While looking at a listing of articles on a site this morning I was drawn to the headline “Unconverted Christians” and proceeded to click through and read the piece. Most of the article I could agree with, but there was a glaring error in interpretation of a passage that formed the core of the article. Sadly, this error is not unusual among Christians and particularly those who have extra-church, or para-church ministries. Worse yet, this particular error is even found among some otherwise solid local, New Testament churches. What is the error? I quote Dave Daubenmire:
As we sat around the flickering campfire I used a flashlight to locate a verse in my Bible that had troubled me for some time.
Luke 22:31-32 “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.”
Whoa…..Peter, who had been one of the Lord’s closest disciples, was NOT CONVERTED. For three years he had been part of Jesus’ team, one of his confidants, a follower of the Lord, yet somehow Jesus knew that this loud mouthed blow-hard was more bark than bite.1
Unfortunately, this is not an uncommon interpretation of the passage and not an uncommon view of the apostle Peter. Granted, Simon Peter said and did some things that were, well — ignorant and prideful are words that come to mind. However, I learned long ago that when looking at the faults of others, the operative phrase to keep firmly in mind is: “There but for the grace of God go I.” We need to be very careful how we characterize someone else and their mistakes, frailties and flaws. Otherwise, we are likely to find ourselves doing the very same things we saw as grave character flaws in them. Kind of like using the phrase “yet somehow Jesus knew” when a proper understanding of the Lord Jesus Christ gives us to know with certainty that He is Almighty God in the flesh and thus knows everything.
Yet, the thrust of this article is not the mis-characterization of Peter, but of the misinterpretation of the word “converted” and how to properly understand the Scripture so that doesn’t happen. And yes, I am quite aware that I also can misinterpret Scripture unless I allow the LORD to lead and guide, and follow the rules He laid down in His word. With that, let us plunge in.
There is a fundamental error here that consists simply of taking our understanding of the common meaning for “converted” and applying it without checking the rest of Scripture. It is a deadly and dangerous error to commit when determining the meaning of Scripture as it will, sooner rather than later, yield very bad doctrine.
The evidence of the error in interpretation is found in the gospels and is supported by the rest of Scripture. Prior to this incident, there is considerable proof that Peter knew the Lord Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour and was already “converted” in the sense Dave Daubenmire and many others mean it. We can begin looking at the proof in Matthew, chapter 16:
When Jesus came into the coasts of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, saying, Whom do men say that I the Son of man am? And they said, Some say that thou art John the Baptist: some, Elias; and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets. He saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am? And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven. (Matthew 16:13-17)
And again in John, chapter six:
From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him. Then said Jesus unto the twelve, Will ye also go away? Then Simon Peter answered him, Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life. And we believe and are sure that thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God. (John 6:66-69)
Both of these incidents are prior to the foretelling of Peter’s denial at the last Passover the Lord held with his disciples, and the subsequent denial of Christ by Peter. Moreover, as additional evidence we have Peter’s behavior when the Lord chose him to be an apostle:
And it came to pass, that, as the people pressed upon him to hear the word of God, he stood by the lake of Gennesaret, And saw two ships standing by the lake: but the fishermen were gone out of them, and were washing their nets. And he entered into one of the ships, which was Simon’s, and prayed him that he would thrust out a little from the land. And he sat down, and taught the people out of the ship. Now when he had left speaking, he said unto Simon, Launch out into the deep, and let down your nets for a draught. And Simon answering said unto him, Master, we have toiled all the night, and have taken nothing: nevertheless at thy word I will let down the net. And when they had this done, they inclosed a great multitude of fishes: and their net brake. And they beckoned unto their partners, which were in the other ship, that they should come and help them. And they came, and filled both the ships, so that they began to sink. When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord. For he was astonished, and all that were with him, at the draught of the fishes which they had taken: And so was also James, and John, the sons of Zebedee, which were partners with Simon. And Jesus said unto Simon, Fear not; from henceforth thou shalt catch men. And when they had brought their ships to land, they forsook all, and followed him. (Luke 5:1-11)
Simon Peter’s reaction to recognizing who was standing in his ship is consistent with the reaction we see from other men of God throughout the Old Testament, men such as Job (Job 40:1-5; 42:1-6), Isaiah (Isaiah 6:5), and Ezekiel (Ezekiel 1:28; 3:22-23). Moreover. Peter’s recognition of Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God is fully consistent with Nathanael’s recognition of who Jesus is in John, chapter one:
The day following Jesus would go forth into Galilee, and findeth Philip, and saith unto him, Follow me. Now Philip was of Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip findeth Nathanael, and saith unto him, We have found him, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, did write, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph. And Nathanael said unto him, Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth? Philip saith unto him, Come and see. Jesus saw Nathanael coming to him, and saith of him, Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile! Nathanael saith unto him, Whence knowest thou me? Jesus answered and said unto him, Before that Philip called thee, when thou wast under the fig tree, I saw thee. Nathanael answered and saith unto him, Rabbi, thou art the Son of God; thou art the King of Israel. (John 1:43-49)
