No doubt you’ve been following the recent events concerning Ted Haggard. After being publicly accused of engaging in illegal drug use and sexual immorality for three years, and acknowledging at least part of it to be true, he was dismissed as pastor of 14,000 member New Life Church in Colorado Springs, the church he founded twenty-one years ago. He also resigned as head of the National Association of Evangelicals, said to represent some 30 million Christians. If you haven’t seen it, his statement of confession, read to his church this past Sunday, can be found here.
Over the past few days, I’ve kept up on the news, read a number of comments from Christians and non-Christians, and have been wondering what we can learn from this. Tim Challies, Carl Trueman, Rick Phillips, and Justin Taylor have all written helpful posts on the current situation.
I don’t know Ted Haggard. And he certainly doesn’t know me. But I’ve learned at least five things about sin from his life.
Sin is universal.
Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins (Eccl. 7:20).
Well known Christian leaders sin. So do unknown ones. Your parents sin, your children sin, your friends sin. You and I sin. Sin is our inherent tendency to think we have the final say about our lives and should get some credit for it. Authority and adoration. It’s two things everyone wants and only God has, supremely and uniquely. Sin is living as though there’s no God to whom we’re accountable, no judgment day, no heaven or hell, and no reason to think otherwise. Sin is momentary atheism. I don’t have to do what Ted Haggard has done to be a sinner. I simply have to fail to love God with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength, and fail to love others as myself. Knowing that sin is universal keeps me from viewing others or myself very highly.
Sin is deceptive.
But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin (Heb. 3:13).
Ted Haggard knew what he did was wrong. But his convictions in one area were overcome by his desires in another. He acknowledged there were seasons he thought “the dirt was gone,” but it would resurface. That’s typical of a deceptive enemy, who launches his fiercest attack when we think he’s no longer there. Jesus Christ has given us a new nature that desires to please God, but we continue to fight the desires of the flesh (Gal. 5:16-25), and one of sin’s greatest weapons is deception. “It’s not that bad. I’ve been doing so well. I can ask forgiveness later. I could be doing much worse. I’ll do it once then never again. I’ve been too hard on myself. Thinking about this is okay as long as I don’t actually do it. No one needs to know about this.” And perhaps most damaging, “This doesn’t really matter.” Part of maturing in the faith is seeing and responding to signs of deception earlier than you used to. Knowing that sin is deceptive causes me to be more diligent in my fight against it.
Sin has consequences.
For the wages of sin is death (Rom. 6:23 ).
Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life (Gal. 6:7-8).
Some of the consequences of sin are carried out by those who love us. Thus, the Overseer Board of New Life Church removed Ted from his role as senior pastor. He will not return. But, most of sin’s consequences are beyond our control. We must re-earn the trust of those we’ve sinned against. In this case, the name of Jesus Christ has been dishonored and disgraced throughout the country, pastors have proven once again to be self-righteous hypocrites, and homosexuals are saying the problem wasn’t that Haggard engaged in sex but that he suppressed his feelings in the first place. Like others before him, Ted Haggard has realized that small choices can become major disasters. He saw that sowing sinful thoughts leads to sinful actions. These effects were magnified because he was a leader in the church with broad influence and notoriety. But what if Mike Jones had never gone public? What about all the pastors who sin in similar ways but take their secrets to the grave? Sin will always have consequences. We may not ever hear about them in this life, but God is faithful to bring them through trials in this life or judgment in the next. The way of the wicked will perish (Ps. 1:6). Knowing sin has consequences should cause me to fear the first turn away from God in my thoughts or be concerned about a lack of desire for his glory.
Sin has one ultimate solution.
She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Mt. 1:21).
He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world (1Jn 2:2).
Observing sin in someone else should cause us to search our own hearts and actions. What should we do? Establish greater accountability. Stay close to your wife. Commit to more frequent prayer. These are all good responses. However, unless we put our faith in the ultimate provision God has made for overcoming sin in our lives, we’ll stay on the treadmill of defeat. That provision is found in the life, substitutionary atoning death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Gospel. I looked eagerly for a clear reference to the Gospel in Haggard’s confession. Sadly, I didn’t find it. How do we have hope after failure? Where do we turn when once again we have failed to meet God’s righteous standards? What is the only hope we have for obtaining forgiveness for our sins, reconciliation to God, and power to change? The cross of Christ. The cross shows us that God has judged our sins and that we have been redeemed for his glory. The cross tell me how much God hates sin. The cross creates new desires in me to please God. The cross is a source of eternal hope, peace, and joy in the midst of my struggles. “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed” (1Pet. 2:24). It’s true that we can preach the Gospel to ourselves and still continue to pursue sin. But the solution is not turning to another remedy, but trusting more completely in the one God has given us. God doesn’t simply want to enable us to overcome sin. He wants us to overcome it in a way that honors the all-surpassing greatness, beauty, and power of Jesus Christ. Knowing sin has one ultimate solution should cause me not only to know the Gospel well, but to apply its power and grace to every area of my life.
Sin doesn’t have the final word.
You know that he appeared to take away sins, and in him there is no sin (1John 3:5).
“For truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place” (Acts 4:27-28).
Major leaders throughout Scripture fell into sin, but God’s plan of redemption continued, unstopping and unstoppable. Abraham lied about Sara being his wife. Jacob was a deceiver. Moses disobeyed God before all Israel. David committed adultery and had Bathsheba’s husband murdered. Solomon took hundreds of foreign wives. Peter denied Christ. The disciples deserted the Savior as he was taken away to be crucified. It’s true that leaders are and should be held to stricter standards, and we don’t want to use the fact that leaders fall to make us ambivalent towards fighting sin. However, one man’s sin, as egregious and awful as it may be, will not thwart God’s plan to have a humble people who proclaim and display the excellencies who brought them out of darkness into light (1 Pet. 2:9). The church of Jesus Christ has experienced a setback temporarily, but God’s plan remains unchanged. He is the Redeemer. We need a Savior. Is that any less clear now?
While we grieve over the effect of Ted Haggard’s sin, and should pray for all those involved, our confidence continues to be in the God who makes all things new, who will continue to display his wisdom through the church for the glory of Jesus Christ, who is the only Savior and Lord over all.