Peter is by far one of the best profiles in the New Testament that can help us appreciate the intensity of how God desires to change us. If our faith has stalled, or never really started, we’d be wise to consider the following.
I’ve shared before, that for many years as a dedicated Christian I lived a life that reflected little if any power. By power I mean I had little or no impact in the world (years went by and no one was ever brought to Christ through me) and I suffered continual defeat in trying to break free from habits and attitudes that seemed to have an unrelenting grip on my life.
I had considerable knowledge and even layers of Christian experience to compliment it but it wasn’t enough. For over three decades I knew there was more and the “Freedom” for which Christ died for alluded me. In some ways, I felt very much like Peter. I walked with the Lord, knew Him, knew I was saved but kept running into spiritual conflict that prevented me from experiencing the “unspeakable joy” promised in the Bible that’s meant to accompany our faith. By the way, guess who shared that particular spiritual principle about joy? Peter, much later in his life than the time we will consider presently.
In John’s Gospel near the end of Jesus earthly life, we get a penetrating look into the life of a man who so deeply represents many of us. Peter had walked with Jesus for some time, years in fact. He heard the same parables straight from Jesus mouth we read about and undoubtedly many more around the campfire at nights when the troop of disciples chatted and had earnest opportunity to ask questions directly to their master. Peter had been conveyed power, supernaturally, right from Jesus in mission as part of his training, undoubtedly performed miracles as part of that commission and even walked on water…
Peter knew the man Jesus of Nazareth.
And Peter recognized Jesus greatness. Who wouldn’t? Jesus insight, wisdom and power to refute his enemies and expose injustice and conduct mercy was overwhelming and had washed over Peter for nearly three years. And Peter was a close friend of Jesus also. One of his right-hand men, honored amongst the primary disciples and exposed to all this truth, yet, despite all of this, Peter’s life as we close the gospel of John is incomplete. He is still searching for answers, lacking understanding, and conducting himself based on his own understanding and his own strength…
Just like the majority of Christians today.
Prior to Jesus passion the intensity and excitement of Jesus entrance to Jerusalem ignited the disciple’s anticipations of Jesus take over and rule, so much they begin jockeying themselves for power on the final trip to Jerusalem. To counter this development, Jesus chooses to model what his followers look like, servants. Jesus picks up a towel and basin and washes the filthy feet of his friends who had been arguing who was the most important person in the room. (John 13:33-38). When Jesus comes to Peter we get a clear portrait of Peter’s heart. “You are going to wash my feet?” Peter says indignantly. The follows Jesus unforgettable response “If I don’t’ you have no part in me.” Peter’s misguided declaration must be seen for what it was. It was not noble, as it may seem. We say lots of things that appear noble and sound good. They convey a sense of humility or so we think, but in Peter it was him saying to Jesus, “No this is the line Jesus, I decide what is appropriate for what you clean in me, not you.”
Now we understand Jesus response and why.
It’s Jesus, not us, who decides what gets cleaned. It’s Jesus confronting and colliding with pride that makes or breaks faith. We have ridiculous notions in the church today masquerading in various forms of “self-reclamation” or some new program for finding what we missed in childhood when we’re really not believing in a transforming Savoir but actually telling Jesus what type of Christian we will let Him be in us. There are more diversions today in the church than ever before promulgated by the programs and the church gets worse not better. It’s more popular to be beating drums in the woods trying to find our inner child instead of teaching folks how to sure their faith! I got caught up in this nonsense as well over the years. I got sidetracked through diversions that kept Jesus out of the throne of my heart which accounted for the lack of transformation.
At the same supper, after Jesus dropped the bomb he was going away, Peter makes bold declaration as its now apparent Jesus isn’t going to stick around in Jerusalem and unseat the powers that be, so Peter’s taken aback. “What do you mean your going away?” and “Why can’t I follow you?” Peter’s folly is revealed, saying “I’m ready to lay down my life for you.” (John 13: 37). That’s a bold statement from someone who knew Jesus the man pretty well and thought he knew himself also. Jesus response shows Peter he has no idea who he is really, and all his bravado and human pride is unfit for the Kingdom of God. “Before the morning comes you’ll deny me three times” is Jesus response. By the time they are in the garden, Peter’s overreactive knee jerk reaction to “prove Jesus wrong” winds up with almost getting himself killed by trying to attack those who came for Jesus with a sword. Its here we see the summary of Peter’s disconnected faith, “Put your sword back, for all who take up the sword will perish by it” (Matthew 26: 52). Note Jesus fixes the damage caused by Peter and heals the man struck by the sword. Has our human centered faith created an atmosphere where Jesus has had to clean up the damage? Mine has, more times than I would care to tell.
Even after the Jesus cleans up the relational rift between him and Peter caused by Peter’s man entered faith, Peter isn’t listening to Jesus but comparing himself to John at the end of John’s gospel (John 21). What’s Jesus response? “You follow me.” That means my friend its much more important to follow Jesus than any man or woman’s personality, no matter how charming or how powerful they appear to be in thought and spoken word. And its crucially important we find others who believe the same thing or else we will covertly wind up participating in self-centered projects, which undoubtedly look good, which look Christian, and have aspects of Christian kindness that look like spiritual gifts but being man centered and in the Kingdom of God they stink like refuse.
I’m afraid there are more churches, more ministries and more so-called works of God that fall in this category than we realize; causing damage. We may even be the type of Christian that works in these realms, and while we participate in them we know when we look in the mirror we are still… non-transformed.
So how do we lived Kingdom minded Kingdom powered and Kingdom oriented which produces Kingdom freedom, power and fruit.
