Here's a view on a pretty common incident from another sinner... the denial of Christ by Peter just before the crucifixion. It seems like a big deal now (and it was) but it probably seemed like a pretty trivial, knee-jerk, white-lie-to-avoid-conflict for Peter in that moment. It certainly didn't feel like a full-on betrayal until he understood that to Jesus it was! I found myself completely intrigued by the ramifications of this story all day- and convicted by it as well. Even with it at the forefront of my mind and heart, I failed today at least three times (and we don't have any roosters at my office so there was no "final bell" where I could run off and weep!)
Matthew 26:31-35, 69-75 (NASB)
[vs. 31-35] Then Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away because of Me this night, for it is written, ‘I WILL STRIKE DOWN THE SHEPHERD, AND THE SHEEP OF THE FLOCK SHALL BE SCATTERED.’ But after I have been raised, I will go ahead of you to Galilee.” But Peter said to Him, “Even though all may fall away because of You, I will never fall away.” Jesus said to him, “Truly I say to you that this very night, before a rooster crows, you will deny Me three times.” Peter said to Him, “Even if I have to die with You, I will not deny You.” All the disciples said the same thing too.
[vs. 69-75] Now Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard, and a servant-girl came to him and said, “You too were with Jesus the Galilean.” But he denied it before them all, saying, “I do not know what you are talking about.” When he had gone out to the gateway, another servant-girl saw him and said to those who were there, “This man was with Jesus of Nazareth.” And again he denied it with an oath, “I do not know the man.” A little later the bystanders came up and said to Peter, “Surely you too are one of them; for even the way you talk gives you away.” Then he began to curse and swear, “I do not know the man!” And immediately a rooster crowed. And Peter remembered the word which Jesus had said, “Before a rooster crows, you will deny Me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly.
When Jesus first told Peter (and the rest) that they would all fall away because of Him, they were upset. And why wouldn't they be? Because of Him!? Peter, often viewed as one of the more rambunctious of the group, appears to speak up first with a flat denial. He basically says, "Even if all these other guys let you down, I won't. I'll even DIE with you!" Jesus just said, nope- here's your sign: a rooster will crow after you've denied me three times. At that point, from the way the text reads, everyone else started to chime in with promises of faithfulness till death as well.
Looking back, I'll bet Peter wishes he'd paid more attention to the details in what Jesus said regarding his denial. A rooster? I'd also be willing to wage that when Peter heard Jesus talking about this great falling away, he imagined something more dramatic- more significant from his perspective you know- like a high court setting before the Chief Priests or the Roman authorities. Maybe if Jesus had been even more specific and told him that his denials would be carried out for a couple of servant girls and *anonymous bystanders* Peter would have been more bold? I don't think it would have mattered. The words of Christ come to pass and Peter's greatest denial happened before verse 69 (but Jesus didn't chastise him for disbelieving such heart-breaking words). I can't help but wonder if Peter wept and gave up on himself- remember, he went back to fishing- partly because he lied about knowing Jesus and partly because he disbelieved Christ's hard, prophetic words to him to His face. All of the disciples had to deal with their hasty words before scattering but Peter was kind of singled out here.
Today, for me, this "trivial denial of God" is carried out where I work. I do it to modern day "servant girls" and "anonymous bystanders" constantly. I find myself denying Christ by denying the imago Dei (the beautiful and fearful way we all carry the holy-yet-flawed image of our Creator) with hateful, graceless, callous remarks, jokes and actions. It is not as dramatic as some conversation where I'm asked, point blank, if I believe Jesus Christ is the real Savior of the world (this has happened a few times in my life in slightly hostile environments- answering with words alone there is easy), but it is probably more important. And I am so good at failing when the drama is low- using the "white-lie-to-myself" to avoid the uncomfortable situation that would result if I truly acted like that person was created in the image of God and invaluable to my Father.
When Peter realized that his betrayal in front of servants & bystanders counted, he gave up. He was sad, Jesus died, and he went back to his old way of life. Jesus didn't leave him there though- the son of God caught back up with him in the fishing boat later. And He asked Peter: Do you love me? I can't think of a sweeter question to be posed for the heart-broken failure! All we want is an opportunity to say YES! The same thing happens to us at times... we fail and, in a way, Jesus dies to us, then we go back to our old ways of dealing with life on this broken planet. But Jesus has promised to never leave us or forsake us [Hebrews 13:5] and that He would stick with us till our salvation was made complete [Philippians 1:6]. Just like Peter, we may deny these things but even when life is dark and we find ourselves turning back to the old, hopeless ways that seemed to work enough to get by, Jesus will show up on the shore with eternal hope in His rhetorical question: Do you love me?
Maybe you are back in the old "fishing boat" now? Maybe you feel like you had your chance and you blew it- game over. History would look a lot different if God actually worked that way. God took twelve losers (you and I would've fit in pretty well I imagine) and changed the world. God will take you and your broken life as well. Once in His hands, nothing is impossible. Nothing.
You see, there is another way to deny Christ by denying the imago Dei... by denying that quality in yourself. It's easy to look in the mirror and see only failure, sin and disappointment. And, even thought the modern self-esteem gurus kind of make me sick, there's a reason they got popular (even if their answers are wrong, the problem still exists). The easiest way to deny Christ is to deny that we could ever be valuable to God in the first place. To deny we are made in His image and that we are precious to Him just the way we are! This isn't to say that we can't and shouldn't be doing better (oh, how we should!) but that accepting God's love for us as sinners is the only step we can take toward watching grace grow in our lives. Peter did this when Christ appeared to him on the shore, far from the fishing boat. That time, instead of Jesus dramatically walking out to Peter on the water, Peter threw off his robe and swam to Christ. Once again, face to face, Jesus didn't drop justice on Peter. "A bruised reed He will not break And a dimly burning wick He will not extinguish" [Isaiah 42:3] Jesus has grace for you too. Maybe this is your sign to dive out of that old boat and swim back to Christ?