People don’t leave the church or the Christian faith because of intellectual struggles with the Christian faith, poor preaching, or the fact that someone offended them…but because of sin.
Years ago I got a note from a woman, “Steve, I’m leaving and I didn’t want you to hear it from somebody else. I just can’t do it anymore. I’m not good enough.” She felt that her sin was so great that she could never live up to the profession of her Christian faith.
Have you ever been there? Maybe you’re there now and say to yourself, over and over again, “I’m such a hypocrite. If people knew the truth about me, they would kick me out and not have anything more to do with me.”
The real problem is that often those who leave the Christian faith are the most honest. Properly understood, though, Christians should be known not as people who “walk the talk,” but as people who don’t.
In Luke 22:24-34, the disciples argued over who was the greatest among them and then Jesus predicted Peter’s denial. It’s the perfect text to answer the question… So what do you do when getting better simply isn’t happening?
Whatever you do, don’t leave.
“You are those who have stayed with me in my trials, and I assign to you, as my Father assigned to me, a kingdom” (Luke 22:28-29).
A psychologist friend told me, “I don’t teach grace for other people. The message is the only thing that helps me survive. I couldn’t get up in the morning without the truth of grace…and, if I could, I couldn’t look myself in the mirror.” I then asked him if some mutual friends in a troubled marriage were going to make it. He said, “I don’t think so. When there is too much accusation, condemnation and hatred, and you get too far down that dark road, it’s very hard to come back.”
If you’ve got it all together, stay away from me. I just don’t need any more guilt.
The point? Don’t go down that road…in marriage or in life.
It’s the same with us. When you sin (and you will), when some Christian brother or sister hurts you (and they will), when you’re tired of all this religious stuff (and you will be), and when you want to run (and you will want to)…just don’t leave.
Only dumb people leave the hospital before the surgery is finished. So stay. No matter how screwed up you are, on the authority of Jesus Christ, I promise you a kingdom. (And that kingdom had nothing to do with the disciples’ goodness. The next thing Jesus does is to point out Peter’s sin. It had only to do with staying.)
Whatever you do, don’t lie.
“Peter said to him, ‘Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death’” (Luke 22:33).
Jesus could have said, “Peter, just shut up!” But he didn’t. Jesus said, “No, you aren’t. In fact, let me tell you the truth.”
Don’t lie to your brothers and sisters in Christ, don’t lie to those outside the family, and don’t ever, ever lie to yourself.
I once heard a motivational speaker say to a very large seminar crowd that they should repeat after him, “I’m a good person and people like me. I deserve what I have.” Really?
“Tell him I’m sick. Don’t tell him I’m drunk,” said the alcoholic to his wife when she kneeled down to pray.
There is great power in not having anything to defend. That’s the very place God works.
Whatever you do, don’t despair.
Jesus said to Peter, “But I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:32, my emphasis). Jesus didn’t say, “if you turn.” He said, “when you turn.”
Do you remember what the angel said to the women after they found Christ’s empty tomb? The angel said, “But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he has gone before you to Galilee” (Mark 16:7, my emphasis).
That was Peter’s truth. It’s our truth too. So deal with it.
Martin Luther struggled with depression…and often it was over his sins. Once he was going through such a period. His beloved wife Katherine came into the kitchen where he was sitting and said, “Martin, Martin, have you heard the news? God is dead.” Luther accused her of blasphemy. And she responded, “Well, you’re acting like it.”
If there is anybody with more cause to despair, to be depressed and to lament his sin, it’s me. Chances are, I’m a lot older than you are. Chances are, I’ve been doing this far longer than you have. And I’m simply not the poster boy I thought I would be. But you know something, I’m not all that down on myself. It isn’t because I’m good…but because he is. It isn’t because I’m faithful…but because he is. Not only that, Jesus promised that someday I would be just like him. Jesus is praying for me. And Jesus has promised me a kingdom.
Whatever you do, don’t waste your sin.
“But I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:32).
We love Peter, not because he was so good, but because he was so human and sinful. Over and over again, I imagine Jesus gently shaking his head at Peter’s impulsivity and saying in response to his latest declaration, “Oh, Peter…”
In Galatians, Paul even recounts Peter’s hypocrisy. When the Pharisees came, Peter didn’t defend grace. He joined them.
I’m like Peter. It’s all there. Sin. Pride. Failure. Betrayal.
We minister with our sin…not our purity.
If you’ve got it all together, stay away from me. I just don’t need any more guilt. It takes a drunk to help a drunk. It takes a sinner to help a sinner.
If you’re not a sinner, then go somewhere else. Find some other good and pure people to be around.
(And good luck with that.)
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