I’ve been reading a lot of Stephen Robinson this past week, (both Believing Christ , and How Wide the Divide) and so my mind is on the relationship between faith and work. I have been pondering the famous scripture “For it is by grace that we are save, after all we can do” and trying to fully understand what it means in theory and in practice.
This past Wednesday at institute, we were talking about the story of Peter attempting to walk on water, and I realized that this story is a pretty good parable for faith rescuing us from our failures after all we do.
Mattew 14 25-33
25And in the fourth watch of the night Jesus went unto them, walking on the sea.
26And when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, It is a spirit; and they cried out for fear.
The disciples are out alone on the sea. Jesus approaches them and they fear and do not realize who or what he is. Jesus identifies himself and encourages them to have encourage and to not be afraid.
27But straightway Jesus spake unto them, saying, Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid.
This seems like the relationship that all members, and perhaps especially converts, such as myself, have with the church and the gospel. We find ourselves alone or else trying to understand forces in our life that are beyond our comprehension. Eventually, at some point that source of influence is identified as the Lord Jesus Christ, through the impact of the light of Christ and the Holy Ghost.
28And Peter answered him and said, Lord, if it be thou, bid me come unto thee on the water.
Peter’s response is instructive. Peter asks with faith for an invitation to come follow the lord. Peter knows, that the tender mercies of Christ are miraculous. None of the other apostles seem to respond in this way at all. Peter is calling on the lord with faith for the blessings that he knows that Christ can give to him. Thus, Peter is asking for a way to make his faith manifest through action. Just as we could have perfect theoretical faith in the spiritual world but needed to be embodied in order to truly have our faith tested, here Peter realizes that if he truly believes that this man before him is Lord, he can expect to do be empowered to perform miracles.
29 ”And he said, Come.”
Christ then beckons to Peter to come. Thus, Peter’s request is responded to by an invitation to partake in the blessings and miracles of Christ.
It is through his initial faith in Christ and his willingness to ask for the bestowal of blessings, that Peter is given the invitation to try to do that which has only been done successfully by the Lord Jesus Christ.
“And when Peter was come down out of the ship, he walked on the water, to go to Jesus.”
Peter begins to walk through his faith. It is often too easy to skip to the moment when Peter loses his faith, the point where he falters and descends into the water. Instead, we should realize that it is miraculous that Peter had the faith to take this step at all. Peter really was able to walk on water, even if it was merely for a time. Also significant is the direction in which Peter moves. His effort through faith has moved him closer to Christ and bridged the gap between them.
30But when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me.
Just as inevitably will happen to us, Peter reaches a point where the limitations of his courage or conviction overpower. Peter begins to sink. Despite all of his efforts and faith, Peter was only able to overcome his limitations for a time.
We can learn a lot from Peter’s almost instantaneous response. As he sees himself beginning to sink, Peter does not flail or thrash about attempting to restore himself. Instead, he immediately cries out to the lord for salvation. In difficult moments it is too easy to feel unworthy of the saving grace of the Lord. Peter must have felt ashamed and weakened by his inability to continue on the path with perfect faith. Still, he did not allow that to stop him from reaching out to the lord. It is at the moment when after all we do, we still find ourselves in the sinking in the depth, when the atonement of Christ is most real and most valuable.
31And immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, and caught him, and said unto him, O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?
Christ’s response to Peter’s plea is immediate. Christ does not wait to first chastise Peter for his failures. Instead, Christ extends a hand and allows Peter to be caught. Likewise, we should not be held back from receiving the atonement of Christ for fear of chastisement or guilt. Help will always come first.
The Words of Christ to Peter are stark. They are a reminder of the absolute standards to which we must aspire. They are a clear indication that more is even more is expected of Peter in the future. Having overcome the first hurdle of faith by taking those first steps onto the water, Peter must refine and perfect his faith by removing shreds of doubt.
32And when they were come into the ship, the wind ceased.
33Then they that were in the ship came and worshipped him, saying, Of a truth thou art the Son of God.
Yet, peter is not denied the presence of God because of his weakness. He has been cleansed by his willingness to reach out in his time of failure. The storms pass, as they always do. Even though Peter failed to achieve a perfect faith, he has progressed on the path towards developing that faith. At the point of failure, he knew whom to reach out to, and he was willing to accept his flaws and proceed with willingness and perseverance. Peter here is thus a paragon of faith in the saving power of the Lord Jesus Christ, even as he is besot by his own weaknesses. He is saved by the calling out to the grace of Christ at the point where his own faith and conviction had reached their limits.
This scripture is incredibly versatile and useful as one that allows us to reflect on how we are to deal with adversity. Thus, when faced with an unfamiliar and frightening situation, Peter has the courage to ask the lord for strength and to follow him in faith. Even when he finds himself failing, he continues to call onto the lord and is saved from his plight.
This is also a very apt metaphor for our own personal Journey. When we become aware of the lord’s presence in our lives, we must willingly ask for all of the blessings that he can offer us and must be willing to act upon our faith. We always know that when (for in this life it is not really a matter of if), we fall, we can immediately reach out to the lord and that he will grab us. We do not need to wait to have our flaws perfected and are not expected to get back out of the water on our own merits. We will receive a reminder that we are not living up to our full potential, but not be denied the presence of the lord because of our failure to do so perfectly.