Sometimes God’s people do ungodly things
It was a rare moment. Yorkshire Cricket Club had announced that entry to the ground to see the last day of the England –v- South Africa test series was free of charge. As a family, we made our way there and watched England win the test and the series. That day was the only one where I saw Hansie Cronje in action. Tragically, he was killed in a plane crash some time later, and my heart was heavy. As a Christian, he had borne a very fine testimony that was acknowledged by all. Yet the obituary columns all prefaced his name with the words “The disgraced Hansie Cronje …” At the funeral service, Peter Pollock, the former South African cricketer and national selector said, “What Hansie did was wrong, but God forgives the repentant sinner. He stood with no excuses. He took his medicine.”
Time and again, secular and Christian newspapers carry the sad news of godly people who do ungodly things. As members of the family of God, it hurts us deeply. These are people who we have loved, felt proud to be associated with, maybe worked and prayed with, and yet …
Of course, this is nothing new. The history of humanity is that of marred and scarred privilege. The Garden of Eden was turned into a paradise lost by an act of deliberate defiance. What more could Adam and Eve have wanted after everything they had been given? Still they ignored God’s warning and chose a path of rebellion that led to suffering and death.
The Achilles heel
Greek mythology tells of Achilles, whose mother dipped him in the River Styx believing that its powerful waters would protect him and make him invulnerable to the attacks of enemy arrows. However, she held him by his heel, and though the waters covered every other part of his body, his heel was left unprotected. One day, so the story goes, when he was a man and fighting in a battle, an arrow fired at him fell short, slivered along the ground and pierced his heel. His ‘Achilles heel’ was his undoing and led to his death.
Satan has a thousand and one ways to attack and penetrate those who appear strong and resilient. The temptation is to commit mutiny against the rule of God in our lives, and history is riddled with people who dared to defy God in this way. So often, our strength is our undoing and becomes our weakness. Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord, and was preserved when the world was flooded and destroyed, but failed to curtail his appetite, drinking the fruit of his own vineyards, and ending in a drunken and possibly immoral stupor. Abraham, a man noted for his faith, exhibited a singular lack of faith when, in a rash moment, he fathered Ishmael, and brought tears to generations of his descendants. So much was invested in Jacob, why then did he deceive to obtain an earthly blessing? God’s providence would have worked things out for him. The meekest man on all the earth, Moses, had lost his temper and killed an Egyptian soldier, and later through an impetuous act denied himself the pleasure of leading the people of God into the Promised Land. Balaam disobeyed God by blessing those whom God had cursed.
Gideon led an unforgettable victory against the Midianites, but shortly after abused his position and collected gold for himself, which ruined him. Jephthah made a rash, foolish, and deadly vow. Samson’s Achilles heel was his love of attractive women. David fell to the same trap, as did his son Solomon. So many of the kings went astray in their years, as they established friendly contact with wicked leaders of godless nations. Elijah allowed self-pity to get the better of him, and Jeremiah wanted out of the calling of God because it was just too lonely and costly for him. Peter lost his bold courage and denied the Lord not just once, but three times. And we read of Demas, and Diotrephes who all went wrong when tested.
Heed the warnings
When we are newly converted, and when we are reaching a position of Christian maturity, we need to heed the warnings of the Bible. lest we also fall. As someone said, “We are free to sin, but not to control sin’s consequences.” Nevertheless, it is easy to imagine that we will never be found out, or our excuses will defend and acquit us, or that the grace of God will forgive our transgressions as it has so many times before. But sin has to be accounted for; the passing of time, or the dimming of our memory does not eradicate sin. No sin is without consequences.
When Christ died, He paid the penalty of sin, not only that we might be forgiven but also to make sinners into saints. God, through His Holy Spirit makes us new creatures and gives godly desires, but there is a battle going on. Galataians 5 v. 17 tells us “For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things you wish.” At very least, Christians take sin seriously, and want to flee from it, but we need God’s strength and programme for overcoming the world, the flesh and the devil.
Oswald Chambers said, “Christ did not come to scathe sin, but to save us from it.” When tempted let us remember that there is an eye that sees everything, an ear that hears all things, and a record of all that we do. Let us reckon ourselves dead to sin, and alive to Christ. Let us run from the very appearance of sin, learning not to expect it, excite it or excuse it. Or, as Jude warns, let us not “change the grace of our God into a license for immorality.” (v. 4).
Who is without sin?
Having said all this, which one of us is without sin? How easily we judge people for their faults and excuse our own. How weak, and vulnerable we are; how prone to wander and leave the God we love. How easily our principles start to fade and wither, and yet how harsh we are on the mistakes of others. Which other army shoots its own people when they are wounded? Yet, as Christians, we can be very unmerciful to our brothers and sisters in Christ.
If we do sin, may we learn to quickly turn back to our loving Heavenly Father? There is a way back to God. “The word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time.”(Jonah 3 v. 1ff). It is highly likely that the fornicator whom Paul referred to in 1 Corinthians 5 is the repentant man mentioned in 2 Corinthians. Interestingly, whoever it was, is kept anonymous – this was not a matter to gossip about, but to grieve over. The sin was treated seriously (vv. 6 & 7), then the sorrow over sin was treated sincerely (vv. 9 – 11), and the sinner was to be treated supportively (vv. 7 & 11).
An elderly Welsh preacher accidentally fell down the steps of the pulpit after he had preached. The next day all the villagers seemed to say to him was, “I heard you fell yesterday!” Eventually, he replied to one of them, “You’ve only heard part of the story. I did fall, but I got up again!”.
When Peter was restored to Christ, the issue was ‘Peter, do you love me?’ How glad am I that we have John 21. For, if there was only John 20, we would wonder how we could have Acts 2. God saw fit to include Peter’s restoration in Scripture, as well as his fall.
Hansie Cronje is in the best of places, with His Best Friend even if the English cricket team and press have not forgiven him! How readily do we embrace those whose words and actions became a disappointment? How quick are we to forgive those who hurt the Lord’s name, and us? Warren Wiersbe in his commentary on 2 Corinthians says about chapter 2 that we should confirm our love for a forgiven brother for their own sake (vv. 7 & 8), for the Lord’s sake (vv. 9 & 10) and for the church’s sake (v. 11).
There’s a way back to God
From the dark paths of sin;
There’s a door that is open,
And you may go in;
At Calvary’s cross is where you begin
When you come as a sinner