Is our God not so gracious?
We are “half-hearted creatures,” as I quoted C.S. Lewis in my last blog post, “My Only Boast is You.” But the God who has redeemed His children is a “wholehearted God,” a God who rescues and restores from beginning to end! Even as His stubborn sheep often run from His protective care, He promises and we can be confident that “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus!” (Philippians 1:6)
Is there any greater joy than to know that, on our most faithful days and our most defiant, He is the God who pursues us! No, He doesn’t allow us to stay in our rebelliousness and will permit whatever it takes for the blinders to come off our eyes, the scales to come off our hearts, and the humility before Him to restore our spirits. Yes, that is authentic love that dares to rock our world and to rescue us from ourselves and our propensity to rationalize our attitudes and our actions.
How sweet the peace when we surrender to His correction!
We can trust Him to do that because He has been doing just that throughout time.
We are sinners. BUT God in His mercy…sent His Son to die in our place giving us freedom from the penalty of sin but also the power of sin in our lives.
We are sinners. BUT God in His mercy…invades our self-satisfied souls and leads us to repentance. He is not calling us to perfection but to actively and intentionally pursuing it as we grow in our knowledge of and love for Him and our increasing desire to follow more faithfully. That’s not legalism, that’s the grace of sanctification!
We are sinners. BUT God in His mercy…takes our messes and redeems them for His glory!
“Redemption happens once we leave our ‘stuff’ behind! God meets humility and repentance and does the work of transformation. Repentance doesn’t keep pressing under and forward with sin, it doesn’t continue in it and hide it but, rather, exposes it to the light of God’s saving and sanctifying grace.” (Joseph Wheat)
As we gaze into the Word of God, we come face to face with “messes” who also humbled themselves before the Lord. He used even those to complete His story of redemption in Christ. But He didn’t leave them as they were.
Though Rahab was a prostitute, once living in defiance to the one true God, she was obedient to protect the Israelites then turned from her false gods as well as her way of life.
Ruth left behind her homeland and her Moabite gods to live with her mother in law saying, “Your people will be my people; your God will be my God.” Her purposeful honor of Naomi in obedience to her directives set her redemption in motion as she was, in essence, faithfully following God.
When David was confronted with his sin by Nathan, he didn’t lash out in anger at him, deny his sin, or make excuses for it; God softened His heart and he was humble before the Lord as he repented.
Against You and You only have I sinned, Lord, and done what is wicked in Your sight…
Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.
Then I will teach transgressors your ways, so that sinners will turn back to you.
…My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise. (from Psalm 51)
And that is why David is known as a man after God’s heart; not because he was perfect, not because he wasn’t a mess. But because, by God’s grace, He didn’t stay in his mess. David didn’t continue in his sin. He laid it at the feet of God, confessed it, turned from it, asked God to give him that willing spirit to sustain him in continuing that obedience, then opened himself up to be used by God to turn others away from sin and back to the Lord.
We have a tendency to want to hold onto certain sins in our lives while doing lots of “good things” for God, to make “atonement,” even barter with Him, for what we don’t want to let go. But David, whose chaos God used in the lineage of Jesus, laid it all down and knew it wasn’t any “good works” or “burnt offerings” God desired – it was repentance, a “broken and contrite heart.”
God knows our hearts and He knows our greatest temptations and our greatest propensities to give into them so He doesn’t call us to go into battle alone. When we humble ourselves before the Lord and come to a place of letting go, God promises His faithfulness in the battle, “…He will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation He will also provide the way of escape…” (I Corinthians 10:13) and then He equips us to take that way out.
How awesome is that!
I appreciate the way Trevin Wax describes it, “God understands our temptations. He knows our hearts better than we do. He sympathizes with our ignorant attempts to find joy apart from him. But in his great love, he refuses to affirm us in our misdirected ways. To do so would be to abandon us to the leash and lamppost, where we would strangle ourselves.” (C.S. Lewis Talks to a Dog About Lust*)
God forgives and gives us the power to defeat sin in our life but never to excuse it. Some choices have greater consequences for us and for those we love and we need to ask God for the ability and the will to battle them more intensely and purposefully; yes, not just to set them aside for a time but to kill those areas of our lives for good. I have watched men and women be completely freed from devastating sins; not necessarily from the temptation at first but from the power those temptations have on them. And, over time, as they battled in the power of the Holy Spirit, the intensity of the temptations lessened as their “self-control muscle” was strengthened with use.
“Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord.” (Acts 3:19)
What “gods” of our own making (those pet sins we coddle or those good things we make the “ultimate things” that we pursue with our all heart, soul, and mind), do we need to leave behind so “times of refreshment might come?” What areas do we hold on to that are a hindrance to our walk with the Lord and our most intimate relationships as well as other interactions?
It’s so easy for our eyes to be blinded by and to our own “old man” desires that we too often allow to set up residence in our souls, that we justify them as “part of who we are.” We rationalize that, since we won’t be perfect this side of heaven, we can actually have sins we don’t address. But when we continue to allow the same sins over and over (God never gives us that latitude and there are some with greater consequences to our souls and the lives of others), we make light of that amazing grace; in essence, we mock God and make less of His mercy.
Repentance is a miraculous work of God because it is He who calls us to it and equips us for it and, when we are humble enough to submit areas of “sin entrenchment” to His surgical hands, we are given the freedom in Christ not just from the penalty but also the power of sin. Sadly, we often think that letting go of a pet sin will be a loss to us – that is a lie from the enemy of our souls! Rather, when we trust God, true belief and true repentance will bring us satisfaction from soul hunger.
Yes, we run hard into the arms of our Savior when we fail! And God can and does use our failures, but He won’t leave us in them and He doesn’t intend for us to grow comfortable with them. Out of love for us, He will rip them from our hands by whatever means possible, as He allowed Nathan to “expose” David not to shame him but so that “godly sorrow would lead him to…repentance” (2 Corinthians 7:10); even if it means revealing them to others who will love us enough to give grace but not to give us a “pass.” Will we respond with the same humility?
God is the God of new beginnings; He is at work putting the “old man” to death. He is the God who makes us “new creations” (2 Corinthians 5:17) – first, in our position before Him because of Christ’s death and resurrection but, then, as we view Him and our sin in a completely different way; and, finally, as he softens our stony hearts so that truth reigns in our relationship with him and others.
As with David and so many more, repentance is an opportunity of great praise because it is in this that the power of God is made perfect in us and so evident! He can destroy the chains of choices that drag us down so we can increasingly live faithful to Him and with those in our lives…not perfectly but a little more intentionally and “seamlessly” with every day we walk in His Truth instead of according to our passions and desires (Galatians 5).
At times, the initial step is hard but oh the joy of letting go!
Hallelujah! What a Savior!
“Grace often grows strongest where conviction of sin has pierced deepest.” (Sinclair Ferguson)
“His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us His very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But whoever does not have them is nearsighted and blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins…But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen!” (2 Peter 1:3-9 and 3:18)