Thursday, February 2, 2012

Spiritual Failures

Have you ever felt like a spiritual failure – a total ship-wreck? As hard as you’d try to please God, you saw that you just couldn’t live up to His standards. Sometimes, we might even give up trying.

Well, take heart! You are in good company! Abraham, the father of the faith, was a spiritual failure. Yes, he believed God and God had credited righteousness to him (Genesis 15:6). However, his faith seems to have been like the appearances of the pilated woodpecker – bright but fleeting.

After Abraham had been a struggling sojourner in a hostile and unpredictable land, God visited him and promised him that his hopes of a child by his aging wife Sarah would be realized in the following year.

However, several months after this glorious visitation (Gen. 18-19), we find Abraham in the land of the Philistines, practicing his well-honed sins as if his God had entirely vanished. He lied that Sarah was not his wife, fearing that the indigenous people might kill him for his beautiful wife.

Deceived into believing that Sarah was merely Abraham’s sister, the king took her as his wife. However, to prevent the king from defiling Sarah and also His promise to Abraham, it seems that the Lord afflicted the king and his country with a horrible disease. He then appeared to the king in a dream and instructed him to return Sarah to her cowardly husband, lest He kill him. What is most strange about this account is how God refers to Abraham in His dream-conversation with the king:

·        Now return the man's wife, for he is a PROPHET, and HE WILL PRAY for you and you will live. But if you do not return her, you may be sure that you and all yours will die." (Genesis 20:7)

This is extraordinary. At this point, God should have washed His hands of the unworthy Abraham. Not only had he been unfaithful to his wife, Abraham had also been unfaithful to His God. Nor was this a one-time lapse. It seems that he had made a lifestyle out of cowardice, lying, and failing to trust in God. Abraham confessed this to the angry king:

·        “And when God had me wander from my father's household, I said to her, 'This is how you can show your love to me: Everywhere we go, say of me, "He is my brother." ' " (Genesis 20:13)

Lying and relying on his own sinful ploys had become Abraham’s lifestyle. Nevertheless, he remained God’s “prophet!” Even more surprising, God required that the innocent king humble himself before the devious Abraham to receive Abraham’s prayer of deliverance!

What a portrait of God’s love and forbearance for His children, even when they don’t deserve the slightest consideration! Abraham was not only our father regarding the faith; he was also our exemplar as a spiritual failure.

We stand in a long and venerated line of spiritual failures. Peter denied his Lord three times, even though Jesus had warned that:

·        "Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven.” (Matthew 10:32-33)

However, Peter’s life testifies that “mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2:13). Paul had also been a dismal failure. He not only hardened his heart against God to kill Christians, he also caused some to disown their faith. What could be worse? Nevertheless, God’s mercy once again triumphed:

·        Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners--of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life. (1 Tim. 1:15-16)

It is God’s glory to demonstrate His “unlimited patience” to the utterly undeserving. It was also God’s moment of glory to die for all – even those who had put Him to death. What a display of sacrificial love! Paul explains:

·        But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)

However, it doesn’t stop here – it can’t if we are going to live with Him everlastingly. Paul continues:

·        Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God's wrath through him!  For if, when we were God's enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! (Rom. 5:9-10)

Paul’s logic infallibly proceeds like this – If God loved us so much that He paid the ultimate price while we were His enemies, He will certainly protect His investment, especially now that we have been converted into His friends. To not do this would be like buying a dilapidated house, investing all sorts of time and money into it, and then walking away from it without a dime to compensate.

Yes, we are spiritual failures, but we have a God whose utter delight is to refurbish the broken and perverted until He finally brings us home to be with Him (Phil. 1:6).


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