Natural facts say that the higher a person climbs a mountain slope, the deeper appears the valley below. Why then should I think that the closer I am to God, the purer will my old nature will become, as if the valley will rise up the mountain with me?
In being a Christian, the contrast between who I am in Christ and who I am in the flesh increases as I climb the mountain toward God, and just as a valley drops into a fearful pit, my vision of who and what I am does the same.
When Jesus began His ministry, Andrew heard about Him. He followed, listened, and was intrigued, then convinced that Jesus was the Messiah, so he brought his brother to the Lord.
Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon the son of John. You shall be called Cephas” (which means Peter). (John 1:42)
Names were important in Jewish culture. This change of name indicated that Jesus saw something in this man’s future that meant a change, but Peter had yet to climb the mountain. As the story of Christ’s ministry progresses, Peter stands out, but from two perspectives. In one, he is climbing the mountain toward God. In the other, he descends into the valley. For much of his climb, the two seem very far apart.
On the mountain, only Peter senses the holiness and majesty of Christ during that time the disciples miraculous filled their nets. Only Peter fell at Jesus’ feet and cried, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” After Jesus said difficult things and the crowds were deserting Him, and after He turned to his disciples with, “Do you also want to go away?” it was Peter who said, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” When Jesus asked, “Who do you say I am?” it was Peter who replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
This is the future man that Jesus saw from the beginning, the one who followed closely, was given great insight and a powerful vision of God. He could see Jesus climbing a mountain.
But Peter also occupied the valley. He was a braggart. He tried to correct and even rebuked Jesus. He fell asleep in the garden instead of praying. He also denied Jesus three times when the end finally came. Even though he was there and the others had fled, his place on the mountain and his place in the valley became farther apart. The closer this man was to Jesus, the potential for falling grew deeper, as did the depths to which he fell.
Christians may presume that walking with Jesus becomes easier with practice, that the older and wiser a saint becomes, the safer they are from temptation and sin. This is not true. Like Peter, it is possible to see the glory of the Lord on the mountain and then deny and forsake Him in the garden. It is possible, even increasingly possible, to confess Him in one place and then deny Him in another.
The only stability possible is to look both ways at all times, up to Jesus who gives me all that I need, and back down at that “awful abyss” of my own heart. From that place, I can see both heaven and hell. I can grasp the new life and the desires of godliness and move forward, but only if I humbly keep in mind those hideous possibilities that growl at my heels and threaten to pull me back down into the valley.
Heaven and hell contended for the mastery in Peter’s heart. Heaven and hell contend for the mastery in my divided and distracted soul. For this battle, God’s Word offers this,
But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do…. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. (Galatians 5:16–17, 24)
For this, I rejoice that Jesus is my Savior, that I do not climb in my own strength. I’m also glad for the others who climb with me. All Christians know the depth of that horrid valley, but together we also know the grandeur of the lofty heights.