We continued our new series called “Epic Fail?” at Gateway Church in Austin.
This week the message was on Moral Failure.
Discuss ways to apply the message here:
Next Steps for your life group or family dinner.
Listen to my message from Gateway South here:
Notes from my message are here:
We all struggle! We are human! We are broken! We fail!
Failure happens in life, and we may feel like it’s irredeemable, unrecoverable, epic—but our word, or the world’s word, is not the last word. God’s word is the last word on failure.
How we respond to failure will determine the type of person we will become.
- Will we be a victim or a victor?
- Will we turn away from God or turn to God?
Last week we looked at the life of Joseph. He was the victim of jealous brothers and a false accusation from his boss’ wife. Even still, the Scriptures reminded us that
“The Lord was with him and caused everything he did to succeed.” – Genesis 39:23
This makes no sense when we consider success according to the world! Joseph was a slave! Joseph was in prison! You see that word “success” literally means “to push forward.”
No matter what challenges he faced, Joseph did not give up on his faith in God.
His mission – our mission – is to discover life and freedom and bring that life and freedom to others. That can happen regardless of your circumstances.
You may be thinking: “Ok, I can see God bringing good out of bad when someone is the victim of someone else’s choices like Joseph, but what about God bringing good out of the bad we do?
Glad you asked because today we are looking at how God can bring good out of moral failure.
Moral Failure and the Church
I know what some of you are thinking: Moral failure?! This very topic is why I left the church! So many hypocrites! So judgmental!
Let me just acknowledge, people in the church have done a great deal of damage by not living out what they say they believe.
People in the church have done a great disservice by trying to impose morality on people who do not share their values.
People in the church – even well-meaning people have missed something really important when talking about morality.
People in the church felt it was important to make sure everyone knew they were a sinner.
Because of the way people in the church have treated the world, most people already feel judged by God, but most people don’t feel loved by God.
If you think of the church or the Bible as sources of guilt and condemnation or if you feel like you already have it all figured out, I want to encourage you to consider open your heart and mind to a new way of thinking.
Responding with Religion
Generally, we resist a conversation on moral failure for two reasons:
Either we feel we have it all together and don’t have any moral struggles OR we gave up on trying to do that a long time ago.
We either embrace religion and its morality or we reject religion and embrace immorality.
Neither are what God desires..
The religious response is when we feel like we have arrived. We act like we are moral.
- “I am not that bad, or at least I am not as bad as they are or not as bad as I used to be.”
- “I already have this all figured out.”
- “I keep the 10 Commandments.”
The problem with religion is Jesus said the standard is higher than simply not killing people, in Matthew 5 he points out we should not even have anger in our hearts towards others. Jesus said the standard is higher than not having sex with another person’s spouse, we should not even have lustful thoughts in our hearts.
If you grew up in the South or in a culture where perception was more important than reality then you learned to live with a mask on. At church on Sundays and with your neighbors and co-workers during the week, we were taught to do our best impression of what a “good” person should act like.
The danger with this way of living is it keeps us from genuine healing.
We keep putting band aids on wounds that are much deeper than a band aid can remedy.
Back in my grandparents day, everyone acted like they had it all together, but every family had its own secret shame of which no one was ever to speak. My dad’s parents grew up in Kyle and San Marcos. My mom’s parents grew up in St. Louis and San Antonio. I loved my grandparents in spite of their brokenness. As I got older I started to notice unhealthy patterns that led to dysfunction and brokenness. I heard stories of abuse, a nervous breakdown, addiction to alcohol and pornography, co-dependence and enabling, pride, anxiety, anger, and isolation.
People seemed to be moral and upstanding on the surface but in reality there was a great deal of pain and shame hiding in the darkness.
At the time when everyone was trying to act like the Dick Van Dyke Show or Leave it to Beaver, in reality everyone was far more like the Bunkers or the Bundys. (if you are young enough, you are probably wondering what on earth I am talking about) or how everyone was trying to act like the families on The Brady Bunch but everyone was far more like the Simpsons.
You can only act like you have it all together for so long. One day you will be found out. Either you will slip up in public or as people get close to you, they will notice the cracks and the brokenness.
Responding with Immorality
The other response to growing up in an environment where appearances are more important than authenticity, some go the other direction. Consider the children that came of age in the 1960s or 1970s, some embraced living out exactly the opposite of what was perceived as good. Drugs, sex, and rock and roll became their response. They were authentic to how they felt but the consequences were devastating. Overdoses, sexually transmitted diseases, broken homes, and devastation.
