One of the fears that plagued me for many years in my Christian life was the fear that “perhaps God won’t forgive me this time” when I sinned. I would be haunted by the fear that surely my latest slip would be the reason that I’d be eternally separated from Him, and that this last failure would be the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back of God’s willingness to forgive me.
What’s worse is, there were Bible verses that I could quote that reinforced that fear! Passages like Hebrews 6:4-8 and 10:26-31 would torment me, convinced that it was “impossible to renew me again to repentance” and that there “no longer remained a sacrifice” for my sins. I felt just like the Israelites who, no matter how many times God showed them mercy, yet they fell back into their sin. Psalm 106:43 described my life perfectly — “Many times He would deliver them; They, however, were rebellious in their counsel, And so sank down in their iniquity.”
In the middle of that struggle, I was a part of a “seeker-friendly” church that emphasized the importance of every member inviting unbelievers to attend services with them regularly. I was diligent to invite classmates and coworkers to church with me at every opportunity. And I noticed a strange phenomenon: If I ever invited an unbeliever to turn to the Lord, no matter how far he was from God, I was absolutely confident that no sin could keep him from God’s love. Because of the blood of Christ, if he would repent of his sin and believe in Christ for forgiveness and cleansing, God would absolutely forgive him, no matter how terrible his sin. Murder, gossip, adultery, lying - you name it - “There is no pit so deep God’s love is not deeper still,” as Betsy Ten Boom once said. I believed this was true for anyone hearing the gospel for the first time.
And yet, all the while, I would be fearful in my own heart that, now that I was a Christian, maybe that was no longer true for me. And again, I had Bible verses that could support that fear. What a brilliant deception! The enemy will even use God’s Word to deceive us! But if he did that with Jesus (Matthew 4:6), we shouldn’t be surprised if he does this to us, too. “This persuasion did not come from Him who calls you,” Paul said in Galatians 5:8 to Christians who were in danger of being deceived, who had begun to believe wrong doctrines and had “fallen from grace” (Galatians 5:4). Yet the Holy Spirit still described God as “Him Who is presently calling you.”
Our Sin Isn’t the Whole Story
My problem was that I allowed the story to end with my sin; but it doesn’t have to be that way! Even in the passage I referenced above, where the Israelites kept falling back into sin, the story doesn’t stop there: “Many times He would deliver them; They, however, were rebellious in their counsel, And so sank down in their iniquity. Nevertheless He looked upon their distress When He heard their cry; And He remembered His covenant for their sake, And relented according to the greatness of His lovingkindness. He also made them objects of compassion In the presence of all their captors” (Psalms 106:44-46).
You might wonder why I underlined the word “nevertheless,” as it’s typically just a transition word. But here, it’s so much more than that! The word, “nevertheless,” is the perfect description of God, and of His abundant lovingkindness — His mercy is “never any less” than it was the very first time He revealed it. It says that many times, they sank back into sin after He had delivered them, yet nevertheless — meaning literally that despite such great abuse, His mercy was never lessened towards them — He looked and listened and remembered and relented. What a God! His compassion is NEVER the less.
I wonder whether we don’t need this truth every bit as much (as believers, even years after coming to the Lord) as unbelievers do when they first turn to Him. Hebrews 3:14 says, “For we have become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm until the end.” What is the “beginning of our assurance”? That “there is no pit beyond the reach of God’s love,” even today! That if we will turn from our sin and come to Christ for cleansing, God is faithful to forgive us and to cleanse us of all unrighteousness. This has to be just as true for us as Christians coming to Christ for the thousandth time as it is for any unbeliever coming to Him for the very first time.
The Full Gospel
I once heard Brother Zac say that two short sentences in John 8:11 contain the “full gospel message” that we preach at NCCF. Those two sentences are, “Jesus said, ‘I do not condemn you. Go, and from now on, sin no more.’” Then Brother Zac said something that floored me. He said, “Many of you take the second sentence seriously, and yet you may find that you fail to obey it. Why? Perhaps you fail in obeying the second sentence (‘go and sin no more’) because you do not really believe the first sentence (‘I do not condemn you’).”
That single statement explained many of my years of struggle! I had been so intent on living a victorious life — as its clearly described in the Bible — but I had not been unshakably established upon the great truth of God’s abundant lovingkindness towards me in Christ, despite it also being so clearly described throughout the Bible. I had not become convinced that God’s mercy was “never the less” towards me when I repented and came to Him in faith.
Beloved brother, sister, is there a sin which has you doubting whether God’s love can reach down so deep? You have to be unshakable in your confidence in God’s willingness to welcome you back to Himself through the blood of Jesus Christ.
We see in Romans 8 that being unshakably established upon God’s love was the secret of the Apostle Paul’s life: “But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. (Why?) Because I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Romans 8:37-39 NASB
Paul overwhelmingly conquered because he was convinced nothing could separate him from God’s love. Why don’t we overwhelmingly conquer in the same way? To be sure, there could be many reasons; there are many potential sources of failure. But one reason might be because we aren’t convinced that God truly always welcomes us when we come cleansed in the blood of Christ. I’ve noticed in my own life the Lord allowed me to fail again and again and again in certain areas exactly because I wasn’t, myself. I had to become convinced that His mercy truly is “never the less.”
Remember Jesus’ comment to Peter? “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded permission to sift you like wheat; but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:31-32).
What an incredible Lord. He didn’t pray that Peter would never fail (as we probably would!), but rather, that even after he failed, yet His faith in God’s love would remain in tact! He’s praying that for you and for me, too! And what a precious demonstration of God’s ultimate purpose that Jesus said, “...after you return, I’ve got a ministry of strengthening for you to perform for your brothers!” God’s purpose for us is not finished with failure. He has a ministry for us, but first, He has to root us in His perfect love, which will always lead us to repentance and drawing near to Him by the blood of Christ.
Do Not Be Afraid
If you’re like me, you may be feeling an acute reluctance to wholeheartedly embrace this truth because you fear that, if you really embrace God’s love, you’ll fall headlong into sin. But you need not have such a fear. Far from it. Being unshakably established in God’s love is the greatest protection against sin that could ever be imagined. “We love Him because He has first loved us.” Beloved, if we struggle to obey Him, (which is surely a mark of loving Him (John 14:15)), perhaps it is just because of this: we have not truly surrendered ourselves to the unfathomable, unconditional love of God.
“Let the wicked forsake his way And the unrighteous man his thoughts; And let him return to the LORD, And He will have compassion on him, And to our God, For He will abundantly pardon. “Because My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,” declares the LORD. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways And My thoughts than your thoughts.”
Isaiah 55:7-9 NASB
He’s not like us. He’s so much greater! He Himself is the good news. That Someone so loving as God exists is the very best news in all the world.