There are few people in the Bible I resonate with more than Peter. Throughout his story, he shows these amazing moments of insight—and often follows them up by sticking his foot in his mouth. Peter is, in many ways, a failure. One just like us.
Peter is a human being, prone to fear and anxiety. Who lacks understanding or thinks he knows better than he does—who lives out of his assumptions about what God is doing, or should do. And when his assumptions are challenged, when his understanding of how the world works breaks down, he does what so many of us do: he compromises himself. He fails. And we are no different.
Two compromises that lead to failure
The first way we are tempted to compromise ourselves is by capitulating. By this I mean, we wind up denying Jesus in the moment because, honestly, it’s easier. In this instance, we might obfuscate difficult teachings in the Bible that don’t align with current social values, or stay silent when our team, network, or denomination are morally or theologically compromised. We are like Peter as he shrunk back from Annas’ irritated doorkeeper (John 18:17).
But the other way we compromise ourselves is by overcompensating. So we’ll thump our chests and set couches on fire to make some kind of point. (Maybe?) We’ll mock, scorn, and slander those who are either far from Jesus or those who are trying to compel us back to the truth. We confuse cruelty for boldness. And in this, we are like Peter as he recklessly swung his sword about in the garden, aiming for Malchus’ head, but cutting off his ear (John 18:10).
Fear, not boldness, grace, or compassion, pushes us toward compromise in either direction. Maybe that fear is that God is not really in control. Perhaps it’s that what he is doing isn’t what we expected. It might even simply be fear-driven by what we see and read in the news every day—stories of war, strife, scandal, and worse. All stories that encourage us to live in fear.
But “God did not give us a Spirit of fear but of power and love and self-control” (2 Timothy 1:7). And in those moments when we are tempted toward either form of compromise—to capitulate or to overcompensate—what should we do?
Grace before we fail
This is where we need to lean on the grace God gives us before we fail as we examine ourselves. So we turn to God’s Word, and we consider how our temptations to respond align with the character we’re called to have:
- Is our response one that exhibits “power and love and self-control”?
- Does it display the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22–23)?
- Does it reflect that Great Commandment—an all-encompassing love of God and a love of our neighbors?
And we ask the Spirit to help us see the truth as we take a deep breath and ask:
- What it is that we are really afraid of?
- What do our temptations toward either capitulation or overcompensation reveal about what has a hold on our hearts?
And we turn to our community—the people closest to us, the ones who can speak the truth in love to us (Ephesians 4:15). We ask them to challenge us and correct us—to pull us back before we fail.
The amazing thing about this? God will do this. He will help us to see the truth and respond the way we are meant to—as Christians. He will correct us, redirect us, and lead us to respond to that which tempts us to fear in the way that most honors him. In that, he is showing us grace before we fail.
Grace after we fail
But what about after we fail? We all have failures that come to mind, don’t we? All the times we’ve been silent and should have spoken up. Where we’ve shrunk back when we should have stood firm. The times when we’ve acted as arrogant blowhards when we should have been quiet. Where we’ve overreacted when we should have been measured.
Those of us with more tender consciences are prone to stew on those failures. Worse, we can even begin to define ourselves by them and think that God is done with us because of how we’ve failed. In those moments, there is grace for us too.
When we feel conviction over our failures, that is the Holy Spirit at work in us, leading us to repent—not just to ask God to forgive us, but those we’ve failed with our wrong response. The conviction we feel when we sin is grace. Acting on it is grace too; to humble ourselves is no small thing, prideful as we are.
When we fail, God pursues us. Think about the living parable that is Hosea—just as the prophet pursued his unfaithful wife, so God pursued his unfaithful people. Just as Peter failed so many times (John 18:15–27), Jesus pursued Peter and restored him (John 21:15–19). Jesus showed Peter grace after he failed. And he does the same to us, through the same means he does before we fail—through his Word, his Spirit, and his people.
That is what all of us need to know today. Wherever we’re at, whether we’re unburdened by failure, or we’re feeling its weight profoundly, we need to know this: there is grace for us. Jesus offers it freely. And it is ours if we are willing to take it.