A few years ago our car was involved in an accident and was written off by the insurance company. It wasn’t worth fixing and they refunded the agreed value of money so we could buy a new car. The old car had failed. It was no longer useful for us. Sometimes if we fail, we can think that we are useless to God. It’s feeling like we are written off.
Its been said that everyone makes mistakes and “the only one who never makes a mistake is the one who never does anything”. We all fail sometimes in life. We all have weaknesses. And these can lead to embarrassment, shame, guilt, disappointment, depression, giving up and wondering whether we will ever be forgiven. The important question is “How can we survive failure?”.
In this post we are going to answer this question by looking at the life of Peter in the Bible.
Simon Peter was a fisherman who lived at Capernaum on the Sea of Galilee. He was one of Jesus’ early disciples. Peter was a leader amongst the disciples as he was a natural leader and was probably the oldest one. After he spent three years following Jesus, he was an apostle who taught the church and wrote some of the New Testament, and he was an elder in his local church.
Peter was impulsive and impetuous. He was usually the first to act and speak his mind. He was enthusiastic. A man of action. Because of this, he often failed. Here are seven examples of this:
- Peter rebukes Jesus
When Peter was at Caesarea Philippi (north of the Sea of Galilee), he said that Jesus was “the Messiah, the Son of the living God”. Soon after this we read that: “From that time on Jesus began to explain to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that He must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!” Jesus turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns’” (Mt 16:21-23NIV).
When Jesus predicted His suffering and death, Peter rebuked Him saying “Never, Lord! This shall never happen to you!” Peter thought he knew better than Jesus. Peter thought the Messiah would be triumphant and victorious and not go through suffering, rejection, and death. But he was wrong. Jesus said that Peter was influenced by human concerns (like power and status), rather than the concerns of God who was to use what Jesus went through as a suffering servant to offer salvation to humanity.
So Jesus rebuked him, “Get behind me, Satan!”, which means “get away from me”. Peter protested against Christ’s death, but that was Jesus’ purpose in coming to earth. The cross is God’s plan for delivering humanity from their sin. Peter acted like Satan. He was influenced by Satan, and was talking like Satan. Satan tries to discourage people from obeying God. He tempts us to take the easy path.
This incident shows that the death of Christ for our sins is not an option, but a divine necessity. There’s no other way to get right with God.
So Peter failed when he rebuked Jesus and tried to get Jesus to avoid going to the cross. He was ignorant of God’s plan. It’s an example of his self-centred audacity.
- Peter treats Jesus like another prophet
About a week later, Peter was taken up a high mountain and was privileged to see a vision of what it will be like when Jesus comes to reign over the earth. Mark says that, “Jesus took Peter, James and John with him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone. There He was transfigured before them. His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them. And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus. Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” (He did not know what to say, they were so frightened.) Then a cloud appeared and covered them, and a voice came from the cloud: ‘This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to Him!’” (Mk. 9:2-7).
He saw Jesus in dazzling white talking about His death with Moses and Elijah (Lk. 9:30). Peter suggested putting up three shelters, one for each of them. He put Jesus on the same level as Moses and Elijah. But by speaking from a cloud God rebuked Peter for comparing Jesus with Moses and Elijah. They aren’t equals, because Jesus is Lord over all. When Jesus reigns, He will be pre-eminent above everyone else.
The Bible says that Peter “did not know what to say, they were so frightened” and “He did not know what he was saying” (Lk. 9:33). So he rushed in and said the first thing that came into his mind!
This incident shows us that Jesus is the unique Son of God. He’s not just a human prophet like Moses and Elijah.
So Peter failed when he spoke before thinking. It’s called putting your foot in your mouth! Or shooting yourself in the foot. And he missed the bigger picture of seeing Christ’s glory.
- Peter didn’t want Jesus to wash his feet
In biblical times, the use of open sandals made it necessary to wash one’s feet frequently. A servant usually washed the feet of a host’s guests. When Jesus celebrated His last Passover with His disciples, He began to wash the disciple’s feet. This shocked Peter. He thought it was wrong. So Peter said to Him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” “No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.” “Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!” (Jn. 13:6-9).
