When your faith is weak, Jesus is strong
“”…if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” And Jesus said to him, “‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes. Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!”” (Mark 9:22b-24, ESV)
We can sympathize with this poor father. His son was possessed by a demon who made the boy mute and had often tried to destroy him. The father had heard about the mighty healing deeds of the Lord Jesus, so out of desperation he sought to bring his boy to Jesus for an exorcism. But when he first arrived Jesus was not with His disciples, for the Lord had not yet returned from the mount of Transfiguration (Mark 9:2-13). So the father asked the Lord’s disciples to cast out the demon, but they were not able to do so (Mark. 9:14-19). After Jesus had returned to the rest of His disciples from the mountain and had found out about their inability to cast out the demon, He rebuked the crowd (including His disciples) as a “faithless generation” (v. 19, ESV). And after further conversing with the father of the demon-possessed boy, Jesus also gently rebukes him for his unbelief (v. 22b). At that point the father blurts out these words of desperation: “I believe; help my unbelief!” (v. 24, ESV).
As the remainder of the narrative makes clear, the Lord Jesus does graciously deliver the boy from the demonic spirit who had tormented him (vv. 25-29), in spite of the father’s weak faith. The power of Christ over the demonic realm and His compassion toward those of weak faith are the major truths that this passage highlight. That is to say, Jesus is the focus of this narrative, not the demon-possessed boy or his father. Nevertheless, the words of desperation uttered by this distressed father — “I believe; help my unbelief!” — resonate deeply with me, as they probably do with most followers of Jesus who take their profession of faith seriously. Many have been the occasions when I too have had to admit before God the weakness of my own faith. “Lord, I’m a pastor. My faith is suppose to be stronger than this! Lord, I do indeed believe…but help my unbelief! And help me to be a better example of faith to those whom you have called me to serve.”
Show me a Christian who has never had doubts about his/her faith or struggled to trust the Lord in the face of difficulties and discouragements, and I will show you someone whose faith is probably either shallow and non-reflective, or who is probably not being completely honest about the state of his/her faith. In this present life even the strongest faith of even the most mature, godly, practicing, stable Christian is at best a mixture of faith and unbelief.
Our pilgrimage through this present life as followers of the Lord Jesus Christ confronts us with many obstacles to the confident, vibrant, overcoming faith to which we are called. Scripture warns us about “the world, the flesh and the devil” (i.e., the unbelieving “world system” of values and practices which oppose God’s righteous rule; the sinful inclinations of our own fallen nature; and the demonic realm). These are powerful enemies of our souls, and they wage a constant warfare against the integrity of our faith, as they work to undermine our confidence and trust in Christ and in His Word. If it were up to us to preserve our faith and confidence in the Lord by our own strength and will power, we would all most certainly fall away from the faith. If it were up to us to keep our faith alive, we would all end up in apostasy!
But while our faith in the Lord Jesus is so often weak and mixed with a measure of unbelief, the good news of the gospel reminds us that even when our faith is weak, Jesus is strong! We overcome, we endure, we persevere, we “keep on keeping on” in the life of Christian discipleship, not because we are so strong in ourselves or because our faith is so powerful, but because Jesus Christ, the Almighty Son of God Incarnate, atoned for our sins on the cross, rose from the dead for our justification, and is even now interceding for us before the Father as our Mediator, Advocate and great High Priest (First John 2:1; Hebrews 4:14-16; 7:23-28; 10:11-14; etc.). The Divine power that raised the body of the Lord Jesus from the dead is the same power by which God preserves His people in the faith, so that we believers need not fear condemnation anymore (John 5:24; Romans 5:9-10; 8:1; etc.). We are not saved by the strength of our own faith, for faith is but an empty hand that reaches out to receive God’s gift of forgiveness offered in Jesus. It is not the strength of our faith, but the strength of the Lord Jesus to whom our faith clings, that saves us.
None of this is to say that we have no responsibility to guard and nurture our faith and the faith of our children. Since God brings us to faith through the hearing of His Word (Romans 10:17), we must put ourselves in a position where we can be exposed to the Word. Reading the Bible, and going to a church where the Word is read and faithfully preached, are vitally important for the integrity and nurture of a life of faith. We must receive the sacraments and embrace the promises that are attached to them (“I baptize you…”; “This is my Body, given for you…This is my Blood, shed for you…”). Reading good Christian books, memorizing a good Bible-based catechism, enjoying fellowship and godly conversation with like-minded believers, and engaging in acts of service out of love for Christ, can be other practices which help to nurture and strengthen your faith in Christ.
Believer, do you feel that your faith is weak? Take heart! Jesus is stronger than your unbelief! He will not forsake you!