A few years ago I was reading a book a man I greatly admired: a pastor whom God had used tremendously to build His kingdom. He was very famous and wrote a very successful book that pointed people to grow in their walk with God. I was thoroughly enjoying his book when I came to the part where writes about his own personal experience with a child who was diagnosed with cancer. Through this event he says, "Never once did I question God's love for me. That was settled at the cross." I remember reading that and at first being so discouraged. I felt so inadequate, like I was never going to be able to measure up to people like this spiritual giant. But I was also irritated as well. It felt so . . . phoney. I mean really, you NEVER questioned God's love? And it brought up a longstanding pet peeve that I had about other authors as well. These same kinds of themes seemed to permeate the good 'ol Christian classics that I had read. These men would talk about their walk with God (or what a walk with God should look like) in such terms that it almost seemed as if they were from another planet. Instead of being challenged in my faith into a deeper walk with God, I was often overwhelmed with a sense of inadequacy and condemnation. I knew that if I was honest I was nowhere near where these men were modelling themselves to be.
But one day as I was reading Scripture I saw things with a new eye. I was reading about Peter in the Garden of Gethsemane the night Jesus was betrayed. I had always wondered why Peter wasn't immediately arrested for cutting off the high priest's servant's ear. I had read the passage many times before but had missed one important detail. In John 18 we read that Jesus saw the arresting party and went out to meet them first. As He approached them, the Scripture says that He opened up just a tiny window of His power and flattened the whole group to the ground with His divine glory. For just a brief moment, those around Him experienced Jesus in all His divinity. It clearly frightened the soldiers and it obviously emboldened Peter who was watching. That's why Peter was so brave. And it's also why He fell so hard. Peter was relying upon what he could see with his own eyes. He reasoned that now Jesus was going to let these men have it, so let's get at 'em! He relied upon his flesh and when Jesus rebuked him, healed the servant's ear and allowed Himself to be arrested. After that Peter realized the horrible truth: Jesus was going to be arrested; and he was wasn't nearly as brave or godly as he thought he was.
We all know the story of what happened next: Peter fell--HARD. He denied Jesus three times, cursing and swearing to boot. But rather than this leading to a life of substandard spirituality, Peter went on to become one of the great leaders of the early church, greater even than all the authors of the spiritual classics of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. How could this happen? How could God use such a bumbling idiot after he had failed so completely? The answer is: grace. Jesus extended grace to Peter. He forgave Peter unconditionally, just as he forgave Moses for his lack of faith (and murdering an Egyptian), just as He forgave the sexually immoral, the swindlers, the brutal oppressors of the church, and just as He forgives me. I realized that I have often tried to stand before God in my own righteousness and fail miserably. When I think like this I live in fear: fear of being found out, fear of my righteous veneer being stripped away--fear of being exposed.
Far too many people rely upon an outward veneer to mask their true spiritual condition. We succumb to the pressure to appear to be something we aren't: to look like we've gotten past our struggles with sin. We start our walk with Him understanding this implicitly, but it doesn't take long before we seek to create an identity that covers up the fact that we are sinners. We spend a whole lot of time either excusing our sin by comparing ourselves to those around us who are worse, or we create a false identity of superficial holiness and become concerned about only our outward appearance instead of the condition of our heart.
There is victory over sin, but it isn't found in our own efforts alone. Victory over sin is found in losing ourselves in Christ. We become less--He becomes more. This means that we don't try and hide our sin: we allow it to be exposed so that we can see things as they really are. This leads to true repentance. And when this happens, something beautiful happens to us: we feel truly accepted and loved. Allow God to expose you--and for His grace to change you. This is where you will be truly accepted.