Pastor’s Note: What We Cannot Do

Pastor’s Note: What We Cannot Do

Peter answered him, “Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away.” Jesus said to him, “Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.

The Lord knows that a calling waits for Peter, a calling that will require more than Peter’s own resolve and determination. This creates a problem in Peter’s inner man. He believes what has been asked of him is complete commitment. He loves Jesus and offers that commitment fully and freely. What he doesn’t understand is that his belief in his own capacity to love and commit is actually a barrier to fulfilling his calling. He must cease believing in his own resolve and come to believe in Christ. For that, the self must be dismantled. Peter’s denial of Christ, ordained by Christ, will bring about the death of Peter’s belief in himself. Or at least it’s an important first step.

It’s easy to forget this: there are certain works of God that cannot be accomplished by human resolve. In C.S. Lewis’s book The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, there is a character named Eustace whom God (represented by a lion named Aslan) is seeking to change. It’s a long story, but Eustace is turned into a dragon, which leads eventually to his repentance and desire to shed his old nature, symbolized in his attempts to claw-off his dragon scales. His attempt at self-liberation fails and Aslan asks permission to complete the painful task. Eustace agrees and Aslan does what Eustace could not do.

I’ve wondered if Lewis didn’t take this from the famous 16th-century work The Dark Night of the Soul by St. John of the Cross. (More likely both Lewis and John just took their framework from Scripture.) In Dark Night, John speaks of the limits of our own works toward sanctification, which he calls the “night of sense,” and the necessity of works of God in which we are passive, called the “night of spirit.” He understood that God’s deepest work in us is not accomplished by human resolve.

I have been with people who have prayed that God would do “whatever is necessary” for them to be conformed to the image of Christ. As with Peter, remarkably difficult trials followed. Peter has the advantage of that wonderful moment when Christ, lovingly and tenderly, comes to him on the shore of Galilee and explains (in effect) that his failure is not the end of his ministry but a necessary beginning. As you might imagine, I find this personally encouraging.

Wouldn’t it be nice if Jesus came to all of us in the way that he comes to Peter? Well, in fact, he has. That is precisely the meaning of the Incarnation, that because of our sin, God chose not to distance himself from us, but to draw near. He chose not to despise us, but to regard us with affection. He chose not contempt, but acceptance. So the book of Hebrews says, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Go to him. You will find complete understanding, confidence in grace, mercy, and help when you most need it. His love for you is the single, necessary constant of your life, and you will always have it.

– Pastor Eric