“Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, ‘Why could we not cast it out?’ He said to them, ‘Because of your little faith. For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you'” (Matthew 17:19-20).
[I will say, this post is the longest I have posted so far, but I hope that you will bear with me until the end and are encouraged!]
In this story found in Matthew 17 a man brings his son who is an epileptic and demon possessed to Jesus to be healed. Interestingly enough, the man took his son to Jesus’ disciples first but they were unable to cast out the demon. Obviously, Jesus was able to rebuke the demon and the boy was healed instantly.
So, why weren’t the disciples able to cast out the demon? After all, Jesus did commission His disciples and give them the authority to cast out demons and perform other miracles. Was Jesus caught in a lie or did He simply forget to transfer His power to them after He commissioned them? No. Jesus responds to their question (“Why could we not cast it out?”) by saying, “Because of your little faith” (vs. 20).
The disciples definitely did not lack confidence, for they were shocked that they couldn’t cast out the demon, thus pushing them to ask Jesus the question. However, there is a difference between having confidence in ourselves (or lack of faith) and appropriating to our lives a faith that’s object is God Himself and His power.
Previously, the disciples, through the confession of Peter, acknowledged that Jesus was “the Christ, the Son of the living God (Matthew 16:16). So, they did have faith in Jesus, they knew of His power and authority, and believed that He was the promised Messiah. But for some reason, they still could not cast out the demon–because of little faith.
John MacArthur, on this idea of faith says:
“Little faith is the kind of faith that believes in God when you have something in your hand. Got it? Oh yes, I believe God. Oh yes, the Lord provides. Here it is and I’m hanging on to it. That’s little faith. But little faith can’t believe God when it doesn’t have in hand its resource, that’s little faith. Great faith says I believe God without anything in my hand. I believe God in the middle of the storm. I believe God though thy wind is howling. I believe God though there’s nothing on the cupboard. I believe God though I don’t have any clothing. I believe God. That’s great faith. Little faith, most of us are really good at little faith. We believe God because we can see what He’s done, it’s right here.”
This is very powerful stuff. Like the disciples, we are so quick to affirm God and His promises and His power when things are easy and already accessible to us. On the other hand, when things get tough, we don’t feel as though God is there or answering our prayers, or not coming through for us in any given moment of need, etc. we fail to exercise faith. It is during these times that God wants to strengthen our faith! He desires that our faith grow! Again, MacArthur states :
“And what you’ve got in the mustard seed is something that starts very, very small and grows very large.
Now what is our Lord saying? Watch. If you had the faith that is illustrated in a mustard seed, you would start out small but your faith would do what? It would grow and increase. And that’s an indictment of them. They started out with a little bit of faith and they just bailed out. Beloved, I believe there are many things that God desires for you to experience in your life that God desires to accomplish in your life that are available to you through the exercise of His divine power. But that power will never be tapped until you have the faith that starts small. And when it meets with resistance and when you don’t see it happen, the faith doesn’t die small, it gets larger and larger and larger. And you continue persistently in prayer.”
A defective faith is a faith that only believes in God when it’s easy and when the things we exercise faith for are right there in front of us and is quick to bail when it gets complicated. Effective faith is a faith that will trust God through and through. Effective faith always places God as its object-and never gives up. It is through an effective faith, one that truly trusts in the power, promises, and will of God no matter the situation, that nothing (what is in accordance with the will of God and His promises) is impossible.
Many times the disciples were accused of having little faith (Matthew 6:30, 8:26, 14:31, 16:8), all during times that were tough, new, involved distractions, or were without clarity. It is during these times that Jesus desired they showed the most faith, He desired that their faith would consistently grow, ready to face any difficult task or situation (mountains, vs. 20). God wants the same for us. He wants effective faith, one where He is the source and His will and promises are pursued through His power and consistent in prayer.