The account of Peter’s denial of Christ is one of the few that is recorded in all four gospels. Each record adds a few details that, taken together, give the full story. Clearly, divinity foresaw that pride and self-reliance, such as were manifested by Peter, would be a problem for mankind in his natural post-fall condition.
Matthew’s record of the incident includes Christ’s quote of the Old Testament prophecy about the apostles’ desertion of their Master as well as a warning to Peter regarding his denial of Christ.
“Then Jesus said to them, ‘All of you will be made to stumble because of Me this night, for it is written: “I will strike the Shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.” But after I have been raised, I will go before you to Galilee.’ Peter answered and said to Him, ‘Even if all are made to stumble because of You, I will never be made to stumble.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Assuredly, I say to you that this night, before the rooster crows, you will deny Me three times.’ Peter said to Him, ‘Even if I have to die with You, I will not deny You!’ And so said all the disciples.” Matthew 26:31–35
Peter’s denial, indeed, his failure to recognize his need of a Saviour, is stated more forcefully in Luke.
“And the Lord said, ‘Simon, Simon! Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren.’ But he said to Him, ‘Lord, I am ready to go with You, both to prison and to death.’ Then He said, ‘I tell you, Peter, the rooster shall not crow this day before you will deny three times that you know Me.’ ” Luke 22:31–34
Clearly, the Holy Spirit recognized mankind’s need of divine help, so much so that the inspired pen added additional details to clarify the principle illustrated by the incident.
“The evil that led to Peter’s fall … is proving the ruin of thousands today. There is nothing so offensive to God or so dangerous to the human soul as pride and self-sufficiency. Of all sins it is the most hopeless, the most incurable.” Christ’s Object Lessons, 154
“It was necessary for Peter to learn his own defects of character, and his need of the power and grace of Christ. The Lord could not save him from trial, but He could have saved him from defeat. Had Peter been willing to receive Christ’s warning, he would have been watching unto prayer. He would have walked with fear and trembling lest his feet should stumble. And he would have received divine help so that Satan could not have gained the victory.” Ibid., 155
The promise of divine help may well be one of the most common promises in the Bible. Scripture tells us of the divine help given to God’s people in the past, divine help that is available to us now, and divine help that will be provided in the future, troublous times.
Think of the children of Israel during their wilderness wanderings. Divinity constantly came to their aid. The grand overview of that aid is summarized in Exodus 13:21: “And the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so as to go by day and night.”
The pillars of cloud and of fire are just one of the many instances when divine help was provided. Think of their crossing of the Red Sea, the continual supply of manna, the miraculous pouring forth of water from the rock, the protection from and the victories over their enemies. If we reflected on just these occurrences when we are in doubt, our faith would be strengthened and, indeed, unshakable.
Scripture notes a second miracle in the record of the crossing of the Red Sea that is often overlooked. It is mentioned four times in Exodus 14 (verses 16, 21, 22, and 29) and is of such significance that it also is noted by both David and Isaiah in Psalm 66:6 and Isaiah 51:10.
Not only did the Lord part the waters to allow His children to escape the pursuit of the Egyptians, but equally miraculously, He dried up the seabed. If you have ever observed the condition of the ground after waters have receded, you know how muddy it is. That the Lord enabled the children to pass over the seabed on dry ground is indeed a miracle of miracles.
However, we don’t need to go back thousands of years in the past to find examples of divine help. Undoubtedly every reader of this magazine can think of at least once in their life when they were recipients of divine help—an answer to prayer, divine intervention at a time of particular need or peril—and likely more than once.
Peter clearly learned his lesson and was well aware of the divine help that has been provided to us when he wrote in the past tense in his second epistle, “Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord, as His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue, by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.” 2 Peter 1:2–4
What about divine help in the present? Psalm 46 makes a familiar promise: “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.”
David notes this present help provided by God and then, in the subsequent verses, he looks to the future: “Therefore we will not fear, even though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea; though its waters roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with its swelling.” Verses 2, 3. These troublous times will indeed come—and sooner than we believe.
The entirety of Psalm 91 also contains promise after promise of this divine help that is available to all who walk by faith and not by sight.
