What Does It Mean To Be Double-Minded, and How Can We Fix It?

I love it when a phrase in a book or a comment from a friend prompts an unexpectedly deep Bible study. Just last week, someone in my church’s scripture writing group suggested we study the phrase “double-minded.” Since there are only two verses in the Bible that use this word (at least in most translations), it sounded like a challenging and intriguing study. It’s also a study that’s relevant to things we struggle with today. It’s so easy to find ourselves becoming filled with worry, questions, and doubt. There are so many different versions of “truth” being marketed today, and it gets confusing. We need to be clear in our own minds what we believe and why so that we’re not double-minded. I hope you’ll find reading about this topic as fascinating–and helpful–as I did. We begin in the opening part of James’s epistle.

But if anyone is deficient in wisdom, he should ask God, who gives to all generously and without reprimand, and it will be given to him. But he must ask in faith without doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed around by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord, since he is a double-minded individual, unstable in all his ways.

James 1:5-8, NET

The word translated “double-minded” is dipsuchos, meaning “two spirited,” “vacillating” (Strong’s Dictionary), “wavering, uncertain, doubting,” and “divided in interest” (Thayer’s Dictionary). It comes from two words: dis (twice, again) and psuche (breath, spirit). Zodhiates adds that “such a person suffers from divided loyalties. On the one hand, he wishes to maintain a religious confession and desires the presence of God in his life; on the other hand he loves the ways of the world and prefers to live according to its mores and ethics” (dictionary entry 1374). Sounds like something a lot of Christians struggle with today, doesn’t it? James is the only New Testament writer to use this word, and it appears once again closer to the end of his epistle.

Be subject therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners. Purify your hearts, you double-minded. Lament, mourn, and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he will exalt you.

James 4:7-10, WEB

Though there are only two verses using this word, James makes it clear that being “double-minded” is not a good thing. From the context as we read James 1:8, we can say that faith and stability are the opposites of double-mindedness. Then James 4:8 recommends that the double-minded purify their hearts, indicating that being double-minded has something to do with the state of our hearts. It also appears to be something that we can fix, and which God will help us correct.

How Long Will You Waver?

In the Old Testament, the prophet Elijah confronted the people of Israel about their idolatry. They’d constantly sway back and forth between faith in God and following pagan religions. This wavering, uncertain, divided loyalty was not something that pleased God.

Elijah approached all the people and said, “How long are you going to be paralyzed by indecision? If the Lord is the true God, then follow him, but if Baal is, follow him!” But the people did not say a word.

1 Kings 18:21, NET

You can click here to read the entire story. Right now, I want to focus in on the phrase “paralyzed by indecision.” The more literal translation from Hebrew would be, “How long are you going to limp around on two crutches?” (NET footnote). Here, though, it’s an idiomatic phrase and does not refer to physical disability or injury. It’s a picture of someone’s thoughts and loyalty swaying back and forth unsteadily, similar to how James describes the double-minded individual as tossed by the sea. Other translations of this phrase in 1 Kings 18 include, “How long will you waver between the two sides?” (WEB) and “How long will you falter between two opinions?” (NKJV).

The need for us to set doubt aside and be loyal to God alone is also discussed in the New Testament. In his Pentecost sermon recorded in the book of Acts, Peter said, “let all the house of Israel know beyond a doubt that God has made this Jesus whom you crucified both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36, NET). We’re not meant to live in a state of indecision. Knowing who Jesus is removes doubt and replaces it with faith. This sort of faith is absolutely essential, “for he who comes to God must believe that he exists, and that he is a rewarder of those who seek him” (Heb. 11:6, NET). We don’t have to get rid of all doubt before we come to Jesus, but at the very least we need to reach a point where we can say, “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24, NET).

Don’t Divide Your Loyalty

The only other Bible verse that uses the word “double-minded” is found in certain translations of Psalm 119:113. In the World English Bible it’s translated, “I hate double-minded men, but I love your law.” The New King James Version is almost identical: “I hate the double-minded.” Offering a slightly different reading, the New English Translation says, “I hate people with divided loyalties.” We cannot afford to live as double-minded people with divided loyalties. It’s impossible to be loyal to God and serve things that are incompatible with His way of life.

