The Christian life isn’t a joyride in the rain, but a war. If that analogy offends you, or if you’ve never experienced life on the battlefield, chances are you have never taken your relationship with Christ very seriously. This war we are engaged in is one we’re destined to win. The Lord Jesus has conquered sin, death, and the devil, and those of us who belong to Him are heirs of that purchased victory. But until He comes again, you face the realities of spiritual warfare on a daily basis. In your struggle against the forces of the world, the flesh, and the devil, you will find no peace talks, no negotiations, no cease-fire orders. You’re in it for the duration.
With the daily reality of spiritual warfare comes the constant possibility of failure. Even the most skilled warriors in God’s army are vulnerable to the schemes, the attacks, and the intimidation of the enemy. On any given day, at any given moment, it’s possible for any given believer to go down in battle – a victim of his or her own carelessness, or weakness, or pride, or any of a host of other vices. I wish that weren’t true of my life, or of yours. Thank God, one day in Glory it won’t be! But until then, let’s face it: sooner or later you could be wounded. Your wounds may be more severe than others, or perhaps only comparatively minor. Your failure may be public or quite private. But whatever the circumstances, the effects of being a wounded soldier are quite real.
There are two biblical truths regarding sin that Christians through the years have choked on. First, you’re not immune. I mean, from anything. Call it out. Name it. Say you’ll never be caught dead there, or doing that. In spite of the Old Testament warning of the heart being deceitful above all things and desperately wicked, and the New Testament warning to beware of assuming you stand, go ahead and declare you’re different. You’ll join the long line of scarred saints through the years with that familiar chorus: “I never thought it would happen to me.”
The second truth that makes Christians surprisingly uneasy is that there’s no such thing as a sin that’s beyond the grace of God. For Christians there are no mandatory death sentences, no habitual offender laws. Yet while we often say we believe “sin is sin,” our actions indicate otherwise. The truth is, every succeeding generation has produced its own system of pardonable, unpardonable, and unmentionable sins. Perhaps you are old enough to remember when divorce was the great unpardonable sin of Evangelical churches. While that’s no longer true in most cases, what is true is that a succeeding generation has replaced it with other things. For example, when was the last time someone felt free to confess in your church he had molested a child and needed help?
The outgrowth of our historic failures in these two areas has been tragic. If the old saying is true, and the Christian army really is the only one that shoots its own wounded, then Heaven help the poor fool who is willing to admit he’s been shot! My own experiences with failure have taught me that what most Christians call “unconditional love,” is really sentimental ignorance. It’s not that we love all these people like Christ does. We just don’t know enough about them to be disgusted.
Wrecked believers traditionally have been left with two options: hide the failure and deny it exists until it somehow goes away, or, if the failure becomes known to others, assume there is no way we can be of any use to God any more and leave. Some choice! Either be a self-righteous Pharisee who can’t admit or face his own failures, or “do the honorable thing” and withdraw from the Christian community. As a result, our lives become measured by our ability to fool people or they are labeled for a lifetime by failure.
The Bible is filled with promises to the effect that God has not forgotten the righteous, and will honor them for their faithfulness. The Bible is also filled with clear warnings that the Lord is holy, and that stupid choices will produce dire consequences. A man who sows to the wind will indeed reap the whirlwind.
But what about the rest of us? What if we can’t look at our lives and find the spotless integrity that David so often found in his life? What if we’ve messed up – messed up badly – because of our own foolish choices? But what if we’re like the Prodigal Son, alone and wasted in a foreign pig pen, but wanting to come home? Do we have to settle for being one of the Father’s hired hands because we truly are unworthy to be called His son? What if we really don’t want to fail again, but like Paul in Romans 7, we can’t find “how to do that which is good”? We have spent countless fascinated hours in churches and evangelistic meetings listening to horror stories we refer to as testimonies. The more lost they were, the more black their sin, the more we want to hear about it. But what about the Christian who was genuinely saved at an early age, but spent many subsequent months deceived, wasting his living in a “far country,” yet found the way back to the Father’s house? Doesn’t he or she have something to offer the Body? Isn’t there a message of both warning and hope in his story? Or does he frighten churchgoers with the possibility that next time it could be them?
If you feel as uncomfortable around churches or Christians as I was shivering in the Seven-Eleven, I have some hope for you – not earned, but learned. There truly is hope – and a home – for the wounded soldier. If you are wounded, or wasted, or wandering aimlessly around, I’m here to tell you, you can come home again. Not as a hired hand, but as a child of the Father. There will be lessons to learn, work to do, and relationships to rebuild. But if you’re teachable, and available, and willing to humble yourself, you won’t have to accept failure as the last word. If other Christians have made you feel uncomfortable or rejected, I’m sorry. But remember, they didn’t make you fail, and they can’t keep you from Jesus unless you let them. Furthermore, for every believer who won’t receive you, somewhere there is another who will help you – again, if you let them.
Oh, and if you’re “safe in the house” and a bloody, muddy brother comes limping in, it won’t be necessary for you to point out how, bloody and muddy he is.
Just help him.
Just love him.
We got the front wheel fixed up again, but the bike never was quite the same. Not long afterward, somebody stole it.
Sure hope they got the brakes fixed.