Peter didn’t stop to think about the spiritual significance of the foot washing. Because sin destroys our fellowship with the Lord, Peter needed spiritual cleansing. The external washing was a picture of cleansing from failure and sin. It symbolized Jesus washing away a person’s failure and sin. But Peter didn’t understand Jesus’ path to the cross.
This incident shows Jesus as a humble servant. It was before His greatest act of service.
So Peter failed when he resisted having Jesus wash his feet. He told Jesus not to do it. Fortunately he changed his mind soon after.
- Peter fell asleep when Jesus prayed
After the last supper, Jesus took Peter, James and John into the Garden of Gethsemane and told them to “Stay here and keep watch” and “pray that you will not fall into temptation”, while He prayed. He asked God the Father if there was any other way by which sinners could be saved other than by His death, burial and resurrection. But there was no other way. And Jesus wanted His followers to understand the importance of prayer during difficult times.
Then He returned to His disciples and found them sleeping. “Simon,” He said to Peter, “are you asleep? Couldn’t you keep watch for one hour? Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Mk. 14:37-38). He came back and found them sleeping three times! They couldn’t stay awake when Jesus faced the thought of becoming a sin-offering for humanity. They slept when they should have been praying. They couldn’t stay awake.
This incident illustrates our human weakness.
So Peter failed to obey Jesus when he slept instead of keeping watch and praying. And later that night Peter did fall into temptation when he denied knowing Christ.
- Peter attacked the servant of the high priest
When Jesus was being arrested, Peter cut off the right ear of Malchus, the servant of the high priest (Lk. 22:50-51; Jn. 18:10-11). He was trying to stop Jesus being arrested. But Jesus told him to put his sword away and Jesus healed the man’s ear. At this time, Peter didn’t understand that Jesus came to die for our sins. Jesus was being arrested so He could be crucified. The time had come for Him to lay down His life. Jesus’ betrayal and death was in God’s eternal plan; it was no accident. It was predicted in the Old Testament, but Peter was acting against God’s plan and against God’s will. Peter failed. He didn’t understand that physical weapons are useless for spiritual warfare. Our weapons are prayer, the Bible and the Holy Spirit. Peter was on the wrong wavelength. He wasn’t on the same page as Jesus.
This incident illustrates that God’s battle is won by His power alone. The ultimate answer to our problems comes through faith in Christ, not faith in others, such as politicians.
So Peter failed when he used violence to try to stop the arrest of Jesus. He took matters into his own hands instead of bringing them to Jesus.
- Peter denied knowing Christ
Peter’s most famous failure is mentioned in each of the gospels (Mt. 26:69-75; Mk. 14:66-72; Lk. 22:55-62; Jn. 18:15-19, 25-27). This occurred when Jesus was being questioned by the high priest before His crucifixion. Three times Peter denied knowing Jesus.
Here’s how Luke described it: “Then seizing Him [Jesus], they led Him away and took Him into the house of the high priest. Peter followed at a distance. And when some there had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and had sat down together, Peter sat down with them. A servant girl saw him seated there in the firelight. She looked closely at him and said, “This man was with Him [Jesus].”
But he denied it. “Woman, I don’t know Him,” he said.
A little later someone else saw him and said, “You also are one of them.”
“Man, I am not!” Peter replied.
About an hour later another asserted, “Certainly this fellow was with Him, for he is a Galilean.”
Peter replied, “Man, I don’t know what you’re talking about!” Just as he was speaking, the rooster crowed. The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him: “Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times.” And he went outside and wept bitterly” (Lk. 22:54-62).
Peter had a Galilean accent that was conspicuous in Jerusalem (Mt. 27:73). And he was recognized by a relative of Malchus who had seen Peter cut off Malchus’ ear (Jn. 18:26). But he still denied knowing Jesus.
And this happened after Peter promised never to disown Jesus. After the last supper, “You will all fall away,” Jesus told them, “for it is written: “‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’ But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.” Peter declared, “Even if all fall away, I will not.” “Truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “today—yes, tonight—before the rooster crows twice you yourself will disown me three times.” But Peter insisted emphatically, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” And all the others said the same (Mk. 14:27-31). And Peter said earlier, “I will lay down my life for you [Jesus]” (Jn. 3:37). But instead of being bold before the Jewish leaders in the Sanhedrin (like Jesus), he couldn’t even stand up for Jesus before a servant girl!