No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You can’t serve both God and Mammon.

Matthew 6:24, WEB

Our loyalty and service belongs to God alone. We must follow Jesus’s example of rejecting the siren call of temptation and say, “Go away, Satan! For it is written: ‘You are to worship the Lord your God and serve only him'” (Matt. 4:10, quoting Deut. 6:13, NET). This is exactly what James was talking about when he said, “Be subject therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” right before he said, “Purify your hearts, you double-minded” (James 4:7-8, WEB). God wants the entirety of our hearts, not just the pieces leftover after we do other things in our lives.

O Lord, teach me how you want me to live.
Then I will obey your commands.
Make me wholeheartedly committed to you.
O Lord, my God, I will give you thanks with my whole heart.
I will honor your name continually.

Psalm 86:11-12, NET

Learning to Have an Undivided Mind

Though there are only 2 or 3 scriptures that directly talk about being double-minded, many scriptures talk about the importance of having “one mind” and being “like-minded” with other believers. This doesn’t mean that believers will all have the same personalities, types of lives, or individual opinions. Rather, this like-mindedness is rooted in all of us learning to think in the same way that God thinks. If we’ve been recipients of God’s spirit, then “we have Christ’s mind” (1 Cor. 2:16, WEB). The more we learn to have the same mind as Christ, the more like-minded we become with each other as well.

Now the God of perseverance and of encouragement grant you to be of the same mind with one another according to Christ Jesus, that with one accord you may with one mouth glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Romans 15:5-6, WEB

God wants His people to live in unity. We’re meant to care for every follower of Christ as much as we care for ourselves. We’re to work on resolving differences peacefully and prayerfully, seeking to have God’s perspective rather than defend our own opinions. We’re to replace double-mindedness, doubt, and instability with faith and loyalty, following the example of Jesus Christ in how we act and think.

For though we walk in the flesh, we don’t wage war according to the flesh; for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but mighty before God to the throwing down of strongholds, throwing down imaginations and every high thing that is exalted against the knowledge of God and bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.

2 Corinthians 10:3-5, WEB

Through the power of God working inside us, we can choose to change our thoughts. Whether our minds are divided or whole is in large part up to us. We’re not helpless victims of our own doubt but rather mighty warriors who are strong in the Lord. Through Him, we have the power to overcome worry, doubt, and division and instead commit ourselves to lives full of faith.

Featured image by PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay

When Other People Don’t Think Like You, Focus on Thinking Like God

I’ve long been fascinated by Philippians 3 (even wrote a whole post about it). Here, Paul talks about the things he had before conversion–religious status, a good background, the best education, zeal for his faith–and then says all his “human credentials” count for nothing. Indeed, he regards “them as dung!” It is so much more valuable to know Christ “and be found in him,” not because Paul is righteous by following the law but because he has “the righteousness from God that is in fact based on Christ’s faithfulness.” And then with all that as background, he talks about how he keeps striving to live a godly life and will keep doing so until the end of his life in the hope of attaining “to the resurrection of the dead” (Phil. 3:5-12, NET).

This discussion is framed by Paul addressing a contentious issue in the church. He warns the Philippians to “beware of the dogs” (false teachers, see NET footnote), “beware of the evil workers, beware of those who mutilate the flesh” (those who wrongly teach physical circumcision is still necessary” and those who “rely on human credentials” (Phil. 3:1-4, NET). That is why Paul brings up his own credentials. He’s not attacking these other teachers and saying their credentials mean nothing because Paul doesn’t have any and wants to make himself look better. Rather, he has the credentials and he still says they’re worthless because “human credentials can produce nothing that is pleasing to God” (NET footnote on v. 15). It is with this foundation that Paul then says what I want to focus on today.

Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself to have attained this. Instead I am single-minded: Forgetting the things that are behind and reaching out for the things that are ahead, with this goal in mind, I strive toward the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Therefore let those of us who are “perfect” embrace this point of view. If you think otherwise, God will reveal to you the error of your ways. Nevertheless, let us live up to the standard that we have already attained.

Phil. 3:13-16, NET

So often, when we disagree with someone in the church we instinctively want to defend our point of view. But what Paul indicates is that our first response should be to ask God to reveal His mind.

The Mind of Christ

One of the central goals of our Christian walk is to learn to think like God does. He fills us with His spirit to transform us and make us part of His family. We have received the Spirit “from God, so that we may know the things that are freely given to us by God” (1 Cor. 2:12, NET)

The unbeliever does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him. And he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. The one who is spiritual discerns all things, yet he himself is understood by no one. For who has known the mind of the Lord, so as to advise him? But we have the mind of Christ.

1 Cor. 2:14-16, quoting Isa. 40:13, NET

We must “arm ourselves with the same mind” Christ had so that we can live “for the will of God” (1 Pet. 4:1-2, WEB). Part of the “will of God” involves living in harmony with our brethren. That only happens when all of us are trying to think like Christ.

Now the God of perseverance and of encouragement grant you to be of the same mind with one another according to Christ Jesus, that with one accord you may with one mouth glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore accept one another, even as Christ also accepted you, to the glory of God.

Rom. 15:5-7, WEB

Like Minded in Him

When scripture says that Christians are to be like minded, it does not mean we reach whatever mutual consensus we want. Our like-mindedness comes from all of us putting on the mind of Christ. That “we have the mind of Christ” verse I quoted earlier is preceded in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians by this:

I urge you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to agree together, to end your divisions, and to be united by the same mind and purpose

1 Cor. 1:10, NET

Paul goes on to talk about how ridiculous it is to divide the church over which teacher to follow (1 Cor. 1:9-17), the fact that there is no room for human boasting before God (1 Cor. 1:18-31), that our faith is based in God’s wisdom, and that through His spirit we get to put on Jesus’ mind (1 Cor. 2:1-16). It has quite a few parallels with Philippians 3, where Paul talks about the uselessness of human credentials and then urges continued faithfulness, which includes living in peace with your brethren.

It’s a familiar refrain in Paul’s letters. “Live in harmony with one another” (Rom. 12:15). “Be of the same mind … being united in spirit” (Phil. 2:2). “Agree with one another, live in peace, and the God of love and peace will be with you” (2 Cor. 13:11). The more like God we become, the fewer disagreements we ought to have with others who are also becoming more like God.

Continue Aligning Yourself With God

The principle we’re discussing is simple in theory: put on Christ’s mind and you’ll all be united. In practice, we’re all at different levels of growth. None of us have fully put on the mindset and attitudes of Jesus yet, and we don’t always agree on what putting on His mind looks like. Returning to Philippians 3,

Therefore let those of us who are “perfect” embrace this point of view. If you think otherwise, God will reveal to you the error of your ways. Nevertheless, let us live up to the standard that we have already attained.

Phil. 3:15-16, NET

Let us therefore, as many as are perfect, think this way. If in anything you think otherwise, God will also reveal that to you. Nevertheless, to the extent that we have already attained, let’s walk by the same rule. Let’s be of the same mind.

Phil. 3:15-16, WEB

When we disagree, we can ask God to reveal His mindset and align us with truth. When seeking this sort of like-mindedness, always ask for God’s perspective so you can understand what He wants you to see–not to help you understand human teachings or teachers. Our goal for spiritual growth is to be like our Father. Unity with other believers happens as a result of that goal, not as the central goal itself.

Paul also admonishes us to “live up to” or “walk by” the standard we’ve already attained. This goes along with verses like the one in James that says if you know to do good and don’t do it that is sin to you (James 4:17) and passages in Romans that indicate we’re judged based on how well we do God’s will rather than how well we understand the law (Rom. 2:10-16). Though we might not always agree with other Christians on the best way to follow God, we need to live in peace with others as much as possible, follow God as faithfully as we understand how, and always be seeking to align our thinking and mode of living more closely with Him.

