Home Outreach Leaders The Jesus and the Devil in Me

The Jesus and the Devil in Me

The sad moral collapse of those alongside whom I had once studied, prayed, worshiped, served, loved, and dreamed about the future of Christianity, reminds me of a story I once heard about a famous pastor, told by his former intern. One time at a staff meeting, the intern recalls the famous pastor telling the entire staff that Satan has the power to tempt him in any number of ways, but that there is one area of his life that Satan will never touch: his marriage.

According to the intern, the famous pastor was caught in bed with a mistress less than one year after that staff meeting.

Sadly, such moral collapses by ministers are not uncommon.

For pastors and all other leaders, stories like these should cause us to tremble in our boots. For it is not just the ancient biblical accounts that tell us how frail we are. It is also the stories of moral collapse “from the top” that happen every single day—even among the best, most well-intended Christian leaders. There is potential in every leader, even the most virtuous ones, to fall into and become caught in unimaginable transgression.

Think about it. If Abraham, the father of all who have faith, could offer his wife up twice to be sexually used by unsavory men in order to save his own hide, aren’t we also capable of preserving self while making others vulnerable? If Jacob, the father of the twelve tribes of Israel, could spend years lying and deceiving more than he told the truth, aren’t we also capable of becoming liars? If Rahab, who is listed as an ancestor of Jesus, gave up her body as a prostitute, aren’t we also capable of immoral thoughts and behaviors? If Peter, one of the twelve Apostles and writer of two New Testament letters, could fall into racist behavior after Jesus had restored him to ministry because he was afraid of what the other racists might say, and if Barnabas, widely known as “the son of encouragement,” could stumble right alongside him, aren’t we also capable of excluding those whom Jesus embraces? If King David, who gave us beautiful worship poetry in the Psalms, and who was identified by the Lord himself as “a man after God’s own heart,” could abuse his power by forcing Bathsheba—also the daughter of one of his most loyal friends—to sleep with him, and then scheming to have her husband, also a loyal friend, killed to cover it up, aren’t we also capable of abusing our power to get from others whatever we want, just because we can?

To these we could also add many titans from church history. John Calvin participated in the execution of a man whose crime was disagreement with Christian doctrine. Martin Luther made anti-semitic statements. Jonathan Edwards owned slaves until his death. Martin Luther King, Jr. was unfaithful to his wife as he traveled the country preaching about racial justice.

On the one hand, I find the stories of such leaders strangely encouraging. If there is hope for these, then there is also hope for people like me. If these were just as redeemed and welcomed by Christ in their worst seasons and behavior as they were in their best, then there is also redemption and welcome for me, by the same terms. On the other hand, their stories, their foolishness and their sin are there to instruct and help us so that we will wise up and live differently. Their stories teach us the importance of guarding our hearts, because our hearts, especially when we think they are not vulnerable or susceptible to sin, are more vulnerable and susceptible than ever.

Let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed, lest he fall.
No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man.
(1 Corinthians 10:12-13)

Are you someone who thinks s/he is not vulnerable to certain kinds of sin? Are you like the person who looks at the acorn and thinks that such a little thing could never become an oak tree, or a forest, or a forest fire? The sin in your heart, my friend, is the acorn—and it has the power, if not crushed, to germinate, to become a sprout, and then a tree, and then an entire forest, and then a forest wildfire.

This is in part why Jesus warned in the Sermon on the Mount not only against adultery, but lust in the heart. This is also why he warned not only against murder, but a grudge in the heart. Because every adulterous fling begins with a “harmless” thought or glance, and every murderous rampage begins with a tiny little grudge.

So then, wherever our hearts are vulnerable, it is essential to crush the acorn before it becomes a sprout; to dig up the sprout before it grows into a tree; to chop down the tree before it becomes a forest; to plow the forest before it becomes an uncontrollable fire.

As the great Puritan, John Owen said, “Always be killing sin or sin will be killing you.”