Recently I was praying for someone who had walked away from church and possibility Christianity. Humanly speaking, he had good reason. Christians aren’t always the best representatives of what they are supposed to believe.
A parachurch organization that reached out to teens in my public high school was an important influence in God’s drawing me to Himself. Years later, my understanding of Biblical doctrine led me to a place that I could no longer support them.
My husband and I had a discussion last week about an institution we had both been a part of. There were glaring problems in the policies as well as in the prevailing attitudes of individuals.
Yet my sense during my time there was not, “Ugh, this is such an awful place.” I was aware of some problems, and came to understand others later. Yet God used that place to ground me in my faith and draw me closer to Himself. How can that be?
How can it be that an organization or group of people can be used of God while so flawed?
As our church has studied through the first few books of the OT, we’ve seen that God’s people have never been a showcase of pristine saints. One man in another church we were in, when asked in Sunday School what he was learning from the OT narratives, said, “If God can use and have mercy on those rascals, there’s hope for me.”
Some of the Biblical people that God used in a major way failed spectacularly.
This doesn’t mean we set the bar low. Our goal is not to be like the lowest examples in the Bible of those who followed God. Our goal is to be like Christ. We’ll never reach that goal this side of heaven. But as we behold Him in His Word, we should be growing in grace more and more like Him.
And depending on Him, filled with His Spirit, we can show His grace and patience to those who fail and falter.
Yes, there are times to walk away from a particular person or church or institution that strayed far from what it should be and will not listen to counsel. But if we “cancel” everyone who doesn’t live and believe perfectly, we’ll have no one left.
When we stand before God some day, we’ll give an account of ourselves, not anyone else. Though others will have to give an account of their failures, we won’t be able to blame them for our own. God has promised His grace for every trial, His way of escape for every temptation, His strength in our weakness. If everyone we ever knew failed us, He never will. “And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work” (2 Corinthians 9:8).
When people talk about forsaking institutional religion because it’s so flawed, I want to ask, “Have you ever read Corinthians?” Talk about a messed-up church. Yet neither God nor His apostle forsook it. They took time to correct and admonish. If the Corinthians had refused to hear and rebelled, that would have been a different story. But they took the apostle’s warnings to heart. They made some changes immediately, but I am sure their overall growth was probably a slow process.
Isn’t that the way for us as well? If we’re still growing in grace and the knowledge of the Lord, we should be farther along now than we were a few years ago. But we still mess up. We still stumble over besetting sins. On our worst days, we’re far from the shining testimony we should be.
This is not an excuse. We’re accountable when we offend someone or make them stumble. We need to walk circumspectly and confess our sins to God and those we sin against.
Yet we also don’t forsake God’s people as a whole because of their flaws. The church is Christ’s bride, our brothers and sisters in Him. We don’t excuse or ignore flaws. Sometimes confrontation is necessary. But we also look for the grace. Instead of writing someone off or retaliating when they fail, we pray for them and seek to point them in the right direction, remembering we’re part of the same family. We love and serve and encourage and forgive and forbear. Because He did that for us.
Peter denied Jesus. James and John jockeyed for position and wanted to call down fire from heaven on those who didn’t run in the same circles. They fell asleep instead of supporting Him, argued with Him, thought they knew better than Him. But Jesus kept working with them, and look at them a few years later. That transformation is what we long for and pray for, for ourselves and others. Thank God for His longsuffering and mercy and grace.
Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful (Colossians 3:12-15).
Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near (Hebrews 10:23-25).
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