Sunday, February 27, 2011
God's Answer For The Adulterer
For the past year and a half I have been beating my head against the wall over a theological point.
I love my wife, Cynthia. I have an astonishing love for her. I would lay down my life for her. I wouldn't change a thing about my love for her. What we have is real, amazing and I have always wanted a marriage like this.
At the same time, to get her, I broke God's law - the seventh commandment - to have her.
My previous marriage to Angelica ended in divorce after she and I found no reconciliation, I alienated and did horrible damage to my former congregation, I did disastrous harm to relationships within my own family, I hurt friendships with other pastors and those I have known for years, and tarnished my name within the community.
And above all else, my sin - the sin of adultery - was one among many of my sins - that sent Christ to His death on the cross at Calvary. God's only Son died for that sin.
I will be horribly and terribly honest with you. And I'll even phrase it in the way that my current pastor said it. I sinned willingly and boldly in the face of God and stuck my middle finger in His face and said, "I don't care what you think, I don't care what your Word says, I'm doing this anyway."
And I'll even go a step further. I love Cynthia. I'm happier now than I've ever been.
Don't get me wrong. I still suffer from the pain I caused my God and the people I hurt. But I have the love a husband should have for His wife.
Under the watchcare of my current pastor, I feel I have repented and asked for forgiveness. I have gone to those who I have hurt and asked for forgiveness and received some of it.
Many of you who read this blog over the past year have called me out on some things. I've been accused of justifying my sin. At times, I have. And early on, I was attempting to.
I'm sad to say it, but in a post on Bathsheba, that's exactly what I was doing.
Now, as God has humbled me, as time has moved on since my fall, I have been overwhelmed by His grace and have found some solace.
However, as a theologian, I have always been troubled by one question. A question that has kept me up at night. A question that bothers me and Cynthia. A question that has rattled around in my mind and will not go away and finally came to the surface as I prayed on the way home from work the other night.
I prayed, "Lord, thank you for Cynthia and her wonderful love. Thank you for the gift of her. I wouldn't trade her for anything."
But then I prayed, "Lord, what do I do about the sin I committed to get her? I've already confessed it? It is a slap in your holy face. Your Son died for the sin that I committed. I don't feel like I deserve to be happy since my blatant, outright, stubborn, filthy sin led me to this point."
It is a difficult problem. It is seemingly impossible. I finally had to tackle it to find peace.
How can I dare be happy with her while knowing I committed a vile sin to be in her arms? A sin that sent Christ to the cross to bear the wrath of God? A sin I committed while pastoring a church?
I shared this with Cynthia. She said, "What about people who have children out of wedlock? They sin and get to go on. It's a sin yet they are happy to have the child."
She made a good point. But in a lot of adulterous affairs, many end up reconciling. Angelica and I did not.
In my own mind and in my seminary trained brain, I have, for lack of a better term, been trying to reconcile or justify my happiness with Cynthia versus my transgressions of God's law. It has not worked. It has failed miserably.
Then, I was struck with a thought.
It's not really about how I see it. It's not about how others view it. It's about how God sees it. I have to go to the Word.
But even then I still have to be careful, lest I bastardize God's Word to justify my sin. Too often, pastors (myself included), use God's Word as a tool for justification instead of allowing it to speak for what it says.
So where do I begin? With my sin. Yes, without a doubt, I broke God's law. There is no getting around it. I took into my arms a woman who was not my wife. I have no excuses. Regardless of the problems within my marriage, this was unacceptable to God. Brad, my pastor, told me how he explains this to other pastors with whom he speaks about me.
He said, "Arthur committed a vile sin. He sinned knowingly and often. He and Angelica could not reconcile with one another. He did not decide to live a life of celibacy. Instead, he kept piling on sin upon sin in the face of God. He was wrong to do so. They married and found a church home. Arthur repented, began to humble himself and continues to do so."