Peter’s recognition is inconsistent with the reaction of those who do not know the Lord Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour. This is evidenced by the following incidents:
Jesus heard that they had cast him out; and when he had found him, he said unto him, Dost thou believe on the Son of God? He answered and said, Who is he, Lord, that I might believe on him? And Jesus said unto him, Thou hast both seen him, and it is he that talketh with thee. And he said, Lord, I believe. And he worshipped him. (John 9:35-38)
The woman answered and said, I have no husband. Jesus said unto her, Thou hast well said, I have no husband: For thou hast had five husbands; and he whom thou now hast is not thy husband: in that saidst thou truly. The woman saith unto him, Sir, I perceive that thou art a prophet. Our fathers worshipped in this mountain; and ye say, that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship. Jesus saith unto her, Woman, believe me, the hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father. Ye worship ye know not what: we know what we worship: for salvation is of the Jews. But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him. God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth. The woman saith unto him, I know that Messias cometh, which is called Christ: when he is come, he will tell us all things. Jesus saith unto her, I that speak unto thee am he. (John 4:17-26)
And it was at Jerusalem the feast of the dedication, and it was winter. And Jesus walked in the temple in Solomon’s porch. Then came the Jews round about him, and said unto him, How long dost thou make us to doubt? If thou be the Christ, tell us plainly. Jesus answered them, I told you, and ye believed not: the works that I do in my Father’s name, they bear witness of me. But ye believe not, because ye are not of my sheep, as I said unto you. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand. I and my Father are one. (John 10:22-30)
These are only three of many incidents recorded in the gospels where individuals stood face to face with the Lord Jesus Christ, and even saw Him perform miracles that are impossible in the physical realm, and yet could not recognize who He is.
Peter knew the Lord because he had already been born again of the Holy Ghost and was in Christ. He knew because the Holy Ghost that indwelt him confirmed to him that Jesus of Nazareth was indeed the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God. It is an error to say otherwise. We must understand that the Holy Ghost has always indwelt believers from the time of the Fall and whoever was first saved, until now. This indwelling will continue until the last saved person on earth passes away and the earth is no more. It is also necessary to understand the distinction between the indwelling of the Holy Ghost and the empowerment of the Holy Ghost which occurred at Pentecost. (Ref. John 7:39, it has much to do with the authority to preach the gospel — Prov. 11:30; 18:4)
Thus the problem here is one of applying our “common” understanding to words in Scripture without confirming that those words actually mean what we think they mean as confirmed by the rest of Scripture.
To say that Peter was not born-again when he erred in denying the Lord Jesus, is to say that the child of God cannot make mistakes, even egregious ones, after they are saved. However, we know from the Old Testament that is simply not true. Many of the Old Testament children of God (born-again in Christ) made some very bad errors. The difference here is the repentance they demonstrated after they where confronted with their sin. Peter’s problem was his brashness in not recognizing how frail we really are when it comes to withstanding the assault of the Devil. Peter did not believe this thing about himself, and the Lord proved him wrong. This is really no different than when the LORD confronted Sarah about her laughing within herself about having a child in her old age (Genesis 18:9-15)
Now, it is manifestly true that many claim Christ today who are not born-again and they do not know the LORD and are not known of the LORD. That is to their detriment. The truest indicator of whether someone knows the LORD is what is given in John, chapter 10:
Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that entereth not by the door into the sheepfold, but climbeth up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber. But he that entereth in by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the porter openeth; and the sheep hear his voice: and he calleth his own sheep by name, and leadeth them out. And when he putteth forth his own sheep, he goeth before them, and the sheep follow him: for they know his voice. And a stranger will they not follow, but will flee from him: for they know not the voice of strangers. (John 10:1-5)
Hence, we can ask the question of someone who misinterprets Scripture as well: Can you hear the voice of the Lord Jesus Christ, who is the Word, in the Scripture?
Can you hear the voice of the Word, who became Jesus the Christ, in the Old Testament? After all, He speaks as plain as day throughout the Old Testament. Sadly, without “words of Christ in red” many have no clue when the Lord Jesus Christ is speaking. Hence, they are not His.
Whether or not we desire to challenge individuals who claim Christ, and claim to be born again, yet show no evidence of it, we are not free to take a passage and a word and misinterpret it and thus misapply it to prove our point. What that does is invalidate the point we wish to make, and calls into question our own walk with the LORD.
Is there a proper interpretation of the passage? Yes, and it is utterly simple:
What the Lord simply meant was, when Peter got turned around back to the right way (after being sifted and failing), strengthen the brethren. After all, the first and plainest meaning of “converted” is “being turned” or “having been turned.” Did it sting and burn Peter that he had failed when he denied his Lord and Saviour? Yes, it did, and it was very humbling. It is a lesson we can all take heed to.