The person who has given up on trying to be moral says:
- “This is just who I am.”
- “I am a failure.”
- “I will never be able to change so why try.”
- “I’m not hurting anybody.”
The problem with choosing this route is that with God’s help you actually can change! God’s invitation to follow Him and His ways actually protects us from the pain and consequences of the evil choices we are tempted to make.
Some of us try to live God’s ways without relying on God. As a result, we’ve given up.
Some of us never saw past the hypocrisy or the judgmental nature of the people supposedly following God, to actually see who God really is.
God has been so misrepresented, some of us have missed the beauty of His love for us.
God’s Way (A Third Response)
There is a third option often missed.
A loving and real relationship with God.
We can choose a transformative relationship with God rather than religion or choose your own spirituality.
A religious person asks: “What can I do that makes me look good?”
An immoral person asks: “What can I get away with?”
A person of genuine faith asks: “What is the most loving thing to do?”
- “What does Jesus want me to do?”
- “What is the most loving choice for me to make – to show my love for God and to show my love for others?”
This third approach is why at Gateway we say: “Come As You Are, and you Don’t Have to Stay As You Are.”
36 “Teacher, which command in the law is the most important?”
37 Jesus answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and most important command. 39 And the second command is like the first: ‘Love your neighbor as you love yourself.’ 40 All the law and the writings of the prophets depend on these two commands.” – Matthew 22:36-40
Our morality, our ethics, are boiled down to love.
We have to be honest and authentic with our struggles. We are broken. We are messed up, but when we ask Jesus to forgive us and to lead us, He changes us.
The Scriptures show us God’s ways AND that we God’s help to live out His ways.
Here’s the message of the Bible as summarized by Timothy Keller, a pastor in New York City:
“You are more sinful than you ever dared believe,
but you are more loved and accepted in Christ than you ever did hope.”
Both are true. We are broken but we are loved! Accepting both brings life and freedom like you’ve never experienced before!
The great news is that He came to help – Jesus living a perfect life and dying on the cross for our sins.
- Until we acknowledge we have failed and we need God’s help, He cannot help.
- Until we receive God’s love as expressed through Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, He cannot help.
It’s in that context we can experience the good that God can bring out of our moral failures.
Case Study: King David
David was called “a man after God’s heart” for the following reasons:
- He stepped out in faith to defeat Goliath.
- He honored King Saul (even though the King felt threatened by David and wanted to kill David).
- He delighted in God’s Word meditating on it day and night.
- We can see David’s vibrant relationship with God in the Psalms. These are David’s journal entries where took all of his hopes, dreams, anger, pain, and love to God.
And yet David blew it big time.
From 2 Samuel 11-12 –
- King David is widely considered Israel’s greatest King, yet at this point in the passage, David is home at the palace when all other Kings are at battle.
- If David had been where he was supposed to be, he would have never fallen. He was skipping work maybe because he felt he deserved a break or fighting in battle was beneath him.
- While walking on the rooftop of the palace, he notices a woman bathing on her rooftop.
- David inquires about the woman.
- He’s told her name is Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah who is at war on behalf of David’s army.
- Bathsheba is brought to David. They sleep together, and Bathsheba gets pregnant.
- To cover his tracks, David calls for Uriah to come back from the battle, gets him drunk in the palace and sends him home to be with his wife.
- Uriah, in an amazing display of honor and integrity, even while intoxicated, doesn’t go home to his wife.
- David orders Uriah back to the battle field with instructions to place him at the head of the line, where the fighting is most intense. Then David gives instructions to the generals, when the battle rages, pull back from Uriah, and leave him to die.
Nathan, who was the prophet of God to Israel, comes to David and tells a story to the King involving a rich man with many sheep who stole the one sheep owned by a poor man.
David burned with anger against the man and said to Nathan, “As surely as the Lord lives, the man who did this must die! He must pay for that lamb four times over, because he did such a thing and had no pity.”
Then Nathan said to David, “You are the man!” 2 Samuel 12:5-7
Lessons from David
- One bad choice can quickly turn into a series of bad choices.
- What seems harmless at first – noticing a woman bathing turned into an affair which turned into lying which turned into murder.
- So many times David could have stopped and avoided the pain and devastation he was causing.
- If David had responded differently to Bathsheba. Rather than continuing to look, if he had chosen to take his thoughts captive, he would have never gone down this road.Now you may be thinking, but he’s a man. All men are visual. All men would take a second look. Looking is free! Is it really free? Consider: do you want other men to look at your wife or your daughter or your mom the way you are tempted to look at the women in your life?If David had deferred his masculinity to his faith, David would have made a different decision. The battle in the mind would have been won before any evil actions had been taken.
