Obedience As an Act of Love
The first lesson in obedience is taught in the home. Therefore, distorted views of obedience can produce a skewed understanding of the true obedience the Lord requires in Scripture. He initiated obedience by modeling His own submission to the Father. His obedience helps me to see, with adoring eyes, how obedience is an act of love. First, it is an act of love to our Heavenly Father. It is also an act of love to myself because to obey is to love what God loves for me. My obedience is an act of love to the community in which I live, worship, and work. When I am walking in obedience to God’s precious Word, my whole world is receiving a kind of love which is an extension of Christ Himself. However, we still fail. Miserably.
On Failing Well
What should our response be to our failure? Scripture gives an account in Luke 22 that lifted me out of the depths of despair many times as I have come face to face with my sin. As humans, we all miss the mark required by God: perfect holiness. His standard for holiness is perfection. Whether we miss the mark by 10 degrees, or 180 degrees it does not matter. Whether we commit the act of adultery, or commit the act in our hearts. Whether we harbor hatred toward someone, or go through with the heinous act of murder. Whether we gossip, or whether we tear someone down to their face. At the foot of the cross we all come prostrate before Him. Any act of our sinfulness is a perspicuous denial of God. I think that is why I resonate with Peter.
Peter was a “think after the fact” type of guy. He was boastful, prideful, and always needed a little extra attention from Jesus. He needed the rough edges of his weak faith to be smoothed out in a way which required a face to face encounter with the mercies of God. In Luke 22, Jesus foretells of Peter’s denial. “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers”.
Interestingly, Jesus says He prayed for Peter’s FAITH. There was a point in my Christian walk I would have read this passage to mean Jesus prayed the sifting Satan was doing wouldn’t tempt Peter to give in to sin. Now, I fully understand God does NOT want us to sin. However, the reality is, we do. We will. Until we get to Heaven we are still under the curse of this world and wrestle with the sin nature we acquired at birth. The Lordship of Christ, however, overcomes all our sin and the condemnation we are to receive as a payment for sin. Peter swears to Jesus he will go to prison, even to death for, and with Jesus. But, this dramatic act of sacrifice is not what Jesus required of Peter. All required of Peter was an act of loving obedience to Christ. Here we see Peter being his usual self-centered, self-loving, dramatic acts of sacrifice-self, and for what? Jesus KNEW Peter was going to deny Him. Jesus prayed for Peter knowing Peter’s flesh would fail.
Notice how Jesus did not pray for Peter’s strength to overcome sin. If this were the case, any hope we have in Jesus being the faithful high priest He promises us He will be, would be null and void. Completely nullified. If Jesus were to pray for Peter not sin, then he would not have denied Him. What is most important to Jesus is for Peter’s faith not to fail. Our faith lasts long after the sin is committed. Therefore, Jesus prayed for what would be lasting: Peter’s faith to be steadfast after failure.
All Sin As Denial
Peter’s denial is a baseline for every failing we have as a believer. Any sin is a direct denial of Christ. Our sin denies His sovereignty when we engage our minds and hearts in worry and anxiety. Our sin denies His holiness when we willfully choose to welcome unholy activity into our bodies. The list could continue. This account of Peter’s future denial puts us all in Peter’s shoes: desperately in need of God’s mercy through the gift of repentance.
The story doesn’t end there, though. Peter is given a chance to let the grief and regret he felt for his denying Christ move him toward repentance- loving Jesus more than his sin (2 Corinthians 7:9-12). Peter’s counterpart, however, did not. Judas felt a grief and regret leading him to commit suicide. When we have failed, and failed miserly, Christ is our great High Priest who prays for our faith. He is seated at the right hand of the Father making intercession for us (Romans 8:34).
After Christ is resurrected from the dead, He reveals Himself to His disciples at a breakfast made on the beach where the disciples were fishing. Jesus knew what He needed to say to Peter. Jesus knew there needed to be a restoration of friendship, of love, and of forgiveness. It was in Christs’ mercy that He served Peter first, then they dined together to ease what needed to be said. The moment had arrived for Jesus to put Peter out of his pain for the denials that had taken place just three nights prior. When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” Three times Jesus asked this heart wrenching question to Peter, and three times Peter responded “Yes!” This, turning from the love of self to loving Christ more than his sin, is a precious gift. Satisfied by Peter’s sincerity, Jesus not only forgives the offense, but forgets it. There was no reminding Peter of this offense. There was no asking if he felt bad for long enough. The three denials Peter let store up in his heart and leave his mouth like projectile vomit, proved to be no match for the radical grace of God. It was in this moment Jesus restored Peter to the society of the disciples and restored his apostleship. Christ reminds Peter of the calling He placed on his life just a few nights before: “After you turn, strengthen your brothers”, “Feed my lambs”, “Tend my sheep”. Though humans can hardly trust those who have wronged us, Christ trusts Peter with His most prized possessions- His sheep.
Peter’s response to Christ’s mercy was obedience. His obedience triggered a love still felt in the bones of believers today. Peter was obedient to receive God’s mercy for sin, obedient to repent, and obedient to tend to God’s precious lambs. Peter did not have to conform, for Christ never used emotional or mental manipulation to convince Peter he was wrong. Anything contrary to that love (sin) will inevitably be met with the mercies of God in Christ- IF you are truly God’s child. Where tragic sin once held you to the core, you have a faithful high priest praying for your faith when you turn. His prayer is for your faith to be strengthened upon repentance, restoration to your faith community, and you strengthening your fellow brothers and sisters. Once you have received this incredible mercy… feed His lambs.
Our obedience to holy living is directly tied to Christ’s unwavering love and His lavishing His mercy upon us. Fix. Gaze. Be in awe of that mercy… let your failures be where Christ proves His unrelenting love and grace to you. I know first hand how utter failure to be obedient can bring about a grief leading you to believe everyone you have hurt would be better off if you were dead. That is the final lie Judas believed before he hung himself from a tree. The grief is real. Let me affirm the grief you are experiencing right now. However, let God’s gift in bringing your sin to light reveal His kindness, mercy, and great love He extravagantly pours out on all those who call upon His name for forgiveness. For, He will surely forgive with an abundance of forgiveness (Psalm 86:5).
I asked a fifth grader of mine how to end this post. He is far wiser than I will ever be. Here’s what he told me to tell you:
“Everybody sins. God knows we will sin. Don’t try to be perfect. We will continue to sin until Jesus comes to earth to receive us to Himself, or we die. Bottom line.”