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I can only imagine his horror, anguish, that sinking, sickening pit in his stomach as he realized what he’d done.

How on earth could this happen??

In the moment it all probably happened so fast, before he could think straight, the slope was slippery by then and he slid down. Afterwards, perhaps he thought back to the scene, he could still feel the fire’s heat on his hands, his face, the cold night air on his back …

… the same back turned to his Lord.

Behind him, not far away, Jesus was being beaten, accused, slapped and spit upon …

… while Peter swore a third time, “I told you, I don’t know him!” 

This story always haunts me, you know. If the great Apostle Peter denied Christ, who am I to think I never would? So this time, as I re-read through the gospels, I decided to follow Peter’s Progression. Falling away is never sudden, and apostasy isn’t immediate. Anytime we backslide it is because of a slow turning, gradual drifting, a a lulling to sleep, a subtle shift. So perhaps, I thought, if we look at Peter and how he denied the Lord, we can go backwards and see his progression which will help inform our own lives. Here’s what I found.

  1. Mind set on things of man (not taking every thought captive): Mark 8:33

    Every action begins with a thought. In Mark 8, Peter takes Jesus aside to say that Jesus will not die on the cross. Jesus looks Peter in the eye and responds with the famous, “Get behind me, Satan!” Yikes! Peter’s statement provokes being called Satan?! Whoa! But apparently, Jesus saw this sin as severe enough for this harsh correction. Why? “You are setting your mind on the things of man, not the things of God.” It is of utmost importance that we understand the battlefield in our minds, and learn to take every thought captive and make it obey Jesus.

  2. Overconfidence in our own devotion (self-reliance): Mark 14:31

    In Mark 14:31, when Jesus begins to expound on the hard road ahead, of his death, Peter boasts, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never deny you!” Oh, Peter. He was so sure of himself. He was so sure of his own devotion, and his boast smacks of self-reliance, rather than a humble acknowledgement that he was susceptible to sin. We can be the same way. We can see someone’s sin, something egregious perhaps, and say with disgust, “I would NEVER do that.” Well, yes I would. Yes I would. Even recently the Lord has shown me hard truths about how slippery is the slope to sin. The solution, of course, is not to live in fear or hopelessness, but to put our hope and trust in HIS keeping ability, not our own. The solution is to recognize that we MUST keep ourselves close to Christ, which leads us to Peter’s final step:

  3. Avoidance of suffering & distancing oneself from hardship for the sake of pursuing comfort: Mark 14:66-72

    When Jesus is first arrested, Peter is there and ready to fight. Many of us are eager for drama, and perhaps even like the idea of battling for the name of Christ. But then, when Peter sees the path of Jesus marked by persecution, not by fighting, when he sees the way of Christ walked out in suffering, not in crusading, he slowly and silently slips away into the night. He stays near, but at a safe distance, warming himself by the fire, pursuing comfort instead of Christ. It’s hard to know exactly how it happened, but next thing he knows he’s being asked about Jesus, and next thing he knows he’s vehemently denied Him three times, as the rooster crows and he comes to the horrendous realization of what he’s done.

I am Peter. I am prone to these same things, and this progression helps me watch for the signs of the slow fade. Thankfully, Peter is restored. In fact, Peter’s response after falling, is what encourages me the most.

Peter’s response:

1. RUNS to see Him risen.

I love that the gospels tell us Peter (and John) RAN (John 20:4) to the tomb to see Jesus risen. I’d expect that of John, for John was the only one who stayed at the cross during Jesus’ death. But Peter?? I’d expect Peter to be hiding away, crippled with guilt and shame, unable to face Jesus at all. But no. Peter knows Jesus’ love enough to boldly RUN to the tomb. He can’t wait to come back home to Christ! And then,

2. THROWS himself into the sea.

Later, when Peter is out fishing, and Jesus appears on the shore (John 21:7), Peter THROWS HIMSELF into the sea, and swims to shore to see Jesus. I love this! Peter doesn’t care a wit about his fish, the boat, his clothes, how silly he looks, all he cares about is coming back home to Christ.

That’s repentance. Repentance isn’t sulking, hiding, ridden with guilt and shame. Repentance is the running home, the throwing ourselves headlong into the sea of His grace and love.

And He receives us. He builds a fire and makes us breakfast and says, “Do you love me?” and gives us an opportunity to set our affections back on Him and begin anew, better than ever, because we’ve learned from our past. Nothing’s wasted. His love is lavish, His grace sufficient. Even for Peters like me.

{Thanks for reading.}

  • Melissa Brawner

    Oh! Amen, amen, amen! As a member of the fallen-from-grace past, I can so identify with every part of this – totally. The part about suffering – oh, Jesus, help us to see it… Please help us to lay down our FB insults and our strong stands that cut down others, & help us pick up our cross, be “lowly in mind” as Christ, humble, gentle, Loving … and, most of all, willing to suffer. Are we willing to suffer? Am I willing to lose this fight in order to gain for the Kingdom? Our brothers and sisters overseas are laying down their lives: losing jobs, losing freedom, losing families, losing their lives… Will we be willing, as Christians in America, to accept the stripes, the beatings (whether physical or otherwise) to be able to say as Paul wrote, “I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus”?
    Paul asked (in Ephesians 6) that fellow Christians would pray for him so that he would speak boldly the gospel. . . May we pray one for another.
    Kari ~ thank you so much! !