Failing is an inescapable reality to the Christian; failure is our constant companion and falling short a function of our daily lives. “Be perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect.” Jesus commanded (Matthew 5v48) and who among us could claim to even come close to obedience such as this?
Immediately, it is necessary to backtrack and say that success should also be part and parcel of the Christian life. We should be growing, maturing, being oh-so-slowly transformed into the image of Christ. It is good to look back over the years and see the areas we have had success in, the sins conquered, the increase in affections for God, the increase in love for his people, the increase in giving, the greater faith, love and hope we have and the trials and afflictions that have been overcome. Praise be to God, for the Holy Spirit is in the business of making us more holy.
This talk of failure is not meant to be discouraging or to conjure up abject pessimism. It is meant to highlight two important truths: the grace of God and the sinfulness of our hearts.
For while we are successful we are never successful to the degree we could be, would be and should be. The evil we do not want to do we will still do; the good we want to do we still leave undone. For every mountaintop scaled there remains a higher peak of spirituality, a greater degree of love, a deeper understanding, a brighter hope, a more victorious faith.
“Woe is me,” Isaiah cried “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.” (Isaiah 6v5). Compared to the radiant holiness of God then how can a godly man do anything but fall on his knees in humility? Christians still live in this woeful reality where we fall so far short of the perfection we want to have.
As Christians we must live with the fact that our best is never good enough. Our sinful nature, while being gradually transformed, is still within, still giving us a natural bent to forget God, “prone to wander Lord I feel it, prone to leave the God I love,” as the old hymn goes.
It becomes necessary, imperative, to learn how to deal with failure. We must learn how to deal with the sin in our lives and how to pick ourselves up when we fall. This process starts where our Christian life began: at the cross.
The puritans said that man soared to heaven on the wings of repentance and faith. When we fail these are the two wings we need to flap. On the one hand, repentance and a turning away from sin and a turning to God. On the other, faith, a faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ as our substitute for sin and our righteousness. The mark of an individual saved by the gospel is not that they do not sin but that in sinning they run towards God rather than away.
It is possible to fail at failing - when we give way to self pity, start to blame others, doubt God's love for us, even begin to doubt our own faith. Successful failure involves a deepening appreciation of our own weakness, an increasing awareness of our dependency on God, a stronger sorrow for sin and an increasing desperate clinging to the cross and the forgiveness we find there. We need to be repenters of our sins, learners from them and seekers after God.
The great paradox of the Christian life is that while we are constant failure then we have a certain victory. For our victory is not dependant on our works but rather the work of Jesus Christ.
Therefore, in failing we can still be confident of our victory, the sure and certain hope of heaven, the sure and certain fact that our sins have been paid for, the sure and certain truth that our Saviour is risen and he is coming again.
It is applicable to the church as well. It is easy to list the flaws in the church, it falls so far short of what it could be and it is not wrong to be troubled by this. But we must remember as well that the church on earth is a victorious church. The gates of hell will not prevail against it. All the armies in all the world could not destroy it. Again, this fact is rooted in Christ, for he is the head of the church and he will not see it conquered.
In 1 Corinthians 15 Paul writes: "Where oh death is your victory? Where oh death is your sting?... thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ." (v55, 57). The Christian faith is a victorious faith, bowed but unbroken by all the hardships of this fallen world, bowed but unbroken by all the sins in our fallen hearts, bowed but not broken by the enemy of death.
The encouragement to us is that even in failure we know victory for God will use our failures to our good. And though we may walk dark and bitter paths because of them Jesus is our Good Shepherd who will lead us to his banqueting table and see us safely to heaven.
"No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us."
Romans 8 v 37
Jesus is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords and he has won and purchased a victory for us that cannot be taken away. In failure, trouble, sin, even death we find victory. Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Happy Reformation Day! May I direct you in the way of this stirring pep talk.