Sadhu Claims He Will Walk on Water" declared the headline of a Bombay newspaper. I read the announcement and followed subsequent reports with considerable interest. A Hindu holy man had set a date when he would publicly walk across the surface of a tank of water.
When the day for the miracle arrived a crowd such as only India can mass pressed to the site. The holy man came with a group of his closest followers, and mounted the platform beside the tank. After a few brief preliminaries, he stepped confidently onto the fluid surface.
At that point we draw a kindly veil over the sadhu's embarrassment, by simply reporting that he was not the second human being to walk on water.
Now, having implied that only one other person besides Christ has ever accomplished this feat, referring, of course, to the apostle Peter, I aver that it is absolutely necessary that every Christian walk on water. For, I suggest:
Faith is walking on water.
Faith is walking on water all the time.
A strange definition? Let me explain.
Every Bible reader is familiar with the story recorded in Matthew 14. Jesus and His disciples had been on the northeastern shore of the Sea of Galilee, where the Lord had fed 5,000 people. Afterward He sent His disciples back across the lake while He stayed behind.
Darkness came on, and a wild storm arose. Throughout the night the disciples, in their boat, wrestled against the waves and the wind. In the gray, ghostly half-light of dawn they saw what they thought was a spirit gliding over the wind-whipped waters toward them. Bone weariness and loss of sleep intensified their reaction. Primeval terror gripped them, and they cried out in fear.
Then came a calm, reassuring voice, "It is I!"
Electrified, Peter exclaimed, "Master, if it is really You, tell me to come to You on the water."
And Peter stepped out of the boat onto the water and began to walk toward Jesus.
In doing so he did what was utterly impossible. He accomplished what no human being ever had done before or has done since. He was going against a physical law that is absolutely unvarying, from the scientific point of view. No man can walk on water. The law of hydrodynamics unbendingly forbids it. So unthinkable is the concept that the ancient Egyptians, in representing in hieroglyphics the idea inherent in the word impossible, used the symbol of a man walking on water. But Peter walked on water.
What made it possible for him to do that? What supported the weight of a full-grown man on a surface that invariably ruptures under the weight of a tiny frog?
The answer is, faith. Faith, not as a self-fulfilling force that creates its own reality from its own assurance, but as an unflawed confidence in Christ's word that permitted Him to bring about that wonder.
Here is a lesson that we Christians must learn: The basis of faith is that through Christ we do what it is impossible for us to accomplish-on our own.
We shall see that the implications of this statement are more profound, more far-reaching, than we generally recognize.
Whenever a person genuinely becomes a Christian he has, in effect, said, "Lord, tell me to do the impossible. Bid me come to You on the water." The truth is, unless this is his understanding of the Christian life he does not adequately comprehend that life. Christianity is doing the impossible. The person who is not seeing the impossible take place in his experience is not truly living as a Christian.
If my Christianity is a sort of life style I can maintain myself simply by a bit of self-discipline from time to time, then it is not really Christianity at all. It is like telling myself that my twenty-dollar glass bauble is a $20,000 diamond. What I own is essentially a valueless substitute for the real thing.
Think about that again: If we can actually carry on our religion on our own, simply giving God a little lip service from time to time, but maintaining no vital connection to Him, then we are not really Christians. A genuine Christian is one who is being something he is not able to be, doing things he is not able to do. And he knows it. In a spiritual sense, he continually walks on water.
What is Christianity all about, anyway? What is its purpose?
Basically, its purpose is twofold: First, to vindicate the character of God (exemplified in His Ten Words) and, second, to restore man to his Edenic condition, which is to reflect that character.
This was the reason that Christ came to this world. It is of the utmost significance that the first words spoken of Jesus in the New Testament are: " 'You shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins'" (Matt. 1 :21).
Have we gone deep enough in our understanding of sin? Sin is a disease that has permeated every area of the human soul.
Various approaches are made to the sin problem in the church. One is to treat it superficially, dealing with the symptoms while ignoring the real issue because we don't know how to handle it.
Another approach is to say that man is so elementally sinful that we can do little else than deal with the symptoms. We must keep on knocking off the bitter fruit, and hacking rather ineffectually with our impotent pocket knives at the stubborn root. This may result in some small improvements, but the source remains. The fruit keeps on growing.
