When You Fail

I come from a holiness background.

Goodness, those are loaded words.  “Holiness” is a loaded word in the evangelical world.  It’s a great word, don’t get me wrong.  It’s what we’re called to, to be holy as God is holy.  It’s what the Christian heart longs for.  It’s what God is doing in us.  But when you use the word “holiness” in the context of a church or a denomination or a Christian tradition, it can get a little lost in translation.  And if I was more concise and told you I came from a CONSERVATIVE holiness background, you might see the baggage I’m referring to.

We learned that holiness was about what you wore.  It was about the language you used.  It was about the music you listened to and the movies you watched (or rather, the fact that you didn’t watch movies).  Holiness for us was the fact that we didn’t drink, and we didn’t use bad language, and we didn’t smoke.  Holiness was about the things we did and didn’t do.

But even more than all that, our understanding of holiness included the full weight of the belief that we could lose our salvation.  We weren’t eternally secure.  Sin, anything we did that was out of line or living in the “gray areas,” was a rejection of God and put us in danger of eternal hellfire.  We learned that to backslide meant you were no longer saved, and God would let us walk away from him if we chose to.

Now, before you think I’ve strayed a long way from my upbringing, let me clarify some things.  I believe that Jesus wants to give us victory over sin.  I believe in sanctification, being made holy and righteous as we walk in submission to the Holy Spirit.  I believe that God is a God of free will, and that we have the ultimate choice to reject God and walk away from our salvation.  And I do not resent my heritage.  My conservative holiness legacy comes with more good than bad, and I’m grateful for the tribes that have made me who I am.

What I’ve come to understand in my walk with God is the extravagant grace that we find when we fall broken and poured out at the throne of Heaven.  I’ve come to understand that if sin is a willful transgression of a known law of God, then I have some freedom to choose any number of options that are not sin.  I’ve come to understand that when I do mess up, when I choose my selfish desires over God’s best for me, that I find forgiveness and healing in the arms of the Comforter who knows my heart.  I’ve come to understand that being made holy is something that happens in the heart and is then lived out in a life that reflects the heart of Christ.  I’ve come to understand that the grace that goes before also pursues, like the shepherd after the lost lamb.

I find the grace of God in the stories of Hagar, of Jacob, of David, of Gomer, of the woman at the well, of Peter, and Paul, and Mary Magdalene. I find the grace of God throughout all of Scripture as I am reminded that God’s story is told through broken and at times sinful people who were redeemed, healed, forgiven, and then used by God to tell the story of salvation.  I find grace in the prayer that Jesus taught us to pray when he said, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

As we are being made holy, we must learn to confess and repent when we fail to choose God’s best for us.  And then we must learn to rest in the extravagant grace and forgiveness of the God whose very holiness is defined as love.

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