Several years ago, I had a phone conversation with an old friend whom I had not heard from in about ten years. He had engaged in a time of repentance and felt like God had forgiven him. However, he was struggling with forgiving himself. This is a perplexing problem for almost every Christian. I suppose there is not a one of us who has not done something (or several somethings) that haunt our memories. Whenever our particular sin is brought up in conversation, or we come across it in our reading, or we hear it discussed on the radio, we cringe at the memory brought up in our minds. This cringing inhibits our fellowship with our Savior. We must give our past to the One who died at Calvary for that very purpose. Guilt is a marvelous gift from God. Without feeling guilt, we will not repent. Guilt is designed not to destroy us but rather to crowd us to Christ, so that we will cry out for forgiveness found only in Him. Christ’s interaction with Peter following his very public failure is very instructive for us.
In John 13, on the eve of the crucifixion, Jesus predicted that Peter would deny Him three times before the night was over. John 18:15-27 records the fulfillment of Peter’s triple betrayal. Verse 18 explicitly states that Peter was warming himself at a charcoal fire when he betrayed his Lord. John 21:1-17 continues this message by recording a very poignant and encouraging later meeting between Peter and the resurrected Christ. Peter and several disciples were finishing a night of fruitless fishing when Jesus appeared on the shore. I hope you do not find it coincidence that Jesus had built a charcoal fire on the shore. Jesus called Peter and the others to the fire. After a time of fellowship around the fire, Jesus asked a series of penetrating personal questions to Peter. I hope you do not find it coincidence that Jesus called Peter by his pre-salvation name of Simon. Jesus did not do these things to hurt Peter; rather, He did these things to get Peter to forgive himself. Peter needed to face his failure and realize that Christ had already faced it. In fact Christ had just died to pay the penalty for it.
Christ did not die so that Peter’s failure could haunt him the rest of his life. Christ died so that Peter could be free from bondage brought on by long lasting guilt. Guilt is a good weekend guest because it brings us to repentance and the resulting forgiveness. Guilt makes a terrible roommate. We must not allow guilt to move in with us permanently. Instead, we must meet our Savior and Friend at the charcoal fire; dine with Him, realizing that He knows all about our failure and that He has forgiven all. It is a tragedy of indescribable proportions that Christians allow past failures to hinder present fellowship with their Lord. That could not be further from Christ’s intentions. All of us have betrayed Christ. It makes no difference how. Christ died for your adultery, greed, anger, fornication, gossip, homosexual acts, murder, theft, dishonesty, idolatry, abortion, mistreatment of the weak, laziness, rebellion, etc. His death on the cross paid the penalty for your sin. His death on the cross made it possible for you to be restored to fellowship with Him. I encourage you to accept Jesus’ invitation to come to the charcoal fire; dine with Him; listen to His penetrating questions; accept His forgiveness and forgetfulness. This is Christ’s will for your life. He wants unhindered fellowship with you.
STEVE ELLISON is director of Ouachita Baptist Camp in Arkansas. You may contact him at email@example.com.