Christians who doubt God are unreliable and unstable in all their ways. That is what James 1:5-7 says. And a vivid illustration of this is in Peter walking on the water (Matthew 15:22-33).
Peter walking on water is a unique event in all of human history. Even none of the other eleven disciples walked on water, even though they all had the opportunity. And there is no account of anyone walking on water since then.
But yet, we find that Jesus rebukes Peter strongly in an act that seems like one of great faith. Peter did walk on water, but only as long as he fixed his eyes on Jesus. When he looked at the wind instead of Jesus, he began to sink and had to be rescued by Jesus.
And Jesus’s rebuke after He rescued Peter was this: “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”
“You of little faith”:
How did Peter have little faith? Hadn’t Peter left everything to follow Jesus? And Peter was the only one of the twelve who had ventured out of the boat to walk on water. Shouldn’t he have at least been commended for doing what none of the other eleven had dared to do?
I learn a very important lesson of faith from this: Faith is not based on past decisions. Faith is a living thing. I do not get ANY credit for yesterday’s trust in God. Every trial of every day is a fresh testing of my faith. So I can display great faith in one moment (getting out of the boat to walk on water), and little faith in the next moment (taking my eyes off of Jesus and getting afraid by looking at the wind).
“Why did you doubt?”:
Peter did not get any credit for walking on water because he stopped believing in Jesus and doubted.
In many situations, I can start off having faith. When I first face the trial, I can believe God to help me in my trial. But somewhere during the trial, I lose my confidence in God and get frightened as I look at my circumstances. Or I can start off my day with a good time with God and in prayer. But sometime during the day, I lose my rest in God because of something that is said or done to me at work. Then, I see that Jesus will rebuke me too.
Peter sank because he looked at the scary wind and storms. And we too will sink spiritually when we look at our circumstances and not at God. In uncertain times, it is critical to not only start off looking at Jesus, but to keep looking at Jesus till the end. Enduring in looking at Jesus is the life we are called to live.
Jesus wants all of His disciples to always walk on water spiritually. And at times in our spiritual walk, we will be battered by the storms of life (2 Timothy 3:12). Even then, He wants us to walk on top of the trials like He did. He doesn’t want us to sink into sin because of the fiery trials. He Himself never once sank into sin despite facing every trial that we face (Hebrews 4:15).
He stayed on top of every trial by always looking at His Father (John 5:19-20). So we are of little faith if we don’t endure in looking at Jesus till the storm is over. Whenever we don’t walk on top of the storms of temptation, we must clearly hear the rebuke of Jesus for us: We are of little faith and we are doubters.
With the story of Peter in mind, we can properly understand James 1:5-8 – 5 But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. 6 But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. 7 For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, 8 being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.
James uses some really strong words in verse 7 and 8. Who are these strong words for? They are applicable to the person who comes to God and asks for help, but somewhere along the way (before the trial is completed), starts to doubt God.
So this is a verse that applies to Christians (not non-Christians) who come to God and ask Him for Divine help and wisdom in facing fiery trials (James 1:2-4), but then doubt. James calls such a person double-minded, and unstable (Amplified: unreliable) in all his ways.
So if I put the Holy Spirit-inspired words of James along with this story of Peter walking on water, I find that God gets little pleasure in disciples who begin well but give into fear after a while, because they stop looking at Christ and start looking at their circumstances. Yes, such disciples may go further than many other disciples (like Peter did). But Jesus has a sharp rebuke for such people. The Divine life of Jesus is not one that begins by walking on top of the trial, but then sinks into sin along the way. From the strong rebuke that is reserved for those who doubt, we must learn the seriousness of not persevering in triumph over sin (Romans 8:37).
Instead, let us have faith like our spiritual father Abraham: Even as each successive year reduced the likelihood of Abraham and Sarah having a child, he GREW STRONG in faith and did not WAVER in unbelief and doubt (Romans 4:16-22). THEREFORE, it says in Romans 4:22, Abraham was credited with righteousness. Abraham would not have been called righteous if he had given up on God at age 99. Yes, he had failed God at times in between. But when God gave him his hardest steps of obedience at age 99 (to change his name to exalted father, and to circumcise all the males with him – Genesis 17:5-14), Abraham readily obeyed, because he had grown strong in faith.
So may we too finish well, by growing stronger and stronger in faith. May we grow from glory to glory (2 Corinthians 3:18; Proverbs 4:18) in being like Jesus who stayed on top of every trial, no matter how fiery it was (Hebrews 4:15).