Paul writes one of the most reassuring promises: “No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.” 1 Corinthians 10:13
A particularly encouraging promise of present help can be found in Steps to Christ, 100:
“Keep your wants, your joys, your sorrows, your cares, and your fears before God. You cannot burden Him; you cannot weary Him. He who numbers the hairs of your head is not indifferent to the wants of His children. ‘The Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy.’ James 5:11. His heart of love is touched by our sorrows and even by our utterances of them. Take to Him everything that perplexes the mind. Nothing is too great for Him to bear, for He holds up worlds, He rules over all the affairs of the universe. Nothing that in any way concerns our peace is too small for Him to notice. There is no chapter in our experience too dark for Him to read; there is no perplexity too difficult for Him to unravel. No calamity can befall the least of His children, no anxiety harass the soul, no joy cheer, no sincere prayer escape the lips, of which our heavenly Father is unobservant, or in which He takes no immediate interest. ‘He healeth the broken in heart, and bindeth up their wounds.’ Psalm 147:3. The relations between God and each soul are as distinct and full as though there were not another soul upon the earth to share His watchcare, not another soul for whom He gave His beloved Son.”
There can be no doubt that the divine help necessary to overcome the sinful tendencies of the natural heart is only a prayer away.
At this time in earth’s history, perhaps the most reassuring promises are those that pledge divine help in the future. Inspiration notes one of those promises in Christ’s Object Lessons, 172:
“The Lord says, ‘Call upon Me in the day of trouble.’ Psalm 50:15. He invites us to present to Him our perplexities and necessities, and our need of divine help. He bids us be instant in prayer. As soon as difficulties arise, we are to offer to Him our sincere, earnest petitions. By our importunate prayers we give evidence of our strong confidence in God. The sense of our need leads us to pray earnestly, and our heavenly Father is moved by our supplications.”
Are there conditions to these promises of divine help? Certainly God’s love is unconditional, but His promises almost always are conditional. Even with divine help promised, we must do our part—today and in the future. We have a role to play in becoming fit to accept the free gift of salvation. Not only must we manifest contrition and repentance, we must also be on our guard against the incessant assaults of the enemy, who well knows the tendencies of the natural heart and tempts us with unceasing appeals to those tendencies.
“Every Christian must stand on guard continually, watching every avenue of the soul where Satan might find access. He must pray for divine help and at the same time resolutely resist every inclination to sin. By courage, by faith, by persevering toil, he can conquer. But let him remember that to gain the victory Christ must abide in him and he in Christ.
“Everything that can be done should be done to place ourselves and our children where we shall not see the iniquity that is practiced in the world. We should carefully guard the sight of our eyes and the hearing of our ears so that these awful things shall not enter our minds.
“Do not see how close you can walk upon the brink of a precipice and be safe. Avoid the first approach to danger. … [O]ne act of familiarity, one indiscretion, may jeopardize the soul in opening the door to temptation, and the power of resistance becomes weakened.” The Adventist Home, 404
Even when we are trusting in the promises of divine help and simultaneously doing our part by guarding the avenues of the soul, moments of discouragement will inevitably occur, but for these moments there also is a promise of divine help.
“To all who are reaching out to feel the guiding hand of God, the moment of greatest discouragement is the time when divine help is nearest. They will look back with thankfulness upon the darkest part of their way. ‘The Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly.’ 2 Peter 2:9. From every temptation and every trial He will bring them forth with firmer faith and a richer experience.” The Desire of Ages, 528
These temptations and trials, when successfully endured, can provide increased faith only when viewed in the light shed from God’s word and understood as simply chapters in the great controversy.
“It is the first and highest duty of every rational being to learn from the Scriptures what is truth, and then to walk in the light and encourage others to follow his example. We should day by day study the Bible diligently, weighing every thought and comparing scripture with scripture. With divine help we are to form our opinions for ourselves as we are to answer for ourselves before God.” The Great Controversy, 598
And that is what we must ultimately remember: Each of us is to answer for ourselves before God. To be able to stand in that great day before the throne of ultimate power, we must have lived in the shelter of the divine help we are promised, remaining resolutely under the shadow of the wings of our mighty God. With that divine help, we are assured of overcoming the tendencies of the natural heart. Inspiration provides warning after warning about yielding to those tendencies.
“Although there is a natural tendency to pursue a downward course, there is a power that will be brought to combine with man’s earnest effort. His willpower will have a counteracting tendency. If he will combine [earnest effort] with this divine help, he may resist the voice of the tempter. But Satan’s temptations harmonize with his defective, sinful tendencies, and urge him to sin. All he has to do is to follow the leader Jesus Christ who will tell him just what to do. God beckons to you from His throne in heaven, presenting to you a crown of immortal glory, and bids you to fight the good fight of faith and run the race with patience. Trust in God every moment. He is faithful that leadeth forward.” Mind, Character, and Personality, Vol. 1, 105
The natural tendencies of the descendants of Adam to pursue a “downward course” are spoken of repeatedly in the Bible.
