Awesome question. And a great response from Lindsay as well (@psalm151ls).
I did a Bible Study through James either last year or the year before (they all blur into one at some point). This is only one of several confronting and difficult things that James says. I think James is an eminently practical man and pastor… I also think that if we read his work and are not challenged in the way we think and act then we are not reading with a heart and mind opened to being changed by the work of the Holy Spirit.
So first let me say that I commend you for coming to the passage and looking to find it’s truth.
While I agree with what Lindsay says, I also think there is more to the idea of doubt (or double-mindedness) than what we see at first glance. Like many of the letters in the NT we get opening statements that are more fully developed later in the letter and I do think that this one of those.
James is obviously writing to churches going through division and persecution. His admonitions throughout the letter have both positive and negative aspects. I think, for this one, I would direct you through to James 4:7-8 where he also talks about being double-minded and also 3:13-18 about two kinds of wisdom.
His challenge in chapter 4 is to “Submit to God” (positive) and “Resist the Devil” (negative). We cannot have a foot in both camps by trying to serve two masters. We are to actively work towards both those things, submitting to one and resisting the other.
In his opening salvo and his entreaty to “believe” (positive) and “not doubt” (negative), I don’t believe he is talking about having intellectual doubts about God and his decrees, or even his ability to grant us wisdom (I think James would know the reality of the weakness of fallen humanity). But he exhorts us to believe and desire that God’s wisdom is indeed wisdom (fleshed out in James 3 with two kinds of wisdom) and that we would actually desire to receive it and be changed by it. On the flip side of this he wants us to recognise that the apparent wisdom of the world and the devil is not wisdom and not to desire or believe that it is.
Practically speaking… I think sometimes we pray for certain wisdom or change because we know that it is the right thing to do. But do we sometimes pray this with the hope that maybe God won’t make us change right away? Maybe he could let us keep going a little bit longer in our old habits (or a lot bit longer?). After all, we’re enjoying the way we are and don’t really want to change right now. I think this is the double-mindedness we are to avoid. Believe that God’s wisdom is, indeed, true wisdom… and don’t doubt that you want to change from the “wisdom” that is worldly and of the devil.
I think it is only natural that we question and doubt… I think James would be the first to agree because I think he was practical. But I think he also understood the human heart better than we give him credit for… and he exhorts us not to make a half-hearted attempt to be wise in the way of God, but to give ourselves over fully to it.
I feel like I’ve just written a sermon… I hope it wasn’t too preachy (although if I am preaching, it’s to myself) . Does that help at all? I hope and pray that it does.