“God…saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began.” (2 Tim. 1:8c-9)
Pastors Sin Alot
The other day I was talking with a good friend who senses God’s call to vocational ministry who said, “One reason I want to be a pastor is that if I have to teach I’ll be forced to study the Bible more, and studying more will help me live more holy.”
I can remember thinking things like that before I got into vocational ministry. In fact, I had alot of misconceptions about ministry. I remember having to call a friend who was my senior pastor at the church I attended prior to becoming a senior pastor myself and having to repent to him for being so opinionated about all the things he was doing when I sat under his ministry. I realized only after actually being in his position that there are many things you just don’t understand about ministry until you’re in it yourself.
My friend’s perspective about holiness was one such misconception I had. In some ways I guess I thought the same thing. I thought that living for Christ, and overcoming temptation and sin would come more easily because of all I was doing for and with God. Man, was I wrong! After being in the ministry to varying degrees for over six years I actually believe the battle with sin is harder in the ministry. The fact is that if Satan can bring a pastor down, he can break an entire church apart. For that reason, I believe he targets pastors with unique fury when it comes to temptation and spiritual warfare.
Attacks on all Fronts
Spiritual opposition in my life has felt more intense than ever as a pastor and church planter. Sometimes it feels like the harder I study and teach and serve Christ, the more difficult personal holiness becomes. I find myself still losing my temper, lusting, acting self-righteously, or being selfish.
Perfect Pastors Only!
The sad thing is that people don’t like to hear this kind of stuff about pastors. They want to think pastors are perfect. I heard someone once say, “I want my pastor to be an island.” By this they meant they wanted a pastor who seemed untouchable by sin and failure. The truth is, Jesus is the only island in that sense. And I’m glad to rain on the parade of anyone who is making a functional Jesus out of their pastor. That kind of perspective is idolatry in the life of the believer, and undue pressure in the life of the pastor.
God Still Uses Pastors
My own fight with sin causes a funny internal complication when God uses me. The experience in my life is that God has used me in some of the greatest ways on Sunday, right after I’ve had some of my greatest failures on Saturday. I’ve been a totally raving heathen in the morning toward people who love me, only to have God save someone from hell through my witness in the afternoon. Experiences like that have often caused me to ask God, “Why?” Why do you use me when I am what I am? Sometimes they make me wonder if I will be able to complete the ministry God has called me to fulfill in this life. I wonder how I’ll ever make it with this black heart. And my guess is that if you’re in ministry in anyway that you’ve had these kinds of thoughts.
Saved and Serving by Grace
While all Christian ministers believe they are saved by grace, I think many (like me) at least emotionally believe they’re in the ministry by works. As a result we see ourselves as saved by grace but serving by works. The above verse is the antidote to this hint of legalism that I believe hides in the heart of most pastors. When Paul the Apostle wanted to encourage Timothy to continue on in the ministry he’d been given at a time when he’d been a bit faithless, Paul reminded him of the idenity of the God they served: “God…who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus…”
Are we Approaching Ministry as if Our Calling is by Works?
If you’ve struggled with the kinds of questions I’ve presented in this post which I’ve dealt with in my life, I hope you’ll find some encouragement in that verse. Paul told Timothy two things here:
1. He was saved by grace. You need to know that. You are righteous in Christ in spite of who you have been, are, and in spite of the sin you haven’t even got to yet.
2. He was called with a holy calling by grace. You need to know that as well. The reason that God continues to use sinful guys like myself for His great work in the world is because I’m not just saved by grace, but I’m also in the ministry by grace. The same is true for you. Remember that and give God glory for using you in spite of who you are.
Continue in Grace
The crazy thing is that the born again heart won’t take this kind of grace as a free pass to continue in sin. But this kindness of God actually produces in us a deeper desire for and pursuit of practical holiness. So remember, we are saved and serving by grace, and the grace of God teaches us to deny ungodliness! Live in the grace you preach!