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Peter declared, “Even if everyone else deserts you, I will never desert you.” Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, Peter—this very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny three times that you even know me.” “No!” Peter insisted. “Even if I have to die with you, I will never deny you!” And all the other disciples vowed the same. - Matthew 26:33-35 (NLT)
I live in downtown Lexington, fairly close to Euclid Kroger—the UK Campus Kroger, for those who don’t know. Part of the blessing (she said semi-sarcastically) of this is some interesting people-watching; I’ve seen people in lots of strange attire at this Kroger, with pajamas being one that’s more frequent. My judgmental side emerges in these moments and I tend to think: I would never. Yet, in my couple years of living in this location I, too, have since presented myself at our Kroger in all varieties of attire at all hours of the day. Yes, pajamas included. We think pretty highly of ourselves until we find ourselves where we never thought we’d be.
That is an extremely petty parallel to where Peter finds himself in this passage. Peter, who we know would later go on to deny Jesus, is insisting that he would never. Not only that, he’s also insisting that above and beyond the other disciples, that he would be the most loyal. He insists he would never desert Jesus.
Counseling has taught me that words like always or never are usually guarding something insecure. I don’t know Peter personally and I don’t know why he insisted on this so strongly, but there’s something we can easily recognize in this text: Pride. And there’s a reason for the adage, “the pride comes before the fall” (a paraphrase of Proverbs 16:18).
Despite our best intentions, we are all susceptible to fall to what we don’t want to do. Being human means we are all innately sinful and innately weak. And while Jesus offers us freedom, buying into the lie of pride is one of the quickest ways we overlook the gifts of grace and dependence He has offered to instead insist: No, I would never.
“And I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. I want to do what is right, but I can’t. I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway.” - Romans 7:18-19 (NLT)
We are obviously in a unique season, and we may be finding out how significant our appetites are right now, as well as how much willpower we have to overcome them. I have been surprised at how willing I am to work out when I have more time and more energy to burn. I have not been surprised at how poorly I resist a pint of ice cream in the freezer when I’m home all day.
The tension between body and spirit, will and willpower, is nothing new. These verses in Romans 7 clearly outline a frustration we all experience, of why we can’t seem to live up to our own hopes or expectations. And we’re not alone. Yesterday we saw that Peter’s pride, despite his insistence, wasn’t enough to overcome his own sinful humanity. This tension is also heeded a few verses later in that passage, when Jesus warns him, “Keep watch and pray, so that you will not give in to temptation. For the spirit is willing, but the body is weak!” (Matthew 26:41, NLT)
So what these many passages affirm to us over and over is not, “Keep trying harder and you will succeed,” though that’s how most of us approach our spiritual transformation. The offering instead is this: “The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you. And just as God raised Christ Jesus from the dead, he will give life to your mortal bodies by this same Spirit living within you.” (Romans 8:11, NLT) We have the Spirit who is willing and powerful where our humanity is fallible.
If our faith is more about our willpower than the Spirit and His power, we will miss the fullness of transformation and freedom being offered to us, and we’re likely to burn out or fall hard along the way. Rest assured, the Father never intended that we would live out of our own willpower but out of His sweet gift of presence and might.
I love God’s law with all my heart. But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. - Romans 7:22-23 (NLT)
It seems that all of humanity since the Garden of Eden has one impulse when we do something wrong: Hide. We (and even our pets, for that matter) do this from the time we are children. It matures and manifests in various coping mechanisms as we age.
As we continue to explore the tension of loving God and how we respond (or fail to respond), Romans 7 goes on to highlight what is referred to as a war with my mind. Those who struggle with mental health may relate to this in a more immediate way, but all of us as Jesus followers are in the middle of a spiritual battle, and we would be remiss to not acknowledge that we have a common enemy.
Knowing this reality, we have a clearer lens to view the shame that plagues us all. The way we all seem to respond to shame should tell us that while the enemy’s tactics are not original, they are too often successful in getting us to distance ourselves from the very thing we need most—intimacy with God and with others. We have an enemy who knows we are weak when we are alone, and he will do whatever he can to keep us chained there.
While it’s our conscience that teaches us to recognize our faults, the enemy succeeds when our guilt lapses into shame, because shame sends us into hiding. And we will remain a slave to our sin if we choose to stay hidden. When we distance ourselves from the Father, we are distancing ourselves from our power source, from the one who offers freedom, and from the one who has already defeated the very enemy who trips us up.
Are there areas of your life where shame keeps you away from God or others? Bring these things to God, knowing forgiveness is available, and find a close friend you can talk to about it. Listen to the song Out of Hiding by Steffany Gretzinger, if worship helps you connect.Share Tweet
Peter swore, “A curse on me if I’m lying—I don’t know the man!” And immediately the rooster crowed. Suddenly, Jesus’ words flashed through Peter’s mind: “Before the rooster crows, you will deny three times that you even know me.” And he went away, weeping bitterly. - Matthew 26:74-75 (NLT)
Can you remember a time you got caught? Or really messed up? Regardless of age, I always feel like a kid in grade school, getting in trouble for talking and called out in front of the entire class. The feeling is the same: A plunge in your gut, overwhelming shame and fear, knowing you disappointed yourself or others.
As a very image- or achievement-oriented person, I know the fear of failure all too well, and I know how final it feels to experience even an ounce of it. Yet the reality of grace is this: No failure is final, and every failure holds the potential for greater redemption.
Peter’s life is a profound example of this: He walked closely with Jesus, swore intently that he would never abandon Jesus, and here swears perhaps more intently that he doesn’t even know Jesus. The grace and forgiveness extended to cover that is no small thing, but, a spoiler alert, Jesus is that kind and that good.
It’s also important to recognize before Peter experienced this grace, he first recognized his shortcomings. His reaction is appropriate, and maybe feels familiar: He wept bitterly. In order to embrace the fullness of the redemption of grace, we also have to fully grieve the depths of our sin.
We have a tendency to run from the pain of our mistakes, and skip to the mercy Jesus so readily offers. Yet in order to receive grace truly, we must first repent—acknowledge, learn, and turn from our sin—so we may run unhindered toward the redemption of a powerful Savior. The gospel is this: That failure is not final, but it is inevitable, and grace awaits those who are willing to surrender the fullness of their sin.
Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord. So you see how it is: In my mind I really want to obey God’s law, but because of my sinful nature I am a slave to sin. - Romans 7:24-25 (NLT)
Have you had a moment during quarantine where you are so ready to leave your home and get back into a normal rhythm that you could scream? No, just me and the rest of the extroverts? Either way, there will be a day (God willing that day will be soon) when we are free to leave our homes, grocery shop with abandon, dine somewhere other than our kitchen table, gather with friends, and work in offices. Could you imagine that day coming and we continued to live as if we were still in quarantine?
Crazy as that sounds, that is how many of us go on living after we encounter the grace of God. He has set us free, opened the door, released us to life abundant and invited us to run, and yet many of us find ways to stay in our respective shelters. We strive, we isolate, we fear, we limit ourselves and an unfathomably good God to the confines of what we’ve known.
But the reality is this: If we have committed ourselves to Jesus, we are now entirely defined by His character, His freedom, His goodness, and the transformative work of His Spirit. Our sin, our striving, our slavery has no claim on us—not just less, none.
So if you find yourself weary, burning out on willpower, burdened by fear, feeling enslaved as you try to grow in your faith, know that you are picking up something Jesus died to take from you, and He is still so ready to take it and offer you more. We get to exchange our nature for that of Christ. We get to abide in the power of the Spirit who can accomplish in us what we will never be able to accomplish by ourselves. And that is good news.