Redeemer Lutheran Church.
Jesus has fed the 5,000 and sends the disciples ahead in the boat while he prays. Early in the morning, he walks on the water out to them as they are rowing. They are terrified. Jesus immediately responds to their terror with His words, “Take heart (or take courage)! It is I. Don’t be afraid”.
Peter, the impetuous disciple, has doubts. He needs proof.
“Lord, if it is You tell me to come to You on the water.”
Now put yourself in Peter’s position for a moment. Peter gets down out of the boat and walks on the water toward Jesus. Could you do that? I imagine that Peter kept one hand on the boat rail for those first few steps.
Even if you did that, could you let go of the boat? I need you to have that in your head so you are not too judgmental of Peter as he sees the wind and the waves and begins to sink. You see, it took a lot of faith for Peter to get as far as he did before beginning to sink.
“Lord, save me,” he cries out. Jesus reaches out and catches him.
“You of little faith, why did you doubt?”
Well, if Peter was of little faith, where does that put you after putting yourself in Peter’s position for those first few moments after Jesus said, “Come”? Would you have doubted?
What is doubt and how does it work in our lives? Let’s look at some verses to see how doubt is used in the Bible.
“Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only can you do what was done to the fig tree, but also you can say to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and it will be done. If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.” (Matthew 21:21)
“Have faith in God,” Jesus answered. “I tell you the truth, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him.” (Mark 11: 22, 23)
“If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.” (James 1: 5, 6)
Now Jesus said, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”
Can you see that doubt is the opposite of faith? Doubt works in opposition to faith.
Now, of course, we all have doubts. Our faith is not absolute in every instance. We cannot walk on water. I have not heard of any Christians saying to mountains “go throw yourself into the sea” and having it happen. Faith is there in our lives, and so is doubt.
Do you ever have doubts about God raising Jesus from the dead? Do you wonder if you have enough faith to make it into heaven when you die? What if you sinned just before you died? What if you wondered about Jesus rising from the dead for a few moments the day before a car accident took your life.
Maturing our faith is a life-long process. We all start out experiencing lots of doubt about God and Jesus as new Christians. And this doubt that is the opposite of faith is there in mature Christians too. Maybe we become very confident of our salvation as we mature in faith, but we still don’t walk on water. Doubt or a lack of faith prevents us from doing so.
We are saved by faith through grace. But that faith does not have to be perfect or absolute in order to be saved.
Faith is not something we conger up from within ourselves. It is a gift from God. When we die Jesus is not sitting there with a little scale to measure our faith to see if we have enough to make it into heaven. Rather, the moment we first become Christians God puts his Holy Spirit in us. On our death or at the end of the age it is God’s Holy Spirit that is in us that is our entrance into heaven.
“Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set His seal of ownership on us, and put His Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.” (2 Corinthians 1: 21 & 22)
“And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in Him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of His glory.” (Ephesians 1: 13 & 14)
We may have doubts about many things about our Christian faith but our salvation is secure as long as we retain the Holy Spirit in our lives. Doubt about our eternal destiny may come and go, but the Holy Spirit, the deposit that guarantees our eternal destiny, remains with us through the process of sanctification. We participate with God in that process by reading and studying our Bibles, confessing our sins and having them be absolved, participating in the sacrament of communion and participating in worship services, etc.