I’m not much of a tennis fan, but when Nadal and Federer faced off in the Wimbledon finals last July, I had to watch. They said the match was probably the greatest Wimbledon final of all time. I probably would agree, given my limited exposure. At one point in time, Federer was being taken to town by Nadal. Nothing seemed to be going right for him, and several volleys into the game, he still hadn’t won a point. That’s when I realized where God was a lot like tennis: no matter if you’ve made every possible mistake and got nothing right, you’re still at “love.”
It’s been that way throughout history. I’ve said for several years now that almost all of the great heroes of faith in the Bible were, at one point, royal screw-ups. Hebrews 11, often called the Old Testament “Hall of Faith,” lists some of the great pre-Christ figures of inspiration. It exalts Noah, who was at one time a sloppy naked drunk (Genesis 9:21). It praises Abraham, who twice almost let someone have sex with his wife to save his own skin (Genesis 12:10-20, 20:2-9) and committed adultery because he lacked faith in God’s promise (Genesis 16:4). It too praises Sarah, who laughed in God’s face when He promised her a son and then later denied it (Genesis 18:12-15), incited her man to do her maid (Genesis 16:2), and then cruelly exiled her maid and her young son to live in the wilderness for obeying Sarah’s own orders (Genesis 21:10).
Hebrews goes on the extol Isaac, who went against God’s prophecy (Genesis 25:23) and tried to bless Esau (Genesis 27:23). Jacob, too, is lauded, the man who cheated his brother (Genesis 25:29-34) and deceived his father (Genesis 27). It of course adulates Moses, the murderer (Exodus 2:12), the chronically hesitant (Exodus 4:1-12), the unfaithful (Numbers 20:12). The list in Hebrews goes on and on praising people for their faith even though they had huge screw-ups in their lives: Rahab the prostitute, Gideon who was slow to take up arms, Barak who hesistated, Samson the unquenchably lustful, and Jephthah who made a vow that cost his daughter her life. Let us not forget the great King David, who is praised as a man after God’s own heart, but who also engaged in a peep-show of a bathing woman on his roof, proceeded to have a quickie with her, and then murdered her husband to cover it up (2 Samuel 11). Then there’s his son Solomon, who we all know for his wisdom, that turned away from God and had 700 wives…and 300 concubines, just in case (1 Kings 11:3).
I could go on and on. It even seems to me that God chose Israel because He knew that this people would be particularly screwy. And the New Testament story line is no different. The two greatest figures after Christ were Peter and Paul. Peter was constantly trying to get ahead, was uncontrollably violent (John 18:10), flatly denied ever knowing Jesus three times (John 18:25-27), and even after all this, continued to be a racist (Galatians 2:11-14). Paul, on the same hand, used to be in the daily business of pursuing, arresting, torturing, and killing Christians (Acts 7:58, 8:1, 3).
All these heroes of the faith messed up in really big ways. Here’s the great thing about these royal screw-ups: I’m one too. I’ve messed up so bad and so often, I almost cry just thinking about it. But the faith of these men acted as acceptance of God’s persistent grace, and that grace covers all of their mistakes…and mine too. If God can take murderers, drunks, prostitutes, lechers, liars, and bigots, and transform them into something beautiful and worth looking up to, He can do it for me too, and you too. Indeed, I can join these “royal” screw-ups by joining in their royalty: their royal priesthood and crowns of righteousness (1 Peter 2:9; 2 Timothy 4:8). And here’s the best part about it: we don’t stay Royal Screw-ups. I’ll conclude with one of my favorite verses:
Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. — 1 Corinthians 6:9-11