All things are possible to him who believes (Mark 9:23)?

Jesus’ statement in Mark 9:23 regarding the power available to him who believes is a controversial one. The context of Mark 9, however, establishes a clear understanding of Jesus’ statement. Mark 9 presents a scene where a father is seeking aid from Jesus’ disciples in casting a demon out of his son. Jesus approaches and asks what is happening. The father’s answer is that the disciples have failed to cast out the demon. Jesus replies, “You unbelieving generation, . . . how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you?” (Mark 9:19). The father then asks Jesus to take pity on them and cast out the demon (Mark 9:22). Jesus then says, “If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes” (Mark 9:23, NKJV).

The word for “believes” is a participle that literally translates as “the believing one.” Jesus provides the means for everything to be possible—one must believe in Him! The Amplified Bible translates Jesus’ statement more fully: “All things are possible for the one who believes and trusts [in Me]!” Faith is an important ingredient in this story. Some have argued that the strength of one’s belief is what Jesus is discussing. The issue at hand, however, is not how strongly or boldly the father believed Jesus would heal his son. The issue is the object of one’s belief. The disciples didn’t need more faith but more focused faith. Put another way, the disciples needed to place their belief in the correct object—Jesus Christ.

In Mark 9:22, the father asks for Jesus’ help, beginning his appeal with “If you can do anything.” Jesus’ initial response to the father in Mark 9:23 takes issue with how the father framed his request: “What do you mean, ‘If I can’?” Jesus asks. “Anything is possible if a person believes” (NLT). Proper belief in who Jesus is would have given the father confidence in Jesus’ ability to cast out the demon. After hearing this, the father exclaims that he does believe, and if there is any deficiency, he requests that Jesus help his unbelief (verse 24). Mark 9:25–29 reveals the person and power necessary to cast out the demon. As Jesus states in verse 29, prayer is necessary because the Person needed for such a task is God Himself. The object of one’s faith is critical.

Jesus makes a remarkable statement in Mark 9:23. If we misunderstand the statement that “all things are possible to him who believes,” we set ourselves up for disappointment. Jesus’ words are not a promise that we can do whatever we want; rather, He makes it clear that the believing one has power only due to whom he believes in; namely, Jesus, the Son of God. The power is God’s, accessed through faith and prayer according to His will (see 1 John 5:14). It is because of God that the believing one can accomplish much. It is by God’s grace the disciples would accomplish incredible and miraculous things after Jesus’ departure (cf. Acts 3:1–10). As we live for Jesus, let us focus on the object of our belief (Hebrews 12:2).

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