Monday, July 18, 2011

I'm Such a Failure


Let's face it, we will all fail sometimes.  None of us is capable of living perfectly before we come to Jesus and none of us does after.  If we were able to live perfectly, Jesus would not have had to die.  So what should we do when we get caught up in sin?  What should we do if we are struggling something?  Should we just throw our hands up, realize we can't live perfectly, and give up the idea of living righteously for Christ?  Some have and some even teach that.  I also know that idea is very tempting.  The other extreme is where in some churches it is taught that the sacrifice of Jesus only covers sin before we come to Christ. They teach that we must live by some moral code or risk losing our salvation.  Thankfully, none of those ideas are true.  Today I am going to share what the Bible says about those times we fail God.  I will start with a well-known failure. 
Now Peter sat outside in the courtyard. And a servant girl came to him, saying, "You also were with Jesus of Galilee." But he denied it before [them] all, saying, "I do not know what you are saying." And when he had gone out to the gateway, another [girl] saw him and said to those [who were] there, "This [fellow] also was with Jesus of Nazareth." But again he denied with an oath, "I do not know the Man!" And a little later those who stood by came up and said to Peter, "Surely you also are [one] of them, for your speech betrays you." Then he began to curse and swear, [saying], "I do not know the Man!" Immediately a rooster crowed. And Peter remembered the word of Jesus who had said to him, "Before the rooster crows, you will deny Me three times." So he went out and wept bitterly.  Matthew 26:69-75 NKJV
Peter is a a great example at times for what not to do.  I am not picking on Peter, as I think Peter represents many of the struggles we have in our own lives.  We have all taken our eyes off of Jesus and put them on our circumstances.  We have all bragged about how faithful we would be only to fail when tested.  We have all said things we should not have said.  In this case, we have Peter denying Jesus out of fear.  This is something many of us have also done. We may not have been so overt as Peter, but I am sure we have all downplayed or not spoken of our faith for fear of what others may think.  I am not excusing it as Jesus shares with us the peril of being ashamed of Him, but it is a reality and it is something we must all repent of. 

Peter denied Jesus and was reminded of his arrogant words to Jesus that he would never deny Him and Jesus's prophesy that he would do just that.  Peter realized the wrong he did and went out and wept bitterly.  He felt bad about what he did.  I think this is one of the first things that should happen when we are struggling in sin.  We must feel bad about it.  I am not talking about moping around sharing with everyone what a failure you are, that would not be constructive at all.  I am also not talking about feeling condemned regarding your sin because the Bible tells us there is no condemnation in Jesus.  But there should be guilt.  There should be conviction.  We should mourn our unrighteousness as taught in the Beatitudes.  If you do not feel bad about about what you did, then how can you ever believe it is actually a sin.  If I say something to hurt my wife, I feel bad about it.  I should feel bad about it. So should we feel bad about it when we hurt God.  Feeling bad about something is the recognition that you have done something wrong. You can not truly repent of something without first believing it is wrong.  Therefore, recognition is the first step. 

Once you realize you have done something wrong, the next step is confession. 
If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us [our] sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  1 John 1:9 NKJV
This is not to report our sins to God.  God already knows we have done wrong.  God knew we were going to do wrong before we even did it, just as Jesus knew Peter was going to deny Him.  This is admitting to God what both of you know.  It is agreeing with God that there is something in our life we need to change or something wrong we have done.  Please do not ever downplay the importance of confession.  Without confession, we are stuck at just feeling bad about what we have done.  Without confession, that rift in your relationship with God remains.  It remains because you are trying to ignore the 500lb gorilla in the room.  What I mean is that your prayers are constrained because you ignore what is obviously there to talk about.  It would be like if I hurt my wife and just go on feeling bad about it but never talking to her about it.  Our confession is our apology.  Can you imagine hurting someone you love and just avoiding any kind of apology for it?  It would be a constant burden on your relationship.  You know you hurt that person and that person knows you hurt them, but you never resolve that issue.  So many problems in relationships, including our relationship with God, could be avoided just by apologizing. 

