Q: I just got done reading your book, Unashamed, and it was all centered around God and how He can forgive us, but I honestly don’t think that He’d want to forgive me for my sexual addiction, substance abuse, an eating disorder, self-harm, sending inappropriate pictures…the list could go on forever. I just feel like these things make me nasty and gross and I don’t know why God would want to forgive a total you know what like me. I think the Bible is pretty clear those kinds of people don’t go to heaven so I think I’m screwed.
Thanks for your honesty. You’re right—Unashamed is completely centered on God’s ability and willingness to forgive, but I didn’t spend enough time explaining how hard it can be to understand and believe. I’m sorry. If I could go back and add another chapter about accepting God’s forgiveness, and learning to forgive ourselves, I would!
I’m sorry life feels so out of control. I know how hating yourself and what you do spins you on a cycle of more self-hate and shame. Just so you know, nothing you confessed to shocks me. And—trust me—it doesn’t shock God either! We’re talking about a God who… well, it seems He purposely chose the biggest mess-ups in history and worked His kingdom plans through them. Not many people read through the entire Bible cover to cover, but if you do, you’ll read story after story of God using shady characters who were involved in lying, cheating, sexual sin, substance abuse, and all-around general bad-to-the-bone-ness. Seriously. The Old and New Testaments are both stuffed with stories of God using outsiders, outcasts, and big-time sinners. But to get to your question—why? Why would God use broken, messed up people when it seems there are plenty of “good” people out there who would probably screw up less and obey more? Why is God drawn to forgive and use people who have a long history of messed-up behavior?
I admit I’m just a puny human trying to understand an infinitely wise, good, and mysterious God, but here’s my best guess…
For one, God hates pride in people (see Proverbs 3:34, James 4:6, 1 Peter 5:5). And the proudest people I know are actually the ones who think they have their stuff together. Most of us who are (or have been) stuck in secret sins know what a mess we are! We might be confused about a lot of things, but we’re crystal clear on this: we’ve got issues! 😉 There’s a level of humility that comes in knowing we can’t get our act together on our own. We need God! And God likes to be needed.
I think there’s another, even more important reason God chooses the biggest messes though: Forgiving sinners shows off God’s grace.
See, grace isn’t grace if it’s earned. The biblical idea of grace, charis, means “gift.” It’s given, not purchased. That’s why you can’t earn it by serving at a soup kitchen, memorizing Bible verses or attending church on Sundays. And you can’t un-earn it by doing bad, stupid or gross things. A friend of mine, Preston Sprinkle, has written a raw and un-sanitized book about God’s grace that I think will blow your mind. It’s called Charis: God’s Scandalous Grace for Us. His book might open your eyes to see that you’re in good company among those who need God’s illogical grace.(Note: It’s written for college students and adults, and he uses some pretty raw language about sin. Nothing that isn’t in the Bible already, but I want to give you that head’s up.)
God doesn’t expect us to get our act together before He’ll forgive us. What would there be to forgive if we were all shiny, clean and perfect? The heartbeat of grace is that God offers forgiveness while we’re still screwed up! The Apostle Paul put it this way:
God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. For since our friendship with God was restored by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies, we will certainly be saved through the life of his Son (Romans 5:8,10).
God delights in saving, redeeming, and restoring the biggest mess-ups in history. That includes thugs and theologians, prostitutes and pastors, you and me. He wants all of us to turn from our sin and love Him with our lives. No one is too good or too bad for God’s grace to save them. But here’s the hard part: We have to choose to believe it. We have to choose to believe it so deep down that we let it lead us to the Cross and change our identity. Because without that change in identity, we can’t live in the power of the Holy Spirit. And without living in the power of the Holy Spirit, we’re going to stay chained to temptation and sin.
I’m praying for you today, beautiful sister—that God will break through the walls in your heart that are keeping you from accepting His true forgiveness and free grace. And I’m also praying that you’ll be able to forgive yourself for the things your Daddy has already chosen to forgive.