I don’t know about you, but I am perpetually of the mind that God is disappointed in me. With a double-sided tongue, a heart burning with lust, and an ego so swollen it practically occupies its own zip code, there is certainly no shortage of evidence to support this idea. Time and again I’ve been unfaithful, betrayed my promises, and abandoned His love for the shiniest new object. Yet, instead of repenting of my infractions, you can usually find me justifying them. Far from being a good Christian, I am a fantastic sinner and it seems that every time I take two steps forward, my sin yanks me three steps back. I yearn to be better, to change the dejected face of God toward me to one of delight and love, but how, when my sins are so many and my heart is so hard?
Most Christians want to be good ones. We want to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that our Father is pleased with us. We abstain from premarital sex, we don’t drink, we don’t smoke, we don’t swear, we dress modestly, we go to church every Sunday. We do a lot of things we’ve long-associated with a pure, Christ-infused life because well, isn’t that the objective – to live a new life, to follow God’s Law?
For many of us, the ideal image of someone following Jesus conjures up this idea of a "good Christian." We think of missionaries, or saints, or people really good at following the rules. As a result, the church often tries to shame people into being good Christians because we think being a good Christian is the point. We think we need to do good things and perhaps that's why we have a church full of ministries and depleted of disciples. We ask people to change before we ask them to believe and we leave little room for the doubting millennial, the girl living with her boyfriend, or the man experiencing same-sex attraction. But what is the work of the believer, if not to believe?
We've strayed so far away from what God desires from us, and nowhere is this discrepancy more evident than in the conversation that takes place at the last supper. In Luke 22:31, Jesus is sitting at a table celebrating Passover with his disciples. There's a discussion going on about who is the greatest and after Jesus schools his friends on the social stratification of the upside-down kingdom, he turns to Peter and says:
“‘Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.’ Peter said to him, ‘Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death.’ Jesus said, ‘I tell you, Peter, the rooster will not crow this day until you deny three times that you know me.’” (Luke 22:31-34, ESV)
As Christians who want to be good ones, this is our deepest fear. Had Jesus peered past our declarations of goodness and into the places we’re too scared to look – had he told us that weare not good, we would be devastated. Many of us look at Peter in our Bible study groups and feel superior to him, believing that we are better Christians than he ever was. We chastise him when we should identify with him. Peter loves Jesus and Jesus loves Peter, yet in the dire moments of Christ's life, Peter denies ever having known him. How many times have we failed our good and gracious God despite our deep, authentic love for him?
Peter, by any account, would be considered a "good Christian." This is the man who abandoned his livelihood to follow Jesus, the first of the disciples to call him the Messiah, the one who Christ loved. Peter's denial is the ultimate betrayal of friendship and the ultimate betrayal of self. If this were any one of us, we'd never forgive ourselves – and it's almost like Jesus knew that. It's almost like he knew that for Peter, the conviction of this betrayal would be too heavy to bear and so Jesus prays for him. He forgives him, before Peter even knows he needs to be forgiven.
You see, Jesus never prays for Peter to have the courage to say “I am a disciple of Jesus Christ,” he doesn’t pray for Peter to have the strength to stand up for what he believes in. No, Jesus prays that Peter’s faith wouldn’t fail. He prays that after Peter realizes what he’s done, he will remember and believe that this betrayal is not counted against him. That though his sins be like scarlet, Christ has washed him white as snow.
Jesus sees Peter for the mess of a disciple that he is and still, he doesn’t pray that Peter will do better in his hour of testing, He prays that Peter will believe he’s forgiven after he’s failed with flying colors. It’s almost like he’s saying, Peter, tonight you will do everything wrong. You will draw a sword, cut a man's ear, betray me, betray yourself, and oh, yeah, down the road when this is all over, and the gospel has reached even the gentiles and you refuse to eat with them, I have prayed that in the midst of the revelation of your sin, your faith in my forgiveness will not fail. And when you've come to and remembered that your justification comes by faith alone, go back and tell your brothers. Go back to the ones who are in despair over the things they've done and remind them that my grace is deeper than their darkest sin.
Our Savior never prays that we’ll be better Christians. He prays that our faith would not fail when we do.
Our High Priest is not counting the times you’ve failed to be a good follower, or the times you’ve been a bad Christian. He is advocating for you in the throne room, asking his Father to grant you the belief that you are forgiven because he knows how impossible that seems. God is not disappointed you because when he looks at his children, all he sees is the spotless, perfect record of his Son.
Rejoice, for there is no such thing as a good Christian. There is only our good Father.