A Matter of Choice
Most of us learn through a combination of what we hear and what we see. We hear an explanation and are then given an example. This technique was masterfully used by Jesus and Peter. For example, in Matthew 5, Jesus uses the illustration of salt and light to explain our role as His disciples in showing Him to the world.
Paul also uses it in several places. For example, in Galatians 5 he teaches about not returning to the slavery of the Old Law and against impure living. He illustrates his point by showing the difference between works of the flesh and fruit of the Spirit. He ends by stating that there is no prohibition against the fruit of the Spirit.
In this lesson we will explore a three-part explanation of faith illustrated by some examples. We will further look at an example of faith gained, weakened, and regained and an example of faith misdirected and lost because of poor choices.
Perhaps the most well-known verse from Scripture about faith is found in Hebrews:
"Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen."
- Hebrews 11:1
The writer of Hebrews also provides information on the importance of faith in Hebrews 11:6. Here the writer states that without faith, it is impossible to please God. He completes the thought by saying that not only does faith please God, but it is necessary that whoever would draw closer to God must express faith that He exists and that He will reward their efforts to find Him.
There exists within this great chapter on faith, numerous examples from historical figures from the Old Testament that demonstrate a pattern of faith by their actions. These examples are referred to by many as "Heroes of Faith." In keeping with this series of lessons on the apostles, I want to illustrate how they, too, are heroes of faith.
NOTE: The information following is adapted and modified from the book, "Heroes of Faith – A Study of Hebrews 11" (Bill Rasco, 21stCentury Christian, 2012).
By their faithful life, the apostles provide for us an illustration of faith. They gained knowledge of God, learned to trust God, and demonstrated obedience to God. Several times Jesus would say, "Oh, you of little faith." This indicated a faith that must grow.
Paul teaches us in Romans 10:17,
"Faith comes from hearing and hearing through the word of Christ."
The apostles heard the words of Christ as He explained God's will and how to apply that will. From this, they began to go beyond basic knowledge to internalizing what they had heard thus making them more like Christ. Similar to many listed in Hebrews 11, the apostles also had a level of knowledge of God. The apostles likely gained their knowledge from their upbringing, and participation in synagogue activities. However, their level of true knowledge of God had to grow. Knowledge, therefore, is the first element of faith.
Much of what they thought they knew was misunderstood or misapplied. Several times, for example, as Jesus taught during the Sermon on the Mount, He would state "You have heard it said…but I say." Even at the resurrection of Jesus, the apostles still had certain misunderstandings (John 20:9), but they did have basic knowledge to form a foundation upon which they could grow in their faith.
The second element of faith is trust. Trust is often used as a synonym for faith, but it is actually a part of faith. A key point about trust and its relationship to knowledge is that we generally do not trust or have confidence in something about which we have no knowledge. The more we know of something, the more likely we are to trust. As the apostles learned more about Jesus, they began to grow in their trust. Knowledge and trust create a positive cycle of spiritual growth in that the more we know, the more we trust, which continues to lead to more knowledge and greater trust.
The third element of faith, obedience, is also critical. Just as our trust grows with more knowledge, so too does our desire to obey. Obedience grows as we gain more knowledge and trust. We might obey or go along with something or someone, but we are generally reluctant to obey that which we do not trust. Obedience is a mark of spiritual maturity. We begin by accepting our Lord and realizing more about Him. We then progress to developing faith in Him as we gain deeper understanding and trust. Finally, through a lifetime of dedication, we grow to become more and more characterized as Christ-like. We never fully complete that cycle in this life, but we grow in our faithfulness and effectiveness as we obey our Lord's will.
Jesus teaches us that faith must be accompanied by action (Matthew 7:24-27). Also, James tells us that our faith has no value and is even dead unless it leads to action (James 2:22-26).
Except for Judas Iscariot, the apostles became excellent examples of faith, showing this pattern as they continued to focus on our Lord. They grew in knowledge of our Lord as they learned from Him about God's will. They learned to trust our Lord because of their increased knowledge. They were not only willing to obey, but faithfully sought to obey as they fulfilled their mission to carry the gospel to all the world.
We can look at any of the faithful apostles to see examples of this pattern, but Peter shows what many of us experience. We gain faith, our faith weakens, and we regain our faith.
