Can one fail at being a Christian? If God has indeed reconciled all things to Himself–past, present, and future–does failure exist at all?
Speaking about failure can be useful when it helps us see our sinful nature more objectively (note: to say that we are sinners is a theological judgment and not a moralistic one). Speaking of failure is also useful when it increases our dependence on God and the joy we experience in God.
But in my experience our speech around failure is less than useful. We typically talk about failure as something we repeatedly do, so much so that failure becomes something we are–a part of our identity that causes us to feel shame.
The Bible tells us that Jesus once invited Peter to step out of a boat and to walk on the choppy waters of the sea. Peter heeds Jesus’s call, takes a few steps, but he quickly starts to sink. Jesus reaches out his hand to save Peter from drowning and then asks him: “Why did you doubt?” (Matthew 14:31).
We are tempted to read Jesus’s question as a criticism of Peter, as confirmation that Peter tried something and failed. But what if Jesus’s question is not rhetorical, but rather an invitation to self-examination? What if Peter’s “failure” was an important part of his spiritual development–a mere note in the grand symphony that God is creating out of Peter’s life?
If that is true–and I believe that it is–the only failure is to play life safe and to stay in the boat. And frankly, even that choice would have been a non-failure that God the Potter “worked for good” (see Rom 8:28) into the clay of Peter’s life.