BEHAVIOR VS. LOVE
"He mocks proud mockers but gives grace to the humble." Proverbs 3:34
Moral sin horrified Sarah’s parents. They had seen the lives of numerous young people in their church and community severely disrupted by moral indiscretion. When Sarah was a young girl they determined to raise her with such moral conditioning that she would never make a misstep herself and experience such a fallout.
Sarah’s ethical training was exemplary. Her parents modeled modesty and purity. They taught their daughter that her body was the temple of God’s spirit and should be kept pure (1 Cor. 6:18-20). The showed her the passages about God judging and punishing adultery and fornication (1 Cor. 6:9-10; Rev. 21:8). They didn’t let her dance or date until she was 16, and then closely monitored the boys who came calling. They built such a wall of ethical conditioning, biblical teaching and parental control around Sarah that there was no way she would fall victim to inappropriate behavior.
But she did anyway.
Explanations for why people act out escape us. Sure, we know that sometimes it is curiosity, peer pressure, pleasure seeking, naivete, spiritual ignorance or even rebellion. But how do you explain Sarah’s case? She was a sweet, innocent girl. She was protected and monitored. She knew all the right answers to questions about behavior and deportment. How could this precious gem act out and swap her purity for a fleeting tryst?
Sarah’s parents were horrified. After drilling her for answers and berating her for misbehavior, they cried at their own failure.
For her part Sarah felt doomed. She wondered herself why she acted out. She loved her parents and respected their lifestyle. She wanted to be a good girl, marry a Christian man, and teach a children’s class at church, just like her mother. She envisioned hosting youth parties at her house and driving kids to area church events. Sarah sighed. It was all over now. She sinned big. She defied her parents’ instructions. Sarah could reach only one conclusion about her role in her moral sin: she was a bad person.
(The Broken Pitcher, by William Bouguereau. Is a soul, like a pitcher, irreparable? No!)
Bible verses she didn’t think of that fateful night now flooded her mind. "The wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God." "The body is not meant for sexual immorality." "Flee from sexual immorality." "The sexually immoral will (not) inherit the kingdom of God." "The sexually immoral ... their place will be in the fiery lake ..." That last one filled Sarah with indescribable horror.
Sarah didn’t make the distinction in her mind between committing a sin and being committed to sin. She couldn’t. This significant nuance had never been explained to her. In her youth and immaturity Sarah could only conclude that she was a lost sinner. Since that was her mental image now, that is the role she began to play. Sarah’s uncharacteristic moral lapse became routine. Sarah the good little girl became Sarah the moral wretch.
What a tragic, and unnecessary, set of circumstances. If only her well-intentioned parents had added a few other theological gems in her training program. One, only Jesus lived a sinless life. Two, we are all sinners, all of us, even Sarah’s parents. Three, we all need grace and mercy for salvation. Four, God gives us that mercy through Jesus, even when our lives are steeped in sin and filth (Rom. 5:8). Five, we can never get so low that the grace and mercy of God can not reach us and save us. Never ever.
How sad that some people think they are so bad that God can not save them. Don’t we realize it is because we have acted badly that Jesus died? It is not because of my righteousness that Jesus extends his hand to me; it is because of my sin. That’s how much he loves me and you.
Serena Woods made a profound statement about this in Grace is for Sinners. She writes, "If that group (a family or church) had any kind of working knowledge of who God is or taught less behavior lessons and more love lessons, then the standard wouldn’t be what a person does, the standard would be how a person loves" (p.127). If we only teach behavior but not love and forgiveness, we do not prepare our kids for when they do a very human thing: sin.
Sarah sinned. And because most of her instruction had been about proper conduct, she thought she was incurably stained and soiled when she fell from her lofty position of pure behavior. Since she was ruined now, why try to live better in the future? Her sin would always have a stranglehold on her mental image of herself, impelling her to further acts of immorality.
Sarah’s great hope is that a beloved brother or sister will greet her with a warm embrace, look into her grief-stricken eyes, and say, "Sarah, God loves you. This church loves you. You sinned. So has everyone here. It is for this very reason that Jesus is here for you today. God delights in giving grace to the humble. You have been humbled by your sin. Now, cry out and God will hear you. Remember, ‘The Lord is far from the wicked but he hears the prayer of the righteous’ (Prov. 15:29). You aren’t wicked because you fail; you are only wicked if you reject God and choose to wallow in rebellion. You have a righteous heart. Pray, and God will hear."
I hope all of our kids, in all of our families and in all of our churches, know that God loves them. It is important that we teach our kids to behave well; it is incredibly important that we teach them how much God loves them when they don’t.