Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Grace Greater than All Our Sin

The following is a chapter from a book by Elisabeth Elliot that richly blessed and encouraged me, so I wanted to pass it along, as I'm sure it will impact others with similar experiences as well. There are some important truths here.

"If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make Him out to be a liar and His word has no place in our lives." -1 John 1:8-10

A fifteen-year-old girl made up her mind to disobey God and her mother. She gave away her virginity. Her excuses: "Daddy didn't love me very much," and "everybody's doing it."

She now writes, "I was not a Christian at the time but I knew of God and knew in my heart that it was wrong, as Romans 1:20 says, I was "without excuse." The truth in God's eyes was that I had chosen to live in disobedience. I followed with several meaningless relationships until I met my husband, we became Christians by God's grace, and married.

"I am now thirty years old, married to a loving and God-fearing husband, and have three beautiful, healthy children. I am able to stay at home in a very little house, and it would appear that I have all the world at my fingertips. And yet fifteen years later this sin is a grievous weight on my heart. I had made a mistake I could never change.

"The more I study God's Word and the more I desire His presence in my life, the more I grieve over this sin. Just this past year I have begun to realize that the Father's calling for purity and holiness is for me. The Lord spoke to me through Hebrews 10:22, 23: "Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience, and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for He who promised is faithful."

"Is it possible? I wondered. Could the Lord not only forgive me, but cleanse my conscience and my body?

"My husband, knowing what I was dealing with, decided that we should separate physically for a time so that I could seek the Lord fully and be dealt with by His hand. So he moved into the guest room and was very patient and supportive, always ready to listen with love and forgiveness.

"My prayer for this time was Proverbs 20:27, "The lamp of the Lord searches the spirit of a man; it searches out his inmost being." I prayed that He would search my inmost being and reveal to me how I could receive the cleansing offered in Hebrews 10:10, "we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all." I wish I could say that it was an instant cleansing (which was actually what I was expecting!) but instead it was a slow, painful process. One by one the Lord revealed past sins and hurts that I had long since buried. The rejection of my father, the shame of a broken relationship, each revealed and each mourned over one at a time. Often the memories came in dreams, and I would wake up sobbing and broken. Many of my sins I knew I needed to confess to my husband, because I would never be able to feel completely loved by him unless he knew the ugly parts of me too. What a wonderful man - he was always much more willing to forgive me than I was to forgive myself.

"After weeks of cleansing, I reached a point of physical and emotional exhaustion. I was at my lowest, and began to pray that the Lord would bandage all my wounds before I bled to death! I remember telling one very dear friend that I felt like "one great big open wound." She opened her Bible and began to read to me from Isaiah 61.

He has sent me to bind up the broken-hearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,...
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair...
They will...restore the places long devastated;...
Instead of their shame
my people will receive a double portion,
and instead of disgrace
they will rejoice in their inheritance;
and so they will inherit a double portion in their land,
and everlasting joy will be theirs.

"As she read to me, once again I began to weep, but instead of sadness, I was weeping with joy! This was the healing ointment that my aching heart needed. How loving and faithful our Lord is. Only He could change this dirty, ugly woman into beauty and joy. It was more than I had thought to ask for.

"It has only been a month since I was given this Scripture, but my burden has been cast down at the foot of the cross, and I am learning how to stand up straight, without the stoop that carrying such a load has caused me. Does it still hurt? Yes. I still cannot read Isaiah 61 without crying. But I have been sprinkled from a guilty conscience and washed in pure water, and the One who promised me this has been found faithful.

"Why have I shared all this with you? I have trusted you with my heart, Elisabeth, to tell you this:

"Sexual immorality can be forgiven, but it causes pain like no other sin can (1 Cor. 6:18). I carried it around for fifteen years and as much as I wanted it to go away, it didn't. A girl's body and virginity are precious treasures, and when they are given away before marriage it is a painful mistake and can never be reclaimed. Anyone who says different is a liar. Please don't stop your plea to young people to guard carefully the trust God has given them."

Julia H. Johnston's lovely old hymn expresses the "marvelous grace of our loving Lord."

Sin and despair like the sea waves cold
Threaten the soul with infinite loss;
Grace that is greater, yes, grace untold
Points to the refuge, the Mighty Cross.

Another teenager who, by "sleeping around," squandered the one-time gift of virginity, began very seriously to walk with God when she reached her twenties.

"I thrill again and again as I realize the power of God to change lives so drastically. I dated a very exemplary Christian fellow. He proposed to me several times, and several times I declined, fearing engagement and marriage because I felt I could not tell my husband-to-be about my past, yet I felt it was wrong not to tell him. I would need his forgiveness, desperately, but I could not face the risk of not being forgiven, and consequently, of being rejected. I cried many, many nights over this unchangeable status. One day in Bible college I was talking with my dorm mother with whom I was very close. She was so pleased and happy that I took such an interest in her nine-year-old daughter because she wanted her daughter to be around godly young people. I could not but cry. In the past, parents had told their kids to stay away from me, and here was a heroine of mine saying she was glad her daughter had the opportunity of being around me. My tears, of course, made her inquisitive, and tremblingly, I poured out my story to her. I told her my fear of telling a husband-to-be. She encouraged me to keep no secrets from my husband as keeping secrets would create a barrier in my marriage. She assured me that should God bring a young man into my life, then at the right time God would both give me courage to tell him and would pour out His grace on the young man so that he would readily forgive me. That idea sounded not only impossible but ridiculous!

