Before moving on in Isaiah 54, I wanted to talk a little more about the verses we introduced last week and the idea of God removing our reproach. (If you haven’t read that post, you can find it here.)
I used my divorce last week as an example of the shame God had removed from my life, but there are many other things that we often have a hard time forgiving ourselves for, and because of which we may live with shame. Some examples are abortion or having gotten pregnant outside of marriage.
In some churches, you cannot have a leadership position if you were ever divorced or committed any of these or other particular sins in the past. In other churches, you may be able to be a leader if those things happened before you became a Christian. In either case, the insinuation is that the reproach for these sins is never fully removed. (Fortunately, there are also churches with a view of grace.)
Christian brothers and sisters, let’s prayerfully discuss this a bit. Is this really the Bible’s stance?
Stop and think of this from a biblical point of view. Two of the greatest leaders in the Church, the Apostle Peter and The Apostle Paul. Peter denied Christ. Paul calls himself “the chief of sinners.” He had murdered Christians. Neither Peter nor Paul would likely be called upon to help lead in many of our congregations.
Let me clarify that I’m in no way saying that divorce, abortion, murder, denying Christ, or sex outside marriage are desirable. There is enough in the Bible about these things for us to know otherwise. But there are two problems that I can see with the above ways of dealing with these topics.
First of all, there are some sins which are treated as worse than others. This is not the Bible’s stance at all. As best as I can tell, there are a couple reasons why certain sins are treated as worse than others:
- They are problems which have become particularly troublesome in our society. We tend to over-react to sins in our culture by speaking out against them in a way that not only does not include grace, but leaves a sense of impossibility for certain people to come to the Lord. (And why on earth would they want to?) We might claim that we are just being clear about sin. Oh yes, that’s true, we are. However, we are not being clear about the whole story and that is God’s grace, His love and forgiveness.
- They are sins the list-makers aren’t guilty of, and so they use them to deflect attention away from their own problems. Or in some cases, they are actually guilty, but they make themselves look innocent by viciously decrying the sin of others.
Yes, we need to be clear about sin. We should not be wishy-washy about it. But we should also be clear about God’s grace.
“God demonstrated His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8. Unfortunately, we often give the impression that people need to clean up their lives before they can come to Christ. This is patently untrue! We come to God as sinners. It is only through Jesus’ blood and absolutely not through our own works that we become worthy of a relationship with God.
“If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us.” I John 1:8 Let’s be clear: This is written about Christians. I continue to sin and so do you. Whether our particular sins are on the current list of “practically unforgiveables” or not, is really completely irrelevant. Those lists are manmade. They are not God’s. As Jesus said, “He who is without sin, throw the first stone.” (John 8:7) The Pharisees had the wisdom to walk away at that point. Frankly, a lot of us are not as smart as the Pharisees. There is an awful lot of stone-throwing in our glass churches.
“For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all.” James 2:10. Sorry, but your secret porn habit makes you just as guilty of sin as the abortion of the young lady in your church. The gossip you routinely involve yourself in is every bit as sinful as divorce. Your gluttony is every bit as much of a sin as homosexuality. (In fact, gluttony is one of the “seven deadly sins” if you want a historic list of the Church. Think about that for a moment.) Gluttony is the sin I most struggle with, and I know many of you do, too. Just because it’s acceptable in our culture doesn’t mean that it’s any less of a sin. And you don’t need to be fat to be guilty of gluttony.
The all-too-common stand on these sins prevents people from finding Christ. I’m not suggesting that we be wishy-washy about our message. Actually, I’m suggesting that we become more clear.
I’m reminded of a young lady in the church I grew up in. She was unmarried, had gotten pregnant, and was keeping the baby. I wanted to put together a baby shower for her. The older ladies in the church were adamantly against it: She had sinned and we could in no way condone her sin. This was a bit confusing to me. After all, weren’t we against abortion? This young woman had confessed her sin to the church. She had not gone out and gotten an abortion, which would have solved her problems. No one need ever have known about it. She wouldn’t have had to confess to the church, she wouldn’t have had to have her sin made public, she wouldn’t have had her dreams derailed by having to be a single mother. What was the message we were sending? Don’t you have to wonder how many Christian women have gotten abortions because they are Christians? Let me ask that again, because I want it to really sink in: How many CHRISTIAN women have gotten abortions BECAUSE they are Christians? Inside the Church, they will suffer incredible shame and rejection if they carry the baby to term. This sin will live with them for the rest of their lives. To choose NOT to have an abortion is made extremely difficult by our condemnation and rejection. (By the way, that young lady left the church. There was no place for her among Christians. There may be a few millstones reserved for some of those people. Remarkably, there is also forgiveness for them.)
“When we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” I John 1:9 This is one of the first verses we teach young children and new Christians. I have to ask: Do we really believe it? Does God really truly forgive us? Does He cleanse us of all unrighteousness?
I have a number of friends who are gay. They are not believers (yet). At some point in our friendship, each of them has asked me how I can be friends with them when I’m a Christian. I know exactly what they mean. They’ve heard Christians yelling about homosexuality, protesting it, refusing to make cakes for them … and all manner of other condemnation. (By the way, I believe bakers and others should have the right to refuse service to anyone. And I think that some of these situations are set-ups to persecute Christians. But I have to ask, Do these bakers refuse to make cakes for gluttons??? I’m not saying this to condemn them, but because I then have to ask myself who I’m condemning … and am I hypocritical in that? Probably so!) I tell my friends that I’m sinful, too. I give them an example of a recent sin I’ve committed and how I went to God and asked forgiveness. I make sure they know that God is every bit as welcoming of them as He is of me.
Because my novel, Beauty for Ashes, features a young woman who chooses not to abort, even in a situation in which many Christians would have excused abortion, I’ve been asked the question, “What if I had an abortion I later repented of? Does God forgive me?” It breaks my heart to hear that question, because I know that there is so much pain behind it. How long have these women lived with the guilt and shame of a past sin, unable to talk to even their pastor about it? How long have they suffered alone in silence, afraid of the rejection and condemnation that’s sure to come if someone finds out? It’s the enemy’s plan to isolate us, not God’s.
Look, folks. Do we really believe the Bible? This is really what it boils down to. According to the Bible, your sin is no worse than mine. According to the Bible, we have all sinned … and unfortunately, we continue to sin. According to the Bible, we can all have forgiveness. According to the Bible, Jesus’ blood covers every sin. According to the Bible, we become His righteousness. (II Cor 5:21)
According to the Bible, God removes our reproach.
The question we need to deal with is not whether God still sees our sin. It’s whether His people do.
Isaiah Cadre Discussion/Journaling Question:
What are some of the sins we tend to think of as worse than others? How can we be clear about sin and grace at the same time? What would this look like? How would this specifically change the way you respond to people who have committed what you consider a very grave sin?
Did you find this article helpful? Please feel free to share it with a friend. You never know who might need this encouragement and hope!
The novel I’m currently writing, The Voice of Your Cry, is about a young woman who has to make the excruciating decision between abortion or being ostracized by her Christian community — who are, ironically, adamantly outspoken against abortion. It explores the way we often end up pushing people into exactly the behaviors we are strongly fighting against. It also deals with the issues of shame, grief, repentance, and forgiveness. If you would like to pray for this project and get updates, please contact me through Facebook. (I send out my periodic updates to a Facebook conversation group; if you don’t have Facebook, feel free to contact me by email — respond to this email — to ask me for an update.)
Go here for part 4, God as Protector and Provider.