Editor’s Note: It is time for the rubber to hit the road with New Year’s resolutions – if you haven’t given up on New Year’s resolutions altogether! Serge’s Stu Batstone, a teacher and mentor for Serge Mentored Sonship, explains there is hope for resolutions in Christ’s call to “preventative repentance.”
As we consider resolutions, I want to draw your attention to one of Jesus’ last interactions with His disciples, just before He was arrested. He warns Peter in Matthew 26:34, “Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times” (ESV).
Jesus told Peter he would fall away. Why did He tell him that, when He knew he would do it anyway? Do you think He was calling Peter to resolve not fall away? Was Jesus trying to inspire him to say, “You’re wrong about me Jesus, let me show you!” That seems to be how Peter takes Jesus’ words. Peter responds by saying even if these other guys fall away, I never will. Jesus tries to help Peter by getting a little more specific. He says, “I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times” (Matthew 26:34). That is pretty specific, isn’t it? And Peter is upset by this. But still, he is like us, we don’t believe we are that bad. His response is like ours when we are confronted, essentially saying, “Are you kidding me? I have been with you all this time. You don’t know me very well, do you, Jesus?” If Jesus was calling Peter to a lifestyle of resolution, He got it that night from Peter, didn’t He?
Why did Peter fail? And why did the disciples fail? Why do we fail? I want to suggest that our resolutions have no power to change us because of our profound concern for our reputation. Look at what happens next in the story:
A servant girl comes up to Peter and says, “You also were with Jesus the Galilean.” In that day, the next creature down the pecking order from a servant girl would be an animal.
Peter says, “I do not know what you mean.” Even to her, Peter will not admit it.
Another servant girl comes with the same accusation, and he more emphatically denies Jesus.
Then finally, a group of people tell Peter that his accent gives him away. He is adamant, “I do not know the man!”
Peter. The one to whom the keys of the Kingdom had been given. The one upon whose confession the Church would be built. Peter said, “I don’t know the man.”Do you think you can do better than that? This is Peter! How many books of the Bible did you write?
Why did Jesus tell Peter that he would deny Him? Because Jesus was calling the disciples – not to resolution – but to repentant trust. Jack Miller, the founder of Serge, used this phrase “preventative repentance” to describe when you know you are weak and will be tempted in a future situation, so you begin to live preventively. This is helpful because repentance is not just about what we do (that is the territory of resolutions). Repentance is about who we are.
Jesus calls us to a lifestyle of repentance because He knows us much better than we know ourselves. He knows who we are. He knows the inside of the cup. Because we do not know ourselves well enough we focus on resolutions, the outside of the cup.
Jesus calls Peter to preventative repentance. Peter eventually repented anyway in much brokenness and sorrow. Wouldn’t it have been better for him—and for us too—to live a lifestyle of preventative repentance, rather than constantly overestimating ourselves?
When Jesus told Peter that he would deny Him, Peter answered with a resolution. What if instead Peter had said, “Please break me and change my heart tonight so I do not do what you have said. Of course what you said is true.”
The first of Martin Luther’s 95 theses says this: “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said repent, He meant the entire life of believers should be one of repentance.” Similarly, John Wesley, while preaching on Mark 1:15 said faith and repentance “are requisite after we have ‘believed the gospel;’ yea, and in every subsequent stage of our Christian course or we cannot run the race which is set before us.”
Resolutions are not the way to grow and change unless we see them in the context of repentance. J.I. Packer describes repentance well: “We need to realize that while God’s acceptance of each Christian believer is perfect from the start, our repentance always needs to be extended further as long as we are in this world. Repentance means turning from as much as you know of your sin to give as much as you of yourself to as much as you know of your God, and as our knowledge grows at these three points so our practice of repentance has to be enlarged” (Keep in Step with the Spirit, p. 87).
I want to encourage you with these words. Knowing full well the disciples would be failures, Jesus said this to them: “After am raised up, I will go ahead and meet you in Galilee” (Matthew 26:32). Jesus doesn’t disown them. He accepts their repentance and builds His Church on people who have many failures. His eyes toward you and His heart toward you is this: I will meet you in your failures and we will build the Church together.