When I think of 2019, I am ashamed. On December 31st I sat on my bed wishing I could join the droves of people posting with thankfulness to God about the personal, relational, or ministerial successes of the year. When I reflected on what my own life looked like during the past twelve months, my heart sank and my eyes stung with tears. While the Lord was still good, merciful, and worked in mighty ways, I couldn’t sugarcoat it: I failed miserably.
I did not love the local church as I should have. I did not love brothers and sisters as I should have. I did not love the lost as I should have. Ultimately, I did not love the Lord as I should have. While these things are true for all believers to varying degrees, the sin pervading my life this past year was especially potent and bitter. And this season occurred while I was in seminary training for lifelong ministry service. The irony was almost unbearable.
There is a lot of advice floating around for seminary students—how to be disciplined, how to lead, how to learn—but what do we do when we fail? Or (as was the question in my mind on the last day of 2019) how can I possibly participate in the work of God when I am so unworthy? Fortunately, the Bible speaks to this question which haunts the hearts of seminary students just as it has spoken to every follower of Jesus Christ for the past 2,000 years.
Behold God’s glory.
In order to walk in the light, we must first be able to discern between light and darkness. In a society where relativism rules as the supreme doctrine and anything other than full acceptance of any behavior is unacceptable, the people of God must be careful to heed the command of holiness given to us in God’s Word. Even within the church, our eyes can be drawn to tradition rather than truth, and our hearts can take good examples and elevate them to idols. We can only walk in the light, in true holiness, once we have glimpsed the light of the glory of God.
The prophet Isaiah’s record of his vision of the temple of the Lord shows us a proportional response to beholding the holy majesty of God: “And I said: ‘Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!’” (Isaiah 6:5).
We see the glory of God on display most clearly in the person of Jesus Christ. Because of his work on the cross, the veil of the temple was torn—eliminating separation between God and His people. Now, “we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit” (2 Cor. 3:18). An essential component of this transformation is repentance.
Repent of your sin.
Gazing at such beauty and holiness can be painful in the sense that it heightens our awareness of our lack and inadequacy. When we gaze at the glory of God, we are able to rightly understand our position before Him apart from Christ: lost, unclean, unworthy. Though our flesh wars against it, the humility to recognize our need for God’s forgiveness and redemption is a gift.
As shown in the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector Jesus told in Luke 18:9-14, humility breeds repentance and guards against self-righteousness. It protects us from appealing to God and appeasing our conscience by comparing our actions to those of other students, professors, ministry leaders, churches, or the lost. Humility allows us to join the repentant tax collector in saying, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!”
Those of us in vocational ministry often need the reminder that this mercy is not dependent upon our works. No amount of sharing the Gospel, no number of eloquent sermons, and no worldly confirmation of success defines our standing before our holy God. While our position before the Father apart from Christ is one of lostness, in Christ “we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace” (Eph. 1:7).
Rather than hiding yourself out of guilt, fear, or shame when you recognize your sin, you can lean in towards Christ and His body the Church knowing you have been covered and washed clean by the precious blood of your Savior. You can joyfully obey Scripture’s command to “confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed” (James 5:16). You can fix our eyes upon the glory of God knowing “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1).
Answer the call of the Lord.
Failing to love and obey God should cause our hearts to sorrow, but if there is genuine repentance, we should not despair. Though it is a grace of God to see our sin and lament over it, the Christian life does not stop there. In Isaiah 6, something remarkable happens to the prophet after his guilt is absolved and his sin atoned for by the Lord:
“And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?’ Then I said, ‘Here I am! Send me’” (v. 8).
The good news for seminary students (and all who follow Christ) is there is not only forgiveness in Christ, there is redemption. Beloved, repentant sinners are who God has appointed to accomplish the work of His Kingdom. In Christ, we are cherished children who act as ambassadors of grace in this fallen world on behalf of our Heavenly Father. Empowered by the Holy Spirit, we can be compelled by the glory of God to turn from our sin and bring the Good News of the gospel to the ends of the earth.