God’s Second Chances 123

Bible says that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love him. (Romans 8:28) That even includes our failures! Nobody likes to fail, but God can use failure to teach us valuable lessons. If we respond in faith, God will use our defeats to lead us to great victories. His goal is to build our character. The Bible says that He is conforming us to the image of His Son. (Romans 8:29) I can’t make myself like Jesus, but God can. Peter is an excellent example of this. He confidently told Jesus, “Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you!” (Matthew 26:35) But Jesus knew that Peter was about to be tested in a way that would cause him to fall. He said to him, “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” One reason God allowed Peter to be severely tested was to show Peter that his good intentions were not enough. Our failures show our weaknesses, but God’s goal is not to humiliate us. He uses them to teach us to depend completely on His strength. The Apostle Paul had similar experiences. He said, “For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.” (2 Corinthians 1:9-10) Denying Jesus shattered Peter’s illusions about himself. Luke’s account of Peter’s denial shows us how painful it was: “And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the saying of the Lord, how he had said to him, ‘Before the rooster crows today, you will deny me three times.’ And he went out and wept bitterly.” (Luke 22:61-62) After such vehement denials, I suspect that Peter thought that he had disqualified himself from continuing as an apostle. Jesus had told His disciples, “So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 10:32-33) But, as we know, that is not the end of the story. Jesus forgave Peter and commissioned him to feed His flock. “He said to him the third time, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love Me?’ Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, ‘Do you love Me?’ and he said to him, ‘Lord, you know everything; you know that I love You.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my sheep.’” (John 21:17) Just a few weeks later, on the day of Pentecost, Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, was preaching the Word of God with boldness and confronting the same people who had crucified Jesus. Peter had humbled himself before the Lord, and God had lifted him up. In one of his letters to the church, Peter tells us that “. . . you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’” (1 Peter 5:5) It has been said that the Holy Spirit only fills the low places. As soon as we begin to think too highly of ourselves, God has to pull back until we choose to take the low place. We may need to fail in our own strength so that His grace can flow through our lives once again. Sometimes people tell me, “I have messed up too many times. God cannot forgive me anymore.” I like to ask them, “Which of your sins did Jesus not die for?” Of course, the answer is, “Since He died for all of them, there aren’t any He didn’t die for.” Peter asked Jesus about the limit on forgiveness when he said, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” He probably thought that was pretty generous. But Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.” (Matthew 18:21-22) The idea is not that we count up to 490 and then stop forgiving people, but that we continue to forgive no matter how often a person hurts us. If God expects us to show that kind of forgiveness, do you think He will put a limit on how many times He will forgive us? No way! In fact, He clearly tells us, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:32) Failure can be a glorious gateway to a new beginning, because God is full of mercy. We just need to turn from our sins, turn to Him, and trust in His promises. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9) Our transformation from sinner to saint does not depend on us, but on God, who raises the dead!