In the last two articles (read them here and here), I’ve written about how every choice, word, action, and moment of our lives should not end in self-exaltation but rather rebound to the glory of Christ. In today’s potently narcissistic culture, modern Christianity has presented a version of Jesus that exists for our pleasure and comfort instead of us existing for His fame and renown among the nations. The Jesus of the Bible and His call to discipleship have been marginalized, but the Holy Spirit is committed to restoring the first commandment to its rightful place in the Church as He puts the supreme worth and excellence of Christ on display.
If you’re anything like me, the previous two articles have left you wondering and asking, “Well, I want to live like that, but I’m not even close. I see my failure and my immaturity, and I mostly don’t live for Him. I’m so selfish, even in my worship and service to God. Am I ever going to be like Him and love like He loves?” If Jesus has anything to say about it (and He always does), then the answer to that question is “YES!”
Why can we say that with such certainty? Because even while we were still sinners, Jesus bled and died (Romans 5:8). He was confident that the open display of His glory would soften even the hardest human hearts and beckon them into the same selfless love. As we seek Him wholeheartedly and continue to say “yes”, we know we will mature in selfless, Christ-exalting love because His commitment to us is stronger than our commitment to Him. His love is strong enough to overcome all of our selfish ambitions. If we don’t quit, we are really going to love Jesus with the same quality of love that He loves us with. He wasn’t wishfully hoping when He prayed:
“And I have declared to them Your name, and will declare it, that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them.””
(John 17:26 NKJV)
We can say without doubt that the quality and selflessness of our love today is far from the dream of Jesus for every one of us. Though our primary motivation for prayer, worship, fasting, and other spiritual disciplines is usually to receive from God rather than to deny ourselves, give glory to Him and bring Him pleasure, we must remember that God always makes a distinction between immaturity and rebellion as we are growing in Christlikeness.
Immature love is not fake love. If the Lord does not despise our immaturity as we walk the path to our death, we should not either. God is not demanding immediate maturity from us, but rather a complete response towards Him in the here and now. Each step of the way we must take His call to self-denial seriously and soberly, giving Him a full response with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. In the days of our immaturity, we respond by trusting His strong love to overcome our self-seeking and self-fulfillment. This is essentially part of Jesus’ call to die daily (Luke 9:23). He will never force us on our cross, and the only thing keeping us from full maturity in love is disqualifying ourselves and leaving the fight prematurely. Thus one of the primary attacks of the enemy on our lives is to discourage us from the fight to take up our cross and die daily. The primary way he undermines our “yes” is by telling us lies about Jesus, His glory, His plan to redeem and restore creation, and His commitment to us in our immaturity.
The Apostle Peter is the biblical example we should draw on for strength as we mature in our dedication to a completely Christ-exalting life. Though not one of the “sons of thunder”, Peter was amongst Jesus’ top three friends (Matthew 17:1). He was the one to whom the Spirit had spoken about Jesus’ identity (Matthew 16:16-17). He was faithful and loyal to Jesus, even willing to go down fighting with Him (Matthew 26:35). Jesus knew Peter’s heart and was moved by his devotion, despite his selfish motivations for a position of authority in Jesus’ kingdom. Peter would indeed die for Jesus, but not until self-preservation was purged from him through trial, persecution, and imprisonment (John 21:18) so that the glory of Christ could shine brightly through his life.
Peter’s self-preservation and immaturity led him to deny Jesus three times in the midst of extreme pressure. How must he have felt after doing what he told Jesus he would never do? Remorse, regret, and deep sorrow flooded his emotions. In his discouragement, he quit and left the fight prematurely - he went back to the only thing he knew before following Jesus, his old fishing job.
Hearing the news of Jesus’ resurrection must have been the best and worst day in Peter’s entire life. The promises about who He was were true! But he had to face the One whom He had denied three times. Jesus perceived Peter’s heart and knew exactly how to restore Him to fervent love. We see Peter’s restoration most clearly in John 21:
“So when they had eaten breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me more than these?”
He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.”
He said to him, “Feed My lambs.”
He said to him again a second time, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?”
He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.”
He said to him, “Tend My sheep.”
He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of Jonah, 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 all things; You know that I love You.”
Jesus said to him, “Feed My sheep. Most assuredly, I say to you, when you were younger, you girded yourself and walked where you wished; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish.” This He spoke, signifying by what death he would glorify God. And when He had spoken this, He said to him, “Follow Me.””
(John 21:15-19 NKJV)
In the same way Peter had denied Jesus three times, Jesus affirms Peter’s heart of love for Him three times. Jesus “gets real” with Peter and essentially says ”Peter, I know your love is weak. But it is real to me. I have seen your intentions to be faithful to me. If you keep saying ‘yes’, you will go to the death for my sake, just like you said you would do. This has never been about a perfect commitment to me, Peter. Trust my commitment to you. I’m going to bring you to the depths of love where you bring the most glory to God. So follow me Peter. Your weakness does not surprise me. Just don’t give up. I love you.”
Jesus was after Peter’s immature “yes”, encouraging him to simply not quit in his pursuit of wholeheartedness. Peter realized his commitment to Jesus was not what would lead him to ultimately lay down his life, but rather the knowledge of Jesus and His commitment to him.
Giving God a complete response involves recognizing the truth of our self-preservation and self-exaltation, renouncing it, and reaching for Divine exaltation in our lives. Though He is not demanding immediate maturity from us, it is presumption to use our immaturity and God’s acceptance of us in our weakness to give an excuse to not progress in our obedience and to live wholly for His glory. We must not assume that we can take a rest on the road to our cross. The way is difficult, and Jesus says that there are few who actually find it. (Matthew 7:14)
I’m slowly learning that it is better to live in pain over the truth than it is to live in delusion. May the Lord continue to pain our hearts over our condition and comfort us with His strong love as we say “yes” to a life fully set on bringing Christ glory.