The Collaboration of Faith and Unbelief

We have recorded in the Gospel of Mark 9:14-27, an incident and conversation that gives insight to the subjects of faith and unbelief.  A father brings his son, who is possessed by a demon, to where he heard Jesus to be. Jesus isn’t there and nine of the disciples try but fail to cast the demon out of boy. By the time Jesus shows up on the scene, the dad’s faith is wounded and wrecked. The dad’s faith has gone from full blown confidence to being on life-support.  We can relate to that, right? Trusting in God for an answer to prayer one day and the next day our faith that He heard our request is in the basement digging a hole. The reality is more like faith one minute and unbelief creeping into our minds within the hour.

In this story the dad confesses to Jesus that he wants to believe, that he’s trying to believe, that there is a little bit of faith in Jesus down deep, but that unbelief has swelled within his bosom. He cries out, “I believe, help my unbelief.”

What does Jesus do? Does Jesus shake His head in disappointment and murmur, “We’ll, I thought I was going to be able to help this man’s son, but now I can’t because of the father’s unbelief.”

Does Jesus rebuke the dad and say, “Your doubt is what keeps your son in bondage to the demon!”

Does Jesus turn to the disciples and say, “This is why you couldn’t cast the demon out of the boy!”

Does Jesus say to the dad, “When you have rid yourself of the doubt and unbelief and can believe without wavering, then come back and see me.”

The answer to all of those is, NO!

Too many people have been told that if you have doubt, even a little bit, then your faith is neutralized. That is absurd on many levels.  Where do I begin to rebut such an unbiblical idea? The man’s faith is not what cast the demon out of his son, any more than it is your super-duper Christian faith that saved you.  Jesus saved you! Your faith doesn’t do the work, Jesus does. Your faith trusts in Him to do the work, or that He has done the work, but it is Jesus and not you.  Too often we put faith in ourselves, or in other words, faith in our faith. Well, Don’t! Have faith in God.

If you have heard someone tell you that you should have faith in YOUR faith, just grin, say, “No Thanks,” and quote Mark 11:22.

And Jesus answering saith unto them, Have faith in God.

The dad in the story from Mark 9, is just like all of us, he has a mix of faith and unbelief. The dad arrived on the scene believing that Jesus could deliver his son and due to let-downs and anti-Christ arguments from the self-righteous religious leaders who were arguing with the nine disciples, this dad’s faith began to wane. He wanted to believe that Jesus could, and yet confessed that he was wrestling with unbelief. He had both faith and unbelief at work simultaneously within the heart.  This isn’t a double-minded man, this is every believer that can admit he/she is not perfect and battles within the mind.

The next thing that Jesus did is a practical example for us all. Jesus reached out to this dad by asking him to tell the story of his son. This personal, caring gesture pulled the dad’s faith closer to Jesus.  It had to have helped him see Jesus as more than a healer, as a caring shepherd. It is as if Jesus said, “Tell me your story. How long has this been happening to your son? I care.”  Jesus accepted this man who was wrestling with faith and unbelief.

The Lord never expects perfect faith, that would be pointless, though he is worthy of it. He only expects imperfect faith because that’s all He’s ever going to get out of us and all of us are going to believe with a measure of doubt mixed in. – John MacArthur

Be encouraged, faith and doubt may be oil and water but faith is the dominate one. Faith trumps Unbelief. Unbelief and doubt do not cancel out, void out, or negate faith. You may struggle with unbelief, but the faith God put in you is still faith, no matter what unbelief or your feelings may tell you. And the faith remains His gift to you.  I remember hearing many years ago a popular preacher say with conviction, “An ounce of doubt will destroy a pound of faith.”  I have no idea what scripture he was twisting to support that garbage. Faith is a divine gift from God (Romans 12:3) and human doubt, fear, anxiety, nor sin nor sickness can destroy God’s gift. A person’s faith may be weak and wrestling, but if God has given a person a measure of faith, then it remains. What you do with that measure is another teaching all together.

If you have been beat up with condemnation or shame because you do not have perfect faith, relax, you’re exactly what Jesus expects. Remember? You’re not Jesus. You are an imperfect human that relies on Jesus to keep you and bless you. Jesus does not require perfect faith or Goliath size faith, He is looking for your mustard seed faith.

If you have been told that God only blesses those with strong, unwavering faith, then you and I would never be forgiven and redeemed, or ever be blessed. Only Jesus had unwavering faith. The dad in our story had messy faith that was ready to give up, and yet Jesus accepted him and answered his request.

Like with this dad, Jesus doesn’t condemn us when we struggle with unbelief and doubts, He wants to encourage our faith and refine it. Don’t focus on your doubts or fears, focus on how good and faithful Jesus is. Remember, He isn’t rewarding your faith, He is doing what He wants to do. Throughout scripture and the rest of human history God does whatever He pleases whether man believes or not. Be thankful that God rules in your life with grace, mercy, kindness, and power in spite of you, and not because of you. Phew! It is liberating to know that it’s not on me, it is all on HIM.

