There are defining moments in everyone’s life, some more dramatic than others. Perhaps you look back over your life thus far and see an important decision that stands out as one such moment; a decision that shaped the course of your future from there on out. Maybe it was an event, like a stroke or accident that left you or a loved one incapacitated and altered the course of the rest of your life. Some defining moments are good. Many would point to Martin Luther King, Jr’s famous “I have a dream” speech as a moment that defined not only his life, but much of the civil rights movement. Other defining moments are less illustrious. Consider the college student who killed himself in 2010 after his roommate taped him and his same-sex partner in the act. People who didn’t know anything about him at all will remember him for this. It’s a tragic defining moment. My guess is that your defining moments are somewhere in between those two extremes, but first, let’s look at some more examples.
One of the most comforting things about the Bible is that the people depicted in it are so…well, human. The Bible doesn’t whitewash their sins and mistakes. Sometimes it almost seems that the writers go out of the way to point out flaws in the main characters in order to make the sinlessness of Jesus stand in sharp contrast. Consider some of the heroes of faith—giants, if you will. People like Abraham, Judah, Moses, Aaron, David, Elijah, Matthew, Peter, and Paul. I look forward to meeting every one of them someday in heaven, but each of these people had some serious shortcomings in their lives, things that today would be the end of their pristine reputations, things that would define them in the eyes of the world.
- Abraham tried to “help” God by his affair with Hagar, hoping to produce the promised offspring through her rather than through his own wife, Sarah.
- Judah, through whose family line would be born the Messiah, fell victim to Tamar’s prostitute charade and had a fling with her that resulted in her pregnancy with twins.
- Moses initially fled Egypt because he killed a man and was found out. He spent the next 40 years in the desert until he was called from the burning bush.
- Aaron, the first high priest, stumbled badly when he made a golden calf for the Israelites to worship when Moses was so long in coming down Mount Sinai.
- David, a “man after God’s own heart,” committed both adultery and murder in the whole sordid Bathsheba affair.
- Elijah, after seeing the Lord’s bold display of power on Mount Carmel with the prophets of Baal, fled for his life after Queen Jezebel threatened him, ran into the desert and sat down under a broom tree and pleaded for God to end his life.
- Matthew was a tax collector, one whom his own people considered a traitor. No one would have given him a chance, but Jesus called him from that lifestyle and made him a disciple, one who went on to write a gospel account that we still read today.
- Peter rebuked Jesus when He predicted His own death, and later after vowing to die with Jesus, he denied even knowing Him three times.
- Paul, one of the greatest missionaries of all time, who wrote nearly half of the books in our New Testament, had been a zealous persecutor of the early Christian church. He approved of Stephen’s death by stoning, and was on his way to Damascus to bring back Christians as prisoners to Jerusalem. Yet God called him away from that life and made him an apostle to the Gentiles, one who would suffer persecution himself for bearing the name of Christ.
Just look at that laundry list of sins and failures. These are the great saints of old, people, and look at the impressive number of sins they have between them—adultery, murder, idol worship, cheating, doubting God, denying the Lord, and even persecuting God’s people. These aren’t just your little “petty” sins like gossip or white lies. These are big sins, ones that today would hit the headlines. Imagine what would happen today if a powerful religious leader were to be found worshiping a golden idol. It’s my guess that he wouldn’t hold his position too much longer. Think about what would happen if a state leader was found to be having an affair and then hired a hit man to take out the pesky husband in the situation. What would church members say if a prominent and respected male in the church had sired twins for his daughter-in-law? Or what would Christians today think if an ISIS member who was rounding up and crucifying Christians in Syria suddenly had a “conversion” moment and wanted to join the Christian church? This is the stuff of which headlines are made. In a world where bad news and gossip spreads almost instantly around social media, these people wouldn’t stand a chance today. Just think of the splash this stuff could make on the front page of The Enquirer—“Tamar confirms, ‘It’s Twins!’ Exclusive interview inside…” or “Who’s the Daddy? Tamar tells all…” There’s no doubt about it, all of those things listed above could very easily have become defining moments for those individuals. But they weren’t.
What, then, defined these saints of old? Grace, my friend. God’s abundant and lavish grace. He didn’t cast them away because of their sins, however serious those sins may have been. All of those people believed by grace in God’s promise of forgiveness and salvation through His Son. Keep in mind the words of Jeremiah 31:34—“For I will forgive their wickedness and remember their sins no more,” God promises. The world may not forget the wrongs you have committed, but God does. Those wrongs don’t define you in God’s eyes. No matter what you have done, God’s grace is for you. What is there in your past of which you are ashamed? An illegitimate pregnancy? An abortion? A stint with drugs or alcohol? An affair? Cheating on your taxes? Murder? For those who believe in Christ, even those things need not define you. Yes, there are earthly consequences for such choices, but eternally there need not be, for Christ has already paid that penalty for you. “If we confess our sins, he [God] is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness,” we are assured in 1 John 1:9. Even if your earthly choices have become a defining moment in the eyes of the world, in God’s eyes something else defines you. His grace. You are His child, and ultimately, that’s all that matters.