Friends, I'm no saint, that's for sure. I am a sinner to the core. I am a wretch who willingly broke God's law, and as Brad says, I attempted to push God off His throne and make my own law on my own terms.
How do I begin to reconcile what my life looks like right now? How can I even begin to enjoy my happiness with Cynthia knowing that I am a vile law-breaker?
There is a simple answer. God has given me more grace than I deserve.
Let me quickly state what Paul told us. That does not give us the right to sin more so that grace may abound more. I get ill when people come to me (and it happens) and ask me if they should leave their spouse and commit adultery. My answer? NO! They say, "Well you did it." My answer? "That doesn't make it right."
In spite of my sin, God gave me and Cynthia grace. Abounding, free and unfettered grace. Grace I didn't deserve. When I sinned, I deserved the Ananias and Sapphira treatment. I deserved to be struck dead on the spot the second I began to think about adultery. But God didn't do that. He was long-suffering and patient with me.
Did I suffer consequence? Yes. Did others suffer pain because of my sin? Unfortunately, yes. And I will think of that every day for the rest of my life.
But still, the question is not answered. How do I reconcile the two? My happiness with Cynthia and my breaking of God's law and Christ's suffering to be with her? The sovereigntist in me has been longing to reconcile these two!
Again, I was struck because of God's Word.
I am a forgiven child of God. There is no reason for me to attempt to reconcile the two. God has already reconciled these two things for me. And all praise to Him for that.
He is the God who when I begged Him for forgiveness, He "forgave all my iniquity" and He "redeemed my life from the pit." He is the God who "does not deal with us according to our sins nor repay us according to our iniquities." Not only that, but He took my sin and removed it from me as far as the east is from the west.
He basically looked at me when He forgave me and said, "Arthur, I have forgiven and forgotten." And each day when I remember it, agonize over it, and replay it in my mind and feel guilt, He reminds me, "You're the only one bringing it up, I've forgotten it. It's been covered by my Son."
What a wonderful thing grace is. Undeserved. But so freely received by me.
Others may cast stones or try to label me, but Christ never will. God will not hold my adultery against me ever again. Even if I try to bring it up or drag myself down because of it, He never will. Know why? Because I am His child.
I was once an adulterer, but I have been washed, sanctified, and justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of God.
Friends, this grace is ours to have. It is ours to receive and worship Christ for. It is not there for us to engorge ourselves with sin so that we may have it. But it is there so that we may be cleansed from unrighteousness and live a holy life pleasing to God.
No one in this world, including myself, has a right to condemn me. I have been justified - not because of anything I have done - but because of what Christ did.
How do I theologically reconcile my current happiness with my sin against God? I don't have to. I throw my theological musings out the dang door. My ivory tower theology has no room here. Only the love of Christ operates here.
There is no need to reconcile it theologically. Christ has reconciled the situation with His sacrifice - once and for all. That is my hope. That is my rock. That is my everything.
I do not boast in my strength to get to this point. I do not boast in my cleverness, my education, my perseverance or my swagger. I boast in the grace of Christ which has completely covered my transgression and has said to me, "Your sin has been removed, now move on and live a life pleasing to me from this point forward."
What now? I know exactly what the adulterous woman felt like in John 8:10-11. A woman who had been caught red handed in the act of adultery. A woman, who by Old Testament standards, deserved to be stoned. A woman who was shamed and didn't have a friend in the world - except Jesus.
He said to her something that I now understand when the people all dropped their stones and walked away.
Jesus said to her, "Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?"
She said, "No one, Lord."
Jesus said, "Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on, sin no more." (ESV)
Christ's love and grace are overwhelming. Without them, I would still be trying to reconcile God's wrath and breaking His law with my current happiness. Instead, I now understand His love toward me.
He didn't give His son so I could commit adultery. He did give His son so that I could be set free from sin.
And now that He has forgotten and forgiven, now that He has humbled me, I can be free to be happy with Cynthia.
More importantly, I am happy to have a God who doesn't give up on me and loves me for who I am.