There is no doubt the Scriptures teach that followers of Jesus are to live a life committed to personal holiness. Reading Paul’s exhortation on church leadership we see that elders must be men who demonstrate a lifestyle above the reproach of others (1 Tim. 2:20) and possess a good reputation amongst unbelievers (1 Tim. 2:7). Likewise, deacons are to be dignified and prove themselves to be blameless (1 Tim. 2:8, 10). To be sure, local church leadership is to have moral authority. Paul himself said in 1 Corinthians 9:27, “But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.” But the call to a holy life extends far beyond those in church leadership. It extends to all Christians. 1 Peter 1:15 reads, “…but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct.” All followers of Jesus Christ are called to live holy lives, lives that given to obeying God.
But what happens when we didn’t?
What happens when we’ve blown it? When we ran from God because we’ve hardened our hearts about this or that sin? When we punted our commitment to our spouse and kids by running off with another person? When we abused alcohol or drugs while no one else knew? When we cared less about Jesus and more about how much stuff we could accumulate? What happens when we’ve had patches in our life where 1 Peter 1:15 would’ve made us cringe, if not cry? Can we ever return to the path God has for us? Is there still room for us at the table of fellowship? Will God still give us a future?
You see, over my years of ministry I’ve met countless of believers who, in deep repentance, left lives of sinful situations that both embarrassed and wounded them. And for those very reasons, many of them think they have nothing to offer the church. They tell themselves they should be content just to be received back into the fellowship of the church, but deep down inside they feel broken beyond repair. They regard themselves unusable for the Kingdom as they point to the self-inflicted wound of their past sins.
Here’s what I have to say to the walking wounded: God still has a place for you! Indeed, I think there are many people who would profoundly benefit from your story of rebellion and selfishness. “Who?” you might ask; only those of us who are tempted to be rebellious and selfish. In other words, all of us. You can share with everyone else how life outside following Jesus isn’t worth it. You can tell the story of what it looks like to have life implode because you wanted to be your own god. You can warn others that sinful choices have very real and very serious consequences. And you aren’t just saying this, you lived it. You bring to the table, if you will, an immoral authority. When we hear God’s Word call us to live for his glory you can pipe up, “That’s right! You would be wise to do it because I can tell you what it looks like when you don’t.”
And that blesses God’s Kingdom! It’s a brave thing to provide yourself as the anti-example, but I think God will richly bless that courage. Indeed, penitent stories which highlight our immorality also highlight something else: the glory of the gospel. Who loves sinners? Jesus. Who died for sinners? Jesus. Who has been moral for us when we could not be moral for ourselves? Jesus. Who gives us grace when we deserve the penalty of the law? Jesus.
When we continually expose our hearts to the greatness of the gospel it’s hard for those of us who don’t have any headline sins to be smug about our personal holiness. If what went on deep in our hearts was on display for the world to see, who would be qualified to preach even in a closet? I preach not because I obey or model God’s Word perfectly, I preach in faith, trusting Jesus will take what I am doing and use it for his glory. I need his grace. But isn’t that what we all need? Cue the people who can tell you what it’s like from the inside of a pigsty. Why them? Why their story of immorality? Because we need to be reminded of grace! We all profoundly need the gospel, and the stories of many a prodigal help stir up our gratitude for the good news of Jesus. It also encourages us to remember that our testimony doesn’t start with us, it starts with Jesus and the Cross. That, my friend, is every Christian’s story.
Now, wounded-warrior, go serve him letting people know that pig slop takes just like that, pig slop, and that there is absolutely, positively nothing as good in this world as God’s unmerited grace in Christ. Use your immoral authority for the Kingdom.
“…if we are faithless, he remains faithful—for he cannot deny himself.”
– Second Timothy 2:13 (ESV)