Many believers struggle with their believing… they find it difficult to believe because their human senses and their natural mind and thinking overwhelms them when situations and circumstances appear contrary to the Word of God. It’s true. Everyone has felt that way at one time or another, and then on top of that, we encounter Christians who are all too eager to inform us that because we have these thoughts and feelings, that we are “wavering” and that God will not answer prayer, because of doubting. It then begins a vicious downward spiral of struggling with believing, to being told that because we are struggling that we can’t expect anything from God, and so it just gets worse and worse.
My friend, I’ve been there, and I know the depression and feeling of hopelessness that comes from that desperate tailspin. And today in this study I want to share with you a little-known mental-shift found in the scriptures that will completely change your outlook. When you see the truths in the Bible that we will be studying today, it will lift you out of despair and into peace. It will reinvigorate your belief from hanging over the precipice, to on the very mountaintop. It is my joy to share this with you today.
So let’s begin today by addressing some of the most common scripture verses that are used to perpetuate the wrong ideas that lead people down the dark road which I have described. One of the most popular and often-quoted is James 1:5-8:
“If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that gives to all men liberally, and upbraides not; and it shall be given him.
But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavers is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed.
For let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord.
A double minded man is unstable in all his ways.”
This block of scriptures is quite often used to try and place an artificial “belief-wall” between us and God. It is misunderstood and misapplied as if it were saying “Now when you ask God, you have ask Him totally without doubting at all, otherwise you will get nothing!” – and that is not only wrong, it is totally ludicrous! Yet this very idea has hindered countless numbers of believers from even approaching God honestly because they think that they first must conjure up absolutely perfect belief before they approach God – as if God is going to scrutinize their belief, and if He finds even the smallest hint of a speck of doubt, He will then announce “Sorry! You doubted! You get nothing! Try again later!” And this is a horribly distorted and flat-out evil picture of God.
First of all, verse 5 makes it clear that the context here is asking God for wisdom. Wisdom is the key point that is being discussed here. In-particular, the wisdom of God. The word “upbraides” actually means to reproach, revile or chide, and we see here that God does not do these things when we ask of Him. So that should end the discussion of Him taunting us regarding our belief level right there.
Then we have verse 6, and this is really where most people start to get confused. The reason though for this confusion is more basic, more elementary than what you may expect at first. It comes from a misunderstanding of the difference between faith and belief. They are not the same thing! Most believers use the words faith and belief interchangeably, but the Bible never does! You see, in the Bible faith is a noun; whereas belief is a verb. Faith is the information that we receive of God, and belief is the action that we take based on the information. So faith is information, and believe is action. And these terms are used this way consistently throughout the entirety of scripture., although most English translations do not always make this distinction clear.
So verse 6 says Let him ask in faith. This is the information. Let the man who lacks wisdom, ask in faith; let him ask with appropriate information. What information should he ask with? Exactly what we read in the previous verse of verse 5: That the man who lacks wisdom, can ask God for wisdom, and God will give it to him liberally (for God is generous) and He will not rebuke, reproach or chide the one who asks Him (because God is kind and merciful). In other words, what the verse is saying is that once you understand the compassionate and gracious character of God, asking Him no longer becomes a fearful thing. Asking God is no longer a dice-roll or a coin-toss when you realize the nature and character of the One whom you are asking.
Now in the rest of verse 6, many translations, including the one which I quoted above either read “nothing wavering” or “without doubting” – and this has caused further confusion. The Greek word used there is diakrinō which means “to separate or make a distinction between”, so the verse of scripture here is actually saying Ask with the information of God, and do not separate from it. This is different from merely doubting; this is an issue of loyalty or trust. In other words, do not have a divided loyalty. You see, there are some people who half trust in God, and half in their own strength, knowledge or effort, or the efforts of other people to save them. They have a divided loyalty. The scriptures say in Jeremiah 17:5 that the man who trusts in men is cursed. And in Psalm 118:8, It is better to trust in the LORD then to put confidence in men.
That person (the one with divided loyalties, trusting in themselves or other people) will certainly not receive anything, and indeed they are unstable in their ways. That has nothing to do with faith or belief levels, but where their loyalties are placed.
Now I want to switch gears and show you the awesome power of Jesus and what He has done for us today so that we can rest on Him. This is what I was hinting towards at the beginning of our study today. Turn to Mark 9:17-24:
“And one of the multitude answered and said, Master, I have brought to you my son, which has a dumb spirit;
And wherever he takes him, he tears him: and he foams, and gnashes with his teeth, and pines away: and I spoke to your disciples that they should cast him out; and they could not.
He answers him, and said, O faithless generation, how long shall I be with you? how long shall I suffer you? bring him to me.
And they brought him to him: and when he saw him, straightway the spirit tare him; and he fell on the ground, and wallowed foaming.
And he asked his father, How long is it ago since this came to him? And he said, Of a child.
And often it has cast him into the fire, and into the waters, to destroy him: but if you can do any thing, have compassion on us, and help us.
Jesus said to him, If you can believe, all things are possible to him that believes.
And straightway the father of the child cried out, and said with tears, Lord, I believe; help you my unbelief.”
