Three Steps Forward

As a young man newly promoted into a field representative position for my employer, I traveled with my manager as he introduced me to the insurance agents who sold for our company throughout north central Ohio. We had plenty of “windshield time” over a several-week period, so I was privileged to learn from his time-tested cache of workplace wisdom, including this valuable insight: “Some people gain 20 years of experience one time, and others gain one year’s experience 20 times.” It was his way of setting the vision of constant learning, continual improvement, and increasing productivity. In a similar vein, Peter counseled believers that life in Christ is more than a one-time moment of salvation—it begins at our spiritual birth into Him and grows steadily through a lifelong maturity process. “The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ … has caused us to be born again into a living hope … to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled and unfading, kept in heaven for [us].”1 God’s Spirit births our spirit2 to a purposeful existence of learning and serving, all toward the vision that we “grow up into [our] salvation”3 and “bear much fruit.”4

Yet amid the three-steps-forward adventures along the way, there arise one-step-back moments of frustration. They happen to all of us; they happened to Peter. He had come to terms with the spiritual weakness in his natural self, he had experienced the relief of restoration, and he had availed himself to the Holy Spirit, who had done much through this bold apostle. Yet when influentials began to argue the need to attain righteousness by keeping Jewish law, even Peter was intimidated and “began to draw back and separate himself”5 from Gentile believers. It took a public rebuke from Paul6 to disabuse Peter of his misstep into doubt and to realign him with the truth of salvation by faith in Christ alone. (Good friends do this.)

Shortly before his martyr’s death, Peter penned final thoughts “to those who through the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ have received a faith as precious as ours.”7 “Make every effort,” he wrote, “to add to your faith goodness … knowledge … self-control … perseverance … godliness … mutual affection … and love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure,” Peter continued, “they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”8 By now, we know we cannot bear such spiritual fruit in our natural strength, but only as we offer ourselves entirely to the Spirit of God, knowing this: He will lead us in constant learning, continual improvement, and increasing productivity—to a lifetime of experience one time.

We pray with Paul that we “may be filled with the knowledge of [God’s] will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; being strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy; giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified [us] to share in the inheritance of the saints in light.”9 Amen.

1 1 Peter 1:3, 4 ESV
2 John 3:6
3 1 Peter 2:2 NIV
4 John 15:5 NIV
5 Galatians 2:12 ESV
6 Galatians 2:14-21
7 2 Peter 1:1 NIV
8 2 Peter 1:5-8 NIV
9 Colossians 1:9-12 ESV

You Will Receive Power

The impulsive disciple—decisive without restraint—had at every turn suffered the crushing failure of self-reliance and human wisdom the night it mattered most, when his Lord was betrayed. Sometimes transformation entails personal failure. The once-boastful one, now humbled before his risen Messiah, had experienced the freedom of forgiveness and the relief of restoration. Transformation includes liberation, as well. Yet when commissioned to spread the good news of life in Christ, Peter still lacked one crucial thing, as did his friends—the spiritual power to do so. This, too, would change. It had to change, for without the presence of the Spirit, there is no change in us.

Before ascending to His Father, Jesus told His disciples, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you.”1 Not long afterward, as the apostles were gathered, “there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind… And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit.”2 It was the promised power from on-high, and the change in Peter from that point on was clear. For this frightened man who had denied knowing Jesus to “one of the servant girls of the high priest”3 now spoke boldly of the resurrected Christ to the high priest himself.4 This disciple who in Gethsemane had failed to stay awake and “pray that [he] may not enter into temptation”5 now wisely cautioned others regarding spiritual warfare: “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.”6 He who had proudly pledged unparalleled loyalty7 finally understood where godly greatness lies: “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you.”8

Just as salvation is the gift of God—His Spirit giving birth to our spirit—so also is our transformation into the likeness of Christ. We can no more sanctify ourselves than we can save ourselves. Writes Peter: “[Jesus’] divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him… He has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.”9 As we turn from the ways of our sinful nature, having seen them exposed in the light of Christ, God grows us in His own nature. This is the work of the Spirit; this is change in us.

Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts. (Zechariah 4:6 ESV)

Father, open our heart to your Holy Spirit, that we would know and share your love, understand and apply your wisdom, and serve others in your power. Grace us to leave behind the things of our nature and to live increasingly in yours. In Jesus’ name, I pray. Amen.

1 Acts 1:8 ESV
2 Acts 2:2-4 ESV
3 Mark 14:66 ESV
4 Acts 4:5-12 ESV
5 Luke 22:40 ESV
6 1 Peter 5:8 ESV
7 Luke 22:33 ESV
8 1 Peter 5:6 ESV
9 2 Peter 1:3, 4 NIV

Restored!

We’d heard inmates share life perspectives that only the incarcerated could gain, but the prison ministry volunteers were unprepared for what this man had to say. “What I did was wrong, and I’m serving my sentence for it. But how would you like for your entire life to be judged by your worst decision on the worst day of your life?” We caught our breath; we understood. We’d all experienced “worst” decisions and days, and would prefer they not define us.

Peter had grievously erred. Shortly before His betrayal, Jesus had forewarned his disciples they would soon desert Him as foretold through Zechariah centuries prior, “I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.”1 Yet Peter asserted his will above God’s word and his allegiance beyond the others’, insisting, “Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away.”2 He scattered like everyone else, of course, and of the Twelve only Peter denied knowing the Lamb of God—not once but thrice—surely the worst decision on the worst day of his life. Would this tragic moment define Peter? Is this how he would be forever judged?

In Christ Jesus, what appears to us as a defining point of sin and death becomes for us the turning point of truth and grace. Appearing to his disciples for the third time since His resurrection, Jesus engaged Peter, not to condemn him, but to restore him—to mend this broken disciple and to send him whole again into a meaningful life of Kingdom work. Peter had proclaimed unequaled loyalty to Jesus, but now when asked if his love for Jesus exceeded that of the others, the humbled disciple avoided comparison, saying only, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”3 Peter had denied Jesus three times, and now three times Jesus asked him, “Do you love me?” At each “Yes,” Jesus pointed Peter to the Divine call of proactive love: “Do you love me? … Feed my sheep.”4

We don’t have to be defined by our worst decisions and days, for Jesus has overcome them, and all who live in Him by faith are made new. We stand in the truth of forgiveness and serve in the freedom of grace, knowing this: “After you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.”5 It was true for Peter; it will be true of us who believe.

Father, thank you for new life in Christ, and that our sin defines us no longer. Strengthen us, and send us to feed your sheep, however you call us to do this today. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

1 Matthew 26:31
2 Matthew 26:33 ESV
3, 4 John 21:17 ESV
5 1 Peter 5:10 ESV