Thursday

Peter and I Have a Besetting Sin


The apostle Peter had a besetting sin.

I have one too. 

Several, in fact.

A besetting sin is by definition one that constantly assails us. It pounces upon us when we are tired, sick, or out of fellowship with the Lord. It's the default setting that kicks in when our lives and hearts are not spiritually alert and attuned to God. For Christians, it is the sin or sins that continue to dog our steps long after we've gained victory in other areas.

I struggle with two besetting sins. The first is worry. The second is selfishness. 

As I've matured in my faith, I've gained much spiritual ground as I continually battle these two enemies, but occasionally I'm surprised and disappointed when they manifest themselves in my life.

I'm comforted by the fact that the great apostle Peter struggled with a besetting sin as well. His sin was the desire for acceptance. Don’t get me wrong; it’s not a sin to want to be accepted by people. It is a sin when we care so much about being accepted that we forsake what's right in order to gain it. 

You remember Peter’s failure in the early days of his Christian walk, how he feared what others thought about him so much that he denied Christ before a young servant girl. As he matured in his faith, Peter became bold and fearless, declaring his allegiance to Christ before great crowds of people including mighty religious and political leaders.

It is with surprise then, that Peter again succumbed to his besetting sin of being a people pleaser. Galatians 2 tells how Peter is enjoying the New Testament freedom of fellowshipping and eating with Gentile believers. Suddenly, he withdraws from them because he's afraid of what his fellow Jews will say. 

This is the same Peter who received the vision from God telling him to call nothing unclean that God had called clean. The same Peter who presided over the Jerusalem council, declaring boldly before quarreling believers that God had drawn no distinction between Jews and Gentiles, and that they were all equal in God’s eyes. The same Peter who ate with Cornelius, the God-fearing Gentile whose whole household had come to faith in Christ through Peter’s witness.

Peter blew it.

I don’t know what preceded Peter’s failure. Had he skipped his quiet time that day? Was he physically ill or over tired? Was he following his own agenda rather than the one God had prescribed for him? Whatever the reason, Peter slipped into default mode and responded in the flesh rather than in the spirit. As a result, he sinned against his Gentile brothers and sisters.

I blew it this week, too.

I had the opportunity to serve someone, and instead responded selfishly without thinking. Looking back, I know that if I’d had the time to think about my options, I would have made the right choice and responded unselfishly. Unfortunately, that wasn’t my first inclination. This disappoints me, because I try hard to deny myself and put others first. Despite my best efforts though, besetting sins still rear their ugly heads and damage my relationships with others.

What are we to do, then, with a besetting sin?

Romans 12:1-2 has the answer. “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God-- this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is-- his good, pleasing and perfect will.”

1.  We should offer ourselves as a living sacrifice on the altar of God’s will every day. My prayer might sound like this—“Lord, more than anything else, I want to please you today. Help me obey you in everything I do.” I may have to remind myself of this goal several times throughout the day. The challenging part about living sacrifices, one man pointed out, is that they keep trying to crawl off the altar.

2.  We shouldn’t conform to the pattern of the world. Elisabeth Elliot once said that when seeking God’s will, “Choose the harder of the two ways. The way is hard that leads to life, Jesus said, so it is likely that He is asking us to will against our will.” Usually obedience involves submitting my will to God’s will for the greater good.

3.  We should renew our minds with God’s word. As we spend time in his word, he reveals his heart to us, and his ways become clear. He also gives us a desire to imitate him and power, through the Holy Spirit, to obey him.

Just like Peter had to live with his choice to shun the Gentile believers in Jerusalem, I can’t go back and undo my missed opportunity to serve. What I can do, however, is apply the words of Paul and, forgetting (but not failing to learn from) those things that are behind, press toward the mark of the upward calling of God in Christ Jesus my Lord. My prayer is that one day my default setting will be the same as our Lord’s.

Are you struggling with a besetting sin? Instead of giving up, I challenge you to join me in applying God’s word to our lives and watching him change us from the inside out.



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