“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations…teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20, NASB).
1) “Lord, I Believe; Help My Unbelief!” (Tom Edwards)
“Lord, I Believe; Help My Unbelief!”
The account from which our title is taken is also seen in Matthew 17:14-21 and Luke 9:37-43; but only Mark, who brings out more concerning it in Mark 9:14-29, includes the above statement (v. 24).
Imagine, if you would, being the parent of just one son, but who was severely afflicted with illness. Matthew refers to him as “a lunatic” that was “very ill” and “often falls into the fire and often into the water” (Matt. 17:15). Luke shows that this was brought on by “a spirit,” which “seizes him, and he suddenly screams, and it throws him into a convulsion with foaming at the mouth; and only with difficulty does it leave him, mauling him as it leaves” (Luke 9:39). Mark’s account includes that the boy was “possessed with a spirit which makes him mute; and whenever it seizes him, it slams him to the ground and he foams at the mouth, and grinds his teeth and stiffens out” (Mark 9:17-18). Ever since childhood, this is what the boy had continually been experiencing (v. 21). How concerned you would probably be if he were your son.
The boy’s father then said to Jesus, “It has often thrown him both into the fire and into the water to destroy him. But if You can do anything, take pity on us and help us!” (v. 22).
Jesus responded, “’If You can?’ All things are possible to him who believes” (v. 23).
After hearing this, “Immediately the father of the child cried out and said with tears, ‘Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!’” (v. 24, NKJV).
This man appears to have been humble, honest, sincere, and truly seeking the Lord’s help.
Would not his request to the Lord also make a good prayer for every believer today? “Lord, I believe; but help me in those areas where my faith is lacking – or is not at all.” For Paul also prayed for the Thessalonians “night and day…most earnestly that we may see your face, and may complete what is lacking in your faith” (1 Thess. 3:10). Do we not all have a need to increase in faith — to improve in those areas in which we are lacking?
Faith, like the various good virtues that make up the fruit of the Spirit (cf. Gal. 5:22-23), can be at different levels. For Jesus spoke of some who had “little faith” (Matt. 6:30), and of those whose faith was “great” (Matt. 8:10; Matt. 15:28). So faith can also be anywhere in between. We, therefore, need to strive to make our faith greater.
This was also a concern for the apostles. They asked the Lord to “Increase our faith!” (Luke 17:5), and how did the Lord answer them? He first told them, “If you had faith like a mustard seed [which is one of the smallest of seeds], you would say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and be planted in the sea’; and it would obey you” (v. 6). But that was not yet the answer to their question. So look what the Lord then goes on to say: “Which of you, having a slave plowing or tending sheep, will say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come immediately and sit down to eat’? But will he not say to him, ‘Prepare something for me to eat, and properly clothe yourself and serve me while I eat and drink; and afterward you may eat and drink’? He does not thank the slave because he did the things which were commanded, does he? So you too, when you do all the things which are commanded you, say, ‘We are unworthy slaves; we have done only that which we ought to have done’” (vv. 7-10). So what do we infer from this as to the answer of their question concerning how to increase their faith? First of all, do we not see that an increase of faith is not something that comes suddenly? There is a need to grow in the faith through humble service unto the Lord, by doing those things that are required of us. For faith needs to be exercised, and it should be a “faith working through love” (Gal. 5:6). Faith is a foundation for the soul to build upon and be soundly supported throughout life. For we are to “continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel…” (Col. 1:23).
But how can faith be increased? What is the source for it? It is true that the creation “testifies” toward the reality of God (cf Rom. 1:19-20; Psa. 19:1), which helps us to believe in Him; but the faith that saves from sin requires more than that kind of belief through creation. For Paul shows that it is the gospel that is “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Rom. 1:16). We, therefore, must first hear it – for “faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:17). But we must also be “doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves” (James 1:22). Brethren were being strengthened in the faith by conforming their lives to the message that Paul and Timothy spoke to them (Acts 16:4-5). We have also seen that the gospel is referred to as “the faith” that we are to “contend earnestly for” (Jude 1:3), and which “a great many of the priests were becoming obedient to” (Acts 6:7). For as food is to the body, even more so is God’s word to the soul. Therefore, as Jesus states, “MAN SHALL NOT LIVE ON BREAD ALONE, BUT ON EVERY WORD THAT PROCEEDS OUT OF THE MOUTH OF GOD” (Matt. 4:4). When Jesus told His disciples, who were concerned that He should eat, “I have food to eat that you do not know about,” they were thinking of only physical food (Jn. 4:31-33); but the Lord then explained, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to accomplish His work” (v. 34). Jesus was a doer of His Father’s will, and we must be likewise. For since He had a need to receive the nourishment of spiritual food by obeying His Father, then how much more do we have that need toward doing the same?
