We do not consider carefully enough that these stern warnings were given by an apostle to the church at Rome. Rome was the capital of the empire when Paul wrote. He knew how temptations come to the sons of men. He knew that the growth of the church in Rome and the destruction of Jerusalem, site of the original “mother church,” would create the temptation for the Roman Gentiles to boast against the original branches. And so he said, “Boast not.” Be not high-minded, Paul said, but fear. Again, he told the church at Rome not to be high-minded but rather to fear. What were they to fear? The answer is plain—the Roman church was commanded to fear the prospect of removal from the olive tree of the covenant.
In the face of this, over the centuries, it has become a dogma in the church at Rome that while other churches can fall away, it cannot. Even if everyone else denies You, Peter said, I will not. In other words, a church that is expressly warned that it can be cut off maintains that it cannot be. It is as if a modern church, standing amid the ruins of ancient Ephesus, were to maintain as a point of doctrine that its lampstand was incapable of removal (Rev. 2:5).
On the night Jesus was betrayed, Peter stood out among the other disciples. Even if all the others denied the Lord, Peter claimed, he would not. He would stand firm. But Jesus corrected him personally. The one who thinks he stands must take heed lest he fall. The one who considers it a point of doctrine to reject the Lord’s solemn warnings as though they were temptations is falling into the great temptation.
Peter turned back from his sin in repentance. As a result of his disastrous denial of the Lord, Peter went out and wept bitterly. He learned not to boast in his own strength. His tenderness, humility, strength, and holiness are plainly seen in the two letters he left for the church of all ages. Those who consider themselves his heirs need to consider this pattern.
The confidence that flows from a Biblical understanding of election is never an a priori confidence. If anyone understood and taught the doctrine of predestination, Paul did. And yet, in humility, he acknowledged that he might become a castaway. Likewise, Peter learned not to make claims he could not fulfill.
Every Christian church in the world must acknowledge that it does not support the root, but that the root supports it. In this demeanor of humility, a church can never fall away. But when pride comes in, so does danger. Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord. This is the great and true legacy of Peter.