Grace Enough For Your Past Self: God Working In Spite Of Screw-Ups

There’s a time when you screw up and everyone knows it and you try to hide it: but God can still explode the consequences with His grace. That’s why it’s grace.

If you don’t think so, there’s this book called the Bible which talks about a cross where Jesus paid for that so you wouldn’t have to. True story.

It means you can stop hiding from yourself and let go of what people say about you.

Recently a megachurch pastor took down his entire backlog of sermon podcasts because of his “growth” in doctrinal knowledge. Any sermons before a certain time period were apparently no longer a reflection of his current beliefs.

In a few years, will this pastor continue to delete old sermons? Will any of his sermons today still stand up to future scrutiny? Does this mean that anyone who attended his church in the past did not grow from those deleted sermons? Wasn’t God working then too?

A popular Christian blogger recently tore apart a popular Christian book on marriage by a megachurch pastor. The blogger remarked that she found it atrocious the pastor admitted to severe marriage problems: because the timing implies that this pastor was still preaching while he was living in sin.

But by this blogger’s logic, this would disqualify every single pastor ever from preaching or serving, much less being saved by God’s grace. Sin is sin, large or small. Is there really no value in this pastor’s book or ministry or life? If all our secrets are displayed for everyone to see, does this instantly cancel every good thing we have ever done?

If we’re limiting God’s graciousness to our own human ideas of fairness, then every one of us should have burst into flames at birth. Absolutely no one is worthy to merit God’s favor: but here we are, Christian or not, meriting the breath to breathe and thoughts to think and lives to live, and Christian or not, we are still under the same God with the same standard who offers the same grace.

Anything we ever get to do of worth is by the grace of God alone. God works in spite of the mixed mess of our motives and in the midst of our secret double lives. No human sees the full scope of this: we can only plead for the grace.

I’m glad a pastor has the humility to confess his old sermons are probably not orthodox anymore, and I’m also bothered by a pastor who has confessed that he was preaching on marriage while his own marriage was failing. But both of these thoughts can quickly ignore the God who has grace enough to cover our errors, shortcomings, imperfections, and screw-ups.

None of us get it right every time — but we can still be a vehicle for God’s perfect work. None of us completely understand the fullness of God’s nature or His Word — but we can still know Him, experience Him, hear from Him. None of us are ever so far from the sovereign hand of God that He can’t rescue us from a life of destruction — or else we are diminishing the soul-punching uppercut-power of God’s interrupting grace.

He can and does cover the worst of us, not because we deserve it, but exactly because we cannot.

The most commented post I’ve ever written was from an old blog where I questioned a pastor who confessed to cheating on his wife. I asked if all his work up until then was somehow tainted by his own moral failure. Some commenters jumped immediately to forgiveness while others called for his permanent disqualification.

Again, I am reminded of Philippians 1:15-18, an old standby —

It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. The latter do so in love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.

Even while we preach Christ out of false motives, somehow God still works through us.

Even while we desecrate Christ with our lives while lifting him up with our mouths, God still uses that.

Even when we willingly, purposefully, selfishly use the name of God for our own pitiful human purposes, God still intervenes.

How could this be?

Well maybe because: God is God, and we are us, and only God is running the show.

Sure we can choose against Him. And no, I am not advocating a lukewarm faith or a temporary divorce from God to do what we want for a season. There are still consequences for our disobedience, and deep down we want a God who calls us into account when we hurt others and hurt ourselves. But this is exactly why we need grace: because we so often struggle and stumble in the dark without knowing the severity of our own ocean-rippling actions.

We cannot possibly know how many people we have deceived. I still remember friends from long ago telling me how my “pep talk” in those college years set them on a certain path: but that path was self-centered, vain, and ruinous. I remember other people whose very lives I have probably destroyed, setting them on a trajectory of sexual attachment and emotional instability. Countless people with grudges, hurts, twisted hearts. I did that. I was a zone of darkness blinding others, leading them so astray. Even now, I cannot imagine every single word of my advice turns out well.

I think of the people I have met who have stabbed my soul, who put me through the worst sorts of misery. I think of the racism, bullying, and violence I endured at the hands of ignorant cowards. We have both sinned and been sinned against. But I think of how day by day, because of Jesus, I am able to forgive those people and move on. I have met a grace that covers for them, too, and it’s grace enough for how they have screwed me up. I can choose not to wallow in what they have done to me. Occasionally some of us are cut by this radical grace and we turn it around for the best. It’s then we can give the chance to others that God has so kindly given us.

Those failed pastors and the rest of us, despite the condition of our souls, still have the living God breathing into us, in spite of us. I am thankful for a God who works in spite of me. I can only pray that grace would break into those I have afflicted, too: that they would not allow a wayward man like me to bend their lives for the rest of their life. It is absolutely my fault I have hurt them; I take responsibility for the trauma I have caused; I can only say I’m sorry. I also pray they do not stay there. I pray no one shrinks themselves into the consequences of my own actions: not because what I did wasn’t wrong, but because God is so much bigger.

As C.S. Lewis so simply said, “Whatever you do, He will make good of it. But not the good He had prepared for you if you had obeyed him.”

It is humble to rightfully apologize for old teachings that were not sound or an old life that was hurtful, but on this side of things, we would have to apologize forever. Not everything we said before we finally “grew up” was a horrible thing. If only we could see how many people we’ve actually helped, too, but even then: we can’t take credit for that. God writes the results.

And our own teaching, the life-message we preach, our collective good work, our opinions which look silly five minutes from now, are all part of the messy human experience. We cannot avoid mistakes; we either learn from them, or don’t. God will give us grace to learn, to not be paralyzed by our past, to move forward into a future that is as certain as God Himself. He is writing the story; we need only to believe the ending.

4 thoughts on “Grace Enough For Your Past Self: God Working In Spite Of Screw-Ups

  1. Hard core, JS. Grace even for pastors, and God works even when we’ve got so much to learn. Brilliant post. Awesome God.


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