When A Christian Fails
(Danger! Handle with care! This article could be harmful if misapplied.-A.V.W.)
Somewhere in Brother Boll’s writings he quotes a saying, “The best of men are men at best!” How true that is can be seen from the Bible, where the best of men are only too human. . . fallible, weak, inclined toward sin.
For example, NOAH, that man of great faith, after the flood became drunk. ABRAHAM, the friend of God, told his wife to lie and say she was only his sister, to protect Abraham from danger. AARON, the first high-priest, yielded to the Israelites’ demands to make them a god, and engraved the golden calf. MOSES, the man of God, great leader and law-giver, in sinful anger rebuked the people and in disobedience to God’s instruction smote the rock to make water come forth. DAVID, a man after God’s own heart, committed adultery and then plotted the murder of the woman’s husband. JEHOSHAPHAT, one of the four best kings of Judah, made an alliance with evil King Ahab of Israel, and thus “helped the wicked and loved them that hate the Lord”-as a prophet said when rebuking him.
“Turning to the New Testament, we see Peter, James and John, who were closest to the Lord among the twelve apostles. JAMES and JOHN wanted to call fire down from heaven to destroy the Samaritan village which refused to let Jesus and His men stay there overnight. They also secretly sought Jesus’ guarantee to appoint them to the top cabinet positions in His coming kingdom! And PETER, leader of the twelve? As J. C. Ryle points out, the Holy Spirit has thought fit to record in Scripture three great errors of Peter. “Once we find him trying to keep back our Lord from the cross; he was severely rebuked by Christ. Then we find him denying the Lord three times, and with an oath. Third we find him endangering the major truth of the Gospel” -by withdrawing from fellowship with uncircumcised Gentiles, as ‘though to say that in order to be saved a man must believe on the Lord Jesus Christ plus be circumcised and keep the law of Moses (Gal. 2).
Our list of examples could easily be lengthened. But there is no need. Obviously, sadly, tragically, the best of men are men at best.
Lessons for Us
What should we learn from this gloomy fact? First, that the Bible is true. The history it records is reliable, and its assessment of human nature is realistic. It is not a hoax, nor an assortment of myths and legends. It is true to life, and makes no attempt to hide the faults of its heroes. You can depend on the truthfulness of the Bible. (It won’t hide your faults, either, but will bring them to your attention.)
Second, don’t be surprised at men’s failures. Especially, don’t place your faith in men’s character. You may be let down, for every man has feet of clay. It scares me to hear the comments sometimes made about missionaries! Such comments are dangerous, to them and to other folks too. Again do not put complete confidence in any teacher’s opinions and doctrines. Be a Berean instead (Acts 17: 10,11).
Your minister may be a man of God, but do not make a pope of him. Do not suppose he can make no mistakes. It is written of Joash, King of Judah, that he “did that which was right in the sight of the Lard all the days of Jehoiada the priest.” But Jehoiada died, and then died the religion of Joash. Just so your minister may die, and then your religion may die too. He may change, and your religion change with him. He may go away, and your religion go too. Oh, be not satisfied with a religion built upon man! Be not content with saying, “I have hope, because my minister has told me such and such things.” Seek to be able to say, “I have hope, because I find it thus written in the Word of Gad.” (Ryle)
Third, show mercy to those who fail and fall. Governor Oglethorpe once told John Wesley, “I never forgive.” Wesley’s reply: “Then I hope you never sin.” That’s logical, isn’t it? Of course, showing mercy to one who has sinned or is sinning does not mean we excuse his sin or leave him alone to continue in it. “If a man should be detected in some sin, my brothers, the spiritual ones among you should set him back on the right path, not with any feeling of superiority but being yourselves on guard against temptation. Carry one another’s burden and so live out the law of Christ” (Galatians 6: 1,2, Phillips).
So far we have been thinking about how we should react to others if and when they fall. Now let’s consider ourselves more particularly.
