Christ and Simon Peter (painting Raphael 1515)
Rev. Allen M Baker is Pastor of Christ Community Presbyterian Church in West Hartford, Connecticut. (via) Banner of Truth Trust:
Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these? (John 21:15)
One of the more glorious promises in Scripture is John 10:28-30,
And I give eternal life to them, and they shall never perish. No one shall snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one shall snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.
In other words, both the Father and Son are in agreement — namely that those who believe in the Lord Jesus will live forever. No one can alter that plan, not even the sinful living of a truly, regenerate believer. On the other hand, consider this ominous warning,
For if we go on sinning wilfully, after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins but a certain, terrifying expectation of judgment and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries. Anyone who has laid aside the Law of Moses dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled under foot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has insulted the Spirit of grace? For we know him who said, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay.’ And again, ‘The Lord will judge his people.’ It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God (Heb. 10:26-31).
So how do we reconcile these two opposing verses? What do they mean?
We sin in two different ways. First is the sin of commission, doing those things we are commanded not to do, disobeying the divine prohibitions. ‘Have no other gods before you. Make no graven image. Do not take the name of the Lord in vain. Do not murder. Do not commit adultery. Do not steal. Do not bear false witness. Do not covet’ (Exod. 20). The Scriptures are full of divine prohibitions. Consider these, ‘Be angry and do not sin, do not let the sun go down on your anger . . . do not give the devil an opportunity . . . let no unwholesome word proceed out of your mouth . . . do not grieve the Spirit of God’ (Eph. 4:26ff). A professing believer who ‘goes on sinning wilfully, after receiving the knowledge of the truth,’ is potentially the next candidate for this terrifying expectation of judgment. You know you are sinning wilfully when you sin brazenly, consciously, and without remorse — like a man who leaves his wife and children for another woman, like one who embezzles money from his company, like one who persists in pornography, like one steeped in pride who does not admit his sin to anyone. Those who refuse to heed the warnings of Scripture and go on sinning wilfully are in big trouble. I know what you are thinking — ‘I know people like this. I have even done one or two of things myself. Is my case hopeless?’ Hang on. I will get to that in a moment.
Second is the sin of omission, not doing the things we are commanded to do. ‘Love God. Love your neighbour. Remember the poor. Honour your father and mother’ (Matt. 22:37ff, Gal. 2:10, Eph. 6:1-3). Failure to do these things is to commit sins of omission, and you know you are sinning in this manner when you continue in self-absorption, living as though your life is the centre of God’s universe. In Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-37) both the priest and Levite are guilty of this sin, not helping the wounded and suffering man. One who neglects the spiritual well-being of his wife and children, focusing only on the temporal, is guilty of this sin. If one goes on sinning wilfully in this manner, then he may be a candidate for the ominous warning in Hebrews 10. I know what you are thinking here too — ‘This sounds like me. I can remember not helping that poor person last week when I was downtown. I felt prompted to do so, but I did not do it. I know I should have given a gospel tract to that person on the plane last week, but I was absorbed in my USA Today.’
How can we escape the judgment of Hebrews 10:26-31? How can we be sure we are recipients of the glorious promise of John 10:28-30? Well, think on this. Jesus told his disciples, just prior to his suffering and death, ‘If you love me, you will keep my commandments’ (John 14:15). You may say, ‘This is not much help either, because I know how much I sin. If consistent obedience is the benchmark then I am hopeless.’ Stay with me! In John 21:15ff, after his resurrection, Jesus met his disciples, including Peter, on the shore of the Sea of Galilee and prepared breakfast for them. Peter saw Jesus, jumped into the water and swam to shore as quickly as possible. Over a breakfast of fish cooked by Jesus on an open fire, Jesus asked Peter, ‘Do you love me more than these?’ Jesus asked him this three times. What is going on here? Think of it like this — a husband who has been travelling and working a great deal, who comes home pre-occupied, who fails to engage his wife and children, who is a bit cranky due to exhaustion, finally settles into his easy chair late one night after the children have gone to bed. His wife looks him in the eye and asks, ‘Do you love the children and me more than your work?’ Naturally his immediate response is, ‘Yes, of course I love you.’ But to this she continues to look into his eyes and asks again, ‘Do you love the children and me?’ Then she asks it a third time, a fourth time, a fifth time, making no other comment. After a while her husband becomes terribly uncomfortable at the simple but penetrating questioning. A flippant, frivolous, casual answer will not do. The very questions themselves are forcing him to look deeply into his heart. Does he really love his wife and children? Do his recent actions prove or deny his profession? The very questions of Jesus are terribly convicting to Peter. He realizes that though he has said he loves Jesus, his three-fold denial has proven otherwise. He is crushed under the benevolent yet holy gaze of his Master. Of course Jesus restores Peter and later the Holy Spirit falls on him and God uses him powerfully at Pentecost and beyond.
Here’s the glory of the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ — your sins of omission and commission are prolific and let’s face it, sometimes are brazen, conscious, and without remorse. Do you love Jesus? The short answer is, ‘Yes.’ A deeper look, however, means that most of us will have to say, ‘No. My sin proves that I do not love Jesus.’ But here’s the glorious hope — if you think you are alive, then you are dead. If you think you are dead, then you are alive. If you think you have it all together, then you do not. If you know you are naked, vile, and wretched, then you can be sure you are in Christ Jesus. I say this with one qualification, however. Some in the church today seem to glory in their shame (Phil. 3:19). They have no problem speaking of their sin but they boast about it, taking it lightly, not in the least shamed or devastated by it. Sort of like me joking many years ago with men in one of my Bible Studies about forgetting my wife’s birthday. What is funny about that! It was shameful and terribly hurtful to her. True remorse leads to biblical repentance that leads to holiness that leads to progress in our walk with Christ. So, the mark of one who is a true believer in the Lord Jesus is not an absence of sin, but a keen awareness of it, an admission of it, a deep remorse about it that drives the person again and again to the fountain of blood drawn from Immanuel’s veins, giving him an assurance that grace comes to those who are plunged beneath that redeeming flood.