Occasionally it seems that the Lord will turn up the fires of conviction. Though it is very painful at the time it is actually a very good thing. There are times in my life when the Lord puts the immensity and the odiousness of my sin before my face. I really do feel as Newton’s wretch.
In these times it can be tempting to think that grace does not apply to a supposedly washed and redeemed sinner. Of course if I were a new believer or even better still an unbeliever then the overwhelming presence of sin in my life would not be shocking. It would be understandable. But not with me. I’m a pastor. I have been saved for even longer than the last time the Royals had a winning season.
In these times I hear the voice of the Accuser. In really dark times his angelic voice sounds just like the Lord. “You’re dirty, Mike. You’ve blown it. How can you even call yourself a Christian and still have such pride in your life. What kind of man are you? You aren’t much of a husband. You’re guilty as a father. Your blowing it as a pastor. Your prayer life stinks. Your not reading enough Scripture. Your dark. If you want to be accepted by the Father, you’ve got to clean yourself up. You know that He’s holy. You know that He can’t look upon sin. You have sin in your life. He cannot look upon you.”
I feel like Joshua the High Priest in Zechariah 3.
I’m standing before the Lord with filthy clothes. I can’t deny it. Neither can He. Like Joshua the High Priest I’m supposed to be clean. I’m not supposed to be wearing clothes covered in unclean excrement. But I am and I’m covered in shame as I appear before Him.
The Accuser has a case against me. I’m supposed to be holy but I’m not. And so he lobs his flaming arrows at me. “Is this really your child? Is this really someone that you’ve supposedly ‘saved’? Look at him! He’s filthy! He’s blackened! He’s disgusting!”
In times like this I’ve taken great solace from Charles Spurgeon’s exposition of the Lord’s response to Satan:
“Satan says, ‘the man’s garments are filthy’,’Well,’ says Jesus, “how do you expect them to be otherwise? When you pull a brand out of the fire, do you expect to find it milk-white or polished?” No, it had begun to crack and burn, and though you have plucked it out of the fire, it is in itself still black and charred. So it is with the child of God. What is he at the best? Till he is taken up to heaven, he is nothing but a brand plucked out of the fire. It is his daily moan that he is a sinner; but Christ accepts him as he is: and he shuts the devil’s mouth by telling him, “Thou sayest this man is black — of course he is: what did I think he was but that? He is a brand plucked out of the fire. I plucked him out of it. He was burning when he was in it: he is black now he is out of it. He was what I knew he would be; he is not what I mean to make him, but he is what I knew he would be. I have chosen him as a brand plucked out of the fire. What hast thou to say to that?”
The Lord knows my frame and He remembers that I am but dust. Furthermore, He knows that my excrement covered righteousness isn’t what matters anyways. As far as my standing goes I have the clean garments that the Lord has given me. And those are an already, but not yet. In one sense I soil those new clothes every day. And so I am still living in the “not yet” of total redemption. But in another sense those righteous garments are fully mine and absolutely secured for me. They can’t be soiled because the righteousness of Christ cannot be sullied. It’s in the purity of His garment that I can rest even when the Accuser, rightly, reminds me that I’m blackened by sin.
This fits quite well: