We're all walking disasters. You've felt it, I've felt it. We're just bumbling fools. A population of schmucks making promises in the morning, and breaking them by evening.
We're all aware of our intrinsic impotence. We're all conscious of our deficiency in integrity and our lack of commitment. We're prone to giving in to temptation. We're inclined to be distracted from our goals. We're habitually gullible and easily deceived.
I hear it all the time. "I'm terrible at...." "I'm the worst at.... "I can never seem to...." "I can't stop...."
You can fill in the blanks, yourself.
Often, these nagging weaknesses and tendencies are where self-hatred stems from. We take a look at ourselves after failing, yet again, and ask, "What on earth is wrong with me? Why can't I get this right?"
It took me years to form a habit of reading my Bible. I have plenty of sins that have plagued me in my life; sins that I could never seem to shake, but nothing annoyed me quite as much as my lack of self-discipline. Every night I'd make a promise to God. I would say, "Jesus, this time, it's for real. Starting tonight, I'm going to be diligent in reading your Word. I'm going to pray every day." And my promise would last for one night. Two nights, max. Then, in a moment of fatigue and laziness, I'd break my promise. Then, I'd find myself covering my face in shame, heaving sighs of frustration, and crying tears of self-loathing.
I'd plead for forgiveness. I'd beg for another chance. Every couple nights, it seemed, I'd be in the exact same place, praying, "Lord, I know I promised that last time would be the real deal, but I messed up again. And I know I was sincere last time, and the time before that, and the twenty times before that, but I can't seem to keep my word." Eventually, my prayers became, "God, I know I promised last year that I would read your Word daily... but here I am, a year later, exactly where I began."
After a while, I couldn't imagine how God would want to continue forgiving me. I was so sick of myself, I could hardly even think about it. I couldn't bring myself to pray, because I was getting tired of the sound of my own voice asking for forgiveness. I thought God must have been so exasperated with my weakness of character that He would never want to hear me utter another promise. In my mind, I imagined God to be saying, "Are you kidding me? You're praying again? You're promising again? Don't you realize that you can't keep your word? Don't you realize you'll never succeed?" I felt like my words were meaningless. I felt like my prayers were empty, hollow, and depraved.
The lies of the devil came swiftly, and constantly: I'm just full of hot air. Good for nothing. My words are inconsequential. My prayers are jokes. My promises are aimless. God has to be losing patience with me, because I lost patience with myself a long time ago.
This went on for years. And I know I'm not alone. I hear it all the time. Addictions that we can't seem to shake. Sins we keep repenting of, only to run right back to. Weaknesses that we can't overcome. Flaws we feel distance us from God. Shortcomings we think bar us from prayer. Failings that make us see ourselves as too unworthy to ever approach God.
One day, it all changed. There I was, back on my knees, my brow furrowed and my head hanging in shame, asking myself, "Don't I have any self-discipline? Don't I have any integrity, commitment, or strength of character, at all?"
And something clicked the moment I realized that the answer was a big, fat, "NO." I do not have self-discipline. I do not have resolve. I do not have integrity or commitment or strength of character. In fact, I have absolutely nothing on my own.
Romans 7:21-25 - "I have discovered this principle of life—that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. I love God’s law with all my heart. But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. Oh, what a miserable person I am!"
"Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? Thank God, The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord."
We're wretched. Evil. Wicked. Weak. Capable of nothing good. Immoral and sinful and held captive by our sinful nature. From the moment we are conceived, that is what we are. And without Christ, that is how we remain.
Romans 3:10-12 - "There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one."
Isn't it interesting how we compare ourselves to other believers? I can't count the number of times I've thought to myself "I bet that person never struggles like I do." "I bet So-and-So is able to keep their word." We look at the Biblical heroes and see their devotion as unattainable. They're on some 'higher level' in our minds.
But I want to propose an alternate way of thinking. I want to propose the Truth.
We ALL came from the same place. The Kingdom's most powerful voices, God's most dedicated servants, and every martyr for Jesus came from the same place. Before we knew Christ, we were all separated from God. One cannot be 'more separated' than another. The smallest, most insignificant sin is enough to permanently condemn a person. And if that's the case, we have common ground with everyone. We were all lost, but now we are found. And there's only one degree of 'foundness.' We were all broken, but now we are restored. And there's only one degree of restoration. We were all condemned, but now we are saved. And there's only one degree of salvation. Billy Graham isn't "more saved" than I am. Jim Elliot isn't "more saved" than you. Paul the Apostle isn't "more saved" than the thief on the cross who received grace only in the final moments of his life.
Just take a look at all those lost, then found! Abraham came from a background of pagan practices, idol worship, and immorality. He was chosen by God to be the father of the nation of Israel, but he was not immune from foolish failings. He lied to Pharaoh, saying that his wife, Sarai, was actually his sister. He couldn't wait on the Lord's promise to give him a son, and out of impatience, conceded to his wife's suggestion for him to sleep with the maidservant.
Noah was part of a population so corrupt, that the only way to redeem the world was to wipe them out, completely. Noah, along with his family, were the only ones permitted to live. They were the only ones spared from the wrath of God's judgment. And still, he was not immune to the effects of alcohol, and the bliss of drunkenness.
Peter was probably reprimanded more than any other disciple. He was constantly having to shove his foot in his mouth. He was always speaking before thinking. Even on the night when Jesus arrested, Peter broke his word. He swore that he would never deny Christ... but he denied him three times that very night. Talk about shame. Guilt. Self-loathing. Self-hatred. Remorse. And yet, he was still never too far gone. In fact, he is considered by many to be the father of the early church. One of the earliest proclaimers of the Gospel.
Paul began as one of the most violent enemies of Christ's message. He approved of the stoning of Stephen. He persecuted Christians. He made every attempt to destroy Christ's followers, and silence the Good News. And now, we have him to thank for up to 13 books of our New Testament. He was one of the loudest voices in bringing the Gospel to the Gentiles. The story of His redemption and God's grace for Paul is one of the most profound:
1 Corinthians 15:9-10 - "I am the least of all the apostles. In fact, I’m not even worthy to be called an apostle after the way I persecuted God’s church. But whatever I am now, it is all because God poured out his special favor on me—and not without results. For I have worked harder than any of the other apostles; yet it was not I but God who was working through me by his grace."
These stories of redemption are radical. These people who we place on Spiritual pedestals and view as 'more worthy' than us were subject to the same human failings and weaknesses that we are. We are no different from them. They struggled with temptation. They gave in to sin's deceit. They stumbled. They fell. They were lost. But God found them. He found them. He saved them. He renewed them. He restored them. God's love for us is 0% dependent on what we do. It's unconditional. Always has been, and always will be.
It gets difficult to talk to God when we start to think that our relationship with Him depends on our consistency and our actions. When we begin to imagine that we need to work to 'earn' our grace, things get dicey. So, instead of seeing salvation as being dependent on our own good works and strength, the Apostle Paul tells us to adopt the very opposite understanding:
1 Timothy 1:14-16 - "The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.
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 immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life."
He tells us that he is the worst of sinners. Not only that, but he tells us to say the same goes for us! We are all the worst of sinners. We are all undeserving of grace. We are all unworthy of mercy. None of us are good enough for Christ's love. BUT, it is for this very reason that God shows us mercy! Through us, the worst of sinners, Christ has a chance to display his immense patience as an example for those who need to believe in Him.
We've been put in the Lost and Found. We've been made a part of the church, a community of sinners transformed into rescued souls. We're now included in the list of wretched men and women who were redeemed by the Grace of God. We are the beggars, the sick, the liars, the thieves, the tax collectors, the runaways, the adulterers, the idolaters, the God-haters, the persecutors, the immoral, the fickle, the weak, and the sinners that now stand as examples to the unbelieving world that there is NO slate that God can't wipe clean. There is NO soul that is too far from grace.
So today, I implore you to come to God. While your sin weighs heavily and your weaknesses aggravate you beyond anything... approach God. Boldly. Confidently. Be assured, He is inviting you to come.
Hebrews 4:15-16 - "This High Priest of ours, [Jesus,] understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin. So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most."
We can come to Him without fear. In fact, He tells us to come as we are. We can't clean ourselves up beforehand, so there's no point in trying. We can't forgive ourselves. We can't repair ourselves. So we need to trust in His love, accept His invite, and come as we are. Filthy, dirty, defeated. For it's when we approach His throne of grace that we will receive His mercy. There we will find grace to help us when we need it the most.
It's frustrating to fail. Especially since we do it so often. We want perfection, and we want it now. We want to be the end result, and stop wasting time with the process! We desire holiness, but can't seem to achieve it. The process is slow and the progress seems minimal. But I want to encourage you to remember that Rome wasn't built in a day, and holy people aren't built in a lifetime. Rome wasn't built in a day, but they were laying bricks every hour. Holy people aren't built in a lifetime, but God brings them, step by step, little by little, towards the completion that will be revealed in Heaven.
You feel "too far gone" to talk to God. You feel "too dirty" for Him to look at you. You feel like you've failed one too many times, and God's patience with you has run out. You're wondering how on earth He could forgive you again?
Go and check the Lost and Found. There you'll find the best and worst people. The strongest and the weakest. The faithful and the disloyal. And you'll find that they're all one and the same. You'll find that in the Lost and Found, we are all on level ground. There are no distinctions based on our accomplishments and deeds. There is only one thing that matters: We've been forgiven because of Jesus' perfection.
And there, you'll find yourself. Once lost, now found. Once separated, now connected. Once God's enemy, now His friend. Once condemned by sin, now saved by undeserved Grace. Declared innocent by the Judge. Saved by the Sacrifice of the Lamb.
Welcomed into the Throne Room. Pursued by the Maker. Loved by the King.