After Peter betrayed the Lord Jesus Christ, thrice denying that he knew Him, the risen Savior thrice asked his fallen servant, "Lovedst thou Me?" (John 21:15-17). Peter responded on each occasion, "Lord, thou knowest that I love thee." Indeed, the Lord did know that His disciple loved Him. However, Peter no longer knew whether this was true. Peter's affirmations notwithstanding, the Lord Jesus knew that uncertainty filled His servant's guilty heart wracked by memories of betrayal.
We may sometimes wonder the same after times of unbelief and disobedience. "How can I really love the Lord when I so failed to trust Him and do His will?" Most sincere believers wonder this in times of failure. This raises the question, "Does it inevitably mean that we don't love God when we disregard Him?" Peter's experience answers this question. Note that the Lord Jesus did not counter His servant's claim of devotion. He did not respond, "Peter, how can you say you love Me after you so egregiously betrayed Me?!" The Lord rather called Peter to arise and continue - "Feed My lambs… feed My sheep… feed My sheep." In other words, "Peter, do what I've called you to do. Look forward rather than back, and know that My will for your life still stands." While this may raise any number of questions about sin, repentance, forgiveness, and restoration, it also answers the question at hand. Namely, failure, even of the most severe order, does not necessarily mean that we don't genuinely love our Lord. As with Peter, we do not act in love when we sin. His experience reveals that even devoted, God-loving believers can behave in a manner contrary to the true and determined devotion of their hearts.
In the Old Testament, King David provides an example of one whose devotion cannot be questioned. The New Testament strongly affirms David, never negatively referencing the king, and quoting God Himself as declaring David to have been "a man after Mine own heart" (Acts 13:22). However, David greatly distrusted and disobeyed the commands of God on several occasions. The Biblical account of his sin regarding Bathsheba portrays David in the darkest indictment possible. Rather than discounting and disqualifying David, however, Scripture declares the Lord Jesus to be "the son of David" (Matthew 1:1). As he frequently declares in the Psalms, David truly and deeply loved God. But he didn't always think, speak, act, and relate accordingly. This explains and interprets the Apostle Paul's New Testament mandate: "If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit" (Galatians 5:25). In those who know, trust, and yes, love God, it is possible and sometimes actual that the realities of the heart will not always translate into outwardly faithful and loving expressions. We may "live in the Spirit" (and every believer does - Romans 8:9). But we may not always "walk" accordingly. We may truly love, while not always truly acting in love.
Had the Lord Jesus not raised the questions of love with Peter, our brother might have returned to the sea to feed bait to fish rather than journey to mission fields to spiritually serve lambs and sheep. Peter had to know that he loved the Lord, and that his failure did not mean otherwise. No excuse existed for his betrayal of Christ, and the fact of Peter's love for his Master makes his sin all the more inexcusable. Forgiveness and restoration neverthless transcended failure in the heart of one who loved, and who had to reminded thereof. The same will be true at times in our lives as the redeeming grace of Christ calls us to arise, go forth, and fulfill our particular callings and responsibilities in the confidence of God's love for us, and our love for Him.
"Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from Thy presence; and take not Thy Holy Spirit from me. Restore unto me the joy of Thy salvation; and uphold me with Thy free Spirit. Then will I teach transgressors Thy ways; and sinners shall be converted unto Thee."
"The love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit which is given unto us."
Weekly Memory Verse
For not he that commendeth himself is approved, but whom the Lord commendeth.
(II Corinthians 10:18)