Today we are going to begin exploring the seventh invisible barrier that hinders our growth in the Lord. This last barrier is doubt and unbelief.
This blog post is part 50 of the series Seven Invisible Barriers to Spiritual Growth
The other six barriers are:
- Family Baggage (generational iniquity)
- Demonic Influences
- Emotional Wounds
- Ungodly Beliefs
- Unforgiveness and Offenses
To see a list of all of the articles in this series in one location, click or go to the link below.
What is Dou
bt and Unbelief?
I always love to start investigating an idea with a definition of a word. Everyone has an idea of what they think about the meaning of a word, but to move forward in understanding there must be an agreement on what words mean.
The word doubt focuses on the relationship with God and His word. When a person doubts he is struggling to believe that something is true or certain. Doubt causes a person to hesitate to feel uncertain. There is an internal struggle that takes place causing a person to sometimes mentally stagger between two choices.
Louw and Nida suggest that there are four idioms that describe what is taking place internally in a person when they are experiencing doubt. They are said to:
- have two thoughts
- think only perhaps
- believe only a little
- question one’s heart about
Thus doubt is a struggle in the mind to believe something that God has spoken or revealed.
Unbelief is a stronger word than doubt. Doubt struggles back and forth, while unbelief refuses to believe. It is the opposite of faith.
There are two main Greek words that are translated unbelief or unbelieving. The first is apistia. The focus of this word is on a person’s state of mind. The person with unbelief refuses to believe to the point of rejection.
There is no struggling back and forth, unbelief is a purposeful choice to not believe. Larry Richards defines unbelief as “staggering back from God’s revelation of himself, refusing to respond as Abraham did with trust (Rom. 4:20)”.
This brings up the other word translated unbelief, apeitheia. This type of unbelief is the expression of the first word in action. According to The New Bible DIctionary, the word “connotes invariably disobedience, rebellion, contumacy.”
If you like me, you have no idea what in the world contumacy means. So I did what I always do when I have a new word to learn, go to the dictionary. Dictionary dot com defines contumacy as “stubborn perverseness or rebelliousness; willful and obstinate resistance or disobedience to authority.”
Wow! This is a very strong word that impacts our thoughts and actions. This barrier will stop us from receiving all that the Lord has for us.
The Demon-Afflicted Son
I would like to start our consideration of the barrier of unbelief by the story in Mark chapter nine of the man who brought his son to the disciples to cast a demon out of his son. In this story the man says the now famous words “I believe; help my unbelief.”
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.” 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!” 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.” 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.”
The Struggle With Unbelief
The purpose of this post is to focus in on the aspect of the man’s statement, “I believe; help my unbelief.” So I would like to point out some key things to keep in mind as we look at the possible ways unbelief could affect this man.
- This man’s son has been tormented by a demon from childhood.
- His son is mute and deaf (so he cannot talk with or hear his dad), the demon slams him to the ground, he foams at the mouth, grinds his teeth, and stiffens out.
- The demon often throws him into the fire and into the water to try and destroy him.
- If he is like any other parent, he had tried everything possible to free his son. Everything.
- He hears about the healing taking place through Jesus and the disciples and decides to bring his son to them to be delivered.
- They cannot cast the demon out. The boy is in the same condition as when he came.
- When Jesus walks up the boy falls to the ground, is rolling around, and foaming at the mouth.
Just take a moment to think about the situation. What would you feel like if this were your child or someone else that you love? So often it is so easy to just read through the passage and forget that we are reading about two human beings with feelings.
Can you feel the father’s helplessness at not being able to help his son? Can you sense the disappointment at the failure of the disciples to free his son? Can you picture the boy rolling on the ground and foaming at the mouth in the background as the father in desperation says, “But If you can do anything, take pity on us and help us!”
Jesus responds to the father’s cry for help and encourages him to believe. He said, “If you can? All things are possible to those who believe.”
Immediately the father cries out, “I believe; help my unbelief.”
Possible Reasons for Unbelief
The father’s answer is profound. He is desperately bringing his afflicted son to Jesus. He believes, yet he struggles with unbelief. The smartest thing that he does is to tell Jesus about the struggle and ask for help.
This man’s unbelief was not the rebellious rejection of the things of God, but the overwhelming accumulation of evidence of the affliction.
I’m not even going to say I know what was going on in the mind of that father. Unless the Scripture tells me I can only guess. That is why I am going to attempt to share some possible reasons behind this father’s cry to Jesus for help with his unbelief.
The Length of the Affliction
We have no idea how long the boy was afflicted, but it seems to be a long time.The more time we experience a sickness or affliction, the less likely we are to believe that we can actually be set free.
We have learned coping mechanisms and try to make life as normal as possible. The sickness or affliction consumes our lives and we can actually begin to identify ourselves by our affliction.
He Did Everything Possible and Nothing Has Changed
I’m sure this dad said every prayer that he knew and sought out every possible remedy for his son. He wants to believe Jesus can heal him, but nothing has worked thus far. Why should this be any different?
He hadn’t given up hope completely. He did come to Jesus.
Will God Do It for Me?
I’ve seen this take place in people I know. They believe God can heal. They believe that God heals others. The question in their mind is will God do it for me?
We can have all the right theology and know all the right answers, but sometimes can struggle with feelings that God may do it for others, but he will not do it for us. Faith is not just about knowing the right words. It is believing and trusting that God will do what He says He will do.
Trying Not to Get His Hopes Up
I wonder how many times this father got his hopes up only to see them dashed to the ground. Maybe he was struggling with the fact that he had hoped in the past and seen nothing change.
This is one way to protect oneself from disappointment. If I don’t get my hopes too high then if it doesn’t happen then I won't be hurt so much.
I’m Just Facing Reality
One of the things that cause unbelief to rise in our hearts is what is before our very eyes. The man’s son is writhing on the ground with foam coming out of his mouth. This is reality. This is what is taking place and has taken place for years.
It is so difficult to get beyond what we can see to what God sees. So often we are encouraged to settle for what seems to be reality.
What the man was seeing was reality apart from Jesus. Jesus called him to believe. Jesus reminded him that all things are possible to those who believe. He was calling him beyond what he was experiencing to what God could do.
Jesus Brings Deliverance
The awesome part of the story is that Jesus does deliver this child from the demon. The man’s faith pays off and they get to start a new life.
His son can now speak and will never again be tormented by these demons. Peace finally enters this household through the power of Jesus’ name.
Did you catch what Jesus told this man? He said, “If you can? All things are possible to him who believes.”
I am wondering if there is an area of your life where the Lord has spoken to you and given you a promise and you struggle to believe that it will come to pass. I know, I am getting a little personal, but I also know how easy it is to give up on something that the Lord says because of how long ago He said it.
I am in constant need of reminding myself of the things that God has said to me. Some of His promises are more than thirty years old. I have not seen the fullness of what the Lord has promised.
It is good to remember that the Lord who promises is faithful to do what He says. Maybe it is time to take some of the promises He has given you off the shelf, dust them off, and bring them before the Lord in prayer.
God never promises in vain. He can and will do what He has spoken. I encourage you to grab hold of the promises that God has proclaimed to you.
I pray that God will bring every promise to your remembrance, I pray that you will rise up in faith and believe the promises of our great and mighty God.
What is your main takeaway from this post? Leave a comment below.