As Kim and I walked the streets of Israel and mingled with people in Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris, France last week, we commented on how similar the human race is. While we didn’t understand their language, our skin pigment was a few shades different, and we felt out of place with some of their cultural nuances, we talked of how much we all have in common.
Children play and laugh at the same things. People generally interact with others in familiar ways. We all tend to experience the same emotions for generally the same reasons.
On and on this list could go.
But there is a common emotional experience that we all have. It occurs when we do something we know is wrong. We feel guilty. People in every culture know what this feeling is.
Guilt shows up in some predictable ways. We may look downcast. We may avoid eye contact with certain people. We may try avoidance and get away from what reminds us of our guilt. We may live with regret. Our minds may subconsciously undermine any attempt we make at trying to enjoy a moment.
Again, this list could go on and on. But I don’t need to elaborate too much because we all know what it feels like to experience guilt.
So let me speak words of clarification and comfort in an attempt to ease the feelings of guilt. Let’s first look at what Jesus said and then let me unpack the truths in His powerful words.
In this brief conversation, Jesus rocked the Apostle Peter’s world. He looked at him and said:
Luke 22:31–32 (HCSB) “‘Simon, Simon, look out! Satan has asked to sift you like wheat. But I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And you, when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.'”
First of all, when we look at Jesus’ words, we realize that Jesus deeply cared for Peter. In these few words, we hear Jesus tell Peter, “look out.” He’s warning him of an upcoming temptation. We also hear Jesus say that He was praying for Peter.
Friend, if you are a follower of Jesus, He feels the same way about you. He knows what’s up ahead of you. And He is praying (interceding) on your behalf that your faith (trust in and allegiance to Him) would not collapse. If you fall into sin, just as Peter did, it’s not a surprise to Jesus. He knew what was ahead and loved you enough to pray for you.
Second, we see in Jesus’ words where the source of our temptation comes from. It’s from our only enemy – Satan. But also notice that Satan has no authority over you – he has to ask God for permission before he can tempt you to sin. And God only gives permission to those things that He can use to develop us and grow us. Further, He will only allow us into situations where we are able to escape without sinning (1 Corinthians 10:13).
Third, Jesus is more gracious than we ever imagined! If you look back at what Jesus told Peter, He said that He would be praying for Peter. Yet, He knew that Peter was going to sin anyway. But implicit in His words is the fact that Jesus would be waiting with open arms after the sin was committed. He would still have a purpose for Peter. “But I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And you, when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”
So many contemporary Christians feel as if they have disappointed the Lord. They have sinned and feel as if God is justified in moving on. We would understand if He would no longer desire to use us – or even love us as much.
But that’s not true. If you want to see how ready Jesus is to forgive us and bring us back into relationship with Him, just read the last chapter of the Gospel of John. Observe how Jesus continued to pull Peter back in closer – and observe how Peter was motivated by felt guilt and felt unworthy of Jesus’ grace. Yet, Jesus loved him so much that He wouldn’t stop until Peter experienced His forgiveness and grace.
Fourth, notice in Jesus’ words (Luke 22:32) that Peter needed to do something to experience God’s grace. “And you, when you have turned back…”
“Turning back” is otherwise known an repentance. It means that we are genuinely sorry for what we have done and we turn around. We no longer want to commit that sin, we turn from it, and desire to replace that sin with a godly behavior.
Repentance is such a powerful word in the Bible and it is used often. It doesn’t mean we just confess what we have done. It means we reject it and abandon it. We kill it in our lives.
I believe that many Christians struggle with guilt because they have not properly repented. The wonderful truth is that when we genuinely repent on a heart-level, we are free to experience the cleansing power of Jesus’ love and grace.
Fifth and finally, we see another principle. It’s the fact that we are much weaker than we think we are. Any of us is capable of falling into any sin no matter how abhorrent we may presently think it is.
Luke 22:33-34 “‘Lord,’ he told Him, ‘I’m ready to go with You both to prison and to death!’ ‘I tell you, Peter,’He said, ‘the rooster will not crow today until you deny three times that you know Me!'”
Let’s not be so quick to look down our nose on others for sins they have committed. If it were not for the grace of God, we are all capable of doing anything. Anything!
And if the truth were known, we’ve done much more than other people know about.
But the wonderful truth is that the grace of God that we can receive and embrace is the grace that God wants to give to others.
So while we realize that sin is serious and needs to be avoided and rejected, we also realize that our God is so gracious that He can forgive anything and bring us and others back in relationship with Him.
So take the Bible’s prescription found in these words that Jesus gave to Peter, swallow them, and refuse to live with perpetual guilt. God doesn’t want us to live condemned.
Romans 8:1–2 (HCSB): Therefore, no condemnation now exists for those in Christ Jesus, because the Spirit’s law of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.”