Jesus deals with our unbelief by dealing with our faith. Jesus isn’t focused on your unbelief and doubts, and He doesn’t you want you to either. He wants you to focus on following Him. Follow Him and not your unbelief and doubts, and slowly they will weaken and your trust in Him will strengthen.

Alone with God

I am never less alone, than when I am alone; for then I can enjoy the presence of my God most freely, fully, and sweetly, without interruption.

The quote is from Ambrose (Became Bishop of Milan in 374). He speaks of the wonder and peace that he experienced in private prayer with the Living God.  This aligns with the promise from Jesus in Matthew 6:6.

But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.

Amazed at Jesus

On Sunday mornings I have been teaching through the Gospel of Mark. We are learning and growing in the knowledge of Jesus Christ, our God and Savior. Among the many benefits and blessings, we have this promise from God in II Peter 1:2:

Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.

When you are determined to see Jesus Christ as whom He claims to be—as the Bible reveals Him to be, then you will expect that everything that He says, and everything that He does, to amaze you. Why, you ask? Because He is contrary to our ways and the ways that are whirling around us in your everyday life.

“Jesus, You amaze us. Everything about You and all that You do, amazes us. Help us to never lose the awe and excitement of who You are.”

Privileged Access to the Throne of Grace

We, who have been granted new life in Christ and are privileged with access to the throne of grace, have a responsibility concerning such a privilege. Have you given thought to what was involved in obtaining this right, this access? Romans 5 tells us it was the sacrifice of the Christ, God in human flesh. He came down from His throne laying aside His glory and taking on the role of a servant. He suffered a brutal torture and was nailed to a cross to die a slow inhumane death. He conquered death and ascended back to his place of supreme ruler. For what purpose? To reconcile fallen man with God; to grant us access to the Father God, specifically to the heart of God.

Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.” (Romans 5:1–2)

For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. And not only that, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation.” (Romans 5:10–11)

Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:14–16)

I have to occasionally remind myself not shirk such a privilege and even the sense of duty to pray for others. It is because of Christ’s ransom that I have the ear of the God of the universe, and there are needs, pains, sorrows, and souls that need enlightened to the saving gospel. And God has invited me to participate in what He wants to do in the lives of men, women, children, families, churches, communities, and nations with prayer being a tool to be used in the Maker’s plan. Indeed, I am in awe of such a privilege to co-labor with the Maker, and I also need to take serious the opportunity to pray for others.

Charles H. Spurgeon, who always said it more directly and with more of a punch that anyone else, said,

“The mercy-seat under the law was overlaid with pure gold to foreshadow the costliness of its antitype. It cost the death of Christ to erect a mercy-seat for men. To neglect it is a shameful ingratitude to God, and a wanton rejection of one of his costliest blessings. If there were no throne of grace, men might die of despair because they could not approach to God; but now that God has prepared a way of access for all who desire to approach him, the refusal to draw near must rank among the grossest and most wilful of rebellions. There is no conceivable excuse for the prayerless. A man who dies of starvation with bread before him, and perishes with disease when the remedy is in his hand, deserves no pity; and he who sinks down to hell beneath the burden of his sins because he will not pray, “God be merciful to me a sinner,” deserves all that damnation means. Pardon, life, salvation, heaven, are all to be had for the asking; and if he that asketh not receiveth not, who shall blame either the justice or the mercy of God?” [i]

Go ahead and give yourself a moment to recover from that punch, but don’t shake it off completely, it’s the kind that is good for you.

Okay, better now? Like so many saints through the years I enjoy Spurgeon’s blunt articulation of truth and wisdom, even though I have to nurse a bruise now and then. But the man has it right, as usual, we shouldn’t neglect such a privilege and duty as prayer. With a motivation of love let us answer the call to draw near to God for mercy and grace for the needs of others as well as for our own daily bread.

[i]       Spurgeon, C. H. Flowers from a Puritan’s Garden, Distilled and Dispensed. New York: Funk & Wagnalls, 1883.

Behold the throne of grace!

John Newton is one of those saints who contended earnestly for the historical, living faith of the early church. He is most widely known for the hymn, Amazing Grace, but he was much more than a composer, author, and puritan pastor. John Newton was a man who knew a thing or two about prayer. He would pen poems and lyrics to teach his congregation biblical truths, often times giving them, and us, glimpses into his sacred times with His God. Below is but one verse that shares the simplicity and joy that he found in prayer before the face of the Savior.

BEHOLD the throne of grace!

The promise calls me near,

There Jesus shows a smiling face,

And waits to answer prayer.

Isn’t it obvious that John Newton came to discovered that prayer is far more than a plea for help or a call to God for forgiveness? For John Newton prayer was a place of love and also a holy exercise with holy implications creating a holy atmosphere. It is where the Holy One and His praying child find grace as well as mercy, find peace as well as a refreshing. And yet one of the beauties of prayer is that it is both more simplistic than we imagine and more influential than anything that we try to compare it with in this natural realm. It is not difficult to understand how all of this could be so, for what else should you expect when the Most High God, the Sovereign Creator and Sustainer, calls you into His presence, out of your glory-less mortality and into His infinite glory?