The other part of apologizing is that we have to mean it and that is where the next step comes in.  The next step is repentance.  An apology is meaningless without repentance.  Confession is just taking God for granted if you take no steps to avoid doing it again.  I will use the example of my wife again.  If I hurt her, then apologize, then hurt her again ten minutes later, what does my apology mean?  What if I apologize again ten minutes later and then hurt her again ten minutes after that?  It is silly to think that an apologize has any real value if there is no repentance of what you are doing wrong.  That is merely taking advantage of the grace of God.  Now I know that there are some sins that we get entangled in that we do not just give up instantly once we come to that realization that what we do is wrong.  God, in His amazing grace, even makes provision for that.  When Peter asks Jesus how many times he should forgive his brother, Jesus essentially tells him as many times as it takes.  While our relationship with God will remain strained so long as we remain in that sin, the invitation is always there to come back.  God will never forsake us, but will wait for us to again turn to Him. 

God also knows that we will not be able to put that sin behind us in our own strength, and desires to help us overcome that which ensnares us.  And there lies the next step, though it is really part of the previous step.  We should never try to repent in our own strength. We must do so in the strength of the Holy Spirit that dwells within us.  It is only by the power of God that we have any freedom from sin in the first place, therefore it makes no sense to try to repent of any sin in our own strength. We will fail.  At the very best we can resist our sinful desires, but we can never take them away from ourselves.  Only God can do that.  This is one reason why confession is so very important.  You can not expect God to help you repent of a sin you have not even admitted to Him that you are committing. 

And, finally, there is the step of accountability.  This helps you from falling back into the sin you were caught up in.  This is a matter of finding a brother or sister in the Lord you trust and making yourself accountable to him or her.  This is why men's and women's groups are important.  We need that kind of accountability because if you have a sin that no one else knows about, it is very easy to slip back into it.  I know this from experience as I am sure many of you do as well.  Secret sin is so much easier to be caught up in than sin that others know about.  Once you share your struggles with those people you trust, they will hold you accountable.  They will question you about it.  They will check up on you about it.  They may be pretty annoying about it, but it is something we need as we grow past our struggles.  You also have someone else praying with you and for you about your struggle.  We can never forget the value of prayer in our struggles, even the prayers of others.  I love knowing that others are praying for me in any situation I am in.  It is of great encouragement that others are entreating the God of the Universe on my behalf and knowing that He will answer their prayers.  We should never face our struggles alone.  Doing so will only lead to disaster.  The Bible is clear in how we are to confess our sins to one another.
Confess [your] trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.  James 5:16 NKJV
And so we have the steps to restoring our relationship with God whenever we fall into sin.  One thing we must always keep in mind that God's goal is always restoration.  No matter what you have done, no matter how far you have fallen, God wants to restore you and God's wants to restore that relationship.  Even as we look past what I shared today, the steps of church discipline (including the final step of casting someone out of a church) is always as a means to restoration.  We must never think that we have gone so far as to be cast off by God.  If you do get caught up, the response needs to be to run towards God and not away from Him.  First we recognize what we do as being wrong, then we come to God and confess that sin to Him, we next begin the work of repentance in the power of the Holy Spirit that dwells within us, and then we find brothers and sisters in the Lord to hold us accountable to keep us from falling back. God makes restoration so easy for us.  He does not ask for any great work of penance.  It is pointless for God to ask us to prove how sorry we are when He already knows.  It is wrong for us to think that any penance is meaningful because it would be trying to add to the completed work of Christ on the cross.  What God does ask of us (recognition, confession, and repentance) is nothing we even have to do in our own strength.  God will do the work in us, all we need to do is turn to Him with that desire for the work to be done.  We will all fail God, but thank God that His love is greater than all our failures. 
But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.  1 John 1:7 NKJV

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