Peter wasn’t the only disciple that failed at this time. After Jesus was arrested, they all deserted Him and fled (Mk. 14:27, 50). John was the only other disciple at the trial and crucifixion (Jn. 18:15-16; 19:26-27). They were the only disciples who followed Jesus to the courtyard of the house of the high priest. And Peter wasn’t a coward, he tried to cut off the head of Malchus! Peter’s denial was when his faith faltered, but it didn’t completely fail – because Jesus had prayed that his “faith may not fail” (Lk. 22:32). But his faith was momentarily overshadowed by his tiredness (he had been up all night) and his doubts and fears (Jesus’ case looked hopeless). He was afraid and exhausted. He found it difficult to be the odd man out. And he was unprepared to be questioned by a servant girl.
This incident illustrates human weakness and the danger of self-confidence. Even mature believers are prone to failure. Especially when they face unexpected trials and temptations. And self-confidence can lead to humiliation.
So Peter failed when he denied knowing Jesus. He did what he said he would never do. He cracked under pressure, and in a crisis he lost his courage. They were moments of disloyalty.
- Peter discriminated against Gentiles
Peter was a Jew, and he was the first to bring salvation to the Gentiles when he visited Cornelius. However, later he was influenced by legalistic Jewish Christians to discriminate against Gentiles.
Paul said, “When Cephas [Peter] came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray. When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in front of them all, ‘You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs?’” (Gal. 2:11-14). Paul’s argument continues to the end of Galatians 2. Paul emphasised that salvation was through faith in Christ and not through keeping some Jewish customs. And all believers are unified in Jesus Christ, and cultural or national differences shouldn’t affect their fellowship. Peter must have responded well to Paul’s rebuke because he referred to “our dear brother Paul” (2 Pt. 3:15) in one of his letters.
Peter contributed to racial divisions within the church. He had been mixing freely with Gentiles, but when some Jews arrived from Jerusalem who insisted that circumcision was required for believers in Christ, Peter began avoiding the uncircumcised Gentile believers. Paul called Peter a hypocrite for following the law of Moses. But because of Paul’s bold confrontation, the behavior was corrected and Peter went on to serve God in unity amongst all races and nations.
This incident shows us that even mature Christians can lapse into sinful behavior.
So Peter failed when he discriminated against Gentiles.
Peter was a follower of Jesus who failed big-time. He was corrected by God, Jesus, and Paul! We’ve looked at seven instances where Peter failed. It was a habit of his. He failed when he misunderstood Jesus. Peter failed when he sinned. His main sin was self-confidence. His failures and sins had painful consequences.
In October David Reynolds led for most of the Bathurst 1000 car race. But when he spun the rear tyres at a pit stop, he was given a penalty that moved him to seventh place. This failure had a consequence.
When Paul reminded the Christians of when the Israelites failed in Old Testament times, he said, “So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall” (1 Cor. 10:12). He didn’t want them to repeat Israel’s mistakes. It’s a warning to the self-confident like Peter. A warning that spiritual pride often leads to a spiritual fall. A spiritual failure. It’s a warning to those who think they are spiritually strong. For example, Elijah had a great victory over the prophets of Baal, but soon after he was running away from queen Jezebel.
But Peter’s failure didn’t define him. Although it’s recorded in the Bible, it wasn’t the end of Peter. It didn’t stop him from being a leader in the early church. He was not rejected by Jesus.
But how did Peter survive failure?
After Peter publicly denied knowing Jesus he repented and was restored to fellowship with the Lord. This restoration was recognized publicly after Christ’s resurrection. Three times Peter answered Jesus, “Lord, you know that I love you” (Jn. 21:15-19). Jesus accepts this declaration, restores him to fellowship and commissions him for service by saying “feed my sheep”. The three affirmations matched the three denials. Peter learnt to be humble; he said “Lord, you know all things” (Jn. 21:17). And he told others to “clothe yourselves with humility” (1 Pt. 5:5). Peter served as an apostle and a church elder (1 Pt. 5:1-4). Through Jesus, Peter learnt that failure isn’t final.
