by Mike Ratliff
5 The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” 6 And the Lord said, “If you had faith like a mustard seed, you would say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and be planted in the sea’; and it would obey you. (Luke 17:5-6 NASB)
This Christian walk is actually a pilgrimage through life. It begins at salvation and continues to the Celestial City where the believer will be with the Lord eternally. However, the journey itself is the means through which God sanctifies His children. Satan hinders God’s people at every turn. The more they are devoted to the Lord and obey Him, the more He hinders. God allows this in order to peel away the layers of pride and self-sufficiency in each believer. These things are bound to this world and flesh and, therefore, are impotent to bring joy to the believer and glory to God. Even in our “devotion” we can fall into the trap of self-focus and self-righteousness. Therefore, God allows Satan to hinder us that we will see clearly that our joy and fulfillment are only in humbly submitting to the Lord in all things instead of always getting our way about our circumstances, which are ordained by God. This is also true for those whom God has ordained to stand firm and use His discernment and wisdom to withstand the enemy’s attacks on the church through heresies and growing apostasy. As we uncover and expose what is really going on in the visible church we must do so in light of the spiritual warfare going on all around us. As God uses us we must be even more alert and prepared for Satan’s hindering attacks. His goal is to destroy our faith and drive a wedge between us and our Lord. He will use other people and our circumstances to do this. We must, therefore, ask God to increase our faith and help our unbelief each day in order to do what we do for the Lord in prayerful humility with the fortitude He gives us. It must be for His glory alone.
In Mark 9:14-29 we have an account of the Lord healing a boy with an unclean spirit. It begins with the Lord coming upon the scene of a great crowd around His disciples who are arguing with the scribes.
14 When they came back to the disciples, they saw a large crowd around them, and some scribes arguing with them. 15 Immediately, when the entire crowd saw Him, they were amazed and began running up to greet Him. 16 And He asked them, “What are you discussing with them?” 17 And one of the crowd answered Him, “Teacher, I brought You my son, possessed with a spirit which makes him mute; 18 and whenever it seizes him, it slams him to the ground and he foams at the mouth, and grinds his teeth and stiffens out. I told Your disciples to cast it out, and they could not do it.” (Mark 9:14-18 NASB)
Back in Mark 3:15 and 6:13 we read that these men were given the power by the Lord to cast out demons among other good works, therefore, their failure to cast out this one seems surprising at first glance. It also puzzled them. What could have changed causing them to be unable to do what they had done before? Our Lord’s response is very telling.
19 And He *answered them and *said, “O unbelieving generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring him to Me!” (Mark 9:19 NASB)
He probably directed this quote from Psalm 95:10 in exasperation with the unbelief being exhibited not only by His disciples, but the father of the boy as well as the scribes who were attempting to put them down for their failure. Our Lord has entered a situation in which those involved are not spirit-filled, but are reacting according to the flesh with their focus not on God and His glory, but on the disciples failure to do what they had accomplished before.
20 They brought the boy to Him. When he saw Him, immediately the spirit threw him into a convulsion, and falling to the ground, he began rolling around and foaming at the mouth. 21 And He asked his father, “How long has this been happening to him?” And he said, “From childhood. 22 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!” 23 And Jesus said to him, “ ‘If You can? ’ All things are possible to him who believes.” 24 Immediately the boy’s father cried out and said, “I do believe; help my unbelief.” (Mark 9:20-24 NASB)
Interestingly, the demon convulses the boy when he is brought into the presence of the Lord. He recognized immediately that he was totally subject to Jesus’ authority. This is an obvious revealing of the deity of Christ. This demon is violent and dangerous seeking to destroy the boy. Jesus’ answer to the father’s plea for help is very interesting, “ ‘If You can? ’ All things are possible to him who believes.” This is a statement about faith and what those with it totally focused on God and doing His will can actually do. He tells the father that if his faith is like that he most certainly can cast out the demon himself. The father’s response in v24 is probably where most of us live. He did believe that God is good and would answer his prayers, but he also struggled with doubt. Faith that is wrapped up in the human will is subject to emotions and will decay and become nothing very quickly as circumstances don’t pan out as hoped. This is not the faith Jesus is talking about except when referring to these people’s unbelief. The faith that believes and is the source of ‘all things being possible‘ is not rooted in the human will. Instead, it is rooted in the regenerate heart and is a gift from God. The more tender a believer’s heart is towards God and the more obedient he or she is to Him, the deeper and stronger their faith will be. The harder a believer’s heart is towards God, the more disobedient he or she will be. These will be driven by the will and will see and do all through motivations rooted in pride. Their faith will be more of a wishful mindset that has its foundation on the sand of unbelief. This is what God is working in each of our lives to eradicate through allowing our enemy to hinder us at every opportunity. He is doing this to humble us and bring us to the throne of grace and teach us to walk and minister by prayer instead of good intent.
25 When Jesus saw that a crowd was rapidly gathering, He rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, “You deaf and mute spirit, I command you, come out of him and do not enter him again.” 26 After crying out and throwing him into terrible convulsions, it came out; and the boy became so much like a corpse that most of them said, “He is dead!” 27 But Jesus took him by the hand and raised him; and he got up. 28 When He came into the house, His disciples began questioning Him privately, “Why could we not drive it out?” 29 And He said to them, “This kind cannot come out by anything but prayer.” (Mark 9:25-29 NASB)
Here we see not only our Lord’s authority and sovereignty, but what a wonderful and compassionate teacher He is. He quickly got rid of the demon before the crowd could overwhelm the boy and his father probably to save them further embarrassment and stress. He cared for the boy and his father, but He also used this to teach these disciples and us why there are times when no matter what we do to serve the Lord, all we end up with are situations which God uses to expose the root of unbelief in us. This root is closely related to the root of bitterness. In fact, there are times that I see both functioning together as one. They may very well be one and the same. The root of bitterness is that part of the heart that takes every opportunity to lash out in anger over circumstances. This lashing out may very well be disguised though seeming not to be a rage, but rather a form of depression. When we are in unbelief, but actually think we are not, we are actually walking according to self will and prayerlessness. Our devotions will be by rote. We will read the Bible as if it was a laundry list. We will pray in the flesh. Even in this sad state, we can be fooled into thinking we are obeying God, but like these disciples who could not cast out the demon like they had before, we are in very sad spiritual state. We are trying to serve God with our self willed actions rather than relying totally on Him. We are prayerless, but our hearts are hardened so we can’t even discern that.
Our Lord’s gentle rebuke in v29 was a reminder to these men and us that we cannot walk close to Him in obedience and in His power if we are overconfident in ourselves. They had cast out demons before, but now they could not. Why? They were no longer ministering prayerfully. Instead, they were ministering by self will, which is rooted in unbelief. We cannot serve God and ourselves at the same time. Oh, many try to do it and God will eventually give the persistent ones over to their self-idolatry. However, that is not the place God wants any of us. Instead, He wants us to boldly come to the throne of grace. He wants us to be helpless outside of His will and grace. He wants us to understand that any good work we do must be for His glory and by His power according to His will. We cannot do this unless we minister prayerfully and humbly.
Soli Deo Gloria!