Peter's walking on water was a unique act. It wasn't something he was used to. And he didn't walk on it long enough to get used to it.
But suppose that when he had stepped on the waves the Master had told him to walk the full length of the Sea of Galilee-ten miles or so from where they were at the north end, to the south end.
No doubt, starting off, the apostle would have felt uncertain of himself. But with a mile or so behind him, we can imagine that he would begin to get the feel of stepping on a constantly changing surface, just as we adjust to walking on an escalator.
Two miles, three miles, four miles, fall behind him. He is thoroughly at home on the water by this time. It is an exhilarating experience.
Then he begins to think, I have walked four miles now. Perhaps I have got the knack of it so that I am really doing it on my own. Perhaps the reason I couldn't walk on water before was that I hadn't really put my mind to it.
Is there a danger that the Christian who has been walking on water by faith for some time might begin to think that it is the normal thing to do, that somehow, through a long period of practice-five, fifteen, twenty-five years-it has become habitual, natural, to be a Christian? A long time ago he gained the victory over anger, resentment, bitterness, or pride in his life. Perhaps there used to be real problems with sensuality, or overeating, or alcohol. But he has developed whatever it takes to handle it now.
An acquaintance of mine-let's call her Mrs. Friend-had had some problems with resentment, envy, and kindred besetments during much of her life. Then she found a genuine relationship with Christ, and through it learned how to gain the victory over her failings. She experienced real gratification that she was free from her cankering weaknesses.
Then one day the thought came to her, Is this change in me because I am tackling my problems and getting on top of them, or is it God who is doing it?
She began to question the real source of her victory.
Very soon she began to notice that, in spite of her efforts, she was feeling-and showing-resentment again. Moreover, she was manifesting other old weaknesses she had almost forgotten she possessed.
For a time she was puzzled, and disturbed. She could not put two and two together and realize that, by her questioning, she had actually taken her eyes from Christ and begun to look at herself.
After she caught on to what was happening, and realized that her victories had indeed come from Christ, she turned back toward Him. But it took some months for her to find a living relationship with Him again, so that she could once more begin walking on water.
I suspect that Mrs. Friend's problem is not an uncommon one. The fact that the Bible frequently warns against trusting in self, and describes so many cases "as a warning ... for our instruction" (1 Cor. 10: 11), is proof enough.
All who walk on water, and thus receive blessings from, and do exploits for, God, are sometimes tempted to take the credit for themselves.
Christ's disciples had been dispatched by Him to "preach the kingdom of God and to heal" (Luke 9:2). During their itinerary they performed many miracles in His name and returned to Him exhilarated by their experiences. "As the disciples had seen the success of their labors, they were in danger of taking the credit to themselves, in danger of cherishing spiritual pride, and thus falling under Satan's temptations. A great work was before them, and first of all they must learn that their strength was not in self, but in God." -The Desire of Ages, p. 360.
Walking on water is always a situation that makes pride possible. God has many blessings that He wishes to bestow on all, but which can be given only to those who have the faith in Him that enables them to walk on water. That faith, as we have observed, is essentially identical with surrender. The one who is surrendered to God has given everything over to Him, so God can trust that person in return with some of His blessings. But even then, He has to be careful.
The statement that God will not allow us to be tempted above that we are able (1 Cor. 10: 13) may have reference to blessings withheld, as well as trials deflected. As we learn to deal with blessings, as well as trials, God gives us greater favors in addition to permitting greater trials to come. Our relationship to each is a gauge of our growth in grace.
Too liberal blessings could well result in spiritual pride. Even Paul was given a "thorn in the flesh" to keep him from falling into that sad condition.
Satan tries to use both troubles and blessings to bring about our downfall. Through troubles he hopes to bring discouragement. Through blessings he attempts to awaken spiritual pride and spiritual laxity.
When we receive blessings Satan would like us to believe that our own goodness, or skill, has brought them. He studies to make us think that our talents, or wisdom, or our "way with people," or our good fortune, is the source of our boons. "There is not a blessing which God bestows upon man, nor a trial which He permits to befall him, but Satan both can and will seize upon to tempt, to harass and destroy the soul, if we give him the least advantage. Therefore however great one's spiritual light, however much he may enjoy of the divine favor and blessing, he should ever walk humbly before the Lord, pleading in faith that God will direct every thought and control every impulse." -Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 421.
Peter's sinking into the waters of Galilee was not only a result of his pride, it was also an experience permitted by Jesus to contribute to his being cured of that weakness. Self-sufficiency-pride-is a formidable problem for some Christians.
While pride has a superior ability to give individuals a false idea of themselves, a fall from pride enables them to see their pretentiousness, their conceits, their ridiculousness, their illusions, as nothing else can. So Jesus allows humiliation to be their undoing to make them wake up to their dangers and need. If, having fallen, they repent and turn again to Jesus, they have learned a valuable lesson and are stronger for the experience. Through it they learn their flaws and the necessity of leaning on Him.
When pride whispered alluringly to Peter of the great thing he was doing, and he listened, he took his eyes off Jesus because they were on himself, and he sank.
Physically, Jesus could have made it possible for Peter to continue walking on water awhile longer. He could have reasoned that in a few moments Peter probably would again get his eyes back where they should be. So why not keep him on the surface?
But if He had done that, a vitally important lesson would have been lost to Peter-and to us.
Pride is sin. If Jesus were to miraculously uphold Peter on the water in spite of that sin, He would have, by that part of our acted parable, left it open to the conclusion that one "little" transgression does not matter that much; we can still have a relationship with Christ that will enable us to walk on water.
But we cannot. Sin, any sin, affects our relationship with the Master. This is the clear picture of the Scriptures. It is the clear picture of the Spirit of Prophecy.
Some will protest, "Are you suggesting that Jesus turns from us because we happen to commit a little sin?"
No, I am not suggesting that at all. Jesus turns from no one, until that individual has finally turned irreversibly from Him by committing the unpardonable sin-or dies while still in his sins.
We have to understand that every time something bad happens to our relationship with God, we are the ones who effect the disunion.
"Your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God" (Isa. 59:2).
"The transgression of His law in a single instance, in the smallest particular, is sin." -Review and Herald, Nov. 15, 1898.
We must recognize the seriousness of sin, then. But we need not be discouraged by it. As soon as "we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1 :9).
We must also forever recognize that the Christian never learns to overcome sin on his own; he never develops skills that make it possible for him to handle his moral weaknesses. He can only act in the power of the Spirit.