I live on the Puget Sound in Washington state and one of my kids favorite things to do while at our rocky shores is to turn over large stones when the tide is low. As soon as light reaches into the hole where the rock used to be, you will see tiny little crabs (about the size of pennies) scurry every which way trying to hide, trying to cover themselves from being exposed to a world much larger and more powerful than they.
The crabs helped me remember Peter acting similarly in Luke 5:8.
“When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, ‘Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.’ Simon answered, ‘Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.’ When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink. When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, ‘Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!’ ” —Luke 5:4-8 (NIV)
Peter experienced that same sense of exposure in the light of Christ. Fascinatingly, Peter’s fear was not articulated as physical dread, but as moral dread—“I am a sinful man” (v.8). And this doesn’t really make logical sense, given how Jesus shows his power, not specifically as righteous superiority but as benevolent provision. Jesus simply filled Peter’s boats with so many fish they begin to sink. Think of that! Jesus displayed so much kindness that He almost destroyed Peter and his partners’ livelihoods. That’s dangerous generosity.
For some the raw power of the ocean sucking them out to sea is what elicits the cry of repentance. But for Peter, it was the magnificent power of God’s kindness, the Lord’s unmerited favor, that dropped him to his knees in fear After his own encounter with Jesus, Paul said “God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance” (Rom. 2:4).
But it’s not only Jesus’ kindness that wrecked Peter, it was also His holiness. Peter recognized Jesus’ moral perfection in this moment as well. Historically, fishermen, like other tradesmen, were rather salty folk. I’ve worked a lot of construction in my life, and I can assure you, it’s not the place for holy men. But Jesus shows up there.
I love that about the Lord. He’s out-of-this-world but down-to-earth. He’s un-sophisticated but brilliant. He’s relatable but holy. As Tim Keller has said, “He is humble, but in no way modest.” Jesus commandeered Peter’s boat to preach and then had the audacity to tell him how to fish.
Jesus’ moral authority is commanding. It’s one of the main qualities that folks in Galilee recognized in Him when He first began preaching. “The people were amazed at His teaching, because He taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law” (Mark 1:22).
So, this holy, authoritative, powerful Jesus, filled Peter’s boats with a dangerous generosity, and the outcome was total transformation of a fisherman into a fisher of men.
Holiness + Grace
The American church, in my opinion, has done an ineffective job of articulating the dual realities of Jesus’ holiness and grace. In fact, I don’t think you can really understand God’s grace unless you come to understand His holiness. As a pastor in one of those churches, I hold myself accountable. Second Timothy 3 has been haunting me for about a year now because, I think, it calls out the state of many of our congregations.
“But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self- control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God—having a form of godliness but denying its power.” —2 Tim. 3:1-5
We have tried to grow our churches in many ways in these last 50 years. We’ve adopted business methodology, mastered marketing strategies, bankrolled theater and concert-style experiences, built massive facilities, implemented virtue signaling programs and sermon series, and harnessed people’s gifts to expand the footprint of our local congregations. We have used every type of power available to us to move the church forward except that which is the most effective in transforming the soul: the power of godliness.
Godliness is demonstrating the attributes, characteristics, qualities and attitudes of God. It is, essentially, Christ-likeness. Godliness is at once gracious, forgiving and kind, while at the same time utterly holy and untainted by sin. In general, we have dismissed the slow, difficult, painful process of death-to-self, the work of crucifying the flesh and the transformation into the image of Jesus as being something that can change people.
We’ve been convinced by our culture to believe that outward displays of power and beauty will grow the church. And many clergy doubt that our interior life with God has the strength to get the job done. We sacrifice teaching about living godly lives to not offend people who are living in sin. We have many churches that have the form of godliness without the power of godliness.
Instead of presenting a dangerously holy God who is dangerously generous, we have given the world “safe environments to explore their faith journey.” I don’t know what to make of that It just doesn’t do Jesus justice. That’s not Him. It’s a lookalike that has no power. Simply put, everyone who experiences the real Lord, doesn’t feel safe at all. Usually they are struck by fear, overwhelmed by their own darkness and thrilled by His grace all at the same time. Just like Peter.
As members of Jesus’ gathering, we too must make known the fullness of Jesus. Let’s stop trying to make everyone feel safe around our dangerously generous King. Let’s live, teach and demonstrate the power of godliness, both in kindness and holiness.