Peter and Judas. Two disciples. Both called out by Jesus, both followed Jesus for three years. Both were given authority to cast demons out of people, both empowered to heal the sick, both given roles of responsibility amongst the group (Judas kept the money, Peter was the outspoken one).
Both claimed to love Jesus.
Both called Jesus “Lord”.
Both denied Jesus.
Now, one might argue that Judas sought out an opportunity to turn Jesus over for profit and Peter was fearful for his own life and simply lied. With profanities coloring his lie, of course. While it is true that their exact betrayal of Jesus was not the same, the fundamental sin of denial was the same.
For the first three centuries after Christ’s death there were long seasons of intense persecution against the Church. There was a group of Christians who stood firm, many died and many suffered greatly for the faith. One particular Roman Emperor, Decius, decided that the empire would return to its former glory if the ancient religions were re-instituted. Idol worship and incense burning was required and documented by a certificate. Those who did not comply, who had no certificate, were persecuted and often killed. There were groups of believers who denied the faith in a variety of ways: some by turning over the Scriptures to be burned, some by making fake certificates for their preservation and some who just went through the motions of idol worship though they “did not mean it in their hearts”.
These Christians became known as the “Lapsi”, those who had lapsed in their faith.
The church split over what to do with them. An entire sect of the Church, the Novatianists, said that those who lapsed in their faith had denied Christ, and He Himself had promised that,
“Therefore everyone who confesses Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father who is in heaven.
– Matt 10.32-33
What, then, is the difference between Peter and Judas?
Then when Judas, who had betrayed Him, saw that He had been condemned, he felt remorse and returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, saying, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.”
– Matt 27.3-4
The King James Version translates this passage saying that Judas “repented”, rather than “felt remorse”. But then he went out and hung himself. Jesus called him the “son of perdition” (John 17.12). He was not redeemed from his sin of betrayal and denial.
Peter, however, whom Jesus had called “Satan” (Matt 16.23), was redeemed. Why? Because he felt remorse and repented. The Novatianists must have forgotten Peter’s denial and restoration – or they offered him special grace because his denial occurred before he received the Holy Spirit.
Repentance is the difference and it is the key. We can feel guilty for our sin. We can hate it! In fact, Scripture says
When I kept silent about my sin, my body wasted away
through my groaning all day long.
– Ps 32.3
If we have sin in our lives which remains unconfessed and allowed to fester, it will rot our bones. Our bodies will waste away. We will be sick in our regret and guilt, but unfortunately there is no redemption for feeling guilt alone.
When we feel the guilt and the sorrow of the weight of our sin, we have a choice. We are truthfully in a good place as we must come to grips with our sin to understand grace. And if it is a Godly sorrow, we will confess our sins and be redeemed from them (2 Cor 7.10). And to handle the weight of the guilt, we trust the promises:
We have sinned like our fathers,
We have committed iniquity, we have behaved wickedly.
Our fathers in Egypt did not understand Your wonders;
They did not remember Your abundant kindnesses,
But rebelled by the sea, at the Red Sea.
Nevertheless He saved them for the sake of His name,
That He might make His power known.
– Ps 106.6-8
There were those who dwelt in darkness and in the shadow of death,
Prisoners in misery and chains,
Because they had rebelled against the words of God
And spurned the counsel of the Most High.
Therefore He humbled their heart with labor;
They stumbled and there was none to help.
Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble;
He saved them out of their distresses.
He brought them out of darkness and the shadow of death
And broke their bands apart.
– Ps 107.10-14
If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
– 1 John 1.9
Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
– Rom 8.1
Confess your sins. Turn away from them. Let Jesus redeem you and believe that there is no condemnation. Make right what you have done wrong. Restore what you have broken. And believe that God is using even your sin and rebellion to your good and to His glory (Rom 8.28).