PETER AND GRACE
Grace, yes, we do live on grace; perhaps, we do far more than we should. To most of us, grace is a gift rather than a reward. For Peter and his companions, grace was an experience or an encounter with Christ. He lived it out every day and one did not fully realize it until the day life ended. What did Peter mean by, “Stand fast in grace?” It echoes his question, “How often shall I forgive my brother?” The answer was, constantly and endlessly. It was a life-style of living graciously by being gracious. Grace for Peter was not only a one-sided divine gift, but it was also a way of life. A gracious life is an example of the Sermon on the Mount. To behave like the Beatitudes is being gracious. Helping the poor, grieving with those that lose loved ones, being humble, doing what is right, being merciful, being unselfish, making peace, enduring abuse, and suffering unjustly is living in grace. In Peter’s world loving your enemies and praying for them, turning the other cheek and walking the extra mile and giving up your coat rather than your life was preferable. He was not in a position to demand an eye for an eye or a tooth for a tooth nor could he make promises. Under hostile authorities and persecutions, grace is not a great theological concept, but a way of life one adapts to survive. Like his Lord, Peter adapted Jesus’ graciousness and encouraged his fellow believers to do likewise.
Peter had also the concern as to how much grace a person needed to survive. Grace to Peter did not come in one big package but in small, even tiny doses. To begin with, his personality could not have handled or coped with too much grace at once. He learned that it did not protect him from being carried away and commit serious errors. He experienced first hand that being in the company of Jesus does not guarantee that he will not make mistakes. At the end of his second letter, Peter treats grace as if it were common sense. “Therefore, dear friends, since you already know this, be on guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of lawless men and fall from your secure position. But grow in grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (II Peter 3:17-18). This is a harsh lesson. Having insufficient grace is due to having insufficient knowledge of Jesus Christ. The more one becomes like Jesus, the more gracious one becomes. Peter learned that one could grow in grace or increase in the ability to be gracious by imitating Christ. He did not get it instantly but over time by concentrating on what Jesus was like. Peter had no written gospels at his disposal, only his memory and references from the Old Testament. Grace was not a stagnant and a fixed idea, but grace was a vibrant and growing life in Christ that could withstand the onslaught of change within the faith and in the world. How then does one grow in grace?
Peter had these instructions regarding growth. “For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self–control; and to self–control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But if anyone does not have them, he is nearsighted and blind, and has forgotten that he has been cleansed from his past sins.”
“Therefore, my brothers, be all the more eager to make your calling and election secure. For if you do these things, you will never fall, and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (II Peter 1:5-11). Growth must be present even in these qualities that help the believer to hang on to grace. And hanging on to grace is hanging on to Jesus Christ. Grace and Christ are one and the same. Peter’s closest companion, John Zebedee captured the essence of grace, “From the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:16-17). Therefore, being in Christ is being in grace and vice versa. For Peter, Christ, grace, the gospel and salvation were all linked together (Acts 4:12). “Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, trying to find out the time and the circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow. It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told to you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Even angels longed to look into these things” (I Peter 1:10-12).
Grace demands a response. It cannot be taken for granted because it is not free for the taking. Peter had this admonition, “Therefore, prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given to you when Jesus Christ is revealed. As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: ‘Be holy, because I am holy.’ Since you call on a Father who judges each man’s work impartially, live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear. For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake. Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God” (I Peter 1:13-21).
Grace and salvation, for Peter, were one and the same. They did not begin with the incarnation, the cross or the resurrection of Jesus the Christ but before the world was created. God, in His foresight, put grace into creation before the fall of man and from time to time He disclosed it to people like Enoch, Noah, Abraham, David, the prophets and last of all to His Son (Hebrews 1:11-3). Christ was the embodiment of grace and He passed it on in the Spirit to his disciples. The risen Christ said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And then He breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven,” (John 20:21-23). Matthew got the message, “For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not for give your sins,” (Matthew 6:14-15). The same ministry of grace is passed on to those that accept the message of the apostles (John 17:20-21). In The Parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus gave us an example of grace in action. The expert of the law that wanted to know where he should apply grace was led to conclude, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise” (Luke 10:25-37).
Peter had a problem with being merciful in his early days with Jesus. His brother Andrew was a wanderer and left him at the fishing nets alone. They may have had words that were not pleasant to the ears. Brothers can be disagreeable. The Parable of the unmerciful Servant, Jesus gave because of Peter’s question regarding forgiveness (Matthew 18:21-35). The head servant went deeply in debt to his master and begged for time. The gracious master forgave the head servant all his debts. The head servant then went to one of his servants below him, that was indebted to him for a very small amount, nevertheless burdensome. He too begged for time. The head servant had no mercy and after mistreating his subject threw him in prison. The news did reach the master and he spared no time to have the head servant brought before him and account for his lack of mercy. What justifiable account could he give for taking grace for granted without sharing it? “In anger, his master turned him over to the jailers until he could pay back all he owned.” Jesus concluded, “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each one of you unless you forgive your brother from the heart.” Peter multiplied and shared grace with his followers (I Peter 1:2; II Peter 1:2). “Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply, from the heart. For you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and enduring world of God. Therefore, rid yourself of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind. Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good” (I Peter 1:22-2:2).