The best men sin. The most upright persons stumble. The greatest heroes of the faith fall. “Everyone does it.”
If we could peer into the hearts of Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Mother Theresa, Billy Graham, and Pope Francis, we would witness things that would make us lose all hope.
Year after year, television and the internet parade venerable citizens and role models past our eyes who succumb to temptations. The media splash their names across headlines and relay every detail of their wrongdoings. Advertisers pay for our attention, until our attention wanes. And we all move on to the next victim of our appetites.
We rarely see any follow-up stories. Investigative reporters don’t show us the pain and loss that happen years after a “good person” destroys their life with sin. Similarly, “repentance” is a terrible word to put in a lede.
Thomas Brooks says Satan’s fourth device to lure us into transgression is to make us focus on the sins of the faithful while passing over repentance, forgiveness, and restoration. He longs to have us think that we can engage in the same wrong behaviors others fall into. But he hides from our eyes the terrible price we will pay in the long road of recovery.
… by showing the soul their sins, and by hiding from the soul their sorrows and repentance: as by setting before the soul the adultery of David, the pride of Hezekiah, the impatience of Job, the drunkenness of Noah, the blasphemy of Peter, etc., and by hiding from the soul the tears, the sighs, the groans, the meltings, the humblings, and repentings of these precious souls.
An automobile accident can hinge on a split-second decision. Run the red light. Go before you’re sure the way is clear. Look away from the road to your smartphone, just for a second. We pass by a wreck and see broken glass and crumpled steel. But we miss the months of litigation, physical therapy, the inconvenience of a lost vehicle.
Through the remedies he offers, Brooks wants his readers to see the whole picture of sin, from beginning to end. When we’re tempted, we should consider all the repercussions and consequences. We should look past the sinning saint and see not a role model but a foretaste of our own possible ruin. “Everyone does it.” But everyone must face the consequences.
Remedy 1: See the whole story in God’s word
The Bible does not shy away from sin’s consequences. Chapter after chapter we find sad, grim tales of the fallen, leaving trails of tears and blood.
A common atheist or skeptical argument against the Bible is how utterly filled it is with sometimes shocking and gruesome acts, of violence and horror between human beings. Yes, it’s true. Scripture is a book about sinners sinning. It’s a vivid account of what happens when men and women ignore God’s commands and choose their own passions and wants.
God through His word makes a strong case for how evil mankind can be without Him.Then He shows what happens when men and women turn themselves over to Him in repentance.
Are we willing to excuse our sins because of the transgressions of other saints? If so, we should also sit down with these believers and listen to their stories of repentance.
It’s nothing less than a miracle that God continues to forgive us when we ignore the teachings of His word and the leading of His Holy Spirit. Let us not assume God’s unending favor will remain on the other side of our temptations.
Remedy 2: Look for the pattern
My financial adviser has repeatedly told me one thing: His clients who have achieved their financial goals are the ones who systematically save money every month. Their income levels aren’t important. What matters is the regular, unceasing habit of setting aside some of it for an emergency or a goal.
After a couple of years I finally took his advice. Less than a year later we needed cash to pay for damage to a vehicle.
It’s not the one cigarette that leads to emphysema, bronchitis, lung cancer, and death. It’s the daily habit of lighting up, going back for more, and saying you’ll quit next month.
One workout doesn’t create a fit body. It takes an almost religious commitment to showing up at the gym, even when you don’t feel like it, pushing yourself harder each time, choosing nutritious foods three times a day every day, that lead to health and wellness.
One sin doesn’t harden your heart. The daily habit of giving in, crossing another boundary, covering a lie with another more complicated lie, promising yourself you’ll repent tomorrow turns it to stone.
Today is the day to break the pattern, head in a new direction, and turn from your path to destruction. Today is the day to repent.
What power would the body of Christ have if we could say “everyone does it” about repentance?
“Exhort one another every day, as long as it is called today, that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Hebrews 2:13, ESV).
Remedy 3: Don’t presume
We believe by faith that Christ satisfied the eternal justice we were due for our sin. He has turned the Father’s anger from us. He has propitiated God. But this does not mean there won’t be temporal consequences for sin.
Every scar tells a story. Every mark on your skin is a conversation piece. That white line on your knee is where you landed wrong when you wiped out on your BMX bike. The little dent that shows on your forehead when you laugh is from a fall in the kitchen as a toddler. Some physical marks tell stories of war, of accidents, of trauma.
Sin causes scars, too. They form in your heart, in your mind, in your conscience. But sin’s marks can also exist between persons. Infidelity destroys relationships. Stealing ruins careers. Violence costs freedom.
God has promised to remove our sins as far from us as east is from west, when we genuinely repent and trust in His forgiveness by faith. But he has never promised to remove from us the consequences of sin in this lifetime.
“I judge you to be miserable because you have not been miserable,” writes Brooks. This quote may confuse you at first, until you read the following quote of Luther: “There is not a Christian that carries not his cross.”
In modern Evangelicalism we tend to think of carrying one’s cross as being willing, as Christ did, to give our all to God. We pick up our crosses and follow Him. We bear the reproach of Christ just as He bore the world’s reproach for us.
But Brooks here likens carrying our cross to bearing the weight of God’s mercy! Christ’s cross was our mercy. His suffering was our relief. His wounds were our healing. And now, the cross we bear is the daily reminder of Jesus’ price paid for our freedom.
This affliction, says the author, is the worthwhile and healthy pain we feel in place of the destructive pain of sin’s eternal consequences.
Remedy 4: God’s comforting warning
God shows us in His word how other saints have fallen so that we may know, if we have also fallen, we may soon stand again.
These true stories also warn us not to fall in the same ways.
Have you ever driven your car more carefully – at least for a while – because you knew someone who survived a bad wreck? Have you ever changed your diet, your activity levels, or your sleep habits because of a loved one’s health scare?
If so, you have proven the effectiveness of God’s methods.
Which of these remedies do you think you’ll find most effective in battling the temptation to see only the sins of others and not their repentance? I’d like to hear your thoughts in the comments.