“I Believe, Help My Unbelief” Mark 9:4-29 September 9, 2007
SCRIPTURE INTRO: Mark divided in two halves.
First half of Mark answers the question: Who is Jesus?
The answer is that he is the Christ, the Anointed One.
Second half of Mark answers the question: What did the Christ come to do?
The answer is that he came to set things right by his suffering and death.
And that means that in order to follow him, and be his disciple—
you must take up your cross and follow him.
So the theme of the cross will dominate this half of the Gospel
as Jesus draws closer and closer to the events of Passion week.
INTRO: I was talking to a church member recently,
he was telling me about a friend of his whose life is unraveling.
This friend of his is a workaholic.
Even though people would say he’s had business success,
his marriage has disintegrated and his children are estranged.
This church member said:
There is only so much advice I can give him,
because he cannot see that he really needs to give his life to Christ.
It was an interesting comment because that same week I had another conversation
with another member of our church about her sister.
She told me how her sister is deeply unhappy, overwhelmed with troubles.
Her sister will call her, and pour out her troubles.
And this other church member told me that she gives her sister advice,
but then she says:
Sister, can’t you see that none of these things can be fixed until you turn to Jesus.
Both of these believers had put their finger on the same thing.
The real problem is not trouble with marriage or children, or unhappiness—
Until you believe in Jesus Christ,
until you trust him, rely on him.
Until you know that without him you can do nothing—
Until then, you cannot even take the first step in dealing with these things.
This passage in Mark is about unbelief.
What is shows us is that unbelief is not just the problem of unbelievers—
it is the problem of believers.
What does that mean? How can unbelief be the problem of believers?
It’s clear that a person who is not a Christian, who has never put his faith in Christ,
is troubled with unbelief in a profound way. He is still dead to God.
The Word of God, with all of it’s help and power cannot penetrate,
there can be no real change.
Unbelief is clearly the problem of unbelievers.
But when you become a Christian, when you believe in Christ—
the problem of unbelief does not go away completely.
It goes away in a fundamental sense.
You are now a believer. That is your identity.
You know in your deepest heart that Jesus is the Son of God,
and that he died for you. And that the Holy Spirit is at work in you.
And that you have eternal life.
Fundamentally, deep down, unbelief is gone. Replaced with belief.
But experientially, in day to day life, you still struggle with unbelief.
You can be a Christian, and believe Jesus died and rose again—
but at the same time doubt that God is at work in the trouble
you are having with your children.
You can believe in Jesus for your salvation,
but fall to pieces when you have a money problem.
You can believe in Jesus for your salvation,
but think that your success and happiness depends entirely
on your hard work and expertise.
In other words, as a believer, you can become a practical unbeliever,
so that you face your troubles and challenges no differently than non-Christians.
With the same fears and unhappiness and confusion and drivenness.
But the good new is the Christian life is a life of progress from unbelief to belief.
That is the direction we can move by God’s grace.
So let’s look at this passage, and see what it teaches us.
Will look at it under three headings.
1. The disease of unbelief
2. The symptom of unbelief
3. The cure for unbelief
MP#1 The disease of unbelief
Look again at what Jesus said about unbelief in verse 19.
“O unbelieving generation, how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you?”
We would never say that. We aren’t sensitized to unbelief. It doesn’t bother us.
But it bothered Jesus so much that it made him hate his time on earth.
How long do I have to stay here?
That should get our attention. Unbelief is a terrible thing. Why?
Martin Luther wrote in his famous introduction to commentary on Romans
that unbelief is “the root, sap, and chief power of all sin.”
And he was right. That is why unbelief is so terrible. It’s the root of all sin.
In order to see this more clearly, I want us to step out of this passage,
look at another passage, then we will come back to the disciples again.
One you all know: 1 Tim, , “The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.”
That is simply another way of saying:
Unbelief in God is the root of all kinds of evil.
Let me explain how.
The love of money is not the love of green paper.
It’s the love of what that green paper represents.
Money is a symbol of human resources.
Whatever human beings can make for you or offer you can be bought with money.
The Bible makes a clear distinction between God’s resources and man’s resources.
Isaiah 55, “Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters
and you who have no money, come buy and eat. Without money, without cost.”
Money cannot buy God’s resources.
Money is the currency of human resources.
You can trade it for what man can offer you and that’s all.
So what does it mean to love money?
It simply means to put your hope in, and trust your future to human resources.