Featured image credit: Pearl via Lightstock

Don’t Give Up! Keep Running Your Race of Faith Without Looking Back

Do you ever feel stuck in the past and discouraged by how hard it is to move forward? You’re a Christian and you know that’s supposed to give you hope, but somehow that just doesn’t seem to be the case.

It’s disheartening to feel as if you can’t move forward from your past or that there is no way out of your present. Especially if you feel like you’ve done something so wrong or your circumstances are so hopeless that there’s no point trying to fix things. These sorts of worries weigh us down emotionally and spiritually. They can make us feel heavy, foggy, and hopeless (and may lead to other symptoms of depression as well).

Jesus never promised that life as a Christian would be without trials. He only promised to help us through those trials, and since He has all power and authority in heaven and earth this is an incredible promise (Matt. 28:18). It can be easy, though, to lose sight of the big picture and get distracted by all sorts of nasty things that cling to us, weighing us down and making it hard to keep moving forward. We might wonder how to get unstuck, or even if it’s possible.

The Cage Door Is Open

One thing I’ve realized is that most of the things that are holding onto me are also, at least to some extent, things that I’m holding onto right back. Jesus promises to make us free and to wash us clean of any sin. If we stay in a cage or keep rolling in the dirt, then it’s not because He has failed in some way. It’s because we’re still susceptible to the attacks of the enemy and the pulls of the world.

I don’t say this to make us feel guilty or ashamed (that’s another thing that weighs us down, and shame is not a productive emotion). I want to encourage you to shift your perspective. Instead of seeing yourself as a victim trapped in a locked cage made from whatever’s holding on to you (fear, past sins, personal shortcomings, etc), you can picture yourself as someone in an open cage where God is holding the door and asking you to come out. He knows it’s hard. He knows it’s frightening. He knows there are often circumstances outside your control that keep pulling you backwards. But He isn’t giving up and He’ll be there patiently helping you for as long as it takes. Read more

Trusting God When You’re Confused By Him: A Study of Lamentations 3

A couple of weeks ago, we talked about the practice of lament. It’s something we rarely discuss in modern Christianity, but it makes up more than 1/3 of the psalms and you can find lament throughout the rest of scripture as well. Instead of hiding their pain, people who lament take it to God in prayer. They turn to Him, bring their complaint in an honest, heartfelt way, ask boldly for help and then, equally boldly, choose to trust in God. I ended that first post about learning how to lament with a quote from my favorite passage in Lamentations:

This I recall to my mind; therefore I have hope. It is because of Yahweh’s loving kindnesses that we are not consumed, because his compassion doesn’t fail. They are new every morning. Great is your faithfulness. “Yahweh is my portion,” says my soul. “Therefore I will hope in him.” (Lam. 3:21-24, all quotes from WEB translation)

This passage is lovely and hopeful, but it’s not the whole story of Jeremiah’s lament. It’s not even his concluding thought for this particular poem. Lament isn’t about convincing yourself to be happy. It’s about trusting God even when you’re not sure you want to. It’s about inviting Him to help you deal with hurt, loss, confusion, anger, and other complex, painful emotions. Hope is part of it, a key part, but there’s a lot more going on as well.

Feeling as If God Is Failing You

The third poem of Lamentations (each of the 5 chapters in this book is a separate poem) begins with the words, “I am the man who has seen affliction by the rod of his wrath.” Unlike other poems in Lamentations, Jeremiah doesn’t start by talking about all of the Lord’s people and how their sufferings affect them. This is about him and what God has done to him, personally. Jeremiah begins this poem talking about how it feels to believe that God is targeting him in particular for intense suffering. Read more

Getting Through Affliction With the Help of God’s Law

I was reading Psalm 119 the other day and one of the verses that caught my eye reads, “It is good for me that I have been afflicted, that I may learn your statutes” (Psalm 119:71, all quotes from WEB translation). Most of us don’t think it’s good when we’re depressed, chastened, weakened, oppressed, and bowed down (those are all meanings of the Hebrew word anah, H6031, which this translation renders “afflicted”). In fact, we’re pretty sure those things sound terrible, especially now that we’re all experiencing some of them as a result of the current pandemic. And yet, this psalmist said affliction was “good” because what they endured helped them learn the Lord’s statues (choq, H2706, could also be translated ordinance, limit, or law).

