Walking on water is doing by faith what God asks us to do.
The Christian has experienced heartfelt repentance. He has confessed his sins, accepted Jesus as his Saviour, surrendered to Him, and so has been justified.
When he experienced that genuine conversion he heard the invitation, "Come!" And he responded.
What does God ask of us, as Christians? In some respects He asks different things of each of us. He has requirements for me He does not have for you. I may be naturally inclined to show a quick temper, while you may be naturally "unflappable." Obviously, God will need to deal with me differently from the way He deals with you in this area. On the other hand, I may be very openhanded, while you may be stingy. Again, different handling is required in each case.
The point is, each of us is unique, and God tailors His requirements to the individual situation. There were times when Jesus had gently to rein in the impetuous Peter. At other times He chided Thomas for being too wary and doubting.
But while God custom-tailors His requirements, He always does so from the same unalterable reference point, that is, His great moral law, the Ten Commandments. For while His "commandment is exceedingly broad" (Ps. 119:96), which statement I apply in our context to mean it can ad just to the personality needs of each individual, it is also exceedingly solid and unyielding when one pushes against its moral perimeter.
God's customized handling of each person inside the perimeter is not to overlook any weakness, or to excuse any sin, but to deal with us as individuals, to correct the weaknesses, and continually to subdue the Sins.
Walking on water is doing what God asks of us-which means to keep the Ten Commandments.
We run into trouble on several fronts as soon as we make this claim.
There are those who will insist that the law has been annulled. It is not my purpose to go into this matter very extensively. But Paul, writing more than twenty years after Christ's death and resurrection, said that the law was still "holy, and the commandment ... holy and just and good" (Rom. 7: 12). That the Ten Commandments was in his mind is plain from verse 7: "If it had not been for the law, I should not have known sin. I should not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, 'You shall not covet.'"
As Seventh-day Adventists we have no problems in this area. We are firmly established in the fact that God's law is abiding.
But there are voices from another direction that give cause for concern.
God's requirements have always been-implicit obedience. Adam and Eve's seemingly slight transgression, and its results, illustrates how very particular He is in that respect. He is no less particular with us today.
"Under the new covenant, the conditions by which eternal life may be gained are the same as under the old-perfect obedience." - The Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, Ellen G. White Comments, on Heb. 8:5-13, p. 931.
"Work out your own salvation," wrote Paul (Phil. 2: 12).
"'Strive to enter,''' Jesus urged (Luke 13:24). "Here is a call for ... those who keep [Greek: keep fully by careful watching] the commandments of God" is the way John the revelator describes the 144,000 (Rev. 14: 12).
Jesus took hold of the broad, varicolored spectrum of the divine law-"the law and the prophets," or all the Old Testament-and drew it into two bright beams, one respecting God, the other respecting our fellow men. But He further focused those beams into one point of concentration-love (Matt. 22:36-40). '''All the law and the prophets,''' He said, converge in love.
It has been pointed out that the two texts Jesus quoted in focusing the law are from books in which one might not expect to find such unlegal statements-Leviticus (19:18) and Deuteronomy (6:5).
But there is an equally magnificent passage in Deuteronomy that, most unfortunately, has been almost entirely overlooked by people who study the subject of righteousness by faith. It is a marvelously balanced statement on that subject in the context of the law and the gospel, penned by Moses more than fifteen hundred years before Paul wrote the Epistles in which he discusses justification and sanctification. Paul, in fact, quotes from part of this very passage in Romans, and he uses it in the context of righteousness by faith.
Moses is delivering his final oration to the Israelites before he climbs Mount Nebo, never to return. He reviews God's leadings, he reminds of God's requirements and promises. He speaks in the context of promises received and acted upon, and the results. God's promises are always conditional on our meeting the prerequisites.
"'The Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live'" (Deut. 30:6). Here is the key promise.
The expression "circumcise your heart" refers to the experience of the new birth. "He is not a real Jew who is one outwardly, nor is true circumcision something external and physical. He is a Jew who is one inwardly, and real circumcision is a matter of the heart, spiritual and not literal" (Rom. 2:28, 29). In the words of Ezekiel: "A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will take out of your flesh the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances" (Eze. 36:26, 27). (We shall have occasion to note verse 27 again.)
Speaking, then, of people with transformed hearts and minds, Moses says, "'For this commandment which I command you this day is not too hard for you, neither is it far off. It is not in heaven, that you should say, "Who will go up for us to heaven, and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?" Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, "Who will go over the sea for us, and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?" But the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it'" (Deut. 30: 11-14).
We previously noted that Paul refers to a part of this passage fifteen hundred years later (Rom. 10:5-8). And he points out that it is a righteousness-by-faith statement.
Moses-speaking to the "circumcised in heart," we remind ourselves-is saying, God is not withholding His word (verse 14) in heaven so that there is no way we can grasp it. It has been revealed to us. Nor was it disclosed to men in other lands beyond great, uncharted seas (requiring voyages that, to the land-minded Israelites, would be essentially impossible). Rather, when you have that circumcision of heart (which today's Christians term being born again) the knowledge is in the mind and heart-" 'All your sons shall be taught by the Lord'" (Isa. 54: 13)-and the ability to obey fully and acceptably will spring from a divine enabling. And here we remember Ezekiel 36:27 again: "'I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my ordinances.'"
Paul, writing after the Messiah had come, could make the clearer application, that Moses' statement pointed to the indwelling Christ and His word (John 1: 1-5, 14). So he writes, "But the righteousness based on faith says, Do not say in your heart, 'Who will ascend into heaven?' (that is, to bring Christ down) or 'Who will descend into the abyss?' (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart (that is, the word of faith which we preach); because, if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved" (Rom. 10:6-9).
The Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary explains that the word confess in this text means "to agree with." "Thus the confession of a believer is the expression of his agreement with all that God has declared to be true. This includes all that God has revealed about His law, our sin, and our need of a Saviour." -Vol. 6, p. 598. His declaration is that, in His power, we can obey His requirements-"You can do it."
This expresses a complete righteousness by faith, a meeting of the law and the gospel, or grace. Of this the famous Augustine of Hippo declared, "The law was given that grace might be sought, grace was given that the law might be fulfilled." Well said. And in this is described true walking on water.
"Why is the complaint made so frequently that we have defective characters; that we have miserable infirmities that we cannot overcome? Why is there unhappiness in the home? Why are there stinging, bitter words uttered, and unkindness manifested one toward another? Do you not know that 'by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned'? If the heart has the treasure of goodness, if Jesus is formed within, the hope of glory, the goodness will proceed from the heart. Open the door of the heart, and let the Saviour in. Clear away the rubbish from the door, and give Him full entrance. We see the necessity of faith-of that faith that works by love, and purifies the soul. We are not to have that kind of faith that will lead us to present our own righteousness, but we must have faith that appropriates the righteousness of Christ." -Review and Herald, April 9, 1889.