And another way to say that is to simply say that you believe in money.
You are trusting it to meet your needs, to give you happiness,
to secure your future. It’s an act of faith.
So when Paul says: The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil,
He is saying that the heart that believes in, loves, serves, banks its hopes on,
and trusts in human resources produces every kind of evil that there is.
And the flip side of that coin is true as well.
The heart that does not believe in, love, serve, bank its hopes on,
and trust in God and his promises will produce every kind of evil.
Unbelief is the root of all sins.
And that helps us understand what was going on with the disciples.
They had cast out demons before—but this time they failed.
Why? Because of their unbelief.
In other words, they were not trusting God,
they were not believing in his power and his promises.
They were believing in themselves, their own expertise and authority.
And it not only led to failure,
but to the dishonor of God and of Christ.
Every sin you commit has its roots in your unbelief in the promises of God,
and your belief in human resources.
Why do you covet? Why are you discontent with what you have?
Because you do not believe God when he says:
“But godliness with contentment is great gain.” 1 Tim. 6
“My God will supply all of your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ.” Phil 4
And the hundreds of other promises and wisdom about stuff and contentment.
You believe that if you had these things you covet, that you would be happy.
Why do you lust? Why do you dishonor people by turning into sexual objects?
You do not believe Jesus when he says that if you look on a woman lustfully,
you have committed adultery with her in your heart. And that if your eye offends
you, pluck it out. Better to lose one part of your body, than for whole body to be
thrown into hell. Matt. 5
And you don’t believe the many other warnings that lust corrupts you
and will destroy your soul, like 1 Thess. 4 and many other.
Instead you believe that lust is a harmless pleasure. No big deal.
All your sins can be traced back to unbelief in God, his promises, his word.
What is the greatest way you can honor a person? To believe his promises.
It’s a way of saying. I trust you. I hold you in regard.
What’s the greatest way to show contempt for a person?
To say: I don’t trust you. I can’t count on you.
Do you see why Jesus was so troubled by unbelief?
It greatly dishonors God, and is the root of all sin.
MP#2 The symptom of unbelief
Now let’s consider the symptom of unbelief. Might say many symptoms.
Every sin is a symptom of unbelief.
But this is really about the unbelief of believers.
Jesus says that there is a symptom of unbelief, if see in life, a warning
that something is not right. It’s at the end of the story.
After Jesus had cast out the demons, the disciples asked him privately:
“Why couldn’t we drive it out?”
Jesus answered: “This kind can only come out by prayer.”
Now, Jesus was not saying, he could not have been saying:
If you had just said a prayer, you could have cast out that demon.
If you just say a prayer, God will give you what you want.
That is not at all what Jesus is saying.
Prayer is not a formula for making God bless you.
Jesus is saying something much more profound.
Prayer is the natural expression of belief.
If you really trust God. If you really believe in him for day to day things.
If you really believe that without him you can do nothing.
If you really believe that he is at work in your life.
If you really believe his promises—then you will pray.
But if you don’t pray,
or if you do what you call prayer but what is really just a way to manipulate
God to give you what you want—that is a symptom of unbelief.
Let me give you an analogy.
We have a friend who had a great aunt that she loved very much.
She spent a lot of time with her.
Had her over to her house for Thanksgiving.
Gave her rides when she got too old to drive.
Her own children and grandchildren were busy with their lives.
They barely visited her, except to sometimes ask her for money.
Unbeknownst to our friend, her great aunt put her in her will—
left her a very generous amount of money.
When her aunt died and the will was read,
her own children, and grandchildren, got furious at this cousin.
What do you think they accused her of doing?
They accused her of manipulating her aunt.
They said, you just spent time with her, so that she would put you in her will.
But that’s not what our friend did.
She spent time with her great aunt because she loved her.
And the blessing she got came from that relationship.
In fact, it was really these children and grandchildren who had done wrong.
They barely visited, when they did, it was to get something.
All they really wanted from their mother and grandmother was her money.
Now, let me ask you a question.
Do you pray to God like that woman visited her aunt?
Or do you treat God the way her children and grandchildren treated her?
You get up this Monday. And you are facing the busyness and challenges of life,
in your work, or school, or family.
Do you say: I can do this. I’ve got the reserves. I’ve got the expertise.
I’ve got this plan. I’m going to work this out this way.
Or do you say: Without the Lord, I can do nothing.
