Lord, I believe, help thou my unbelief
Are you a believer or an unbeliever?
The Christian answers: “Yes!”
Mark 9:24 is the confession of all weak and failing Christians – which means all of us!
They are the words of a father seeking deliverance for his son who is oppressed by a spirit. He tells Jesus,
“And ofttimes it hath cast him into the fire, and into the waters, to destroy him: but if thou canst do any thing, have compassion on us, and help us. Jesus said unto him, If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth. And straightway the father of the child cried out, and said with tears, Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.” (Mark 9:22-24)
The father has faith and doubt all at once. He has confidence and uncertainty mixed in together. And it has to be this way. It would be very strange for a believer if they didn’t make this kind of confession. The Christian who did not confess to unbelief would be someone who betrays an unbecoming self-reliance. If anyone declared their “unmixed and unwavering belief in the Lord” it would sound very much like a dependence upon their own faithfulness. And this would be the opposite of faith!
But no, this father shows us the way. I need to pray “Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief” regularly. Because every day I struggle with a mixed faith. If anyone needed proof of my struggle, they would only have to look at my sin. Every sin is proof positive of unbelief. As Martin Luther has said:
“Under every [behavioural] sin is the sin of idolatry, and under every act of idolatry is a disbelief in the gospel.”
Trace back my sins to their source and you will find the foul headwaters called “disbelief.” That’s why Luther says in his Galatians commentary:
“The article of justification must be sounded in our ears incessantly because the frailty of our flesh will not permit us to take hold of it perfectly and to believe it with all our heart.”
My sin shows my unbelief. And my unbelief makes me cry out for more of the gracious word of Christ. This father literally cries out with tears as he confesses his own poverty of faith. Yet even as he does so, he makes it a prayer: Lord, help! And this is the essence of faith. Not reliance on some inner quality of belief, but reliance on the Lord from whom faith must come.
The Lord Jesus must help our unbelief. Because belief does not originate in our own hearts. It comes as a gift from the Lord. He wins our hearts with His own compelling fidelity and this awakens a feeble and faltering response in us. The Lord shows Himself trustworthy and faith is kindled in our hearts. Therefore faith is always His to bestow.
Put it this way: there is very little my wife can do to make herself trust in me. But there is plenty that I can do to become more trustworthy. In this sense, her faith in me is in my hands, not hers. And so it is with Jesus. He grants faith – not via some impersonal heavenly zapping – but through revealing more of His own trustworthiness in the gospel. This He will do if we prayerfully take hold of His gospel promises and allow them to win our hearts yet again. That is the way on in the Christian life.
Are you someone who cries out “Lord I believe, help my unbelief”? This plea from the father is not only permissible for Christians, it is foundational to our daily walk.