There’s no getting around it. Christianity is tough. When you think about it, though, it’s not any tougher than life outside the faith and if you’re inside you have God’s help so that balances things out in Christianity’s favor. Jesus promised us His help, presence, and protection but He also assured us that we would face trials, persecution, and suffering. Better teachers than I have tried to explain why — The Problem of Pain by C.S. Lewis and Where Is God When It Hurts? by Philip Yancey, for example — but one thing we can’t get around is the fact that pain is a part of life. And that’s true whether you’re a Christian or not.

One of the ways Christianity helps make sense of suffering is by saying it is a product of a world that has gone wrong. God didn’t want things to be this way, but they are now and until He comes back to set things right He’s going to find ways to make good come out of afflictions.

Delight in the Law

Psalm 119 is an acrostic psalm divided into 22 stanzas, one for each letter in the Hebrew alphabet. There are several verses within this psalm that talk about affliction, and we find the first in the zayin stanza.

Remember your word to your servant, because you gave me hope. This is my comfort in my affliction, for your word has revived me. (Psalm 119:49-50)

A later verse in the lamed stanza puts this idea even more strongly:

Unless your law had been my delight, I would have perished in my affliction. I will never forget your precepts, for with them, you have revived me. (Psalm 119:92-93)

It is not just knowing or obeying God’s law, but finding joy in it that helps get us through tough times. All the knowledge of His words we can gather won’t do us much good unless we really care about what He tells us. But when we hold fast to Him — and by extension His word and the things that He cares about — it’s possible to find comfort, joy, and help even in afflictions. The psalmists did, and we can too. Read more

Learning How To Lament

Do you ever feel like maybe God isn’t living up to His promises? That He has abandoned you? Isn’t answering your prayers? Or that He should have done something to fix things and hasn’t?

Those are the sorts of thoughts we often feel guilty for thinking. After all, being a “good Christian” involves trusting God (which we often assume means not questioning Him) all the time no matter what, right? And so we try to ignore these kinds of thoughts and bury them deep where they won’t offend God or make us look bad to the other people in our church. But is that how God wants us to handle our painful questions?

There’s a Biblical practice called lament that models how to deal with anguish, pain, grief, and confusion. People of faith in scripture didn’t bottle up, hide, or ignore these feelings. They took them to God, turning questions we mistakenly think of as a lack of faith (or as a reason to give up on God) into a prayer. Over 1/3 of the Psalms are laments — “a prayer for help coming out of pain” (“Biblical Laments: Prayer Out of Pain” by Michael D. Guinan). There’s also a whole book of the Bible called Lamentations. Lament is found throughout scripture, from prophets, to psalmists, to Jesus. Lament is a good and godly practice and, if we learn how to do it, lament can help us hold on to trusting God even when we can’t figure out what He’s up to.

Praying through a sorrowful mood

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from helping me, and from the words of my groaning? My God, I cry in the daytime, but you don’t answer; in the night season, and am not silent. (Psalm 22:1-2, all scriptures from WEB translation)

The feeling of abandonment and despair is one that David felt, most of us can sympathize with, and Jesus echoed on the cross (Matt. 27:46). We know God does not leave or forsake His faithful ones, but that doesn’t stop us from sometimes feeling as if we’ve been forsaken. Last week, we talked about moods of faith in the Psalms, specifically a confident, celebratory mood in Psalm 91. Here in Psalm 22 we get another mood — one that is equally valid for Christians and no less worthy of taking to God in prayer. Read more