- David’s response reconnects him to God.
David’s response shows us how we should respond when we fail. David responded with soulful repentance.
David did not try to blame others. David took responsibility for his actions.
When we refuse to take responsibility, we abdicate our opportunity to make things right.
The good that came this moment was a restored relationship with God. Others have learned how to respond through Psalm 51. This passage has been a great comfort for many through the generations who have found themselves confounded by their own missteps and sin.
In the midst of Nathan’s confrontation, David wrote:
God, be merciful to me because you are loving. Because you are always ready to be merciful, wipe out all my wrongs.
2 Wash away all my guilt and make me clean again.
4 You are the only one I have sinned against; I have done what you say is wrong.
You are right when you speak and fair when you judge.
5 I was brought into this world in sin. In sin my mother gave birth to me….
7 Take away my sin, and I will be clean. Wash me, and I will be whiter than snow….
10 Create in me a pure heart, God, and make my spirit right again.
11 Do not send me away from you or take your Holy Spirit away from me.
12 Give me back the joy of your salvation. Keep me strong by giving me a willing spirit.
13 Then I will teach your ways to those who do wrong, and sinners will turn back to you….
16 You are not pleased by sacrifices, or I would give them. You don’t want burnt offerings.
17 The sacrifice God wants is a broken spirit. God, you will not reject a heart that is broken and sorry for sin. – Psalm 51
David still suffered the painful consequences of his failures.
- Bathsheba lost her husband Uriah.
- The baby did not survive.
- David lost respect among his men.
- David introduced treachery and adultery and destruction into his family that affected his children and grandchildren.
Too often we blame God for the consequences of our choices.
No matter how broken you may be, you can start again with God. He can make you pure. He can give you peace. He can transform you to bring transformation.
I’ve learned that everything, even my mistakes, my moral failures, in the hands of Jesus, can still be resources in his hands for the making of a beautiful story.
You may be thinking: “Great news! Since God can bring good out of my moral failures, then the more I fail the more good I can do! I can live any way I want!!”
When we ignore God’s ways, we will find ourselves back into trouble.
- God’s Word shows us God’s ways.
- His ways are not the ways of the world.
- His ways protect us.
- His ways guide us into a better future – a future where we love the way He loves us.
Consider: A Grape Jolly Rancher vs. a Grape
The counterfeit is far sweeter than the real thing. It tastes really, really good!
What’s odd though is that the more you eat the fake grape, the more you crave of it.
The next thing you know: grape jolly ranchers can make you sick!
But the real thing – God’s version of the grape. It’s delicious. It’s sweet AND good for you. It actually makes you feel better in the long run.
Some of us have lived so long experiencing the counterfeits offered by the world,
we are missing the beauty God has for us.
Search God’s Word for what’s best! With His help, live according to His ways!
The world may think you are crazy, but you will be glad you trusted God with the decisions you make!
Don’t let the enemy or the world lie to you about your identity. When you choose to follow Jesus – you are a child of the King and able to live a new life!
- I refuse to believe that just because I’m a man, I have to give into lustful thoughts.
- I refuse to believe that just because I’m an American, I have to give into consumerism and greed.
- I refuse to believe that just because I’m a Texan, I have to listen to country music!
I refuse to take on the ways of the world as my own. I have been rescued by God so that I might live for Him.
If you have asked Jesus to save you, to lead you, then you have too.
The world needs us to take how we live seriously.
As followers of Christ, we should refuse to take on the stereotype of being hypocritical or judgmental or afraid of the world. We should be known by our faith, our love, and our hope!
- The world is so anxious, the world needs us to show them the peace we have found.
- The world is so angry, the world needs us to show them the joy we have found.
- The world is so broken, the world needs us to show them the wholeness we have found.
When we surrender ourselves to Jesus, He forgives us and empowers us with His Spirit. We go from broken to whole, or another way to say that – holy.
As children of the King, with His help and a willingness to sacrifice, to practice, and to do our part in growing in our faith, we can become more and more like Jesus. We can become holy just as He is holy.
You may be thinking, but you don’t understand. My family is a mess! I am genetically a mess!
Have you considered that God put you in your family so that you might find His healing and bring that healing to everyone who is older than you and everyone who comes after you?!
The truth is God is great and he is immeasurably able to take your Epic Fail and turn it into resource for his glory.
God loves you.
You can choose to follow Him or reject Him.
Because He loves you, you choose to live differently to honor Him not to win His love. You are already loved!