December 18, 2017

The Double-Minded Man: Wavering Faith or Wavering Dedication?

Bud Talbert

In the midst of trials, Christians often lack the wisdom to think and act correctly. That is why James 1:5 says, “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.” Wisdom comes from God, who gives it upon request, just as He did for Solomon (1 Kings 3:5–15). James gives four encouragements in verse 5 for asking God for wisdom. First, God gives it “to all men,” showing no favoritism. Second, God gives it “liberally.” Third, God “upbraideth not” in the giving. Finally, God promises that “it shall be given him.”

Verse 6 defines how the asking is to be done: “But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering.” Why? First, because “he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed.” Second, because (verse 7) the waverer should “not … think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord.” This doubting waverer is a “double minded man” and, as such, “is unstable in all his ways” (v. 8). The believer can always depend on God, but he must be completely devoted to God before he should expect an answer to his prayers.

Some assume that the problem addressed in verses 6–8 is a weak and wavering faith, a timid faith. But James’s language indicates that he is going much deeper than that. The person who cannot ask in faith during a time of trial is someone who lacks real dedication to God. The trial itself has turned his heart to God, but immediately he faces the reality that he cannot pray in faith because he knows that he is not completely devoted to God and to His will. His faith wavers because he is double-minded.

James states the condition for coming to God positively and negatively. We must positively ask in faith. Negatively, we must not waver. Asking in faith means asking with dependence upon God, submission to His will, trust in His Word, and an expectation of response. All of these things will be in the mind of the confident asker.

James adds “nothing wavering.” This verb refers to a division of mind between two options or opinions. A waverer is one who vacillates, one who “[halts] between two opinions (1 Kings 18:21). A person who asks in faith without doubting is a person whose heart is steadfast toward God. He is fixed in his dedication and commitment to God. James is not requiring strong faith. God will honor even a timid faith, if it is offered in the spirit of the father in Mark 9:24. But the noncommitment of the double-minded man undermines his faith completely.

The wavering person is “like a wave of the sea, driven with the wind and tossed.” Like a wave he is always responding instead of acting. He is never fixed, steady, sure. He is always moving about, depending upon what is pushing him. This instability is the consistent characteristic of the double-minded.

Verse 7 reminds the reader, “Let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord.” The waverer has no basis to suppose that God will give him anything he has requested. Again, this is very strong language to use of someone who merely has a timid faith. He is speaking of someone who is not really sold out to God fundamentally. “That man” won’t get anything from God. He will not have his answer, no matter how small a request he makes.

In verse 8 James offers two additional descriptions of the doubter. He is double-minded, and he is unstable. To be double-minded literally means to be “two-souled.” James, in typical Jewish fashion, alludes to the command of God in the Law that Israel was to be “whole-souled” (see Deut. 6:5; 10:12; 11:13; 13:3; and 30:6). The fellow in James 1:6–8 is not single-souled. He has a divided allegiance. James is going to use the term again when he says in 4:8, “purify your hearts, ye double minded.” The double- minded man’s attachment to other things in the place of God makes his heart impure.

As a result of his double-mindedness he is “unstable in all his ways.” This would not be true of the committed Christian who just has a timid faith. “An inconsistency of life results necessarily from the dissension of spirit, the divided heart. … Hesitation, inconsistency, varying purpose and effort exhibit themselves everywhere in his life” (Johnstone).

If in the course of trial a believer needs wisdom, he can confidently go to God for it, being persuaded of His impartiality, liberality, charity, and fidelity. But if he is an uncommitted Christian, then the trials are designed to purge the world out of him. Such Christians cannot have faith because their divided mind keeps them from being confident of God’s acceptance. They must do what is required to ask in faith, and that is to devote themselves utterly, without condition or reservation, to God.


Bud Talbert is president of Foundation Baptist College in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.

(Originally published in FrontLine • September / October 2004. Click here to subscribe to the magazine.)


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