Written by Jenna Cherry, a core team member at Inspiring Hope Church.
“In Him, and through faith in Him, we may approach God with freedom and confidence.” Ephesians 3:12
For the last several weeks, I’ve been reading through the book of Acts. As I’ve been reading about the lives of the apostles, the Lord has given me a fresh perspective of their lives and how they walked with Him. They were truly, wholeheartedly filled with the Holy Spirit. They were confident in His ability to work in and through them as they spread the Gospel to countless people despite horrible suffering and persecution. I can’t help but long for a life that is as bold and confident in my faith in Christ as these men. But at the same time, sometimes it’s easy to forget that they all made big mistakes too. They all had moments in their lives that I am sure they were less than proud of. We get a glimpse into a few of these. Peter, James and John fall asleep three times when Jesus has asked them to desperately pray in the garden before he is crucified. Peter, then, denies Jesus three times. Several disciples are caught arguing about who is the greatest among them. And of course, there is Paul, formerly Saul, who spent much of his life persecuting believers before His encounter with the Lord that changed his life forever.
As I read each of their stories, I began to picture myself in their positions in those moments. Those horrible moments that I’m sure they would look back and shudder anytime they even thought about them. Those moments when they were at their worst. For Paul, I imagine that one of those moments was during the stoning of Stephen. If you’ve never read this story, I encourage you to go read Acts 7 and see the power and weight of this story unfold, but I’ll do my best to summarize. Stephen was a man who was described as “full of grace and power”,“full of the Holy Spirit”, and possessed wisdom that no one could withstand. He was boldly proclaiming truth in Jerusalem, and it was not received well by the people. Stephen was stoned and killed for his boldness in proclaiming the truth. And who approved his execution? Saul. Acts 7:58 says that the witnesses laid down their garments at Saul’s feet as he approved the murder of one of the most Spirit-filled men of the time. Looking back on that moment after coming to know the Lord would be horrible. To remember that moment, and I’m sure countless other moments of direct opposition to God, would be so heartbreaking. So what is the answer? How do we move past the worst moments of our lives and somehow use it to glorify God?
Peter says it beautifully here:
“Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago.” Acts 3:19-21
Repent can be a difficult word to process. For some, it carries great power and weight, and for others, it is just a reminder of the mistakes we continue to make as we struggle through life on this side of heaven. However, the true definition of repent is “to change one’s mind”, “to turn”, or “to return”. Essentially, it means to stop, turn around, and start going in the completely opposite direction. This doesn’t mean to start “taking the bypass” or to let Google maps or Waze take you a different route to the same destination. Sometimes, we even think that if we just make several small adjustments, eventually we’ll be going the right way. Or, if we just start thinking about the place we want to be, we’ll eventually get there, even if we never actually “turned the car around” and put those thoughts into action. This is not repentance.
Repentance is a complete and drastic shift. With true repentance, your life cannot ever be the same. And this is not a bad thing. This does not even necessarily have to be painful. In fact, Peter describes it as “refreshing” as you begin to walk with the Holy Spirit. And the beauty of it all is that, even our worst moments of sin and disobedience can be used by God to bring glory to His name and further His kingdom. In Paul’s case, even though the stoning of Stephen was tragic and horrible to look back on, it was that very event that pushed the apostles to disperse, which resulted in the Gospel being spread further than it ever probably would have otherwise. It pushed the apostles to obey the great commission of taking the Gospel to Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the Earth! We must never underestimate the power and the plans of the Lord.
It is because of this that Paul was able to boldly proclaim to the Ephesians that, as believers, we can “approach the throne of God with freedom and confidence”. Freedom and confidence, in the name of Jesus Christ, who took on all our sin, all our shame, all of our worst moments, all of our greatest failures. He took them on so that we might be able to stand before the throne of God with Jesus by our side calling us His brothers and sisters. We are truly made perfect by His blood. So my challenge and my prayer is that we would be able to live our lives like we believe this. Let us live our lives with freedom and confidence in the name that is above every other name, Jesus Christ.