And come to him in prayer.
And say: Lord, I have all of these plans. But I need you.
When things go well for you, are you so blinded by your success
that you barely pray? Or if things go bad, do you go to God like
a rich old aunt, hoping He’ll give you what you need to get out of trouble?
When you are faced with a temptation—to lust, to bitterness, to worry—
do you take the promises of God and pray, and claim them,
and find strength in them to over come the temptation?
Do you see what Jesus is saying? It’s so convicting.
If you really believe that Jesus is at work in your life,
and if you really believe that you need him,
and that he is faithful to all his promises—then you will pray.
If you don’t—you won’t.
Prayerlessness is the symptom of unbelief.
MP#3 The cure for unbelief
So what’s the cure for unbelief?
Let’s look at this amazing conversation between the father of the boy and Jesus.
It teaches us so much.
He brought his son to Jesus.
“If you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.”
Jesus replied: “If you can?” In other words.
Do you believe I am able to help you or not?
Then: “Everything is possible for him who believes.”
In other words: If you believe in me, I will do everything I have promised.
And the man makes a fascinating reply:
“I do believe. Help me overcome my unbelief!”
In other words: I do believe in you but I’ve got lots of doubts.
Jesus didn’t say. How dare you doubt.
Get rid of your all your unbelief, and then we’ll talk.
Instead, he immediately healed his son.
What does this teach us? Three things.
First, the very thing we started with.
True believers struggle with unbelief.
Our faith will never be perfect—will be mixed with unbelief.
I don’t know about you, but that’s a tremendous encouragement to me.
Maybe you are the kind of Christian who says:
I have total faith—no wobble, no breakdown.
I’m on 100% of the time.
But if that doesn’t describe you, this man’s words do.
Second, you have to use your faith in Christ.
Love the way J.C. Ryle, 19th century Anglican bishop put it:
“We must use it. Weak, trembling, doubting, feeble as it may be,
we must use it. We must not wait till it is great, perfect, and mighty,
but use it and hope that one day it will be more strong.”
Third, you have to resist, and pray against, your unbelief.
Once again, J.C. Ryle:
“We must take our unbelief to Christ as we take all other sins and infirmities,
and cry to Him for deliverance.”
How does this work in practice?
On area of my life I have to deal with unbelief very often is sermon writing.
Especially when it’s late on Saturday.
And I’m struggling, things aren’t coming together.
And Sunday morning is looming.
My unbelief comes in the form of anxiety.
I’m not going to get it finished.
It’s not going to help anyone.
I have to quote James 1:5
“If any man lacks wisdom, he should ask God
who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.”
Lord, I have lots of faults. I’ve sinned this week and today.
And I’m sinning right now with my anxiety.
But I believe your promise, that you will give me wisdom.
That’s my: Lord, I believe, help my unbelief prayer
And he always faithful. He strengthens my faith in power of his word.
He helps me overcome my anxiety—he gives me wisdom.
I know none of you write sermons. But that’s my work.
What about your work? What about your temptations to unbelief in your work?
Do you have promises, truths from God’s word that you bring to him
in prayer and say—I believe these things, help me overcome my unbelief?
I hope you do. I hope you have your favorite weekly promises.
This is also important for the big things.
You go to the doctor—you’ve been healthy all your life.
He tells you that you have cancer.
It’s a huge bomb, it sends you reeling.
But God, how could you do this to me? But God, don’t you want me to be healthy?
You believe, but unbelief is surging.
Unbelief in the form of fear, or bitterness, or doubt in God’s goodness.
You have to come to Christ and say: I believe, help my unbelief.
You promise: “Never will I leave you, never will I forsake you.”
I believe that, but it feels like you’ve forsaken me.
I believe you are in control, but struggling with unbelief—fear, bitterness.
That is true faith. That is honest faith.
The place where you belief is tested may not be your health.
It might be in relationships—friends, spouse, children.
It might be in area of ideas—creation and evolution.
It might be in a failure, or in long period of success.
It might be in a time of depression.
Going to be different for each Christian.
But the cure for unbelief. Or might even say, the way you fight it—
Is to take the belief that Jesus has given you—come to him—
lay your unbelief before him and say—help me.
He always accepts that, because that is true faith in him.
The one that you cannot do is refuse to pray—
Or say, I’ll talk to God when I’ve worked this thing out.
That is a path to permanent unbelief and spiritual destruction.