“Lord I believe, help my unbelief.”
I’m so thankful for the inclusion of these words in Scripture. They’re a prayer, essentially, from the mouth of a grieving father whose child was greatly suffering – a serious challenge to anyone’s faith. (Mark 9:24) And while the words are few, and probably familiar, it’s helpful at the start of a new year (and in these challenging times) to be reminded of their application to us:
First of all, they’re incredibly honest.
A confession of unbelief from someone who does believe demonstrates that the Christian life isn’t a perpetual mountaintop experience of “victorious living.”
Notice, even if you were to see Jesus face to face – as this man did – faith can wax and wane. Sometimes it will be eclipsed altogether by doubts. Does this mean we can lose our salvation? That leads to the next application:
Second, notice the response of Jesus.
He doesn’t respond to him: “You struggle with unbelief? How dare you call yourself my follower! Be gone!” Instead, he went and healed his child.
This, too, is incredibly encouraging. We’re reminded that we were never saved, in the first place, by the strength of our faith. Rather, it’s by the strength and grace of our Savior and the sufficiency of his cross. Our adoption papers are signed in his blood.
Struggle with unbelief, then, must be included in the list of “Nothing” which can separate us from the love of Christ (Rom. 8)
Third, this man’s recognition of unbelief and cry for help are signs of a redeemed heart.
No one would dare say this (or pray this) who isn’t alive to God, and hungry for more of him.
Yet believers will go through seasons where our sufferings and circumstances can cause us to question. It even happened to John the Baptist, who announced “the lamb of God” then doubted him while in prison (see Luke 7:19,20)
So, take heart!
If this is your prayer – and it is often mine – remember that it’s a sign of your family status.
Confession of doubt is part of your honest conversation with your Father – your “Abba, Father.” He desires this, and will never cast you off. You are his beloved child – he makes that very clear throughout his Word:
“…You saw how the LORD your God carried you, as a father carries his son, all the way you went until you reached this place.” Deut. 1:31
“I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.” John 14:18
“Who will separate us from the love of Christ? … For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Roman 8
“But what about my sins? Can’t they break his grip on me?”
We well know how Sin and Satan are formidable foes. They work together to accuse, to blind; ultimately to attempt to destroy.
Until we’re with Jesus and fully redeemed, we’ll continue to struggle with sin (see Paul in Romans 7:15-25).
With such a potential for discouragement, an old adage from Robert Murray McCheyne is helpful to bear in mind:
“Learn much of the Lord Jesus. For every look at yourself — take ten looks at Christ.”
God knows how easy it is to feel we’re in a courtroom, under examination with our sins on display. Notice the legal imagery he then gives us:
“My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” 1 John 2:1
Finally, perhaps your mixed motives are troubling you. This man certainly appears to have had them. It’s easy for us to think, “How could a true Christian think some of the things I do?!”
Once again, we find it’s not some degree of perfect motives or obedience that’s the key. Let’s summarize all this then, for a new year and onward, with the encouragement from an old preacher named Horatius Bonar. (It’s a little long, but well worth the read!)
“Do not keep back from Christ under the idea that you must come to him in a disinterested frame, and from an unselfish motive. If you were right in this thing, who could be saved?
You are to come as you are; with all your bad motives, whatever these may be. Take all your bad motives, add them to the number of your sins, and bring them all to the altar where the great sacrifice is lying. Go to the mercy seat.
Tell the High Priest there, not what you desire to be, nor what you ought to be, but what you are. Tell him the honest truth as to your condition at this moment. Confess the impurity of your motives; all the evil that you feel or that you don’t feel; your hard-heartedness, your blindness, your unteachableness. Confess everything without reserve.
“But I am not satisfied with my faith,” you say. No truly. Nor are you ever likely to be so…
The Bible does not say, “Being satisfied about our faith, we have peace with God,” but “Being justified by faith, we have peace with God;” and between these two things there is a wonderful difference…
You say, “I am not satisfied with my love.” What! Did you expect to be so? Is it your love to Christ, or his love to you, that is to bring you peace? God’s free love to sinners, as such, is our resting place… “We love him because he first loved us.” “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son.”
“I am not satisfied with my repentance,” you say. It is well. What should you have thought of yourself had you been so? What pride and self-righteousness would it indicate, were you saying, “I am satisfied with my repentance – it is of the proper quality and amount.”
…In short, you are not satisfied with any of your religious feelings; and it is well that you are not; for, if you were, you must have a very high idea of yourself…
All these difficulties of yours have their root in the self-esteem of our natures, which makes us refuse to be counted altogether sinners, and which shrinks from going to God save with some personal recommendation to make acceptance likely… give up these attempts to be satisfied with yourself in anything, great or small, faith, feeling, or action…
There is but one thing with which he is entirely satisfied – the person and work of his only begotten Son. It is with Him that he wants you to be satisfied, not with yourself…
… Satisfaction with yourself, even could you get it, would do nothing for you. Satisfaction with Christ would do everything; for Christ is ALL. “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” Be pleased with him in whom the Father is pleased, and all is well.
Christ is your medicine, the Spirit is your physician… As at the first, so to the last…
“When I begin to doubt,” writes one, “I quiet my doubts by going back to the place where I got them first quieted; I go and get peace again where I got it at the beginning; I do not sit down gloomily to must over my own faith or unbelief, but over the finished work of Immanuel; I don’t try to reckon up my experiences, to prove that I once was a believer, but I believe again as I did before; I don’t examine the evidence of the Spirit’s work in me, but I think of the sure evidences which I have of Christ’s work for me, in his death, and burial, and resurrection. This is the restoration of my peace. I had begun to look at other objects; I am now recalled from my wanderings to look at Jesus only.”
(The entire portion from Bonar’s God’s Way of Peace can be found here).