January 17, 2018
New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”
Freedom to Fail
When we think of the stereotypical “Christian” they never swear, cheat, lie, steal, have imperfect or impure thoughts and keep the right kind of company. This list would preclude breaking any of the Ten Commandments, and leave our hypothetical person with only room for the Gifts of the Spirit. Well, the problem with our hypothetical person, is that he or she will never be more than hypothetical until we get to Heaven. In this life, it is just not possible given our fallen nature that we are all born with. The Apostle Paul summed it up this way:
Rom 7:18-25 – For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the wishing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. 19 For the good that I wish, I do not do; but I practice the very evil that I do not wish. 20 But if I am doing the very thing I do not wish, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. 21 I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wishes to do good. 22 For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, 23 but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind, and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin. (NAS)
If the Apostle Paul had given up on his own strength, I think we would do wisely to follow his lead. He realized he was fighting something more than himself. Even though he agreed completely with the law of God, the power of sin that dwelt in his mortal body railed and demanded its own way. In verse 24 he morns, “Wretched man that I am! “. He knew that in his own power, he could not win the war. But that he had been set free by his own personal death, burial and resurrection in Jesus Christ.
But Paul was still very much alive you say. He had never been crucified! True enough. But, when he met Jesus Christ on the road to Damascus, and was saved by faith in Jesus Christ, he was ‘sealed unto the day of redemption’.
Eph 4:30 – And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. (NAS)
When the Holy Spirit enters our lives at salvation, Jesus places His seal of ownership on us. In that act, we have changed camps from the enemy to the Lord’s camp. I believe that change is immutable, fixed forever. There are those who will debate the unchangeable nature of the switch, but few will argue the change. In that moment, our old nature is counted as crucified.
Rom 6:1-7 – What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace might increase? 2 May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it? 3 Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? 4 Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, in order that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. 5 For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall be also in the likeness of His resurrection, 6 knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, that our body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin; 7 for he who has died is freed from sin. (NAS)
It is not a licence to do whatever we please, but positionally, Jesus sees us as as crucified with Him. We will struggle with the old self until we pass from this life into the waiting arms of Jesus. But the struggle will end and He gives us His victory. Nothing we have done ourselves, but victorious by His great grace and mercy.
So, what has all this got to do with failing? Most of us are familiar with the phrase, “Nothing ventured, nothing gained.” The concept has a deep root of truth, even into the Christian life. From the Parable of the Sower:
Matt 13:23 – “And the one on whom seed was sown on the good soil, this is the man who hears the word and understands it; who indeed bears fruit, and brings forth, some a hundredfold, some sixty, and some thirty.” (NAS)
The difference in the harvests is dependent, at least in part, on how much seed the sower scattered. If he sowed sparingly, the harvest is sparse. If he sowed liberally, throwing seeds in great abundance, the harvest would be in great abundance. It is a measure of trust in the promise of God. Trust is something that is developed between people, even between a Christian and the Lord. As we are willing to reach out a little more, wade out a little bit deeper, as the song goes, God faithfully blesses us in His will. Bit by bit, we learn that He is ever faithful.
Peter showed this in the most graphic and powerful manor I can recall. He and his friends had been rowing half the night against the wind. They were ragged and worn from a day of service, and now a full shift at the oars. Jesus comes to then walking on the water. At first, they are convinced they are seeing a ghost. Then Jesus speaks:
Matt 14:27-28 – But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.” 28 And Peter answered Him and said, “Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.” (NAS)
What an amazing statement of faith. Peter petitions the Lord to join Him on the water. Jesus replies, “Come.” And to the utter amazement of his fellows, Peter begins to walk toward Jesus across the face of the Sea of Galilee. Peter must have hardly been able to contain himself. But the wind and the waves soon shook his vision from the Lord and he began to sink.
Matt 14:30-31 – But seeing the wind, he became afraid, and beginning to sink, he cried out, saying, “Lord, save me!” 31 And immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and took hold of him, and said to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” (NAS)
I really don’t think Jesus is angry with Peter at all. I think He is saying, “Peter, you were doing so well. You trusted Me and you were walking on the water.” And quite possibly almost laughing looking at His friend dripping wet, He says, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” In that moment, Peter learned a great lesson. Even if I venture something and fail for Jesus, He will not reject me and He will teach me from it, so that I will grow. No movement is wasted. Everything we do brings us closer to the glory of God. Even in our disobedience, we are taught if we will hear.
Our society places a great deal of value on performance. But it tends to measure only successes. If we would learn to measure growth from failure along with success, we would be better off by far. Maturity and experience come more often than not at the hands of many attempts and failures. The growth gained in hardship and loss is more lasting. And there is far more growth in most failures than in many victories.
If Paul can fail, so can I. If Paul was instructed by his failures, so can I be instructed by mine. And if I can be measured well in the shadow of Paul, I will be in good company.
Lord Jesus, Help us to look back at times we consider failures, both big and small. Let us see the growth and the maturity gained from these times. If we can do this, then we will be far better equipped to see the same things in the failures that will surely come as we continue our journey. Guard our hearts and minds from the lies that would rob the value from these times. Lies that would call us worthless and unworthy. We thank you that you have promised never to leave or forsake us. And we are grateful that You have promised to love us beyond the end of time itself. Amen.