I used to be quick to jump on Christians who failed morally. How could they claim to be a Christian and do something like that?
A bit of insight came from a Texas storm a few years ago. Strong winds toppled a 50-foot-tall tree in a friend’s backyard. But strong winds are a part of every spring in Texas. Why did this particular storm fell a mature tree? The answer came as my friend cut up the fallen tree. It was completely rotted inside. There was no way to tell when you looked at the tree. The bark covered the decay and the leaves were still green and pretty. But inside the tree was dying. It finally reached a point where there was not enough strength left in its core to withstand another storm.
The example from nature is a metaphor for how we can topple as Christians and completely surprise those around us. We wear masks. We look good. We say the right things. We stay busy doing Christian things. We are more concerned about appearance than honest spiritual health. There is no way to tell by looking that the slow rot of sin is decaying our judgment and relationship with Jesus.
Tree experts will tell you that often a small wound in a tree left unattended will allow fungus to enter and begin the destructive process. If the wound had been treated, the disease could have been halted with little or no damage.
That is again a metaphor for what happens in our souls. Most of us are a little or a lot wounded by life and others. Perhaps pride or fear or simply not knowing what to do causes us to ignore the wound in our souls. And that opening allows the slow decay of unresolved sin that leads to a fall.
The illustration reminded me of the Scripture where Jesus railed against the “self-righteous” religious leaders:
“What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are so careful to clean the outside of the cup and the dish, but inside you are filthy—full of greed and self-indulgence! You blind Pharisee! First wash the inside of the cup and the dish, and then the outside will become clean, too” (Matthew 23, NLT).
When a Christian fails morally they pay a terrible price and so do those they have hurt. I have figured out a couple of things that can help stop the slow rot of sin.
Grace and community.
Grace allows me to quit trying to be righteous and actually begin to be righteous as I focus on the One who gave me the gift of grace. Grace allows me to deal with sin instead of trying to manage and rationalize it. Grace is real and powerful. Grace should never be my cover for sin. Instead grace is my only hope to deal with it. Grace makes me tremble when I think of an almighty and powerful God who loved someone unlovable like me. Why would He give such a gift to an unworthy child? And how could I be comfortable taking advantage of that amazing grace? I cannot and I pray that I will not. Grace is compelling. I want it to be compelling in my life as well. Real grace works.
God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Ephesians 2:8
A safe community is powerfully healing and affirming. We need to have people with whom we can drop the pretense. Many of us harbor the secret fear that if our friends found out everything that was true about us they would drop us in horrified indignation and run for the hills. But what if that is one more lie from the Deceiver? What if we could develop relationships of trust and grace where exactly the opposite occurred? What if the revelation of the truth about us caused our friends to love us more? What if we trusted a few with who we really are? God designed this journey of life to be lived in community.
My default mode is to become hidden when I feel shame or guilt over my actions. When I trust His grace and my friends with my struggle I can halt the spiral. I usually need both.
Pray for those who fail and don’t write them off as “less of a Christian”. I would ask you to look in the mirror. If you see what I see you will extend grace to those who fail. What I see in the mirror is a person who was saved only by grace. I see a person who is capable of failing if I do not lean wholly on that grace every day. A person who does not want to hurt the heart or cause of Jesus because I am so grateful for His amazing grace. I like the way The Message translates Paul’s words to the Galatians:
“If someone falls into sin, forgivingly restore him, saving your critical comments for yourself. You might be needing forgiveness before the day’s out. Stoop down and reach out to those who are oppressed. Share their burdens, and so complete Christ’s law. If you think you are too good for that, you are badly deceived” (Galatians 6, The Message).