Progress and Regression: A Study of Spiritual Growth in the Life of Peter

Before I started following Jesus in my senior year of High School, I was selfish, arrogant and sarcastic.

Now that I've been following Jesus for over 20 years, I'm a lot less sarcastic and I'm definitely less arrogant. But the selfish thing is still a battle.

Sometimes I do a good job at putting others before myself, but it certainly needs to be more consistent. Sometimes I get discouraged when I have a day where I act like a selfish jerk to my family or to other drivers on the road, or to random people in Walmart.

I know it's not what God asks me to do. And in fact, I know that if I let the Holy Spirit work in me and through me I should consistently see Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Goodness, Kindness, Faithfulness and Self-Control. None of those is an aspect of selfishness, and several of them at pretty much the opposite of it.

But after 20 years, some days I just kind of ignore the fact that without making an intentional decision to be connected to God, I'm never going to be able to just manufacture this healthier, holier existence on my own.

But I saw something in the narrative of Peter just this week which encouraged me. 

Here's the broad arch:

Peter is called by Jesus. Peter demonstrates the courage to walk away from a steady job with a steady paycheck. Peter follows Jesus for the duration of Jesus' ministry. He watches Jesus do many miracles. At one point, he declares his faith in Jesus as Messiah, and Jesus commends him. He also hilariously tries to correct Jesus at one point (after saying he's the Messiah).

But after all this time, when Jesus is being tried in a kangaroo court, Peter tells everyone he doesn't know Jesus at all. To save his own skin, Peter betrays Jesus. It's an act of cowardice for which Peter feels great shame.

After the resurrection of Jesus, one of his first acts is to restore Peter. To forgive him and encourage him and reaffirm Peter as a leader in the advent of the Kingdom Jesus has introduced to the world.

Peter shows incredible boldness after this: standing up to religious authorities who wish to silence him. Peter is willing to endure beatings, imprisonment, and even a death sentence without slowing down. He visits people that had been "outsiders" to share the gospel despite the fact others would criticise him. In other words, he becomes a man of courageous action.

And then Paul recaps a story to us in Galatians 2. In this story, he says that Peter, who had been commanded by God to build relationships with outsiders, suddenly stopped having anything to do with those outsiders when some religious leaders showed up in Antioch. Paul had to call him out on it - that he was so worried what these religious leaders might think and say, Peter ignored what God had told him. It was cowardly. 

Peter, after being chosen by the Messiah, personally restored from an act of cowardice, and who had faced great persecution and seen God do great miracles through himself. Peter, to whom God spoke directly and gave Peter specific instructions - this Peter didn't want a little blowback from some religious leaders.

In my eyes, it's a shocking regression. And I'm so grateful. Because I feel like my selfish streak can be just like this.

I'll really and truly ask God to work in me and through me, and when I'm really relying on Him, progress happens. He forgives me for my past screw ups and restores the part of my life which are all out of whack.

I watch God do incredible stuff in my life and in my family - providing for us and blessing us. And then I'll go right back to being a selfish jerk and want to karate chop myself in the neck for screwing up for the umpteenth time.

I take encouragement from Peter that this is a lifelong process. And that we all have predisposed areas of weakness or fault. Maybe you have no trouble being selfless, but you have your own rough edges which you desperately want God to sand down and finish.

I see this as a method God uses to keep us from becoming lazy.

In Judges 3, the scripture says that God left enemies in the land of Canaan to teach warfare to the children of the people who took the land in the first place. God could easily wipe out everyone, yet he knew doing so would cause the new inhabitants (his chosen people), to slide into a contentment which would end up harming them.

Paul spoke of a thorn in his flesh which kept him humble - telling me that pride was likely Paul's version of my selfishness and Peter's cowardice.

So when you find yourself still fighting with some issue that's been hanging onto you for years and years even though you've been earnestly and diligently following God, be grateful. It's there so that we will actually continue to grow, rather than being a sign of a lack of growth.

It reminds is when we're drifting away from relying of Jesus.

I have found that when everything is going well, I tend to put my life on cruise control. And when I'm on cruise control, I always drift away from Jesus, not closer to him. So when I start seeing selfish tendencies, I know that I need to turn cruise control off and get back to putting in the effort necessary to see good results.

I need to take regular walks late in the evening to pray. I need to take a moment to remember by need to depend on the Holy Spirit in the morning. I need to recall that when I set foot in my house after a long day at work, I'm not supposed to give out leftovers, but rather the best of what I have to offer in life.

I don't know exactly what you need to do when you see your "red flag" going up, but when it does, don't condemn yourself. Give thanks to God and do the things which help you grow closer to Jesus.