While God is all-powerful, he choses to use his power within the confines of the plan of redemption. That plan operates by his will and through our willing participation which works by our faith in him. Because of this, and based upon our response, either of the following scenarios can be true:
“Anything is possible for him who believes” (Mk 9:23),
“He could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them. And he marveled because of their unbelief” (Mk 6:5-6 ESV).
Faith is the avenue which completes the circuit and allows God’s power to bring positive change. And, it doesn’t take great faith for things to happen!
“Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you” (Mt 17:20 NIV).
That said, nothing can thwart God’s intentions and desire to intervene more than the power of unbelief. Unbelief acts like a grounding agent attached to a lightning rod. Outside of God's graciousness, any positive effect of God’s power is absorbed, or dispelled when affected by unbelief.
According to Jesus, Peter was enabled to walk on the water by using this “little faith,” but when Peter began to doubt, the power to continue walking was thwarted. As Jesus said, “‘You of little faith…why did you doubt?’” (Mt 14:31 NIV).
So while we may have sought to do great things for God, survive the sin which so easily besets, and/or to overcome the works of the enemy, we have come to feel or have reasoned that we needed more faith, what we likely required was that we nullify our doubt and unbelief.
“But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.’ ‘If you can’?’ said Jesus. ‘Everything is possible for one who believes.’ Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, ‘I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!’” (Mk 9:22-24 NIV).
Belief creates possibility, but possibility is diffused and shielded from us until unbelief can be overcome. Only overcoming faith can overcome unbelief—as long as that faith is in Jesus. Formulas have been tried and doctrines have been instituted which allow Jesus to flow in varying degrees within our situations, but ultimately, many of these methods have focused upon themselves instead of upon the true object of our faith, and that’s Jesus himself. Faith must always be in him and not in our faith.
Jesus is the name above all names! His name embodies his character, his goodness, and willingness to bring redemption to every area of our lives. Unbelief is the force which challenges these truths concerning the nature of God. Unbelief says that the world was more than a match for Jesus and that Christ’s character, power, and willingness to bring breakthrough in our lives is not available to us. The only way to overcome this unbelief is to take heart that Jesus has overcome the world.
"In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (Jn 16:33 NIV).
“This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God” (1 Jn 5:4-5 NIV).
Now it is one thing to say that we believe that Jesus is the Son of God, but it’s another thing to believe that he is the Son of God over our situation. Unbelief may on one hand acknowledge Jesus’ power and authority, but on the other hand, it won’t recognize that his power and authority have dominion in our situation.
Unbelief is not actually the lack of belief; it is the belief that everything we experience, the world in all its turmoil, has more power and authority than Jesus does. It is a transfer of faith (and sometimes even our default belief) that the world is more powerful than Jesus. Isn’t that what happened to Peter on the water? Peter's fear motivated his belief that the lie was more powerful than what Jesus had told him.
“But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’ Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. ‘You of little faith,’ he said, ‘why did you doubt?’” (Mt 13:30-31 NIV).
The lie that Peter believed was that the world around him had power over the word Jesus had given him to come towards him on the water. Despite popular belief, Jesus did not rebuke Peter for his “little faith.” Instead, he asked Peter why he had shifted his faith towards the circumstances around him. Doubt and unbelief say that what we know and are familiar with is more powerful than what God has said. In that case, our faith is in what we know or can see, not in him.
Faith, after all, is the substance of the things we hope for and the evidence of what is unseen (Heb 11:1), but this can only be true if our hope is in the character of God as expressed through the promises he has given. But if our hope is based upon, or gives way to what we see or "the way things are," we deny that the unseen Kingdom has dominion over our circumstances. While this seems to put us in a rather dire position, we can take heart that stepping out in faith is always rewarded, and when we start to sink, Jesus is only a call away—more than willing to reach down and pick us up. That too is part of his character.
We need to be reminded of who he is, but also, we need to be reminded of who he is in us.
“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified. What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: ‘For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Ro 8:28-39 NIV).
We must remember that we are “those who have been called according to his purpose.” We are the “us” Paul says that God loves, justifies, and makes more than conquerors.
He is worthy to be believed, he is the trustworthy God who loves us. He is worthy of our belief which completes the circuit and allows those things to be true in our lives and circumstances. And, it only takes faith the size of mustard seed to receive it.