None of us are anywhere close to perfection, yet God still chooses to use us:
Here is a wonder of wonders: God in his matchless mercy and grace takes hardened sinners, saves them, and uses them for his purposes. But what is really incredible is the fact that he does not wait to use us until we have obtained complete moral and spiritual perfection. That will just not happen this side of eternity.
So he uses cracked and flawed earthen vessels (2 Corinthians 4:7). That is all he has to work with. And that is amazing to contemplate, especially in light of the attributes of God. As we know, all his attributes must be fully affirmed and proclaimed. That means we must run with his holiness and righteousness 100 per cent. And we must run with his mercy and grace 100 per cent.
But too often believers will pick and choose. Some Christians seem to know all about the holiness of God and want it promoted fully and exclusively. Some Christians seem to know all about the grace of God and want it promoted fully and exclusively. Trying to get both fully and simultaneously championed is a lesser occurrence.
Because we are finite and fallen creatures we need both, even when we are among the redeemed. With all this in mind let me share some home truths from the Old Testament. Often in the books of Kings and Chronicles we find divine commentary on the various kings.
And so often we read about how they loved God or feared God or served God but… often they did NOT fully do all that they were supposed to do, and often they continued in the worship of false gods, or allowed the people to sacrifice in the high places, etc.
Consider just a few of many texts on this. Here is the heavenly assessment of King Asa of Judah: “Even Maacah, his mother, King Asa removed from being queen mother because she had made a detestable image for Asherah. Asa cut down her image, crushed it, and burned it at the brook Kidron. But the high places were not taken out of Israel. Nevertheless, the heart of Asa was wholly true all his days” (2 Chronicles 15:16-17).
Or consider King Jehoshaphat of Judah: “He walked in all the way of Asa his father. He did not turn aside from it, doing what was right in the sight of the Lord. Yet the high places were not taken away, and the people still sacrificed and made offerings on the high places. Jehoshaphat also made peace with the king of Israel” (1 Kings 22:43-44).
I read this morning about King Jehu of Israel, so let me mention him as well. In 2 Kings 10:28-36 we read this:
Thus Jehu wiped out Baal from Israel. But Jehu did not turn aside from the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, which he made Israel to sin—that is, the golden calves that were in Bethel and in Dan. And the Lord said to Jehu, “Because you have done well in carrying out what is right in my eyes, and have done to the house of Ahab according to all that was in my heart, your sons of the fourth generation shall sit on the throne of Israel.” But Jehu was not careful to walk in the law of the Lord, the God of Israel, with all his heart. He did not turn from the sins of Jeroboam, which he made Israel to sin. In those days the Lord began to cut off parts of Israel. Hazael defeated them throughout the territory of Israel: from the Jordan eastward, all the land of Gilead, the Gadites, and the Reubenites, and the Manassites, from Aroer, which is by the Valley of the Arnon, that is, Gilead and Bashan. Now the rest of the acts of Jehu and all that he did, and all his might, are they not written in the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Israel? So Jehu slept with his fathers, and they buried him in Samaria. And Jehoahaz his son reigned in his place. The time that Jehu reigned over Israel in Samaria was twenty-eight years.
God could use these earthen vessels, even though they were not 100 percent obedient and sold out to him. That should give us all some hope. No, we do not want to make excuses for sin, and we want to go on to full maturity in Christ. But still, God works with flawed and failed creatures.
All this hit home to me big time yesterday when I saw the Jesus Revolution film. Here we had an honest Christian film about some far from perfect individuals seeking to do the work of God. And as I said in my piece yesterday:
And there were at least two quotes that stood out to me and I could strongly relate to. Given that a poor self-image and sense of failure has long been with me, these spoke to me. One involved something Smith’s wife said to him when he was heavily doubting himself: “Don’t be so arrogant to think God can’t work through your failures.” And then there is this one when Smith says to Laurie: “Fortunately, God has a long history of using flawed people.” https://billmuehlenberg.com/2023/04/23/calvary-chapel-and-the-jesus-revolution/
Of course a main character in this true to life film was Lonnie Frisbee. Yes he had plenty of issues as I discussed in my article, and as the movie made us painfully aware of. Not every sin of his was covered. But we know that in the end he reverted to some sexual immorality (homosexuality) and contracted AIDS, dying at age 43.
Let me say this: if a film is ever made of my life (hardly likely!), I would be grateful if not every single sin and shortcoming of mine was covered in full technicolour detail. I am painfully aware of all my faults and failings. The filmmakers were gracious in showing some real issues with Frisbee, but not lingering on every single one.
But plenty of Christians over the past few months have condemned the film and tried to show us how bad he was. Well, the truth is, we are all bad in so many ways. None of us measure up to our perfect Lord. As I said in a comment the other day:
Frisbee had real issues. And yes I am quite aware of them. We all have issues of course – some worse than others. Thankfully because of God’s grace, he can and does use all of us – at least for a season – imperfections, faults and loads of self-life included. While we should all be concerned about sin wherever it is found, too many Christians seem to be far more concerned about sin in the lives of others, rather than in their own life!
If we can all keep our own shortcomings and failures in mind first, we will be better placed to deal with them in others later. And as to this issue of how and why God might keep using flawed and fallible vessels, a dozen years ago I wrote a piece on Romans 11:29 which says this: “God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable.” As I said in that article:
Despite Israel’s sin and unbelief, God has not withdrawn his giftings and callings from her. In Rom 9:4-5 we read about the specific gifts which God has given to Israel, and in the verse we are now looking at we find that he has not taken them back.
So the question arises as to whether this passage can be applied in a more general sense to believers. If so, then it seems to be telling us that the gifts God gives to believers may remain, perhaps even regardless of our spiritual condition. His gifting to us may not disappear even if we allow ourselves to be overcome by sin. https://billmuehlenberg.com/2011/06/20/on-christian-gifting-and-character/
The truth is, God could use an often disobedient Israel, an imperfect King Jehu, a flawed David, a far from perfect Moses, an often messed up Lonnie Frisbee, and a real work in progress, Bill Muehlenberg – to name but a few. That is the only thing he has available to use. Praise God for his grace.
Here is the bottom line: the longer I am a Christian, the more I depend completely on the wonderful grace of God. I am so very much aware of my many sins and lingering selfishness, yet for some amazing reason God continues to seem to use me to some small extent. Just as he used Frisbee and so many other earthen vessels. All I can do is marvel at this matchless grace and celebrate his everlasting mercy. Without that I am toast.
And I repeat: we are not seeking to make excuses for sin here. It needs to be called out. But calling it out should first begin with us. And then as we discover the incredible mercy that God has shown us over the years, then we will be better placed to call out sin in others.