“Hey, can I talk to you for a minute?”
“Sure, what’s going on?”
“Let’s go where we can have some privacy.”
“Have a seat.”
“I wanted to talk to you today because something very serious has come to my attention.”
“What are you talking about?”
“I wanted to give you the chance to come clean because… we know.”
Scariest two words I think anyone can hear… we know. They mean that you’ve been exposed. They mean that your secret isn’t safe any longer. They mean that your image and reputation has been shattered. They mean that you’ve finally gotten to the point where your failed attempts to overcome your struggles in isolation are now no longer an option. You’ve been found out. They know… they finally know. After all this time of secrecy and hiding, they know. And now there is no turning back.
I think many of us have been in situations like this, most likely with smaller issues than bigger ones. Maybe you got caught sneaking out of your house, hanging out with some friends you weren’t supposed to be with, dating the boy or girl your parents forbade you from seeing, drinking or smoking with friends, lying about your grades, talking badly about your boss, etc. Whatever situation we’ve been in, we know what its like to be caught… and it’s the worst. You feel completely helpless, embarrassed, angry, ashamed, sad, defensive, and a whole host of other emotions.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the issue of getting caught because of a few things that I have seen happen recently. It’s made me wonder what it takes for people to get so deep into sin that they completely abandon reason and, seemingly, the calling to obey and love Jesus. It makes me wonder what steps we should take to ensure we never get to that place. I know how prone I am to hide and isolate. I don’t want my sin exposed because I fear what people might think of me, or how I might be treated. I fear what I might lose—whether that be status, importance, or love. And when I am overcome with shame and guilt, I don’t want to be exposed in my sin. I don’t want the sin, but I know how often I have felt like I’m too far gone for anyone to love or care about. I say that I wonder what it takes for people to be so deep in sin that they completely abandon reason… well, I’ve been there. We all have been there. But there’s got to be a way out.
My concern is that we get comfortable with the little sins, which makes us increasingly more comfortable with the bigger sins. Because sneaking out of the house probably isn’t going to destroy your life, but there are other things that will—falsifying income and expense statements to make your company look more profitable, cheating on your spouse, chronic drug use. Whatever it is, these things amount to living a completely separate life that is secret and hidden from who you claim to be.
And this is devastating in the church. Particularly with church leaders. Men of God who are set apart for full time service to the Lord, leading congregations through preaching, teaching, worship, and prayer. They are stewards of God’s flock, and they are called to be above reproach. When they fall, whether it be because of sexual infidelity, stealing money from the church, or a whole host of other potential sins, the effects that emerge from the epicenter of their lives are far reaching, long lasting, and horribly emotional. It destroys their qualifications to minister in a public setting, usually for the rest of their lives, it wounds their families and relatives, it hurts their congregations, it demonstrates hypocrisy to the world that loves to discredit Christianity because Christians sometimes commit horrible sins, and it has severe consequences on their own walk with God—not in an ultimate sense, as if they would lose their salvation because of their sin, but by dulling their senses and deluding them into believing that their sin is somehow justifiable and fine.
It’s a worship issue. Pastor Tullian today said that whenever we choose to sin, we actually live out disbelief in the Gospel at that moment. We choose to turn away from the Good News we have in Christ when we sin. We say with our actions and thoughts that it is better for us to search for satisfaction, pleasure, and enjoyment in our own way via means of our own choosing instead of seeking out the insurmountable joy and satisfaction that we already have in Christ. Until we truly see that all we ever needed or wanted is already ours by faith in Christ, we will constantly seek out all the desires of our hearts through sinful means, thinking that we are somehow better off when we put our faith in things that claim to satisfy but never truly can.
It’s heartbreaking to see churches devastated by the sin of their leaders, and to see the lives of those leaders crumble because of their own choices. We sometimes assume that just because there is no vertical condemnation from God (Rom. 8:1) that there are also no horizontal consequences. That just isn’t the case. Like Tullian says, if you punch a pit bull in the face, God is still going to love you just as much as He ever did because of your faith in Christ… but, you’re probably going to get bitten. See, our position with God is secured by what Christ did for us, and our ability to lose that is insufficient. God will never lose His people. But when we sin we will also face the sometimes devastating consequences of that sin.
So I’m suggesting that, perhaps, if we took the grace of God seriously and actually started treating one another as Christ treated the broken sinners, tax collectors, and prostitutes who came to Him, then we would likely experience a renewal within the Church that creates an environment where people would not fear being honest about their sins and temptations. If people knew that being forthcoming about their sins would only produce compassion, love, and tangible support, perhaps we wouldn’t find ourselves in situations where pastors and ministers are disqualifying themselves from ministry due to their hidden sins. Perhaps we would get to the point where there would be no hidden sin in our midst. Perhaps we would experience sanctification like we never have before, and our sins would start being killed one by one.
Why don’t we actually be what God is calling us to be—a Church that lovingly cares for broken sinners who fail often and fail miserably? Why don’t we choose to suspend our judgment of others when they sin and recognize all of the ways in which we are also guilty of sin? Why don’t we step out in love and service towards one another, warning each other of the temptations we see in the lives of others, and trusting more in Jesus’ power to redeem than our power to fall?
Now, don’t mistake me for saying that sin isn’t important. It is. It must be killed. Jesus must be avenged. He died so that our sin would die. We must ruthlessly slaughter all of the sin in our lives. I’m not saying sin isn’t important. I’m saying that something has to change in our churches that gives people the freedom to be open without fear of judgment and condemnation. People need love, grace, and support. Accusations and condemnation is the devil’s job, we should leave that to him.
I love Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church. I love the way they address the sin in their midst. I love the way the staff seek to serve their congregation, loving them and caring for them. I love the burden and the heartbreak that I see in their eyes when they are confronted with suffering and grievous sins. I love the pastoral heart that Tullian has that fuels his preaching, prayers, and life of ministry, always believing that the Gospel will truly transform everyone who is gripped by God’s grace.
I hope that the world will begin to see churches like Coral Ridge and realize that there are actually some churches, whether they have experienced it or not, that want nothing more than to love sinners right into the arms of Jesus. We’re all sinners. We’re all depraved. We all are adulterers who turn our backs to God. We settle for sin instead of freely pursuing righteousness. We’re really screwed up. All of us. The church is broken because we are broken, but Jesus said that the gates of Hell will never prevail against it. Jesus is on the march, and He’s marching to victory. It’s time we join Him. It’s time we repent of our sins before we are found out. It’s time we give grace if we expect to receive it from others. It’s time we do this thing for real. Thank you, Coral Ridge, for showing me the unimaginable power of grace lived out on the ground. I’m different because of it. And God is glorified in your midst.