Peter – Faith Gained
Peter began his walk of faith when he was called to serve by Jesus. We read in John 1:41 where Andrew, after spending the day with Jesus went to his brother Simon and exclaimed, "We have found the Messiah." We do not know a specific moment when Peter believed, but as his knowledge and awareness grew, so too did his faith to where he declared his willingness to even die for the Lord (Matthew 26:33-35; Luke 22:31-32).
Peter – Faith Weakened
Peter's faith walk was a journey. Along the way, his faith weakened in an event that set the foundation for changes to his life that remained forever.
In Luke 22:31-34 we see the event where Jesus tells Peter that he will deny Him. Jesus tells Peter that Satan has demanded that he be allowed to test Peter. Peter declares that he will follow Jesus to prison and even to the death. Jesus replies that before the rooster crows three times that day, Peter will deny him. As the narrative continues and Jesus is arrested, Peter, in weakness and fear denies Jesus, just as He had said Peter would.
When Jesus told Peter he would deny Him, He stated something else that likely escaped Peter in the moment. In Luke 22:32, Jesus states that he had prayed that Peter's faith would not fail. Although Peter's faith did weaken, it did not completely fail. We know that after Peter denied Jesus, he went out and wept bitterly in remorse, disappointment, and shame.
Following this, we see Peter, a man who not long before had declared fealty to Jesus in the strongest terms, has now denied Jesus in equally strong terms; and not once, but three times! Yet Peter held on to his faith, weakened but not lost.
Peter – Faith Regained
As we continue to look at Luke 22:32 we see another statement of hope in the second part of the verse.
"And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers."
Peter's return did not happen quickly, perhaps not because of his lack of desire, but from his possible lack of belief that he could return. Peter's return to faith would require Jesus offering him forgiveness and reinstatement.
The account of Peter regaining his faith begins in John 20. We read of the resurrection of Jesus and how He appeared to various disciples, and the apostles. Mary Magdalene reports to Peter and John that the tomb was empty. They run to the tomb with John arriving first. He stops to look in, but Peter pushes past him and enters the tomb.
In Mark's record of the resurrection of Jesus we gain additional insight into our Lord's desire to allow Peter to return. In Mark 16 we see several of the women going to the tomb to prepare the body for final burial. They find the stone blocking the entrance moved and a young man (angel) sitting in the otherwise empty tomb who makes a wonderful statement in verse 7,
"But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you."
Notice the emphasis, "and Peter"? Our Lord knew Peter would return and was making the way back for him.
Later, the disciples are in a room with the door locked when Jesus appears among them. Note that Peter is not mentioned by name, only included with the disciples. It is almost as if John is showing Peter, having denied Jesus, is not able to act in his usual outward and prominent way. It is as if he is still doubting himself in a weakened faith. Even as Jesus has His interaction with Thomas, who afterwards no longer doubted the risen Jesus, Peter is still not mentioned.
In John 21, we read of Peter regaining his faith. Peter, along with some of the others, return to their fishing. While they are out in the boat, Jesus stands on the shore and tells them to cast their nets on the other side. When they do, they catch so many fish they can hardly pull in the nets. John then recognizes that the man on the shore is Jesus.
This event was not lost on Peter. He likely remembered the event recorded in Luke 5:4-11 when Luke recounts that Jesus told Peter to go out further and put down nets. Peter stated that the group had been working all night without catching fish, but he did as Jesus said, and they caught so many fish that their nets were breaking.
In John's gospel, he tells how Peter, after realizing it was Jesus, quickly put on his clothes and "threw" himself into the water to swim to shore to be with Jesus. (John 21:7)
Jesus then feeds the disciples from some of the fish they caught. After eating, Jesus and Peter seem to take a walk together (John 21:20). During that quiet time, Jesus asks Peter three times if he loved Him. Peter answers two times, "Yes, Lord, you know that I love you." The third time, just as with his denial of Jesus, Peter adds stronger words as he said, "Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you." Using language showing Jesus as the Good Shepherd, Jesus gives Peter a personal commission as the leader of the effort to shepherd our Lord's flock.
