“Everyone who confesses the name of the Lord must turn away from wickedness.”
In a large house there are articles not only of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay; some are for special purposes and some for common use. Those who cleanse themselves from the latter will be instruments for special purposes, made holy, useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work.
Flee the evil desires of youth and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart.2 Timothy 2:19-22
I grew up with cliches in the church that were based off of a skewed understanding of God’s grace. I remember hearing things and saying things like, “All sin is equal to God” and “God will use anyone regardless of our sin.” These cliches are half-truths mixed with error that circulate around the church as a way of trying to get away from works-based righteousness. The heart behind these sayings is good but the message can be easily taken in the wrong direction.
The missing piece here is that God’s grace doesn’t just forgive, it also empowers us to live holy lives. Grace doesn’t just wipe out our record of sin, but it also gives us the ability to flee evil desires and live clean.
Paul was clear to Timothy that part of following Jesus was turning away from wickedness and leaning into holiness. Paul was clear that when we cleanse sin out of our lives, we become able to be used by God in greater measure in the Kingdom of God. Like surgical instruments, if we are rusty or contaminated, we spread that contamination any time God tries to use us. So the more purified we are in our lives, the better surgical instrument we become in the hands of God. And, yes, sometimes our sin or immaturity will prevent God from using us. This is both for our good and for the good of those to whom we would have ministered.
Is all sin equal in the eyes of God?
It is true that what Jesus did on the cross paid for any and all sin. God can forgive any sin. It’s not harder for Him to forgive one over another. But different sins do have different consequences. The damage of sin varies greatly depending on the severity. So pretending that one sin is no more severe than another is harmful. There are different levels of sin in the sense of severity, and we have to admit this in order to bring healing to the devastation that sin causes. All sin is forgivable, but the mess that sin creates differs greatly depending on what it is.
Will God use anyone regardless of their sin?
Yes, but He won’t use everyone in the same way. Sometimes our sin prevents God from using us at all. It’s not that God doesn’t want to use us, but sin in our lives (and immaturity) creates cracks in the foundation of our life. If God were to put the heavy weight of responsibility that comes with being used by God in powerful ways on a foundation that has huge cracks in it, the foundation would crumble. It’s God’s love for us and grace toward us that keeps Him from using us when we are steeped in sin. He doesn’t want us to be crushed under the weight of it.
The other thing that happens when we are used by God in powerful ways is that the enemy often launches counter-attacks against us. If we have secured our life by allowing ourselves to be continually purified, we can withstand the attack. But if our life is Swiss cheese, full of holes created by impurity, sin, selfishness and rebellion, then the counter-attack is extremely damaging. We don’t have the spiritual fortifications to withstand it. God would rather not put us in that situation. He’s not punishing us for our sin by not using us; He is protecting us. This is what a loving Father does.
If we want to be used by God in the Kingdom, we don’t have to be perfect. But in order for us to be used by God in increasing measure, we must be purified in increasing measure. We must be willing to have the refining fire of the Holy Spirit expose our sin and partner with us to remove it from our lives. Justifying our sin is no longer an option.