Verse 23 here trips a lot of people up, again due to a less than clear English translation… most of which render the verse as “if you can believe”, making it appear as though Jesus is pointing the finger back at the father for the power to believe to heal his own boy. Yet let me ask you a question? Who is really believing in this instance? It’s not the boy because he is demon possessed. It’s not the disciples because they already failed. It’s also not the father because in verse 22 he says to Jesus “if you can do anything, please help.” The only one who is really believing perfectly here is Jesus Himself, and that is exactly whom Jesus is referring to in verse 23. He responds to the fathers’ plea saying “’if you can?’ All things are possible to Him who believes”.
Then in verse 24, the father says something very interesting: Lord I believe, help my unbelief! And this is one of those instances which I mentioned earlier where the English does not make a clear distinction between the noun faith and the belief verb. Once you understand what the father of the boy is actually saying here, it will strengthen you greatly. The word believe used here is the verb form of the word, and the word unbelief here is the noun form of the word. The father is saying:
Lord I believe [verb] help my unbelief [noun]
This father believed by coming to Jesus, that was his action, but then he recognized that he does not have faith (information) regarding whether Jesus can actually heal his boy or not, especially after watching the disciples utterly fail. His faith is shaken. But even so, he recognizes that he can also do something that very few believers today have figured out – he can rest his faith and belief on Jesus!
He rested His belief (his action) on Jesus when he realized that the only action necessary was to go to Jesus! Many believers today are trying to supplement their faith with actions – saying, “okay I asked God for this, now I need to do this in order to get God to move and give me what I asked for” – and really that’s just another form of works. This man here recognized that simply going to Jesus was the only action needed. Today our only action needed is believe and speak in faith. (2nd Corinthians 4:13)
This man also rested his faith on Jesus when he realized that he could ask Jesus to help his lack of faith. Many of us are familiar with the verse which states that Jesus is both the author and finisher of our faith. (Hebrews 12:2) Yet very few of us have contemplated on what the verse actually means. Jesus is both the author, which means He begins our faith, and the finisher or perfecter of our faith, which means that He also completes our faith. However many times we are trying to build, grow and perfect our faith on our own – we are trying to stir-up faith within ourselves by our own strength, power or force-of-will, and it doesn’t work. We are failing to rest in Jesus. Let us remember that one of the fruit of the Spirit is faith! (Galatians 5:22) Faith is not a work, but a fruit. It comes from God.
One of the biggest traps that a believer can fall into is trusting in their own faith for the result, instead of trusting in Jesus! We can become so worked-up and focused about our own faith and belief that we totally lose sight of Jesus. Our foundation is Him, and what He has done for us and in us (given us His Spirit) – that is what gives us power, and that is what guarantees results – not what we perceive as a super faith level or how we perform with “corresponding actions” or whatever else we imagine that we need to do in order to attain our goal. Stop having faith in your own faith! And start resting your faith on Jesus. He obviously believed in His results, because He suffered on the cross in your place and mine – and that is all that I need to know!
Now I know that some of you are wondering why the disciples could not help the boy, and some of you may even recall that Jesus told them that it was because of their unbelief. So with our time remaining, we will address that. Matthew has an account of the same incident in the Bible, but with some other details recorded for us after the deliverance took place. So let’s read Matthew 17:19-21:
“Then came the disciples to Jesus apart, and said, Why could not we cast him out?
And Jesus said to them, Because of your unbelief: for truly I say to you, If you have faith as a grain of mustard seed, you shall say to this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible to you.
However, this kind goes not out but by prayer and fasting.”
Now again this scripture is very commonly used to make people believe that they don’t have enough faith. However if we examine this scripture closely we can plainly see that Jesus is clearly stating that even the smallest measure of faith is sufficient to move mountains. So what is the real issue here? The Greek word for “unbelief” in verse 20 actually means faithlessness, as in a complete lack of faith. Something completely voided the faith of the disciples to the point where they did not even have the small amount which Jesus was talking about. It would benefit us to find out what this thing is.
Mark 9:14 has the answer:
“And when he came to his disciples, he saw a great multitude about them, and the scribes questioning with them.”
To understand this, the scribes here refers to the teachers of the law, the Pharisees. The ones who puff themselves up, and the ones who Jesus said were clean on the outside but inside filled with death.
When the disciples allowed the deadly words of the scribes and law teachers into their lives and allowed their ideas to filter inside of their heart and minds, then their faith was made void. Can I prove this from scripture? Yes. Take a look at Romans 4:13-14:
“For the promise, that he should be the heir of the world, was not to Abraham, or to his seed, through the law, but through the righteousness of faith.
For if they which are of the law be heirs, faith is made void, and the promise made of none effect:”
My friends, God is not joking when He calls the Law the Ministry of Death (2nd Corinthians 3:7). I have personally experienced the death that condemnation brings. And by trying to keep the law by our own effort and earn what God has freely given through Jesus, we do nothing but bring destruction upon ourselves. The Law was born from the selfishness and pride of man, as man boasted in his own ability to keep it. Selfishness and pride have no place in the lives of believers because God is our source and our strength, and that even includes our faith and belief as well.
So I encourage you today. Rest your faith and belief on Jesus. Stop struggling and striving to produce the fruit that comes as a free gift of the Holy Spirit inside of you. Trust in the finished work of Christ, and let Him manifest the miracle-working power of God for you.