There’s no getting around it – you’re going to fail God.
So am I.
Maybe you felt called to share the gospel with someone, but talked yourself out of it. Maybe you lost your temper and grumbled some choice words when you couldn’t find a parking place this morning. Maybe, right now, you have another tab open for a website you know you have no business visiting. Whatever the specifics, you and I are destined to fail in living up to God’s standards.
But how we respond to that failure is up to us, and either way failure can be a powerful force in our lives. Just look at the stories of Peter and Judas.
Peter and Judas both spent years in Jesus’ presence, leading up to the Last Supper. During that famous meal Jesus predicted that they would both fail Him in a major way before the next morning.
Judas ran from the meal to sell out His teacher, the man who had loved him.
Thanks to Judas’ betrayal, the very hands that washed his feet were pierced by nails the next day.
When he learned that Jesus was condemned to death, Judas crumpled under the weight of his failure. He ran to the high priests, desperate to undo their illicit deal, and finally hanged himself in a field. One of Jesus’ closest friends – reduced to grisly suicide.
How different might his story have ended if he’d turned to Jesus?
Peter didn’t believe that he would ever deny his Lord. Having seen Jesus perform many miracles, Peter recognized Jesus as the Christ, the chosen Messiah. He was the only disciple who put his life on the line by going toe-to-toe with a Roman soldier in the Garden of Gethsemane.
But Peter too would fall from grace.
Peter denied Jesus three times, just as Jesus said he would. After the final denial, Jesus’ eyes – the same eyes that wept over Lazarus and burned with anger when moneychangers desecrated the Temple – found him in the crowd. Like Judas, Peter collapsed under the weight of his sin.
But that’s not where Peter’s story ends.
When he saw the resurrected Christ on the shore, Peter dove into the sea and swam to his Lord. It was on that beach that Jesus rebuked and restored Peter, not only calling Peter back to Himself, but also into a key role of His ministry.
Growing up, I was the stereotypical good Christian kid. I memorized Bible verses, sat quietly through Sunday school, and always kept my head bowed and eyes closed during prayer. But when I made friends in high school, I quickly began to value their approval over God’s. Even though I maintained a perfect attendance record at church, I distanced myself from Jesus. I wanted to prove to those around me that I wasn’t a lame Christian.
My language changed, to the point of absurdity. I crammed vulgarity into my sentences like clothing into a stuffed suitcase. I routinely denied faith in Christ to my friend group. I treated my parents with undeserved disrespect. I was a punk.
Like Peter, I didn’t want to be associated with someone so unpopular as Jesus. By the time I got to college I’d realized my sin, but I was so deeply ashamed that I couldn’t imagine God would ever forgive me. I knew that I didn’t deserve forgiveness or fellowship with Him. I was stuck.
Then a friend interrupted one of my pity parties with a question: “If God has forgiven you, if Jesus has died for you, what right do you have to not forgive yourself?” Suddenly, I saw my stubborn devotion to guilt as a sin in itself.
But this didn’t trap me.
Instead, it freed me to accept the reality that Christ’s death was sufficient for me. After years of wallowing in guilt, Christ ushered me into a relationship that changed everything.
The difference between a life of regret and a life of repentance is where you turn to for redemption. Judas felt deep shame for his actions. He turned to the high priests, to religion. He sought to undo his sin himself, literally throwing money at his problem. Judas wanted to pay for his mistakes, and he ultimately did.
Peter turned to Christ. He accepted his Savior’s forgiveness and correction, and responded to His call. Rather than being crippled by his failure, Peter was able to move into a deeper relationship with Jesus.
I can’t promise that repentance will lead to your establishment as pastor of a huge church. I also can’t guarantee that repentance will spare you heartache in the future. But I do know what God’s Word says in 2 Corinthians 7:10: “For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.” It is impossible to live a life without failure. But will you respond like Peter or Judas?
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