John the Baptist, heralding Christ, stated, "'Now the ax is laid to the root of the trees'" (Matt. 3: 10).
"We may pick the leaves from a tree as often as we please, but this will not cause the tree to die; the next season the leaves will come out again as thick as before. But strike the ax at the root of the tree, and not only will the leaves fall off of themselves, but the tree will die." -My Life Today, p. 265.
Jesus always went for the source. The root must be killed, He said. Whenever He talked about sin, He labored to get this idea across to His hearers.
It is interesting to note that it is in Matthew, where Jesus is announced as coming to save His people from their sins, that He is most frequently quoted in defining sin, and this mainly in His Sermon on the Mount.
Among the Jews of Jesus' time the Pharisee was the model as a holy man. (That this was so illustrates how far the Jews had drifted from the Old Testament ideal.) The Pharisees were extremely careful in their prayers, their reading of the Sacred Oracles, and their Sabbathkeeping. So anxious were they not to desecrate the Sabbath that they had a list of thirty-nine forbidden activities to safeguard the day. To the common man, the Pharisee was assured of a place in paradise.
What a shock it must have been, then, to the crowd gathered around Jesus on the Mount of Blessing, to hear Him state, "'Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven'" (Matt. 5:20).
The Pharisees were concerned with outward things. Jesus went deep.
"'I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment'" (verse 22).
"It is a sin ... to feel angry" (Child Guidance, p. 95)-selfish, vindictive anger springing from bitterness and animosity.
"'Everyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart'" (verse 28).
" 'You have heard that it was said, "You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy." But 1 say to you, Love your enemies'" (verses 43, 44). Love your enemies!
"He who does not love [even his enemies] does not know God; for God is love" (1 John 4:8).
What is this love? What are its characteristics? How does it work?
"Love is patient, love is kind, love knows no jealousy, love is never boastful. Love puts on no airs, never acts dishonorably, never places her own interests first, and never loses her temper. Love never imputes evil motives, never feels glad when others go wrong, but rejoices in everything that is right and true. Love conceals the faults of others, always believes the best, never despairs, and remains steadfast to the end" (1 Cor. 13:4-7, F. F. Bruce, An Expanded Paraphrase of the Epistles of Paul, p. 107).
"The law of God takes note of the jealousy, envy, hatred, malignity, revenge, lust, and ambition that surge through the soul, but have not found expression in outward action, because the opportunity, not the will, has been wanting. And these sinful emotions will be brought into the account in the day when 'God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil' (Eccl. 12: 14)." -Selected Messages, book 1, p. 217.
When these ideas really are driven home to us by the Holy Spirit we might, with the disciples, exclaim, "'Who then can be saved?'" (Matt. 19:25).
And Jesus answered, "'With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible'" (verse 26).
Some time ago I was discussing the ideas of 1 Corinthians 13 with a friend who does not profess to be a Christian. I pointed out that the primary thrust is on the inner life. Love does not become impatient. It knows no jealousy. It never loses its temper, and so on.
Emphatically my friend declared, "That's impossible. You can't change your feelings. They are you. They are as much a part of you as are the color of your eyes."
I couldn't agree with him, even from the strictly human viewpoint. Stoicism's goal was the elimination of all feelings. Hinduism's aim is loss of all desire, all personality, in Nirvana.
The sad aspect is that, while the devoted Hindu believes implicitly in the potential of his religion or philosophy-which springs from human concepts-to help him control all passion, many Christians have the greatest difficulty believing that their religion-which is centered in the omnipotent God-can give them complete victory over all wrong feelings and attitudes.
Truly to become a Christian is to appeal to Christ, "'Lord, ... bid me come to you on the water'" (Matt. 14:28).
"Lord, I want to overcome the sin in my life. I want to be rid of jealousy, of resentment, of anger, of uncontrolled appetite, of malice. I want freedom from guilt. Master, I have tried walking on water on my own. I know I can't do it. I know that the only way I can is with Your help. Lord, bid me come to You."
To fail to make such an appeal, while still trying to be a Christian, is to attempt the utterly impossible. It is to endeavor to walk on water without Christ.