Unstable Souls

By Mike Willis

The church here in Dayton conducts an hour long talk show each Lord’s day as a result of which several have been converted. Several years ago, a man called in and expressed agreement with the what I was teaching regarding the topic being discussed. He stated that he would be at worship that morning. When the invitation was offered that morning, he came forward to confess his sins and pray for forgiveness. He was back that evening. Inasmuch as his cousin was a faithful gospel preacher, I called him to tell him the good news. He remarked, “There is one thing you can count on when my cousin is restored and that is that he is going to fall away again!” At the time, I thought that was a rather harsh, unloving statement. However, he knew his cousin better than I did. He never returned to our worship services. Later I visited him and found him drunk and crying in his beer.

Many others have had contact with others who, like Reuben, might be described as “unstable as water” (Gen. 49:4). They are “unstable souls” (2 Pet. 2:14). Occasionally, we see unstable souls in our contact with both Christians and non-Christians. Let us notice the characteristics of the unstable.

Characteristics of Unstable Souls

1. They are double-minded. James commented on certain unstable souls as follows: “But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed. For let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord. A double-minded man is unstable in all his ways” (Jas. 1:6-8). Later, he pleaded, “Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double-minded” (Jas. 4:8).

What is a double-minded man? The word dispuchos literally refers to a “two-souled” person. Thayer defines the word to mean “wavering, uncertain, doubting; divided in interest” (p. 153). I think one of the best ways of demonstrating what a double-minded person is like would be to illustrate it. Israel certainly demonstrates the trait of the double-minded. When Elijah lived, Israel was vacillating between the love and service of Jehovah and the love and service of Baal. Elijah said, “How long halt ye between two opinions? If the Lord be God, follow him: but if Baal, then follow him” (1 Kgs. 18:21). That is an example of a double-minded group of people.

The New Testament alludes to other double-minded people. The man who seeks to serve both God and mammon is a double-minded person (Mt. 6:24) the man who sought to eat at the table of the Lord and at the table of demons (1 Cor. 10:21) was a double-minded person; the lukewarm person is a double-minded person (Rev. 3:15). They are double-minded because they have two interests which are in conflict with each other; they are attempting to do the impossible – to serve both of them at the same time.

In commenting on the usage of “double-minded” in Jas. 1:8, the commentaries describe the characteristics of this unstable soul:

The petitioner must not shift backwards and forwards between faith and doubt, like a tumbling billow of the sea. He must not swing like a pendulum between cheerful confidence and dark suspicion. It must be his fixed persuasion that God is, and that he is the Hearer of prayer. He must expect an answer to his supplications, and be ready to mark the time and mode of it; else he may rest assured that no answer will come. Transient emotions are not religion. It is the men and women within whom faith is the dominant power who take the kingdom of heaven by force. God is all simplicity himself, and he gives with simplicity; so he can have no sympathy with an unstable, double-souled man. A mind that continually vacillates in its choice will be prone in the end to fail in both the purposes between which it has hesitated. Certainly it will not obtain that Divine wisdom which every human heart so greatly needs for the exigencies of adversity. Steadfast faith, and that alone, will give a man singleness of eye, make him strong to keep hold of the angel of the covenant, and draw down upon the richest blessings of gospel grace (C. Jerdan, The Pulpit Commentary, Vol. XXI, p. 10).

This double-minded, two-souled disposition creates instability. One cannot be depended upon who is constantly fluctuating between opinions.

2. They are tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine. The unstable person is one who is so insufficiently grounded in the word of God that he is constantly being tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine. The perfect (mature) man was contrasted with the child in faith by Paul; he described the unstable child as follows: “. . . that we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive” (Eph. 4:14). False teachers are able to deceive the ignorant and unstable (2 Pet. 3:16).

That a goodly number of brethren are “children” in reference to the faith is evident from statements which I have heard regarding several churches. As faithful gospel preachers commented regarding specific churches, they remarked that the stand which a given church would take regarding church support of human institutions or the sponsoring church arrangement would largely be determined by the preacher who preached there. Frankly, that is not much of a compliment to the members of any church which can be so described; it simply reflects that they are “tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine.”

Some preachers are the same way. Sometimes a man will send in an article denouncing a certain position as false. By the time this article comes off the press, he sends in an announcement stating he has changed his position. The man begins to send articles to periodicals aligned with his new position attacking his former position. Within a few months, he has changed his position again. What does he do? You guessed it; he immediately starts pounding out articles retracting his retraction and denouncing the position he took in his retraction. A few months later, he will likely want to retract his retraction of his retraction and begin pounding out articles attacking the old position. Such a man is of no use to the kingdom of God. He is tossed to and fro, carried about by every wind of doctrine, and unstable in all of his ways.

3. They jump into things without forethought and do not persevere. In the parable of the sower, Jesus described the stony ground hearer as one who “hath not root in himself” (Matt. 13:20-21). He heard the word and “anon with joy receiveth it; yet hath he not root in himself, but dureth for a while: for when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the word, by and by he is offended.” This is an unstable soul.

I have seen many people just like this. They are the kind who jump into things immediately; they seem to be a fireball of enthusiasm at the beginning. However, before they get started going very well, their enthusiasm has waned. Their attention is turned to something else; they are gone. They will spend their lives hopping from one thing to another because they do not have root in themselves.

Hence, an unstable character is marked by these traits: (a) he acts out of passion; (b) he is stroingly influenced by what others think about him; (c) he is constantly fluctuating; and (d) he has a divided allegiance.

Christian Maturity Is Marked By Stability

In contrast to the unstable souls, the mature Christian is characterized by stability. A man can count on the mature Christian’s faith to remain constant regardless of the nature of the attack which is launched against it.

1. A mature Christian is rooted and grounded in his commitment to Christ. He is rooted and grounded in love (Eph. 3:17). His love for God is first and foremost in his life (Matt. 22:37). Hence, the stable Christian is not the kind of man who must decide anew whether or not he is going to serve Christ everytime some major or minor problem confronts him in life. He has made his commitment to Christ and will be faithful to it.

2. A mature Christian is rooted and ground in the faith. The mature Christian has made it his business to learn the revelation of God in order that he can discern between good and evil (Heb. 5:11-14; cf. Col. 1:23; 2:6-7; 2 Thess. 2:7). His knowledge of God’s word enables him to recognize false doctrine (2 Jn. 9-11) and stand opposed to those who bring it (Rom. 16:17-18). When false teachers trouble a congregation, the mature Christian can be counted on to be standing for the truth for he is rooted and grounded in the faith.

3. The mature Christian perseveres through the temptations and trials of life. Every man will be confronted with problems of life. Some brethren use their problems as an excuse for not faithfully serving the Lord. The mature Christian is not that way. He perseveres through the problems of life. James compared the manner in which the faithful Christians stands during the trials of life to the manner in which Job and the prophets endured affliction with faith in God (5:7-11). You recognize the kind of men which I am describing. If one of their children becomes ill, they will nevertheless be faithful to God; if they lose their job, they will be faithful to God; if one of their children becomes rebellious, they will maintain their faith in God. They persevere in the faith.


A stable person is one on whom you can rely. He will be faithful in attendance. You know that if he is not present at the services, something is wrong; he is either sick or has sickness in the family, some unforeseen trouble has come up, or he is out of town. He is stable in doctrine. He can be appointed to teach a Bible class without fear of what he will teach. A mark of Christian maturity is stability. Are you a stable Christian or are you an “unstable soul” (2 Pet. 2:14)?

Truth Magazine XXIV: 40, pp. 643-645
October 9, 1980