"This summer I had a few dates with a young man in his thirties. I'm his first girlfriend. We committed to communicate. Little by little I revealed something of my past, keeping it all rather vague. I was torn between wanting him to pick up on my hints and wanting him to miss them altogether. He revealed his past, too - he had been a good kid!

"We became engaged in March, to be married in June. In April the "right time" came. Bringing up my past seemed easy. It was late at night but he just sat at the kitchen table waiting patiently for me to talk until I had completely relieved my heart. He told me he had picked up the hints last summer. He was determined not to leave until I had told him as much as I wanted to tell him. I finally admitted to him that I was struggling with not knowing if he could forgive me if he knew that his arms were not the first to hold me, his kisses not my first kisses, and things that I should have been able to give him as "firsts" I could not because they were already gone.

"He told me, "I don't understand it myself, but somehow it doesn't matter to me, because I see what you are now, and I know what God has done in your life. You aren't what you used to be. I love you." I finally got my courage up and asked if it didn't matter either if our first night would not be the first time. He said, "I guess you expect me to say it does matter, but even that really doesn't. God has changed you. I still love you so much I want to marry you."

"The grace of God is a wonderful thing, isn't it?

Something has changed in our relationship. When he says, "I love you," it means more than it ever had before, and my telling him my whole heart thrilled him because he knows that I am really committed to doing everything I can, even if it is painful to me, to make our marriage the best I can.

"He stated that he is still looking forward to our first night as a very special time and wondered if I felt that our first night had lost the specialness. I replied that it has not lost all special meaning because he loves me, and the other guys really didn't. "So," he said, "I am a first after all!"

"Isn't he sweet?"

Johnston's hymn continues:

Dark is the stain that we cannot hide.
What can avail to wash it away?
Look! there is flowing a crimson tide.
Whiter than snow you may be today.

A twenty-four-year-old, supposing she was the only virgin among her peers, gave herself to a man she thought was "safe enough."

"Little did I know that this sexual union would lead to years of miserable attachment to this man. I felt at times I needed to die in order to get away from him. I gave in to my fleshly desires with other men, deceiving myself into thinking it was okay to go out alone with Christian as well as non-Christian men. I allowed them into my apartment, allowed them to kiss and hug me. I know my limits, I told myself, I know how far I can go. I had not surrendered my passions to Christ - I was still in control, and my foolishness led to more sexual encounters and much grief.

"God graciously gave me the gift of repentance and I began to pray to pray to be made pure again. I had my doubts. We tend to think that God is going to give us what we deserve, and we forget about His grace.

"Several months later God caused the head of a single man in my church to turn toward me. He cautiously began to make conversation with me, introduced me to his parents, maintained a certain distance. I, now wiser, followed his lead, but felt frustrated at the slow pace of the relationship - was he ever going to hold my hand? declare his feelings? God graciously gave me patience.

"The day came when he confessed his love for me and asked me to be his wife. We had never held hands or embraced, but we had come to know one another and knew that we wanted to spend the rest of our lives together, not because of sexual chemistry or physical attraction, but because of love and respect, and a regard for God working in our lives and bringing us together.

"God not only restored my sense of purity, He blessed me with a man that I couldn't even envision, let alone hope for. My husband was not only a virgin, he had never kissed a woman! It was too good to be true.

"God has allowed so much healing to come into my life because of the love of a man who purposed in his heart to remain pure. Although, sadly, I was promiscuous and "used," I received a wonderful gift. But why didn't God bless my husband with a virgin? I believe that He gave him instead a glorious opportunity to love his wife as Christ loves the church - not holding their sins against her, but accepting her and loving her unconditionally."

Nothing seems more miraculous, more difficult for us who insist on figuring things out, than this matter of grace. Logic has nothing to do with it. It is the incomprehensible and inscrutable High and Mighty One pouring Himself out in love for His helpless, sinning creatures. Through the sacrifice of Himself He offers us, when we ask for it, absolute forgiveness.

Nor does He merely forgive. He sanctifies us, definitively establishing a new quality of life in the cleansed soul, communicating to us His life and love, quite apart from any merit whatsover on our side.

Marvelous, infinite, matchless grace,
freely bestowed on all who believe;
You that are longing to see His face -
Will you this moment His grace receive?

Grace, grace, God's grace,
Grace that will pardon and cleanse within;
Grace, grace, infinite grace,
Grace that is greater than all our sin.


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