Peter’s life, transformed in Christ again gives us a clear answer.
In Acts chapter two, the semi-defeated Peter is seated with the rest of the folks undoubtedly a target of discussion about his “bold declarations” and recent miserable failures. Everyone is scared but the group of disciples men and women mind you, is obedient. Jesus himself has commanded they wait and tarry for the promise of the Father by which they will have the power to be his witnesses. Not man centered power, His power. The one thing they learned since Jesus arrest, crucifixion and resurrection was that they needed him more than they realized and that all that they thought about themselves had been reworked in the aftermath. They were ready to listen.
The power to live in the Kingdom in the manner and form that God and Jesus provides is done on God’s terms and in God’s power. It is not done by rationale arguments and reasonable conclusions about life. Those things are common sense, provided they haven’t been thwarted. Peter’s life did not become effective, until he was transformed on God’s terms and washed the way Jesus intended not his. This happens to us, and happened to Peter through the person of the Holy Spirit. You see many live in the fear that we are not effective, and of course when we live in this fear we’re not. But even more of us live in the fear of what we will become if we really let God have control of the kingdom of our hearts. Peter wasn’t going to become some super warrior that forced Jesus upon his adversaries. Nor, was he going to tell God what he could and couldn’t have and expect to be used by an omnipotent, omniscience all powerful Creator! Watch what happens.
God fulfills His promise at the right place and the right time and wonderfully inter-relationally. On the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit which Jesus clearly described would be the power and insight they needed comes via the obedience and belief of the believers that Jesus would provide it! The disciples and don’t miss this, all 120 of them did nothing…..except wait for God as He commanded. Please don’t miss the fact this also happened in community. You want to know another mark of a Christian without power, one in isolation.
We must be supernaturally transformed to be effective. Hanging on to a partial past and improving your moral life is not Christianity. Its religious, but not Christianity.
While Peter had walked with and breathed in the presence of Jesus taking in incredible depths of spiritual understanding and wisdom; walking with Jesus and knowing the man Jesus was not enough! Here’s another eye opener even if you know the Son of God and confess him accurately for who He is. Intellectual ascent is not enough to be His witness or to be effective! We know that from Peter’s confession of Jesus as the Messiah (Matt 16: 33)! God knew as Peter testified in Acts 2 this equipping by the Holy Spirit was part of a pre-determined divine plan to accomplish God’s work on earth. You see God’s work on earth isn’t accomplish by human endeavor. Its accomplished by His Spirit. The transformed Peter is immediately by the power of the Holy Spirit standing in the middle of Jerusalem boldly pronouncing Jesus and letting the world know the event that ignited this was a predetermined plan of God to release His Spirit onto the world in the power of the Gospel; no more swinging swords, or telling Jesus what to do, or how he should do it, or formulating strategies devising schemes! There’s a man completely reformed on God’s terms because now he is obedient to accomplish God’s will, not his. And with him were 119 others who experienced the same thing.
Now given this transformation of Peter, how in the world can we conclude this baptism or immersion by God and its subsequent empowerment of His Spirit was meant for the first century and a “specific limited historical event” Are we greater than Peter? Is there some alternative form of transformation taught in scripture by Paul or anywhere in the New Testament? Peter didn’t believe so, listen to his words, speaking of Jesus “having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured forth this which you both see and hear.” Peter was only verifying Jesus promise in Luke 24 and the first chapter of Acts. But then Peter goes farther saying, “for the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to himself” (Acts 2: 39). What’s the promise Peter is speaking of? It’s still the Holy Spirit, that’s the gist of the passage. Undoubtedly, it includes salvation but it is not exclusive to salvation. Then Peter continues saying, it’s not only for those listening, which despite some of my evangelical brothers in Christ, this statement can’t be for the disciples as they already received it, it’s for those now listening to Peter’s message, and to their children meaning subsequent generations! And just so we don’t miss the point Peter is driving home because remember he’s now transformed and understands spiritually was has occurred in his own heart and spirit, he closes saying “and for all those our God will call to himself.” The transformative explosive power received by Peter which really was quite remarkable was not a one-time event, not according to Peter anyway nor the Bible. it’s meant for all God will call indicating the future and that means you and me!
The transformation of Peter, jumped from the intellectual to the supernatural with Pentecost. It didn’t stop there either as we read through the book of Acts we see this Peter growing, expanding and stepping increasingly into the experience of a different man. No longer did Peter simply understand “the man” Christ Jesus from the perspective of his observation and experience. The Christ of the Gospels now resided through the Spirit of God within Peter, Peter was now becoming Christ in the world with the power to be internally transformed, and spiritually empowered. This seems to be a threshold moment for most Christians, we are supposed to be an incarnation of Christ, “Christ in you, the hope of Glory” (Colossians 1:27) not only through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit but with the power that comes with it to affect the world for God. Ephesians confirms this. “That you would know; what is the surpassing greatness of His power towards us who believe” (Ephesians 1:19). This goes way beyond the intellectual knowledge of Christ and all the things information available about him in scripture and propels us into an intimate powerful, transforming persona of Jesus on earth that does the business of the Kingdom. If to many years have gone by since we told someone about the living Christ, (and telling Jesus about your church, or your church group is not telling them about Christ) let’s figure out if we slipped back into our own power and ask for Him reignition of our faith! The Bible promises He will answer and provide. But remarkably, it does require we ask in the first place, which of course requires you believe He is desiring to do these things in our lives!J.P. Grier M.S. Counseling M.C.M. Pastoral Counseling
JP Grier is the founder and writer at SentinelforChrist.com – A network of Christians helping each other to press deeper in Christ.