From Lloyd Ogilvie’s Ask Him Anything:

“What can you do when you’ve failed and denied what you believe?” This question and others like it came out of the heart of a person who had stumbled badly. He felt he had no right to pray, and when he tried, he felt self-incrimination and condemnation. We all deny our Lord in so many little ways, but what do you do when the denial contradicts everything you’ve stood for and believed? Is there a way back? How does the Lord deal with failures?

The answer is vividly portrayed in the way Jesus Christ dealt with Simon Peter’s denial. Peter could not handle the anguish of his cowardly denial. He had to block it out, try to forget; but his efforts were futile. Was that why he now could not bear to look Jesus in the eye?

What adventure Peter had known following the Master! He remembered with self-affirmation how on the road to Caeserea Philippi he felt the spirit rush within him. He had blurted out the conviction, “Thou art the Christ!” He would never forget the tone of the Lord’s voice when he told him that the church would be built on the rock of his faith. A rock? The recollection reverberated with shock waves within him. “A rock that cracked!” he said to himself.

But the basic message of the story is this: the Lord’s love does not fail however much we fail him. Peter had built his whole relationship with Jesus Christ on his assumed capacity to be adequate. That’s why he took his denial of the Lord so hard. His strength, loyalty, and faithfulness were his self-generated assets of discipleship. The fallacy in Peter’s mind was this: he believed his relationship was dependent on his consistency in producing the qualities he thought had earned him the Lord’s approval. 

Many of us face the same problem. We project onto the Lord our own measured standard of acceptance. Our whole understanding of him is based in a quid pro quo of bartered love. He will love us as if we are good, moral, and diligent. But we have turned the tables; we try to live so that he will love us, rather than living because he has already loved us.