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God sees your potential-- not your past (or even your present)

identity lifelift Sep 02, 2022

Jesus meets Peter early in His ministry. When He does, Jesus completely changes this man’s name. Here’s the snip from John 1:42 where we see it happen (ESV): 

Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon the son of John. You shall be called Cephas” (which means Peter).

That’s it. It’s the first time Jesus encounters the fisherman, according to John. And, it seems completely insignificant until you get more info.

Here’s the “more” that you need to know…

The name Simon literally means “reed, twig, shifting sand.” In other words, if this man behaves in any way related to what he’s been named by his parents, it means that he is:

  • Undependable— he might change from one moment to the next
  • Unreliable— he will likely say he’s going to do one thing but then do the exact opposite 
  • Unstable— his emotions might throw him off balance 

Jesus affirms that this is exactly what Peter has been like: “You are Simon…”

Yet Simon is not who this disciple is destined to be, so Jesus re-labels him. He gives the man a new title.

Turns out, the name Jesus gives him is the exact opposite of his given name. Jesus calls him Peter, that is “rock.” Whereas you can’t build anything on quicksand, rock is stable and steady. It’s what you desperately want.

Remember, Jesus gives Peter this new name the first time He meets him, long before there’s any evidence that Jesus has accurately labelled him. Jesus literally speaks destiny into him when He does.


Like a rock?

The problem is that, well, Peter is anything but a rock for the next several pages of Scripture. It’s not like he’s “all bad.” He’s shifty— like sand. He bends— like a twig. 

For instance, Peter is the first guy to walk on water (Matthew 14:22f.). Jesus approaches him and the disciples, striding across the waves during a storm. They all think He’s a ghost, even though He suggests He’s their Master. 

“If it’s you,” Peter says, “tell me to walk on water and I’ll do it.”

Sounds like great faith, right? Looks like he’s about to live up to that “rock” identity, eh?

Well, Peter takes a few steps on the water and sinks! 

“Save me,” he begs, “I’m drowning!”

Alas, he’s back to shifting sand… 

He gets another chance, though. One day, Jesus asks the disciples who people say that He is. The rumors immediately come to the light: 

  • Some say that He’s a prophet that’s come back to life (i.e., Jeremiah or Elijah) (Matthew 16:14).
  • Others say He’s the ghost or reincarnation of a religious leader who was revered… and then murdered (a la John the Baptist) (Matthew 16:14).

By the way, if we look throughout the Bible we learn that Jesus’ identity was always questioned:

  • Religious teachers presumed He was possessed (Mark 3:22).
  • Other Jews thought He was a Samaritan (i.e., a half Jewish and half-Assyrian, meaning He didn’t have the credentials to lead a religious movement) (see John 8:48).
  • Some argued that He was a bastard— an “illegitimate” child of some nameless father (John 8:41).
  • Of course, there were family members who thought He’d simply lost His mind (Mark 3:22).

Amidst this backdrop, Peter— looking very much like a rock—  proposes the correct answer: “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God” (Matthew 16:16). 

This is remarkable when we consider that the only others to get the answer correct were demons— the ones who knew Jesus was going to destroy them and their works (see Mark 1:24). In other words, Peter communicates spiritual insight during this moment— spiritual insight that, according to Jesus, can only be revealed by  the Father (see Matthew 16:17). Sounds like he’s moving in the right direction.

But, no! Just a few sentences later Jesus outlines His plan— how He’ll travel to Jerusalem, how the religious elite will betray Him, and how He’ll be executed (see Matthew 16:21). 

I know, you and I have already read the end of the story. We realize Jesus tells them He’ll also rise from the dead (Matthew 16:21). And, of course, we know that’s what He does. But, remember, they’ve never seen a Resurrection up to this point. They have no way of understanding what Jesus even means.

So what does Peter do? 

He goes into shifting-sand, twiggy mode. He actually rebukes Jesus for suggesting He's about to die (Matthew 16:22)! 

He’s so adamant that Jesus commands him, “Get behind me, Satan!”


Other examples of shifty behavior

There are other examples of this shifty behavior, too. You probably remember, for instance, that Peter was the singular disciple who told Jesus that he wouldn’t abandon Him as He faced the cross.

“Even if everyone else leaves and I have to die with you, I’ll stay,” he declared (see Matthew 26:33,35).  

He appeared to live like the rock Jesus declared he was… 

Until he fell asleep while Jesus asked him to stay awake and “keep watch” so that He could pray. He did this not once or twice but three times (Mark 14:37-41). 

When the soldiers arrived with Judas to capture Jesus, everyone— including Peter— fled for their lives (Mark 14:50).

Now, to Peter’s credit, he later returned to the courtyard where Jesus was being mocked and beaten. We don’t know how long it took, but it appeared that his fortitude might emerge. 

Until people began questioning him, that is. Time after time, he denied he knew Jesus. In fact, when a young teenage girl approached him about their relationship, he adamantly called curses down upon himself in order to suggest he had no connection to the Messiah whatsoever (Matthew 26:69-74).

We could go on— 

  • Peter made it first to the empty tomb, but then locked himself in a room later that evening for fear the Jews who crucified Jesus would kill him. This happened even after the resurrected Jesus appeared to him (John 20:26). 
  • Peter returned to fishing a few weeks later (see John 21:3). The language used in the verse doesn’t suggest it was a one-time recreational activity but that he returned to his former trade, abandoning his post as a disciple (and he apparently led others with him— his boat wasn’t empty when Jesus found him!).