There was no doubt in Peter's mind that our Lord asking him three times and then telling Peter to follow Him (verse 19) showed Peter that our Lord has forgiven him for the three times he had denied Him. Now fully restored and redirected, Peter has regained his faith and spends the rest of his life encouraging and strengthening the faith of others.
How wonderful it would be if all who doubted, denied and abandoned our Lord would return. Sadly, one apostle, Judas Iscariot, did not experience the forgiveness available for him.
Judas – Faith Misdirected and Lost
Judas was one of the twelve chosen by Jesus as an apostle and is listed in every listing except Acts 1:13. Of particular interest is the reference to Judas in John 6:70-71. Many of the disciples had turned away from Jesus because what He was teaching was difficult to understand and accept. Jesus states that He had chosen the twelve but that one of them was going to betray him. John specified Judas. But in that moment, Judas continued to follow our Lord.
Judas was with Jesus from the beginning and traveled with Him just as the others had. He had been given the same gifts to drive out demons, and to heal, and the charge to proclaim the good news of Jesus (Matthew 10). Jesus did not hold anything back from Judas. While the other disciples grew to know, trust, and obey Jesus, Judas did not.
Perhaps identifying Judas as His betrayer, Jesus was giving him a chance to abandon his sinful plan (Mark 14:20; John 13:21-27). Note in this interaction, it was not until Jesus finally identified Judas as the betrayer that Satan entered the heart of Judas.
Judas' faith never ripened because he failed to internalize the words of Jesus. The other apostles also had weaknesses to overcome. The difference was that the others chose to return to Jesus when they failed whereas Judas chose to remain apart.
The others fled from Jesus in fear, but they returned. Judas, too, could have returned and would have been forgiven. Instead, after realizing his sin in betraying Jesus, Judas went to the chief priest to find forgiveness. His faith was misdirected towards the priests and not towards Jesus. Judas now had no hope since those in whom he had faith would not and could not offer forgiveness. Judas tragically took his life, a life wasted.
Remember Jesus' words to Peter in Luke 22:31-32,
"And when you have turned again strengthen your brothers."
Imagine the story Judas could have told. Imagine the impact of telling others that even the one who betrayed Jesus found forgiveness, and so can we.
Choose this Day… Putting Our Faith into Action
A major gift and way in which we are created in the image of God is our ability to choose.
- God chose to create us
- God chose to save us
- We choose to disobey and reject God
- We choose to submit or return to God
- We choose to remain faithful
Choice has consequences, both positive and negative. We must choose wisely as Peter and so many others have done. Peter chose wisely to return to our Lord and was forgiven, whereas Judas chose poorly and turned away without hope. When we choose to follow Jesus, we choose wisely and put our faith into action, coming to know God, trust God, and obey God. Our faith continues to grow and we become more effective as servants of the Father.
Faith brings us to God and keeps us in that relationship as we grow and live as God wishes for us (Hebrews 11:6). Peter developed faith, saw his faith weakened, and regained it. He went on to serve our Lord faithfully, even to death as he said he was willing to do. Judas had a misdirected faith, sometimes in himself, and sometimes in others, but not in our Lord. When his faith was challenged, he lost it.
The events of Peter's denial and Judas's betrayal occurred in the same time frame. They both had choices and consequences. Peter chose wisely by returning to the Lord. Judas chose poorly by not returning to the Lord. Peter came to know God, trust God, and obey God. Judas did not.
In Joshua 24:14-15, Joshua charges Israel to choose whom they will serve, either the gods of their forefathers and those around them, or Jehovah God. He then states that he and his house will serve the Lord.
That is the same choice we have. We can serve the false gods around us which leads to an empty life, void of all hope and ultimate spiritual death, or we can serve our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ which gives hope and leads to a fulfilled and eternal life.
I pray you will make the same choice as Joshua. I also pray for you as Peter prayed in his last recorded words:
"But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen."
- II Peter 3:18
- Explain the interaction of the three elements of faith: Knowing God, Trusting God, Obeying God.
- How did the apostles demonstrate the three elements of faith in their journey to becoming more faithful and how does this apply to us?
- Explain how Peter gained, weakened, and regained his faith, and how does this mirror our faith walk?
- Explain how Judas' faith was misdirected and lost and the warning for us.
- Explain how the ability to choose is a gift from God and how we should use it to put our faith into action?