Recently in my renewed studies on the Holy Spirit, I came across a quote which seemed so unrelated to the work of the Holy Spirit that I had to spend a great deal of time meditating on its truth. Here is the quote:
“Your worst days are never so bad that you are beyond the reach of His grace. And your best days are never so good that you are beyond the need of God’s grace. Every day should be a day of relating to God on the basis of His grace alone.” – Jerry Bridges
I often wonder how many of us are so plagued with memories of sins and failures in the past that it becomes impossible to step into our futures with certainty and experience the success that God has promised. From my years spent as a pastor, I recall so many people coming to me and confessing that they were “stuck” in the memories of past deeds. It was as if they could not go forward for fear that they would relive the circumstances that gave them such guilty consciences. I am convinced that far too many of us are exactly where they were: stuck.
First of all let me assure you that guilt is not always bad. It is guilt that drives us to repentance. I am often reminded of King David after his adultery with Bathsheba. He later wrote of his experience:
Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man to whom the LORD does not impute iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit. When I kept silent, my bones grew old through my groaning all the day long. For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me; my vitality was turned into the drought of summer. I acknowledged my sin to You, and my iniquity I have not hidden. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,” and You forgave the iniquity of my sin. (Psalm 32:1-5 NKJV)
It was his guilt that drove him to that place of repentance and then be able to say, “How good it is to have been forgiven and my sin covered by the blood.” (My translation) In Psalm 51, during the time when God was dealing with his sin, he pleaded with God to “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.” (Psalm 51:7 NKJV) (Being “purged with hyssop” referred to the high priest dipping a branch of the hyssop bush into the bowl used to catch the blood of sacrifice and then sprinkling it to show the covering of the blood.)
How many of us have repented of our sins and readily received the forgiveness of God (the covering of the blood) but have never been able to forgive ourselves? For many, this is the very spot where we are “stuck.” We believe that we are forgiven but we cannot forget. We do not allow the same grace that gave us forgiveness to saturate and penetrate us to the point that we no longer are reminded of our pasts.
We need to look at one of the disciples of Jesus – Simon Peter. Jesus said that he would deny him three times before the rooster would crow. We know the story of how he denied knowing him and being one of his disciples three times. When the rooster crowed, he remembered the words of Jesus and went and wept over his sin. I wonder how he felt every morning when he heard a rooster crow. Did it remind him of his sin? Probably so, but we must remember that it was also early in the morning after the resurrection of Jesus that He approached Peter and asked him three times, “Do you love Me?” It was during this early morning time when the roosters would be crowing that Jesus not only asked that question but also gave him the commission to “feed my lambs” and “tend” and “feed my sheep.” (John 21) From that point on Peter was given something else to consider when he heard the rooster crow – “feed my sheep.”
In the mid 1980’s, I had the dubious distinction of being “fired” – “terminated” – “dismissed” – from my position of being the pastor of a church. When I became the pastor of that particular church, I believed it was the will of God. It was not long after becoming the pastor that problems began to develop between the elders and me. Rather than sitting with them and attempting to work out the differences, I allowed the circumstances to build up until there was a confrontation and I lost.
When the word began to spread about my situation, people came to me and said that I was their pastor and that they wanted me to form a new church. Sherry and I yielded to their desires and formed a new church and went on with our lives. However, I soon became aware of the fact that when I met one of the elders of the former church I remembered all of the things that I had experienced. After several years, God spoke to us that we were to place the church in the hands of a new pastor, move to another city and begin the work that we are doing today.
We knew that God had spoken for us to move but there was another issue that had to be dealt with first. God spoke to me that I had to go to the elders of the former church and have a meeting with them and repent for what I had done to them and the church. I must tell you it was not easy. I wanted to just deal with God: “Lord forgive me.” I called the pastor, who had been my associate, and asked that he gather the elders that were elders when I was there (I did not involve any new elders.). We gathered in my former office and I sat there with the men had who had fired me. I repented for my stubbornness and lack of integrity in dealing with them and asked for their forgiveness. I had to face them whether or not they forgave me. Each of them, with tears in their eyes, forgave me and asked for my forgiveness. When we left that room, we were at peace with each other.
As for me, when I think about the situation I just shared, I remember the time of restoration, not the time of division. We gave each other grace and we were free. This is exactly what Jesus gave to Simon Peter when he chose the moment when the roosters crowed to give him a new commission.
Do you remember the story of the woman caught in the very act of adultery (John 8)? She was immediately dragged into the courtyard of the Temple and was about to be stoned to death. Jesus happened to be there so they stopped and asked him the question, “Moses’ law says she is to be stoned to death, but what do you say?” (My translation) Jesus faced a seemingly impossible situation and asked an equally profound question, “If any of you is without sin, you be the first to cast a stone at her.” (My translation)
One by one they dropped their stones and walked away, from the oldest to the youngest, and the only one that was left was the only one who could justify stoning her to death, the only one without sin: Jesus. He was the only one qualified, but He said to her, “Go on now, but don’t enter your life of sin again.” (My translation) I don’t know this to be true, but I imagine that this woman was never the same again. She had experienced the grace of God working on her behalf. Grace made her free and gave her a new beginning.
Here is a question for you today. Is there anyone that you need to forgive so that you can continue pursuing the Holy Spirit? Is there anyone that you need to give grace so that the both of you can be free to pursue God? If so, I challenge you to go to that person and ask for forgiveness. Don’t make an accusation concerning what they may have done against you. That is for them to deal with. Simply ask for their forgiveness and leave it to the Holy Spirit to deal with their hearts. Honestly, I believe I know the end of the matter: that person will forgive and ask for forgiveness. The more grace we give, the more grace we will receive and the freer we will become.