Faith Amid Unbelief

Can unbelief and faith coexist? At first glance, one would be inclined to say “Absolutely not!”. Afterall verses such as John 3:18 say, 
“Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.”
How then do we explain the remarkable proclamation of a man with a demon-possessed son in Mark 9, 
“I believe; help my unbelief!” - Mark 9:24b
Jesus had been on a mountain with three disciples, “transfiguring” himself to display his full glory. While this happened, Jesus left the remaining Apostles in Caesarea Philippi. During this time, a man approached the Apostles asking them to heal his son who had been possessed by a demon. The Apostles were unable to perform this healing, and this stirred up arguments within the crowd. When Jesus returned and asked about all the commotion the father approached him and explained how the Apostles were unable to heal his son. So Jesus called out their lack of faith, 
“O faithless [unbelieving] generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I bear with you?” Mark 9:19

Jesus may have pointed this at the Apostles, at the father or the crowd (or all three groups). Essentially, Jesus is telling his listener, “have faith”.  Shortly thereafter the father pleaded with Jesus, 

“If you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us”. 

When the father says “If you can do anything” he is questioning Jesus’ ability to solve the problem. “Do anything” does not mean,”Since you can do anything you wish, prove it to me by healing my son”. Rather this is suggesting, “if you are able to do anything at all”. The if means this statement is conditional, indicating the uncertainty of the father. He is asking Jesus to have compassion on him and his son, if he has the power to solve the problem. 

So Jesus quotes back the exact statement to the father, 
“ ‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes”. 
Jesus then makes it explicitly clear, that the one who believes (the same word for having faith), is able to do anything, this time in the sense that they are able to complete any action by faith. 
The father then responds with a thought-provoking and very honest plea
“I believe (verb), help my unbelief (noun)!” 
The father’s honest announcement is one that any believer can sympathize with. While the father was committing the action of belief or faith, he also possessed the state of unbelief. It is not that the father was entirely faithless and rejected Christ, but he believed and yet had a sense of doubt of Jesus’ ability to heal his son. Despite the existence of a degree of unbelief, Jesus still casted the demon out of the boy. 
The message is very clear throughout this entire episode- when you doubt, or have unbelief- have faith. This is a very simple truth, yet it is much easier said than done. The father’s honesty is remarkable and shows that all believers should be honest with themselves- what areas do I doubt God? How do I have more faith in him in those places?
Perhaps the most reassuring and astonishing truth of all is that God’s work is not our work. While we must choose to have faith in God, it is ultimately HIS work and faithfulness to us that saves us and keeps us in a relationship with him. Even when the father expressed that he had unbelief, Jesus still healed his son of the demon. The act of Jesus’ compassion to save, heal and deliver us is not dependent on our ability to trust or grasp God’s power.  Even when we have a since of doubt, God is still faithful to us. 
To be very clear, I am not saying this passage is teaching that Jesus will save those that do not have faith in him. What this passage teaches is that, if we have a basic faith in Jesus (trusting God and being committed to live your life for him) any doubt we may possess is irrelevant to God being faithful to work in our lives (provided we aren't allowing God to work in our life). When reading Scripture, it is extremely clear no believer has a life that matches the standard of behavior put forth by the Bible. While we should be ever-growing in godly character, God’s salvation is not rendered inoperative by our own lack of godliness. 

So what do you do when you believe, yet you possess unbelief? The answer according to Jesus is, “have faith!”. I wish I had a more concrete answer for what this means on practical note. 
“Now faith is the assurance of what we hope for and the certainty of what we do not see.”- Hebrews 11:1
 “For in this hope we were saved; but hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he can already see?”- Romans 8:24
“So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” 2 Corinthians 4:18

While faith is what we cannot see, faith does not mean to have blind trust. The Greek word for faith, pistis (πιστις) is a rhetorical term meaning to trust in something based upon a reasonable conviction. Remember what God has done for Israel, what he did for all of mankind. Look and see that invisible reality of who God is and have faith. 

God, we have faith in you- help us with our unbelief!

In Part 2 we explore why the Apostles could not cast out the demon


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