In my sermon yesterday morning at Westside Baptist Church, I pointed out that Christians should stand for truth and righteousness. Yet, we should stand just as resolutely for grace and forgiveness.
Romans 5:20 (New Living Translation)
“God’s law was given so that all people could see how sinful they were. But as people sinned more and more, God’s wonderful grace became more abundant.”
But, to what extent does this grace extend? We agree that God can forgive anyone who confesses their sin and repents (turns from it with the intention of not doing it again).
But, can such a person be restored? Must they always wear the ‘scarlet letter’?
Some Christians and churches remember sins that folks committed years ago and, even though that sin has been confessed and repented of, that person struggles to find their way back into places of service and leadership within the church.
Most certainly a consequence of sin is that while we can be forgiven we may always wear the mark. Yet, that doesn’t mean that we cannot be restored to service.
It is doubtful that you could commit a greater offense than outright denying your relationship with Jesus … in fact, deny it so effectively that you utter curses to seal the deal. (You can read the account of Peter’s denial in Matthew 26:69-75).
After Jesus crucifixion and resurrection, He revealed Himself to His disciples to show that He had really come back from the dead. In fact, we read in John 21:1 – “After this Jesus revealed himself again to the disciples…” So, the disciples didn’t just see Jesus once. He visited with them on a few occasions.
In John 21:3, we see a defeated Apostle Peter. He had denied Jesus. Jesus had been crucified. Peter had seen Jesus a couple of times after His resurrection. And Peter said, “I am going fishing.”
Probably because he was riddled with guilt. He knew that he had denied Jesus. Jesus had invested 3 years of teaching and training into Peter and Peter had blown it. He suspected Jesus would forgive him but as far as doing ministry for Jesus as planned, forget it! That plan was toast. Peter had blown it and there was just no way on earth that Jesus was going to stay with the initial plan of using Peter for great things … or so Peter thought.
The third time Jesus revealed Himself to His disciples with Peter in the midst (John 21:14), Jesus looked at Peter. He knew that Peter was broken over the fact that he had rejected Jesus not just once but three times. Peter had wept bitterly, after all (Matthew 26:75). Peter had learned his lesson. He wouldn’t do it again.
So, Jesus directed his attention away from the group of disciples and spoke directly to Peter as the others watched in silence. Jesus not only made it clear that Peter had been forgiven. He wanted Peter to know that ‘Plan A’ was still activated. Peter was going to be restored to ministry.
John 21:15-17 (New Living Translation)
After breakfast Jesus asked Simon Peter, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?’
‘Yes, Lord,’ Peter replied, ‘you know I love you.’
‘Then feed my lambs,’ Jesus told him.
Jesus repeated the question: ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’
‘Yes, Lord,’ Peter said, ‘you know I love you.’
‘Then take care of my sheep,’ Jesus said.
A third time he asked him, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’
Peter was hurt that Jesus asked the question a third time. He said, ‘Lord, you know everything. You know that I love you.’
Jesus said, ‘Then feed my sheep.’
Can someone be forgiven of major sin if they are broken over what they have done, confess that sin to the Lord and repent of it (and, if appropriate & necessary, make it right with whoever they have wronged)? Yes! A thousand times ‘Yes’!
Can that person be restored to service and even positions of leadership within the church and God’s Kingdom if they have turned from that sin? Jesus’ words to Peter answer that question.