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How to Finish the Race Well


Las Vegas Raiders head coach Jon Gruden resigned Monday night after the New York Times detailed emails in which he made what the article called “homophobic and misogynistic remarks.” The Wall Street Journal earlier reported on a 2011 email in which Gruden used a racial trope to describe an African American.

Gruden’s resignation was applauded by columnists who wrote that he “had to go” and that his emails “painted him as a relic of what professional football can’t be anymore.”

On the opposite side of the cultural spectrum, Jeopardy! champion Matt Amodio’s epic winning streak ended Monday night at thirty-eight games and $1.5 million. In a Washington Post interview, he expressed his gratitude for the kindness of the show’s staff and the support of the fans and even wished his online hecklers well.

Not long after Amodio’s winning streak came to an end Monday evening, NCIS lead actor Mark Harmon ended his run on the show after eighteen seasons. He had reportedly wanted to retire after last season but learned that doing so would cause the show to be canceled. So, he agreed to return for a handful of episodes if the show returned for Season 19. The show warned after Monday’s episode that we should “never count [him] out,” but Harmon ended well.

What is true of athletics is also true of life: we are remembered less for how we start the race than for how we finish.

What God can’t remember

This week, we’ve discussed the relationship between private character and public service, noting that private sin keeps us from being used and rewarded by God while personal character positions us to be used publicly in ways we may not imagine at the time.

Much like the underwater oil pipeline that was likely damaged months before it ruptured and sent oil spewing onto some of California’s most famous beaches, what we do not see today can change the world tomorrow. God’s word warns: “Be sure your sin will find you out” (Numbers 32:23).

This is not just because personal secrets inevitably become public stories – it is also because the Enemy who tempts us intends to use our sins against us in ways we seldom see when we’re being tempted.

Here we encounter one of the problems Christians perennially face when dealing with temptation. So long as the results of the sin we are considering do not seem to harm others, we easily conclude that we can commit it without public consequence. We can then confess this sin to God and claim his promise to forgive us (1 John 1:9), separate our sin from us “as far as the east is from the west” (Psalm 103:12), cast it “into the depths of the sea” (Micah 7:19), and “remember [our] sins no more” (Hebrews 8:12).

John Claypool told the story of a priest who was troubled by a grievous sin he had committed while a seminary student. He had confessed his sin often but still felt the weight of its guilt and shame. A woman in his congregation came to him one day with the shocking news that God had begun speaking to her in an audible voice. Skeptical, the priest said to her, “The next time God speaks audibly to you, ask him what sin your priest committed while in seminary.” She said she would.

She returned the next week and the priest asked if she had done as he asked. She said she had. “And what did God say?” he asked her. She smiled and replied, “He said, ‘I don’t remember.'”

Erasing your spiritual “hard drive”

Here’s the problem: While God forgives all we confess and forgets all he forgives, Satan does not. You may think you erased your sins from your spiritual “hard drive,” but he keeps them until a time he can use them most effectively against us.

Jon Gruden was in his dream job with a contract worth $100 million over ten years: the richest contract in NFL coaching history. Now the remainder of that contract, $60 million, will be voided.

The higher Satan allows us to climb the ladder of success, the further we will fall and the more people we will hurt on the way down—not least ourselves.

My purpose is not to frighten us regarding our past. If you have confessed your sins to God and made restoration where appropriate (cf. Matthew 5:23-24; Luke 19:8), you have done all you can do with what is done. It is now a mistake to try to have a better past. Every time guilt and shame attack, claim God’s grace and freedom.

Rather, my purpose is to equip us regarding our present and future. If Satan could not use our sins against us in ways that outweigh the “good” they seem to offer, he would not tempt us with them. Even though God will forgive and forget, the devil will not. Nor will the world.

“Open my eyes, that I may see”

It is important to understand Satan’s strategies so that “we are not ignorant of his designs” (2 Corinthians 2:11). But we need to do more. Every time the enemy tempts us, we need to turn to the Spirit for the strength, wisdom, courage, and perseverance we need (James 4:7; 1 Peter 5:9).

The devil is stronger than I am, but Jesus is stronger than he is.

Tomorrow we will discuss practical ways to experience God’s power over the evil one. For today, let’s close with the commitment to seek such power daily in prayer. If we “with confidence draw near to the throne of grace,” God assures us that we will “receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).

To that end, I invite you to make this familiar hymn by Clara H. Scott your prayer today:

Open my eyes, that I may see

Glimpses of truth Thou hast for me;

Place in my hands the wonderful key

That shall unclasp and set me free.

Silently now I wait for Thee,

Ready my God, Thy will to see,

Open my eyes, illumine me,

Spirit divine!

Open my ears, that I may hear

Voices of truth Thou sendest clear;

And while the wave notes fall on my ear,

Everything false will disappear.

Silently now I wait for Thee,

Ready my God, Thy will to see,

Open my ears, illumine me,

Spirit divine!

Open my mouth, and let me bear,

Gladly the warm truth everywhere;

Open my heart and let me prepare

Love with Thy children thus to share.

Silently now I wait for Thee,

Ready my God, Thy will to see,

Open my heart, illumine me,

Spirit divine!

NOTE: Over the past four decades, I’ve been following cultural developments with professional and personal passion. And after nearly forty years of observation, study, and research, I’ll say I’ve never been as concerned about the trajectory of our culture as I am today. That’s why I’ve written my most pivotal work to date: my book, The Coming Tsunami. And it’s why I want to invite you to pre-order your copy—so you can be ready for the tidal waves of threat and opposition that are headed our way.

Publication date: October 13, 2021

Photo courtesy: ©Getty Images/Sigital Skillet

The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of CrosswalkHeadlines.

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