First, how alert and watchful we ought to be every day. Let us hear once more from old Brother J. C. Ryle:
The most outstanding servants of Christ are not beyond the need of warnings, and ought to be always on their guard. The holiest of believers ought to walk humbly with his God, and to watch and pray lest he fall into temptation. None is so holy but that he may fall – to his own discomfort, to the scandal of the Church, and to the triumph of the world. Chosen and justified and sanctified as believers are, they are still only men. They are ever near temptation: they are ever liable to err, both in doctrine and in practice. Their hearts, though renewed, are very feeble; their understanding, though enlightened, is still very dim. They ought to live like those who dwell in an enemy’s land, and every day to put on the whole armor of God, The devil is very busy; he never slumbers or sleeps.
Paul issues the same warning. “Let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12). Beware! Take care! Do not be overconfident.
Second, there is the danger of the opposite error. If it is foolish to be overconfident (“I’m strong and don’t need to worry about temptation”), it is also foolish to excuse ourselves for sins (“I’m so weak I just can’t help sinning-don’t blame me!”).
Paul warns against this under confidence in the very next verse after his warning against overconfidence. “You have faced no trial beyond what man can bear. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your strength, but with the temptation will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:13). Again, John says, “I am writing this to you so that you may not sin” (1 John 2: 1). Again, Moses said to Israel, “This commandment which I command you this day is not too hard for you” (Deuteronomy 30:11). Two young men in Manila on different occasions each said to me, “I know I should not engage in these wrong practices and follow these evil habits, but I just can’t help it! The devil is so strong, and there are so many temptations. And anyway, the flesh is weak. Don’t blame me for these things; they are unavoidable.” But God’s Word clearly contradicts this excuse-making instinct of ours. It shows us that “His power can make us what we ought to be.”
Third, if and when we fall, let us repent! The men of God mentioned earlier fell, and some fell very far, but they all repented and returned to God wholeheartedly. This is the test of a man’s inner relationship with God. A sinner can live in sin, and love it; a Christian may lapse into sin, but loathes it. “The distinction between good and bad men is not that the one never sins while the other one does; but that the one stumbles and rises again, while the other lies down and wallows. The one sins and does not care; the other does care and confesses and repents’, (Brother Boll in Truth and Grace.)
Finally, an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure. “I’d rather build a fence at the top of a cliff than wait at the bottom with an ambulance.” How can we build spiritual fences and prevent disastrous crashes? We should use the incentives given in God’s Word, to help us and others to stand firm.
Let’s remember what sin does to’ the sinner. It brings suffering. It calls God’s chastening hand into action. Moses didn’t enter the promised land because of sin. David’s baby died, and his older children later committed rape and murder among themselves, because of David’s sin. James and John’s ambition for high position aroused the ire of their friends against them. Paul rebuked Peter publicly after the latter compromised in Antioch. Sin brings shame and suffering to us.
But it also brings suffering to others, even the innocent. Isn’t that at least partly what God meant when He said that He brings “the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generation”? (Deuteronomy 5:9). A man drinks and gambles, so his family lives in squalor. Two young people commit fornication, so an unwanted baby results. An elder or Sunday school teacher lives a self-centered, inconsistent life in his home, so his children reject the church and Christ. Oh, those awesome words of our Master: “Stumbling blocks are sure to come; but woe to him by whom they come! It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were cast into the sea, than that he should cause one of these little ones to stumble” (Luke 17:1,2).
Last, let’s remember what sin does to God. It pains His heart. It’s a very personal thing. To sin is not merely to break commands, but also to ignore or even defy the Commander, our loving God. “Grieve not the Holy Spirit” (Ephesians 4:30). A Christian once said, “When I was newly saved, I tried to avoid sin and do right because I didn’t want God to hurt me. But as I grew spiritually, I began to avoid sin and do right because I didn’t want to hurt God!” He grew from fear to love. May we too remember that sin grieves God, makes our Savior sad, and hurts the Holy Spirit. The best of men are men at best, but our God can restore our souls and lead us in triumph. Hallelujah!