To grow strong in the Lord involves increasing in faith. Peter closes his second epistle by exhorting the brethren to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Pet. 3:18). And Paul’s final words to the Ephesian elders also pointed them in that same direction: “And now I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified” (Acts 20:31). What better advice can one give than encouraging others toward learning God’s word, obeying it, and continuing in it?
So in all this, we see the connection in obtaining a knowledge of the Scriptures, acquiring faith, and growing strong in the Lord. Our faith is based on God’s word – rather than on personal feelings. And corresponding with that, John declares, “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 Jn. 5:13). So, yes, we are to look to God’s word for faith and increase in our knowledge of that message and put God’s word into practice in our lives so our faith will also grow — along with the assurance it brings.
As pointed out, the man in Mark 9:24 was humble to indicate that there were areas in his life in which he lacked faith, but he sought the Lord to help him in that. May we each also do the same, and by using those sources of His word (Rom. 10:17) and the avenue of prayer (2 Cor. 13:9) that God has provided for the Christian.
Paul told Timothy that by his teaching the word he would “be a good servant of Christ Jesus, constantly nourished on the words of the faith and of the sound doctrine which you are following” (1 Tim. 4:6). Was that merely a special privilege for Timothy to be able to be “constantly nourished on the words of faith”? As we take the time to teach the gospel to others, it also helps us to grow in the faith. For we are then doing what God has commanded and find it rewarding in doing so. In addition, our studying and researching to prepare to teach has us focusing on the Scriptures and filling our hearts and minds with it, which is good meditation for the soul.
We must also increase in faith because some have wandered from it (1 Tim. 6:10; 2 Tim. 2:18; 1 Tim. 6:21); and we need, therefore, to be on guard against that. One of Paul’s exhortations to Timothy was that he would “Fight the good fight of faith; take hold of the eternal life to which you were called, and you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses” (1 Tim. 6:12). Faith is to be “kept” (2 Tim. 4:7). It is to be lived by — rather than shrinking back from (Heb. 10:38). For faith preserves the soul (v. 39), and its outcome is the salvation of our souls (1 Pet. 1:9). So we must “contend earnestly for” it (Jude 1:3). And, to do so, as we have seen in this lesson, requires a faith that is accompanied with obedient action. For “…faith without works is dead” (James 2:14-26).
Let us remember that humble, honest, and sincere man who, after talking with Jesus, “Immediately…cried out and said with tears, ‘Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!’” (Mark 9:24). And may we, like him, also desire to have our faith increased and seek to accomplish that by expanding our knowledge of God’s word, putting it into practice in our lives, and spending time with the Lord in prayer. For then, what a great comfort faith can be! Not only is it then the saving faith that leads to heaven, but also it is “…the assurance of things hoped for” and “the conviction of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1).
(All Scripture from the NASB, unless otherwise indicated.)
The Steps That Lead to Eternal Salvation
1) Hear the gospel, for that is how faith comes (Rom. 10:17; John 20:30,31).
2) Believe in the deity of Christ (John 8:24; John 3:18).
3) Repent of sins (Luke 13:5; Acts 17:30).
4) Confess faith in Christ (Rom. 10:9,10; Acts 8:36-38).
5) Be baptized in water for the remission of sins (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38; 22:16; Rom. 6:3,4; Gal. 3:26,27; 1 Pet. 3:21).
6) Continue in the faith, living for the Lord; for, if not, salvation can be lost (Heb. 10:36-39; Rev. 2:10; 2 Pet. 2:20-22).
CHURCH OF CHRIST
1402 Tebeau Street, Waycross, GA 31501
Sunday services: 9:00 a.m. (Bible class); 10 a.m. & 5 p.m. (worship)
Wednesday: 7 p.m. (Bible class)
evangelist/editor: Tom Edwards (912) 281-9917
http://thomastedwards.com/go (Older version of Gospel Observer website without pictures, but back to Marc 1990)
http://ThomasTEdwards.com/audioser.html (audio sermons)