Gayle Haggard: Falling from Grace
"The gospel is not, nor has it ever been, about our righteousness."
The phone rang at the respectable hour of 9:00 last Wednesday morning. My husband, Ted, answered, and the voice on the other end was hesitant, and immediately he detected fear.
“I need to talk to someone. I am really in trouble. I’ve followed your story and feel that maybe you’re someone I can talk to, someone who might understand.”
“Okay,” my husband replied. “Tell me what’s wrong.”
The man on the other end proceeded to tell my husband his story. “I am a pastor. I really do love God. I really want to serve him. I can’t believe I’ve messed up like this. I’ve hurt my wife, my congregation, everyone I truly love. I don’t know what the future holds for me. I may have lost everything and everyone I care about. Please help me know what to do. Will I ever be okay again?”
Ted offered him hope and explained to him the process of repentance.
We get calls like this every week, from pastors, worship leaders, evangelists, youth leaders, all types of believers and even nonbelievers. All are looking for a safe place to pour out their hearts, their pain, their shame, and their fears. Most have a secret sin they are battling to overcome or that has been found out. Many have been trapped by a sin they never thought they would succumb to. They have become participants in the unthinkable, and they are searching for a way out, a way to get back up again.
My husband understands. He walked through his own version of this scenario a few years ago. I understand. I walked with him, and I learned a thing or two along the way.
After the revelation of my husband’s entrapment by the sin that “so easily beset him,” and his subsequent repentance, I watched a remarkable set of events unfold. Many in the body of Christ donned their “pseudo” righteous robes, and picking up stones, began hurling them at my husband. We felt the sting of their stones when we read their blogs, posts, and comments in Christian periodicals and caught wind of their whispers. I wondered if there were any who understood, any with wisdom to heal, to gently restore and reconcile. The longer I watched, the more I understood that the story that had unfolded in my husband’s life was common to our faith. It was and continues to be a human story of God engaging a son whom He loves.
Recently while speaking at a Catalyst lab session, I asked the crowd to raise their hands if they had sinned since they believed on the Lord. Everyone raised their hands. I then asked any who had struggled with a sin stronghold since becoming a believer to stand up. No one remained seated. As I looked around the room of standing pastors, leaders, and other professing Christians, I asked them, “So what is the big deal about Ted Haggard?” They smiled back at me. They got it.
Now I am not so naïve to discount the “high profile” positions my husband held (the founding and senior pastor of New Life Church, with a congregation of 14,000, and president of the National Association of Evangelicals), and the inherent expectations placed on a leader. But I contend that my husband’s sin did not invalidate the power of the gospel and thus embarrass Christians everywhere; it validated it. If we are smart Christians, we will understand this. He is as human as the next person and succumbed to the weakness inherent in his human condition just as the rest of us have. This in no way discounts the sincerity of his faith. In fact, by getting back up and pressing on in faith, Ted has proven to all of us that he believes and values the gospel.
Again, if we are smart, we will understand the power of this story. The gospel is not, nor has it ever been, about our righteousness. It is and always has been about a righteousness that comes from God. For this, I am forever grateful.
I have thanked God many times for a front row seat as I’ve watched the tender mercies of our God at work in a son He loves. I want to be more like God. He is neither shocked nor ruffled by our human struggles and failings. He understands our human condition. This is the point of the gospel. He is the wise Father who gladly and gently reconciles, restores, and receives his sons and daughters who’ve stumbled or gone astray. He gives his grace courageously and freely.
In countless articles and diatribes, my husband has been referred to as a “disgraced pastor” and described as having fallen from grace. I am reminded of Galatians 5:4 where the Apostle Paul clearly defines what it means to fall from grace. He emphatically states, “For if you are trying to make yourselves right with God by keeping the law, you have been cut off from Christ! You have fallen away from God’s grace.” (New Living Translation) Here Paul appears to be saying it is not the one who stumbles who has fallen from grace, but the one who thinks himself righteous on his own account.
I understand when my husband says he didn’t fall from grace; he fell into it.
May we all be so blessed.
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