“But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” 1 Corinthians 2:14
“But you, beloved, remember the words which were spoken before by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ: how they told you that there would be mockers in the last time who would walk according to their own ungodly lusts. These are sensual persons, who cause divisions, not having the Spirit.” Jude 17–19
“Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show by good conduct that his works are done in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter envy and self-seeking in your hearts, do not boast and lie against the truth. This wisdom does not descend from above, but is earthly, sensual, demonic.” James 3:13–15
It is interesting to note that the words natural in 1 Corinthians 2:14 and sensual in Jude 19 and James 3:15 are from the same Greek word, which should give us a clearer understanding of man’s inherited character.
The obstacles God’s people face—and that were indeed faced by Christ’s first disciples—are addressed in this passage from The Acts of the Apostles 90, 91:
“Only as they were united with Christ could the disciples hope to have the accompanying power of the Holy Spirit and the cooperation of angels of heaven. With the help of these divine agencies they would present before the world a united front and would be victorious in the conflict they were compelled to wage unceasingly against the powers of darkness.”
We have those same powers of darkness to resist, and I would suggest that the challenge is greater for us for several reasons:
We do not have the same in-person nurturing by Christ that the disciples had.
“Therefore rejoice, O heavens, and you who dwell in them! Woe to the inhabitants of the earth and the sea! For the devil has come down to you, having great wrath, because he knows that he has a short time.” Revelation 12:12
Satan has tormented mankind for thousands of years, and during that time, he has diligently studied man’s character and knows well how best to cause his downfall.
Heaven rejoices because Satan was cast out from that sinless habitat (Revelation 12:7–9). Woeful is the situation of the inhabitants of the earth because Satan now directs his wrath at them, taking every advantage of man’s natural disposition to affect his downfall. Thankfully, the situation is not hopeless.
“The refining influence of the grace of God changes the natural [carnal] disposition of man. … The propensities that control the natural heart must be subdued by the grace of Christ before fallen man is fitted to enter heaven and enjoy the society of the pure, holy angels.” The Acts of the Apostles, 273
“He [Paul] knew that at every step in the Christian pathway they [Corinthian Christians] would be opposed by the synagogue of Satan and that they would have to engage in conflicts daily. They would have to guard against the stealthy approach of the enemy, forcing back old habits and natural inclinations, and ever watching unto prayer. Paul knew that the higher Christian attainments can be reached only through much prayer and constant watchfulness, and this he tried to instill into their minds. But he knew also that in Christ crucified they were offered power sufficient to convert the soul and divinely adapted to enable them to resist all temptations to evil. With faith in God as their armor, and with His word as their weapon of warfare, they would be supplied with an inner power that would enable them to turn aside the attacks of the enemy.” Ibid., 307
Was this true only of the believers in Corinth? “The garden of the heart must be cultivated. The soil must be broken up by deep repentance for sin. Poisonous, satanic plants must be uprooted. The soil once overgrown by thorns can be reclaimed only by diligent labor. So the evil tendencies of the natural heart can be overcome only by earnest effort in the name and strength of Jesus. The Lord bids us by His prophet, ‘Break up your fallow ground, and sow not among thorns.’ ‘Sow to yourselves in righteousness; reap in mercy.’ Jeremiah 4:3; Hosea 10:12. This work He desires to accomplish for us, and He asks us to cooperate with Him.” Christ’s Object Lessons, 56
“The servants of Christ are not to act out the dictates of the natural heart. They need to have close communion with God, lest, under provocation, self rise up, and they pour forth a torrent of words that are unbefitting, that are not as dew or the still showers that refresh the withering plants. This is what Satan wants them to do; for these are his methods. It is the dragon that is wroth; it is the spirit of Satan that is revealed in anger and accusing. But God’s servants are to be representatives of Him. He desires them to deal only in the currency of heaven, the truth that bears His own image and superscription. The power by which they are to overcome evil is the power of Christ. The glory of Christ is their strength. They are to fix their eyes upon His loveliness. Then they can present the gospel with divine tact and gentleness. And the spirit that is kept gentle under provocation will speak more effectively in favor of the truth than will any argument, however forcible.” The Desire of Ages, 353
Paul provides an uplifting bit of hope that every follower of Christ should hold dear:
“As was the man of dust, so also are those who are made of dust; and as is the heavenly Man, so also are those who are heavenly. And as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly Man.” 1 Corinthians 15:48, 49
Through the endless supply of grace heaven provides, we are assured that we shall “bear the image of the heavenly Man”—a promise of divine help that will enable us to overcome the tendencies of the natural heart and perfectly reflect the image of our Saviour.
John R. Pearson is the office manager and a board member of Steps to Life. He may be contacted by email at: email@example.com