When Peter received the Holy Spirit, he was obviously converted. But reading the first 15 chapters of Acts and Peter’s two epistles reveals a remarkably different man. If Peter could change that much, then we, too, can experience significant growth.
Peter understood the gravity of having forsaken and even denied Jesus Christ (Matthew 26:69-75).
Source: Illustration by Michael Woodruff
Most of us find Peter to be likable and lovable from the moment we are first introduced to him. He definitely had his natural strengths. He was outgoing, gregarious, transparent and enthusiastic. Most important of all, he loved Christ.
Because of being impulsive and strong-willed, his faults were also quite obvious. That’s what enables us to see such a contrast after he was converted. Because of that contrast, Peter’s example and writings are a great inspiration.
Unstable, Impulsive and Insecure Simon
Simon was anything but a rock. He wasn’t dependable the way a Christian leader needs to be. Without God’s Spirit, he often spoke or acted in a way that would be inappropriate for a Christian. His actions belied an underlying insecurity in spite of his outward confidence.
Think of some of his impulsive actions: In Capernaum Peter invited Jesus and the disciples to his house even though his wife’s mother was sick in bed (Mark 1:29-30). When Peter saw Jesus walking on water, he said, “Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water” (Matthew 14:28). He impulsively tried to kill the servant of the high priest (John 18:10). When Christ appeared to Peter and some of the other disciples when they were fishing on the Sea of Tiberius, Peter “put on his outer garment (for he had removed it), and plunged into the sea ” (John 21:7, emphasis added throughout).
All four Gospels tell of Peter’s shameful denial of Jesus. The main reason for this emphasis is probably to reassure us that God will forgive even the worst of sins. But it also shows Peter’s fear, cowardice and lack of commitment at times. He even “began to curse and swear,” perhaps relapsing into habits from his earlier life (Matthew 26:73-74).
Simon Peter was not yet a rock of steadfastness and godly character.
The process of conversion isn’t completed at baptism. We see evidence of Peter’s further growth long after he received the Holy Spirit. Consider how Peter shrank back from eating with gentiles when men from the Jerusalem church were present—and this was many years after his conversion (Galatians 2:11-13). However, much to Peter’s credit, he evidently took Paul’s correction well and repented of that.
With all of Peter’s strengths and abilities, it seems a little odd that he would have some underlying insecurity. But character traits are largely formed by experiences in childhood, and who knows what Peter’s childhood was like.
Peter is known for being bold, spontaneous and impulsive, but without knowing more about his background, it is impossible to know what caused him to be that way.
Peter was outspoken, which can be both good and bad. When Jesus asked His disciples, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter immediately and emphatically stated, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:15-16). Jesus was clearly pleased with Peter’s understanding and reverence. It could be that Jesus’ compliment went to Peter’s head, but we cannot know with certainty.
Right after that, Jesus described His upcoming death and the events that would lead up to that. “Then Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, ‘Far be it from You, Lord; this shall not happen to You!’” (verse 22). Peter apparently took hold of Jesus, nudged Him to one side and began to correct Him sternly! This was audacious, presumptuous and foolish.
Then Jesus “turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men’” (verse 23). Shortly after Jesus had praised Peter He gave him a stern reprimand, calling him “Satan”! That’s because Peter began relying on human reasoning and was speaking in opposition to God’s divine plan.
In the Garden of Gethsemane before Jesus was arrested, He told His disciples that all of them would “stumble” and be “scattered.” “Peter answered and said [bragged] to Him, ‘Even if all are made to stumble because of You, I will never be made to stumble’” (Matthew 26:33).
Ah, “let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12). “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall” (Proverbs 16:18). Peter was undoubtedly sincere, but any unconverted person is blind to his own weaknesses.
The next chapter tells about the transfiguration of Jesus that Peter, James and John were invited to witness. “And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Him. Then Peter answered and said to Jesus, ‘Lord, it is good for us to be here; if You wish, let us make here three tabernacles: one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah’” (Matthew 17:3-4a).
Peter, the compulsive talker, interrupted the discussion between Jesus, Moses and Elijah and “answered”—even though no one had asked him anything or invited him to speak! First he made a trite comment and then went on to offer his advice!
“While he [Peter] was still speaking, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them; and suddenly a voice came out of the cloud, saying, ‘This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear Him!’” (verse 5). Perhaps Peter learned to be less quick to assume he understood the spiritual implications of a given circumstance.
Solid Rocklike Peter
Simon’s unconverted character was unarguably less stable than his converted nature. But in spite of Simon’s impulsiveness and inconsistencies, Jesus prophetically named him for what, by God’s grace, he would become. After Andrew brought Peter to Jesus, “when Jesus looked at him, He said, ‘You are Simon the son of Jonah. You shall be called Cephas’ (which is translated, A Stone)” (John 1:42). Cephas is Aramaic, and Peter is Greek.
Peter became a rock-solid pillar in the Church and part of its foundation.
Peter’s first recorded sermon is related in Acts 1:15-22. Already we see an added dimension of sobriety, maturity, wisdom and knowledge of Scripture, clearly inspired by God’s Holy Spirit. With his second sermon in Acts 2, we see a mighty preacher of the gospel giving a focused and powerful masterpiece of a sermon.
