A very good example in the Bible of a Christian whose life vacillated between incredible cowardliness and incredible spiritual strength is Simon Peter. I tend to think God gave us his story to help us realize that you can really mess up and still come out a productive Christian. Peter was more than willing to do whatever Jesus wanted him to do. But in the Gospels, we have at least 2 examples of Peter giving in to fear. The first was even when he was in the physical presence of Jesus! In Matthew chapter 14 we see that the disciples were in a ship when a terrible storm developed. Jesus came to the ship walking on the water, and Peter was willing to walk out onto the water, in the midst of the storm, to meet Jesus. He was willing, but his fear overcame him. So because of his fear, what do we remember about this story? Is it a story about a great courageous Christian who walked on water for a short while? Not really. The thing that stands out in this instance was Peter’s fear and how he sank. He didn’t develop his full potential in this situation because he was paralyzed by fear. Instead of keeping his eyes on Jesus, he focused on the storm around him. We can be pretty critical of Peter for not trusting Jesus and sinking, but how many times have we done the same thing by looking at the circumstances around us instead of focusing on Jesus.
The second example is one he was warned about ahead of time, and Jesus, the Son of God, even prayed for Peter before it happened. In Luke 22, verses 31-32, we see “And the Lord said, “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat: But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.'” Jesus knew that Simon would let Him down, but He was praying that Peter’s faith would not fail. He knew that even though he would mess up, he could actually be the one to eventually help strengthen others.
Simon Peter was absolutely, positively sure that he would stay true to the very end. In verses 33-34 we see how willing he is, “And he said unto him, Lord, I am ready to go with thee, both into prison, and to death. And he said, I tell thee, Peter, the cock shall not crow this day, before that thou shalt thrice deny that thou knowest Me.'” I know at the time he never thought he would do such a horrible thing. But he didn’t foresee the fear that would overtake him. The enemy uses fear against us, and it can be a powerful weapon.
When Jesus was finally arrested, we see that already Peter gave in to fear a little bit. In the same chapter, verse 54 says that Peter followed at a distance. That doesn’t sound like someone who was ready to go with Jesus, both to prison and to death. Then when the first person identified him as someone who was with Jesus, out of fear, Peter denied Christ the first time. After a little while, another person saw him and said Peter was one of them, and the second denial came. After another hour, the third denial came with cursing and swearing, and immediately the rooster crowed. Then in Luke 22:61, we see something that would just break our hearts to see. “And the Lord turned, and looked upon Peter. And Peter remembered the word of the Lord…” Can you imagine that look of disappointment from our Saviour? It made Peter weep bitterly. How many times do you think Christ looks down at us with that same look of disappointment when we give in to our fears?