Peter was restored to service because of his repentance. God used him mightily in the early church. He preached the first sermon when the church began on the day of Pentecost and 3,000 people decided to follow Jesus. He was courageous; he was put in jail more than once for proclaiming that Jesus had risen from the dead.
Jesus chose Peter knowing that he would fail and knowing that he would be restored. God used Peter’s failure and sin to strengthen his faith and build him up for service in the early church. It cured him of his excessive self-confidence. Jesus can transform failures into followers. Like Peter we all fail and we all sin in some way. But like Peter we can be transformed from failure to following Jesus once again. Like him we can be former failures, and not final failures.
Billy Monger is a British car racing driver. In April 2017 he was involved in a high speed crash and had the lower part of both of his legs amputated. It seemed like that was the end of his career. But in 2018 he recommenced driving a Formula 3 car with hand controls. It was a great recovery.
Now that we’ve looked at how Peter survived failure, we need to consider “How can we survive failure?”. There’re two answers to this question. The first is to ensure our failures aren’t fatal. And the second is dealing with ongoing failures.
How to ensure our failures aren’t final
Judas Iscariot failed and sinned when he betrayed Jesus. But his failure was final and fatal. How can we escape this fate? The process is summarized in this diagram.
– Failure and sin separates us from God and puts us under His judgment, and if we do nothing about this separation and judgment, it is final and hell is our ultimate destiny. Although failure is an event and not a destiny, in this case it leads to a destiny. To not trust on Christ is a fatal failure and a fatal sin.
– The first step to fix the problem is to be convicted of our failure and sin. It involves recognizing it. We may feel guilty or sorry. For example, after he was confronted, the man who had been sexually immoral at Corinth was very sorry about his behavior (2 Cor. 2:7).
– The next step is to confess our failure and sin to God. It means admitting that we are wrong.
For example, David confessed his adultery, deceit and murder (Ps. 32:5).
– The next step is repentance, which is a change of behavior where our change of attitude is shown in our actions. It’s like doing a U-turn in a car to go in the opposite direction. For example, the prodigal son stopped his wild living and travelled back to his father. He remembered that his father still loved him. We cannot become a follower of Jesus without conviction, confession and repentance. That’s the way to respond to failure and sin.
– Then God promises to forgive all our failures and sins, in the past, the present and the future. Peter preached, “Repent … and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out” (Acts 3:19). God is a judge of all those who have never trusted in Him. This judicial forgiveness removes the barrier to heaven. It is when an unbeliever comes to faith in Christ. If we acknowledge our sinfulness and believe that Jesus paid the penalty for us, then we are viewed as God’s children. Jesus died for all our failures, weaknesses, and sins. Have you experienced this kind of forgiveness? If not, why not start following the Lord by confessing your sins and trusting Christ as Savior?
– After our failures and sins have been dealt with, we have peace with God and are reconciled with God. And heaven is our ultimate destiny, where all our failures are forgotten.
Now we have ensured our failures aren’t fatal, how can we deal with ongoing failures?
Dealing with ongoing failures
James says that teachers “all stumble in many ways” (Jas. 3:2). This applies to us as well.
Note the words “all” and “many”. Everyone fails sometime. And there are many ways to fail. In this passage, James addresses failures caused by the words we speak. The principle of this verse is that a sense of failure and sinfulness is necessary for our spiritual health.
The Bible says that Christians cannot grow as followers of Jesus without regular conviction, confession and repentance of their failures and sins. For a Christian, all sin has been dealt with by the death of our Savior. Paul said, “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1). But God allows us to fail so our faith can be strengthened. That’s what happened to Peter. He did more for Jesus Christ after his failures than he did before. His pride and self-confidence were replaced with humility and confidence in God and determination to serve Him.
The process for dealing with our ongoing failures is summarized in this diagram, which is similar to the previous one. Sin causes failures and spoils a believer’s relationship with God.
Conviction. The first step is to admit our failures and sins instead of excusing them. Peter was convicted after he denied the Lord three times. The Bible says he wept bitterly (Mt. 26:75).