It all makes you wonder what Jesus saw at their first encounter, doesn’t it? 

What did Jesus see in people that no one else saw? 

After all, in every instance throughout the Gospels this disciple acts more like a “Simon” than a “Peter.”


Something shifts— he lives from who he really is

After Jesus ascends to His throne, something shifts for Peter. He begins living as the person he actually is rather than the person we’ve seen. 

For instance, in Acts 1:15 Peter stands during a prayer meeting. He suggests everyone select a replacement for Judas. It’s a small step, but he clearly begins walking in a leadership capacity. He anchors the fledgling group during what could be a confusing time for them.

Just one chapter later, the Holy Spirit descends upon the band of Jesus-followers and a crowd comes near them to learn what is happening. Peter stands and delivers a sermon. The result is that 3,000 people come to faith (see Acts 2:14f.). This is all the more remarkable because the people didn’t come to hear his preach— they came because they saw the Spirit moving upon the disciples and wrongly supposed that they were drunk (Acts 2:13,15). In other words, his speech began  from a point of contention and correction with a crowd that wasn’t necessarily “for” him or his message.

In the next chapter, Peter continues walking in his actual identity as a rock. As he and John approach the temple to pray, a lame beggar looks to them, hoping for a donation. 

Peter speaks the famous line, “Silver and gold have I none, but what I do have I give you.” Then— “In the name of Jesus, rise and walk!” 

With that, and without even praying, Peter heals a man (Acts 3:6). 

This causes such a commotion that the religious elitists arrest Peter and John. They command them to stop preaching (which a sandy, twiggy Simon would have likely conceded to). However, Peter uses his trial as a platform to speak even more about Jesus (see Acts 4:8,19). Yes, he preaches during their trial.

By Acts 5, people recognize the power Peter exudes. And they know his daily routine. They begin positioning anyone who needs to be healed in a place where he will pass, simply so that his shadow might fall upon them and heal their broken bodies (Acts 5:15). Incredibly, this is something we never saw Jesus do!

(Remember, Jesus promised that His followers would do greater things than He did in John 14:12, didn’t He?)

In short order, the Sanhedrin (the religious committee in Jerusalem) tosses a few of the apostles in jail. It’s all driven from jealousy, as you might imagine (Acts 5:17-18). In the middle of the night, an angel appears in prison, opens the doors, and sends the disciples back to the temple courts to preach. 

Of course, Peter leads the way. 

When questioned as to why he preaches when specifically ordered not to do so, Peter— in response— begins preaching again. This garners him a flogging (Acts 5:40), which he rejoices to receive, expressing honor to be counted worthy of suffering for Jesus (Acts 5:41).

Incredibly, Peter later raises a woman from the dead. I love this story, because there’s a subtle nuance that most people hardly notice. Let me show you the scene and then I’ll point it out (Acts 9:40-41 ESV): 

But Peter put them all outside, and knelt down and prayed; and turning to the body he said, “Tabitha, arise.” 

And she opened her eyes, and when she saw Peter she sat up. And he gave her his hand and raised her up. Then, calling the saints and widows, he presented her alive.

Notice that he first put all the mourners outside. Back then it was common to show families how much they were loved by bringing more people in to “cry out” on behalf of the deceased. I’m sure it made people feel supported, but it could be loudly distracting. This is likely why Jesus once emptied a room in this same way (Mark 5:40). 

Peter removes the distraction. He invites everyone to stop mourning for a moment as they file out of the room. He’s determined to live like a rock instead of shifting like sand.

Then he kneels to pray in order to build his faith before he calls her forth to life. Notice, though, he seems to pray facing away from her— almost as if he knows he can’t look at the obstacle in front of him (Acts 9:40). Then, when his faith rises, he turns towards her, and he declares that she should come alive!

I love it!


Jesus introduces us to… ourselves?

So what do we make of all of this? 

Well, we know that Jesus came to show us with the Father is like. That’s why He tells us things like: 

  • “Whoever has seen Me has seen the Father” (John 14:9).
  • “The words I speak aren’t just mine— they’re the Father’s words” (John 14:24). 
  • “I only do what I see the Father doing” (John 5:19). 

Like we discussed in a previous video, Jesus reveals what God is like. He’s the exact representation of God (Colossians 1:15, Hebrews 1:3), and the fullness of the deity literally dwells in Him (Colossians 2:9). 


  • Jesus introduces us to the Father. That is, He shows us who God really is (watch here).

And, here’s what I really want you to see… 

  • Jesus also introduces us to ourselves. He shows us who we really are

Think about that exchange between Peter and Jesus. Here’s what actually happened: 

“Hey, Simon, let me tell you who I am. My name is Jesus… I’m here to show you what the Father is really like.”

Then, before Peter can grasp what that actually means, Jesus continues. “By the way, I’m here to show you who you really are, too. And, with that, let’s just start right here… you’re not the wavering, waffling guy that you seem to be… you’re not your past, no matter how present that past seems to be… I’ve designed you for greatness. And when you look at me, you’re going to not only see who the Father is, you’re going to see who you are, too.”


Because God looks at you and doesn't just see the past (even if the past is present). Rather, He sees your full potential.



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LifeLift helps you find and fulfill your purpose. 

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This video clip comes from the LifeLift workshop— available at 

It’s in the first part of the framework, Identity, where you learn who you are— 

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