Matthew opens a small window into Peter’s thinking in chapter 16. Of course, we know that later Peter will try to tell Jesus what he should and should not do (“Never, Lord!” he said. “This [suffering] shall never happen to you!” (16:22); offer to build a shelter on a mountaintop for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah (17:4), and of all things, Peter will deny Christ (26:69-75).
Considering these faux pas we might not consider Peter the most “in tune” radio in the store, yet when Jesus asks him, “Who do you say that I am?” Peter answers, “You are the
Messiah, the Son of the living God” (verse 16).
With such a wide-ranging experience, one might wonder why Jesus appointed Peter to lead the disciples after Jesus’ ascension, yet Paul teaches, “If you confess with your mouth, Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you
confess and are saved” (Romans 10:9,10). It wasn’t Peter’s actions that saved him, but his confession, by faith, in Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
It is easy for us to set up lists of rules and regulations to identify those who are “with us” and those who are “without.” Doesn’t the Bible tell us to be transformed? Aren’t we supposed to be salt and light to the world? A peculiar people? Set apart? Then, shouldn’t those who identify with the gospel have some “identifying” marks? How will the world know the One we represent unless we show them?
First, let me say that tradition can be a marvelous thing. Within a group’s traditions they find identification, education, and security. We know who we are and can relax with those just like us. Unfortunately, local churches sometimes unwittingly adopt a we four and no more kind of attitude that not only identifies those within the circle, but also keeps others outside of it, and the identifying characteristics that used to point to Christ instead point to the building or the group or the traditions.
So I want to ask today, “Who do YOU say that He is?” Do you, with Peter, identify Jesus as the Son of God, the Messiah? Such great news! As Paul states, above, it is that confession of “Jesus as Lord” that brings you salvation, regeneration, justification, and sanctification—a lot of “-tion” ways to say that you are saved by grace, through faith, by the gift of God (Ephesians 2:8).
The day after I dedicated my life to Christ I called back home and told my parents that I was going to be a “real” Christian, that I was saved. My dad wanted to know what I was
saved from, and my mom started to list behavioral issues in my life that I would have to change if I wanted to please God. They didn’t understand what I was saying, and I didn’t know how to explain it, yet. However, their comments bounced around in my heart as I thought about what this new experience would mean to me and to those around me. What was the
proper response to such an amazing gift? What was the next step?
In Bible college, the professors used to tell us about altar calls in the old churches where the ladies of the church were on hand with wash cloths for the “painted ladies” to wash off their makeup after then came down to the altar to give their lives to Christ. Had to give them a good start to holiness! To be fair, the initial intent may have been to help the woman recognize that she was accepted in Christ just as she was, but the practice became almost violating. Instead of celebrating with the woman and accepting her just as she was, they “told” her, with her actions, that her confession was not enough. If she really wanted to be a Christian, she would need to get off that awful makeup and change her behavior.
How quickly after your confession of Christ did your life change? Were you a church kid who really was not doing much outside the parameters of faith when you felt the call? So there wasn’t much to change? Bless you! You may feel cheated that you don’t have an amazing testimony, but you do, in truth: that God (and your parents) was able to
protect you from the world until you make the confession of faith, until you committed yourself to Christ. What a wonderful testimony! But even those of us who didn’t have to be pulled out of the muck and mire of sin find ourselves asking, “What’s next?” and “Where do we go from here?”
It is hard for me to believe that my daughter is a junior in high school. Where did the years go? I remember watching her trying to roll over, then toddling and trying to walk. Pretty soon she was running, and she hasn’t stopped yet. As a child’s body changes, the next steps come naturally. He or she begins to stretch and tighten those muscles, allowing new and greater tasks.
The Christian life is no different. You see, we do a disservice to some new believers when we take them from the altar and start listing all the things they need to change in their lives to be a good Christian. Calling it discipleship, we begin to pigeon-hole them, telling them what is wrong with them, rather than what is right. We take over the Holy Spirit’s job of conviction and transformation, sending young believers on a wild-goose chase of maladies that need to be corrected, when they should be sitting at the feet of Jesus, in the Bible and in the Church, learning, growing, and changing as the Holy Spirit works in their lives.
Jesus took the second approach. Don’t you think Jesus knew Peter tended to come of kind of “half-cocked” and go over the edge from time to time? Oh yes. But Jesus also knew what Peter could and would become over time. He was willing to take the time to be with Peter, to walk with him, to teach him about faith, knowing that as the Spirit worked in Peter’s heart, Peter would become the man he was called to be.
Please don’t misunderstand and think that I’m saying to “wink” at sin, to be wholesale accepting of any practice that comes through the doors of the church. What I am saying, however, is to be discerning, to be accepting of the person that Jesus has accepted. The “fetters” will fall away with time. Be patient with others. That bearded, pierced, tattooed motorcyclist you are judging as someone needing to “get to the altar,” may be an amazing soul winner who just does not fit into your mold of what a Christian should look like.
Most of all, be patient with yourself. Don’t excuse those things of which God has convicted you. Rather, place them in God’s hands and receive God’s strength to change them, recognizing that it is God’s strength that will bring the change, not your own. Lean on Jesus, not on your own strength, so you can become the person you are meant to be.
Mary Kay Glunt, Pastor
Ebenezer Presbyterian Church
P.O. Box 393
Greenfield, Missouri 65616