Faith Versus Unbelief
19 “Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, “Why could we not cast it out?” 20 So Jesus said to them, “Because of your unbelief; for assuredly, I say to you, if you have faith as a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you. 21 However, this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting” Matthew 17:19-21 NKJV
In the story from the verses above the disciples are asking Jesus why they could not cast a demon out of a boy. I was always taught that these verses meant they did not have enough faith and that this kind of demon only comes out through prayer and fasting. I think most people accept this as the meaning of Jesus’ words, but is that correct?
Jesus tells the disciples they could not cast out the demon because of their unbelief. Think about it, unbelief is different than the lack of faith. Yes, we have to have faith, but we also have to be careful not to become filled with unbelief. You can have both faith and unbelief. For example, I have known people with great faith in one area and cumbersome unbelief in another. We can believe God’s Word is true but be in unbelief that it can really work through us. We always have faith, but we must always battle unbelief. There has to be a strengthening of one and a purging of the other if we are to see the power of Jesus manifest in our lives and manifest through our prayers for others. That is what Jesus was teaching the disciples. We can’t just have faith and disregard our responsibility to control and remove our unbelief.
I read an author from the 1800’s speaking on this and he summed up what many of us have been incorrectly taught over the years, “If we want to know where and how our faith is to grow…It is in prayer, in the exercise of the faith I have, in fellowship with the living God that faith can increase.”
While that sounds good, it is not scriptural. The Bible tells us how our faith will grow and it is not through prayer and fasting. Romans 10:17 says (my paraphrase), “that faith comes from hearing and hearing from the Word of God”. Spending time in prayer will benefit you in countless ways. In fact, one of the ways is what Jesus is explaining here to the disciples. Prayer and fasting will minimize your unbelief, but it will not increase your faith. That is because you already have the faith of Jesus within you. You don’t need more faith.
Jesus was not saying to the disciples, “Increase your faith by praying and fasting”. When you read the verse you can see He was referring to “unbelief”, not demons, when He said, “this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting”. It is not a means of getting more faith; it is a means of minimizing your unbelief. When unbelief is removed what remains is faith. We strengthen our faith through the Word but we also work to reduce or eliminate unbelief through prayer and fasting. It requires diligence in both areas to see the supernatural in this present life.
J Todd Hostetler