In Matthew 17 (and also in Mark 9), Jesus had just returned from the Mount of Transfiguration with Peter, James, and John to a father who begged him to cast a demon out of his son. The father told Jesus that the disciples had been unable to cast out the demon.
Jesus was upset and called his disciples faithless and perverse. He had already given his disciples the power to cast out all unclean spirits (Matthew 10:1). He expected His disciples to be able to cast this demon out of this boy. But when faced with the opposition of evil, the disciples just didn’t believe they had the authority Jesus had given them. How about us? When we are faced with evil, do we believe in Christ’s authority within us?
Jesus immediately cast the demon out of the boy. The disciples asked Jesus why they couldn’t cast it out.
“Because of your unbelief!” Jesus said. “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you have enough faith to move mountains. Nothing will be impossible to you. However, this kind of unbelief does not go out except by prayer and fasting.” (Matthew 17:20-21, Mark 9:28-29).
Jesus wasn’t saying that there are certain demons that only come out by prayer and fasting. There never was or ever will be a demon that the name of Jesus or faith in the name of Jesus won’t cast out. Jesus said in Matthew 17:21 that prayer and fasting cast out the kind of unbelief the disciples had. In Mark 9:29, He emphasized that it was the only way.
Unbelief kept the disciples from casting out the boy’s demon. Unbelief will also keep us from overcoming the enemy.
What kind of unbelief did the disciples have?
There are three kinds of unbelief: unbelief from ignorance, unbelief from wrong information, and unbelief that rises from what we naturally feel and experience. Unbelief resulting from ignorance or erroneous teaching can be eliminated by receiving the truth of God’s Word. However, the unbelief that hindered the disciples in casting the demon out of this boy was a “natural” type of unbelief. It came from what they felt—not from what Jesus had told them was true. Just like us, the disciples were simply dominated by their natural senses more than by the truth of what Jesus had told them—that He had given them power over evil.
The Holy Spirit tells us, just as Jesus told the disciples, that the way we deal with this kind of “natural” unbelief is by prayer and fasting. But it is not the act of prayer or fasting that eliminates unbelief. If we focus on the acts of prayer and fasting instead of trusting in the truths they accomplish, then we trust in our own ability over God’s. Intimacy with God is not ours to accomplish. Intimacy with God comes when we yield to the Holy Spirit and to His truth.
Prayer and fasting change how we receive the Word. They change what we believe and give us spiritual insight into what is really true in God’s realm. The callousness of our natural mind to things of the Spirit—our ability to understand what we haven’t experienced—our perception—are all affected by prayer and fasting. Knowledge is the solution to not knowing the Word and also the solution to erroneous teaching. But knowledge by itself will not rid us of the “natural” unbelief that comes from what we sense.
The natural man does not receive the things of God. They are foolish to him (1 Corinthians 2:14). We connect with God spirit to Spirit—not by what we feel—not by the “natural” mind. We commune and worship with God in spirit and truth (John 4:24). A heart change from unbelieving to believing comes as a result of receiving the revealed truth of the Word by the Holy Spirit.
God’s Word is truth and it is life. The flesh—what our “natural” mind understands—accomplishes nothing (John 6:63). We don’t “earn” the power that Jesus has given us—not through prayer or fasting or any act that we perform. Jesus earned everything. We can’t receive the truth of who we are in Christ or the authority He has given us through our senses—through our “natural” mind—or through anything we do. We receive God’s truth spirit to Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:14). We can’t change the unbelief of our “natural” emotions from what we feel to the peace of spiritual truth by just wishing it to be so. We receive an understanding of God’s truth and conform to that truth when our minds are renewed spirit to Spirit (Romans 12:2, Ephesians 4:23).
“But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you” (John 14:26). He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come” (John 16:13).
Unbelief in God’s truth can be overcome. Jesus Christ has revealed who we are in Him. The Holy Spirit reveals this truth to us. When we receive an understanding of who we are and what is ours in Christ, we overcome our unbelief.
Pulling verses out of context can halt the depth of understanding that the Holy Spirit wishes to reveal to us.
“Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him” we hear truthfully in reference to heaven, but then often fail to read the revelation in the next verse. “But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God” (1 Corinthians 2:9-10). Before Christ’s finished work of grace, we were unable to see and hear and understand with our hardened ears and our dull hearts (Matthew 13:15). Once we couldn’t understand the hidden wisdom of His grace. But with our salvation we have received the mind of Christ that can see, hear, and understand the truth the Holy Spirit uncovers (1 Corinthians 2:7, 2:16, Ephesians 1:9). You have received the Spirit of God so that you might know the things He has revealed (1 Corinthians 2:12).
God does not hide Himself or His truth from you. Seek to understand God’s Word. Don’t dwell on the acts of prayer and fasting. Open yourself to what the Holy Spirit wishes to accomplish in your life through them. Receive the spiritual truth the Holy Spirit uncovers. Receive His spiritual understanding of who you are and what is yours in Christ’s finished work of grace.
© 2023 Lynn Lacher