Confession. The next step is to confess our failure and sin (1 Jn. 1:9). David said, “I have sinned against the Lord” (12 Sam. 12:13). Christians need to do this regularly. It means admitting our failures and sins and confessing them so our relationships can be restored with each other and with God. If we examine ourselves and get right with God, we will not come under His discipline. That’s why the Christian life should be full of confession. So our fellowship with the Lord can be restored. The Christian life is full of restarts. Each of these involves conviction of sin, confession of sin, repentance to put things right, and then putting our failures behind us and moving ahead.
Repentance. The next step is to change direction and turn around to follow God once again. It involves completely changed attitudes and behavior. It is more than confessions or remorse. The Bible says it’s having a new heart and a new spirit (Ezek. 18:30-32). The churches in Revelation were urged to repent (Rev. 2:5, 16; 3:3, 19).
Forgiveness. After we are convicted and confess and repent, God offers forgiveness. He has great mercy. David was told “The Lord has taken away your sin” (2 Sam. 12:13). God is a Father of all those who have trusted in Him. This parental and family forgiveness restores a believer’s fellowship with God after it has been broken by failure and sin. The Bible says, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 Jn. 1:9).
Restoration. Once we are forgiven, we are restored to following Christ once again.
This should be a time for celebration, like when the prodigal son returned home (Lk. 15:22-24).
Up to 2013 golfer Tiger Woods won 79 titles. But then he struggled with personal problems and injuries. He was divorced in 2010 and his fourth back surgery was in April 2017. Many people had written him off. But in a great comeback he won the Atlanta title in September 2018.
The Bible says that Abraham, Moses, Elijah, David, and Peter all failed God at some time; but they recovered from this to serve God in mighty ways. For them, failure was an event, but not a destiny.
Lessons for us
We have seen that failure is a normal part of life. It’s not unusual. We should expect to fail from time to time. Failure is a fact of life.
Even Google has failures. In 2011, Google launched Google+, which was supposed to be the next big social network. I was thinking of posting on it with links to my blog, like I do on Twitter. But Google+ was a flop and it’s being closed down.
The ability to handle failure is a vital part of our spiritual life and a sign of maturity. Fear of failure shouldn’t dominate our mind. The Bible says we are all sinners and prone to failure, but in Christ we can become overcomers.
Failure doesn’t disqualify us, even if we’ve been following Jesus for some time. God gives us another chance.
Peter was very good at failing, but he was even better at not giving up. Through his failures, Peter refused to throw in the towel. He learned from his bad decisions and allowed God to shape and mould his character. So next time you’re feeling down about yourself, remember Peter. Take a deep breath and try again.
Let’s learn from our failures and mistakes. These teach us how much we need God and His mercy in our lives. God can use failure to do spiritual housecleaning. Peter laid down his pride and put on the Holy Spirit’s courage. Remember that God sees beyond our faults and failures. If we have failed, God can make us useful again. And he continues to call us to serve Him.
Parents, let your children fail. Just as God lets us fall flat on our faces so that we may become stronger, we must allow our children the privilege of failing, too. And when they do fail, be ready to forgive them as God forgives us. For that is God’s answer to human failure.
So, failure isn’t final. No matter how we feel, it’s not the end. If Peter can fail, we can fail. If Peter can be restored, we can be restored. There is hope for us all.
Remember our car that was written off? It was taken to the insurer’s yard of damaged vehicles. Then it was probably sold to someone who repaired it and it’s probably still driving around today. It was restored.
The students at Capstone College in Poatina in Tasmania struggled at high school. Because of negative experiences, they hated school and found excuses to do other things instead. Their attendance record was poor – they were absent more than present. They were failures as students. But this failure wasn’t final or permanent or set in stone. Things have changed. They are now happy to attend school at Capstone College. Because of Capstone College, their life has turned around.
And failure needn’t be final for us also. Through Jesus, our life can turn around. The gospel solution to surviving failure is that God offers us forgiveness and restoration, and now we must confess our failures and sins to Him. So because Jesus died to pay the cost of our failures, failure isn’t final. Because of Jesus, failure isn’t final. Through Jesus, failure isn’t final. That’s how to survive failure.
Written, December 2018