Acts 3:1 tells us that “Peter and John went up together to the temple at the hour of prayer.” That shows a willingness to go where the people were, as Jesus had instructed Peter to do.
When Peter and John were arrested, they were inspired and fearless in their testimony because they were “filled with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 4:8). The officers “saw the boldness of Peter and John” and marveled (verse 13).
Peter went through the most humbling experience imaginable. He well understood the gravity of having forsaken and even denied Jesus Christ. He had “wept bitterly” (Luke 22:62). All of us have let Christ down many times, although in less dramatic ways.
So it was a very emotional time when Jesus asked Peter three times, “Do you love Me?” (John 21:15-17). Each time Peter answered in the affirmative, and Jesus responded with, “Feed My lambs… Tend My sheep… Feed My sheep.” That’s a sobering message Jesus meant for all of us.
After Pentecost, Peter was no longer self-centered and vain. He sought to do all to the glory of God. When Peter healed the lame man at the temple and a crowd gathered in amazement, Peter said to them, “Men of Israel, why do you marvel at this? Or why look so intently at us, as though by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk?” (Acts 3:12). He let them know it was by the power and name of Jesus Christ (verses 13-16).
Peter wrote, “Likewise you younger people, submit yourselves to your elders. Yes, all of you be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility , for ‘God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.’ Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time” (1 Peter 5:5-6).
Peter begins his second epistle with “Simon Peter, a bondservant and apostle of Jesus Christ” and speaks of Jesus as “ our God and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:1).
Peter’s humility and loving-kindness are evident all through his two epistles.
Spiritual humility is indicated by regular reliance on prayer. Acts 3:1; 4:31; 6:4; and 10:9 are examples of Peter’s devotion to prayer.
Respectful and Submissive Peter
Who would have thought that Simon—independent, self-willed, strong-willed, presumptuous, brash and bragging Simon—would become a role model of a humble servant-leader, having a shepherd’s heart? But all that we read of Peter in the book of Acts shows him to be that humble, dedicated example. His two epistles are filled with beautiful instruction on how to live the Spirit-filled life.
Peter makes it clear that what motivates and empowers us is the “living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3). This first epistle has a theme of hope (1:13; 1:21; 3:15).
Peter explains that we should be grateful even for our trials, though “tested by fire,” and that we should “rejoice with joy inexpressible” because of our great hope (1 Peter 1:6-11).
After giving us the big picture in chapter 1, chapter 2 begins with: “Therefore, laying aside all malice, all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and all evil speaking, as newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby” (1 Peter 2:1-2).
Then notice his theme of submission to authority.
“Therefore submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake, whether to the king as supreme, or to governors, as to those who are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of those who do good” (1 Peter 2:13-14).
“Servants, be submissive to your masters with all fear, not only to the good and gentle, but also to the harsh. For this is commendable, if because of conscience toward God one endures grief, suffering wrongfully. For what credit is it if, when you are beaten for your faults, you take it patiently? But when you do good and suffer, if you take it patiently, this is commendable before God” (1 Peter 2:18-20).
Then Peter reminds us of the example of Jesus Christ who submitted to the authorities and did not retaliate or revile but “committed Himself to Him who judges righteously” (1 Peter 2:21-25).
“Wives, likewise, be submissive to your own husbands, that even if some do not obey the word, they, without a word, may be won by the conduct of their wives, when they observe your chaste conduct accompanied by fear” (1 Peter 3:1-2).
“Husbands, likewise, dwell with them with understanding, giving honor to the wife, as to the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life, that your prayers may not be hindered” (1 Peter 3:7). The word “likewise” indicates that Peter considered this a continuation of his theme of submission. A loving, self-sacrificing husband will suppress his natural selfish inclinations and put first the needs and desires of his wife.
The next section begins with “finally,” which indicates this is still part of his theme, plus it amplifies the theme to the larger beautiful picture.
“Finally, all of you be of one mind, having compassion for one another; love as brothers, be tenderhearted, be courteous; not returning evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary blessing, knowing that you were called to this, that you may inherit a blessing.
“For ‘He who would love life and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips from speaking deceit. Let him turn away from evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayers; but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil’” (1 Peter 3:8-12).
In chapter 5, Peter reminds elders that they are to be good shepherds to “the flock of God,” as we will give account to “the Chief Shepherd” (1 Peter 5:1-4).
Then Peter writes, “Likewise you younger people, submit yourselves to your elders. Yes, all of you be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility, for ‘God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.’ Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time” (1 Peter 5:5-6).
Disciple Simon Became the Apostle Peter!
Yes, who would have expected Simon to become a primary example of rock-solid conversion, truly living up to his new name Peter? And who would have expected Simon to become one of the world’s greatest teachers of love, hope, humility and respect for and submission to authority?
Spiritual conversion requires the greatest miracle of all, but God’s Word is reassuring. If people like Peter and Paul could become deeply converted, then we know there is hope for all the rest of us.