on with this Ron. Some of us are slow learners (me).

  8. Ron Block



    That’s the response to Law – either another push of self-effort, leading to more despair, or a giving up through a sense of futility. The Law cannot give us endurance; only Christ, rising up in us through faith, can do that. The Law kills freedom, spontaneity, love, not because the Law is evil but because we were never meant in our human selves to be able to “be like God,” and to think so is poison to our humanity. Humans are helpless cups.

    Now, in the material realm, people may look like much more than helpless cups – success books are full of that. But succeeding in the material realm will account for nothing when we hit eternity, a moment we are all inexorably heading toward at the rate of sixty seconds a minute. It is this eternal success we are really wanting as believers in Jesus Christ.

    So there’s the Law. Depending on our response to it, it produces either self-effort in us, or futility, or beyond that, a sense of our total weakness and inability – our cup-ness. It is at that point that the Christian life really begins to be exciting, because there is an Answer to the question of weakness. Once we recognize we are dead to the Law in a particular area – meaning that since Christ is now my inner living Law I no longer need to strive in my human strength to accomplish anything – we begin to find real strength, eternal strength, which of course is eternally enduring.

    This applies to banjo playing, believe it or not. It is this recognition that I am dead to Law, that I am no longer under a performance-based estimation of my abilities, that now allows me to sit and work on something tough until I get it. I now have a Christ-based estimation of my abilities, no longer primarily centered in world or flesh or devil.

    That is what is so exciting about Christ. He wants to soak in everywhere and be in every part of my life, fueling it with passion and purpose.

  9. Stacy Grubb


    Sorry if I misunderstood.

    I am the self-proclaimed World’s Worst for spiraling and quitting when I become convinced that I’m not now and never will be good enough. It usually takes very little convincing, at that. What I’ve (slowly) learned, largely through Ron, is that that is one highly effective tool that Satan uses to keep us from using our talents. It’s literally Satan telling us things in a way that we think is our own personal thoughts and we’re swallowing them, hook, line, and sinker. For me, the spiral often starts with comparison: “Listen to that fine music. I’ll never be that good. I’ll never sing that way, play that way, write that way, or have that success. Look at what a fine Christian my neighbor is. He’s always serving and doing something for the Lord. Everybody loves him.” As you said, our two reactions are usually a fervent self-effort to rise above it or completely giving up altogether. Neither produce the results anybody is hoping for. Self-effort will remind us of what we’re not through humanity because it’s an exercise in futility. Giving up will forget what we are through Christ because it never taps into His endless well of everything we need to be fruitful servants. “Ask and ye shall receive.” More and more, my knee jerk reaction to the onset of the spiral is to recognize Satan in that and pray immediately. I often pray for peace and clarity of mind when I’m getting ready to perform. Most every time I’ve ever royally screwed up on stage, it’s because I couldn’t get my head in the game, often because of fear and nerves about screwing up. I ask for controlled breathing and the ability to enjoy the performance while it lasts. God wants us to leave positive impressions on others in these situations. Reminding myself of that gives me an unsurpassed comfort.


  10. Kevin E

    “More and more, my knee jerk reaction to the onset of the spiral is to recognize Satan in that and pray immediately.” Thanks for that encouragement and giving me something to ‘strive’ for. So much of what you talk about is much like my story. Another lie we’re often given is that we’re the only one facing these things. It’s good to hear from overcomers!

  11. Stacy Grubb


    I’m one of those people with whom others feel comfortable sharing very personal details of their lives (whether I want to hear it or not). One thing I’ve learned and often share is that we’re not nearly as unique as we think we are. As you said, that’s comforting. It’s not that we wish for others to suffer, too, but there’s the idea of strength in numbers. It’s especially helpful when we learn that someone we respect and admire has walked a mile in our shoes. It helps us put ourselves in a little bit more of a realistic perspective. It’s really only our reactions to problems that make one person an overcomer and another a victim. The greatest comfort of all is knowing that we’ve already been made victorious, so only unbelief can get the better of us.


  12. Ron Block


    “It’s really only our reactions to problems that make one person an overcomer and another a victim,” said Stacy.

    Norman Grubb said life isn’t about what happens to you but in how you react to it. A faith-in-Christ attitude produces the God-desired reaction.

    Good stuff Stacy.

  13. Duane C.

    Thanks, Ron, for posting this. I plan to qpply it to my situation, playing both banjo and guitar (and singing lead) in my bluegrass gospel group. I’m always fine at practice, but it all falls apart when I perform in front of an audience. Well, my view is it falls apart – my flatpicking misses strings, my fingers tremble, and this is after dozens of performances. You have given me a key to approach this from an entirely new direction – I appreciate the words of encouragement.

  14. D'Anna

    “So we ask ourselves, “Where else is the unbelief paradigm affecting my life?” The answer is that wherever there is fear, strain, and tension in the life of a believer, there is an inner lie causing it.”

    For me, it is so often as a wife . . . I remember the verses:

    1Pet. 3:3 Your adornment must not be merely external—braiding the hair, and wearing gold jewelry, or putting on dresses;
    1Pet. 3:4 but let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God.
    1Pet. 3:5 For in this way in former times the holy women also, who hoped in God, used to adorn themselves, being submissive to their own husbands;
    1Pet. 3:6 just as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord, and you have become her children if you do what is right without being frightened by any fear.

    . . . frightened by any fear . . . fear which is unbelief fed by any number of lies, which leads to me taking things in my own hands, which always leads away from Love! and strains the very relationship I want to see Free and Growing!

    . . . the quiet, gentle spirit – is Christ in me . . . as I trust HIm to do, speak, be in me as He wills.

    He is teaching me . . . SO COOL!

  15. Ron Block



    Freedom is truly a wonder. So many of us walk in bondage, walk in the flesh, walk in fear. But we very nearly have to; we have to find, like Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, David, and on through Jesus and the Apostles, that our own resources can’t cut the mustard. The only thing that can is the indwelling Person of Christ inside each of us. What really breaks down is our long-cherished ideas of independence; “I live the Christian life with God helping me.” It’s the God is my co-pilot mentality. It’s more like a horse and rider, except the Rider is inside the horse. We have a will, to be sure, but we do not have the vision required to direct our own life and accomplish good in even the smallest way; that is why we need God’s wisdom and power in Christ. Once we find our total weakness and inability we’re finally finding our true home base.

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