God Uses Imperfect People

I think it was Martin Luther who popularized the phrase, God uses crooked sticks to draw straight lines. It’s a cleaver phrase that communicates the notion that God works through imperfect people to accomplish His perfect will. Though I believe God calls us to be transformed in our thoughts, words, and actions (Rom 12:1-2), and to strive for spiritual and moral purity (1 Pet 1:15-16), the reality is that He does not wait for us to be perfect before He uses us. In fact, if God were to say to His children, “Let those who are without sin serve me”, there would be none. Though Christians are not perfect, we can be humble and obedient, and when willing to do God’s will, He can and will work through us as conduits of truth, grace, and love. Below are a few examples of God working through imperfect believers whom He used to advance His truth and plans in the world.

  1. Abraham was called into a special relationship with God (Gen 12:1-3), but twice lied and jeopardized the safety of his wife, Sarah (Gen 12:10-20; 20:1-11). Yet, God worked through Abraham to produce the nation of Israel, who in turn gave us the Scriptures, and Jesus, the Messiah (Matt 1:1, 17).
  2. Tamar played a prostitute in order to sleep with Judah, her father-in-law (Gen 38:13-14), and Judah had sex with her, thinking she was a harlot (Gen 38:15-18). In spite of their conniving, God worked through their offspring to bring forth Messiah, the Savior of the world (Matt 1:3).
  3. Moses killed a man (Ex 2:11-14), argued with the Lord when called into ministry (Ex 4:1-13), which angered the Lord (Ex 4:14), and later disobeyed the Lord’s directive (Num 20:6-11), and suffered divine discipline (Num 20:12). On one occasion, Moses became so overwhelmed with the pressures of leadership, that he asked God to kill him (Num 11:11-15). Yet, God worked through this imperfect man to lead His people out of Egyptian captivity (Ex 3:9-10; Hos 12:13), and to write holy Scripture (the Pentateuch).
  4. Samson was a man with problems, as he’d slept with several women (Judg 16:1, 4), and lied to his parents (Judg 14:5-9). Yet, three times we are told “The Spirit of the LORD came upon him” (Judg 14:6, 19; 15:14), and that God worked through Samson as “he judged Israel twenty years ” (Judg 16:31).
  5. King David had an adulterous affair with Bathsheba and then murdered her husband, Uriah (2 Sam 11:1-17), followed Satan’s temptation and “sinned greatly” by taking an unauthorized census in Israel (1 Ch 21:1, 8), and even practiced the sin of polygamy contrary to the Law of Moses (Deut 17:17).[1] Yet, God used David to lead the nation of Israel, write Scripture (he wrote 73 psalms), and receive the honor of being called a man after God’s own heart (1 Sam 13:14; cf. Acts 13:22).
  6. Solomon practiced polygamy and “had seven hundred wives, princesses, and three hundred concubines” (1 Ki 11:3a), and this in spite of God’s clear directive for the king of Israel, that he “shall not multiply wives for himself” (Deut 17:17). Yet, in spite of Solomon’s failures, God worked through him to build the Jewish temple (1 Ki 5:5; 6:37-38), and write Scripture (Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Solomon).
  7. Jonah had some problems with God’s grace and mercy being extended to others whom he felt deserved the Lord’s wrath (Jonah 4:1-2). Jonah even disobeyed the Lord and fled His calling (Jonah 1:1-3). Yet, the Lord humbled His prophet (Jonah 1:4-2:10), who eventually obeyed and preached His Word to the Ninevites (Jonah 3:1-4). The result was that many thousands “believed in God” (Jonah 3:5), turned from their sinful ways (Jonah 3:6-9), and were spared from the Lord’s wrath (Jonah 3:10).
  8. Elijah, after a great spiritual victory over the false prophets of Baal (1 Ki 18:1-40), became mentally overwhelmed when threatened by Jezebel (1 Ki 19:1-2), and became “afraid and arose and ran for his life” (1 Ki 19:3). Elijah ran into the wilderness and “requested for himself that he might die” (1 Ki 19:4). But God extended grace, fed him, gave him time to rest (1 Ki 19:5-7), and waited for Elijah to complete a forty-day journey to Mount Horeb (1 Ki 19:8). Afterward, God recommissioned His prophet to return to Israel and appoint his successor (1 Ki 19:15-21).
  9. Jeremiah was a prophet of the Lord who, during his time of ministry, felt overwhelmed by the pressures he’d been facing (Jer 20:8-10), and became severely depressed and entertained suicidal ideations (Jer 20:15-18). Yet, God worked through Jeremiah to communicate His Word to His people (Jer 1:4-10), which he faithfully executed for decades, in spite of the negative volition of others (Jer 25:3).
  10. The apostles James and John—also known as the Sons of Thunder (Mark 3:17)—suggested to Jesus that a Samaritan city be destroyed by fire (Luke 9:51-54), but Jesus “turned and rebuked them” for their wrong attitude (Luke 9:55). Yet, these men were granted permission to preach Jesus’ message to others (Matt 10:1-8), and to see the glorified Lord on the Mount of Transfiguration (Matt 17:1-2).
  11. Peter was a man who seemed impulsive at times and said some really dumb things. On one occasion, Peter rebuked the Lord and tried to stop Jesus from going to the cross (Matt 16:21-23), and later publicly denied Him three times (Matt 26:69-75), and even “began to curse and swear”, telling others, “I do not know the man” (Matt 26:74). Yet, God showed him grace and used this imperfect person over and over to lead others to faith in Christ (read Acts 2-12) and to help Christians advance to spiritual maturity (1 & 2 Peter).
  12. The apostle John, while receiving divine revelation, was twice rebuked for worshipping an angel (Rev 19:10; 22:8-9); yet, he was used by the Lord to write Scripture (the Gospel of John, 1, 2, 3 John, and Revelation), and to share the gospel of grace that others might be saved (John 20:30-31).

When I think about my own sinfulness and shortcomings (which are constantly before me), I’m daily reminded of God’s grace towards me, and that He continues to use crooked sticks to draw straight lines. I think there’s merit to the Latin phrase, simul iustus et peccator, which translated means we are simultaneously just and sinners. Both are true. Always. We are justified in the sight of God because Christ has borne our sin on the cross (Mark 10:45), judicially forgiven us all our sins (Eph 1:7; Heb 10:10-14), gifted us with His own righteousness (Rom 5:17; Phil 3:9), and eternal life (John 10:28). God calls us to leave behind the values and practices of this world (Rom 12:1-2), and to advance to spiritual maturity (Heb 6:1; 1 Pet 2:2), that we might live holy lives (1 Pet 1:15-16). Yet, we still possess a sinful nature (Rom 7:18-23; 1 John 1:8), commit acts of sin (Eccl 7:20; 1 John 1:10), and need to confess our sin daily to the Lord (1 John 1:9). As a Christian, I know it’s never God’s will that we sin, but when we sin, it’s always His will that we handle it in a biblical manner by honest confession, in order that we might be forgiven (in a familial sense) and restored to fellowship with Him. This is why confession is so important to the growing Christian; for “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). Once we’re restored to fellowship, it’s God’s will that we “walk in a manner worthy of the Lord” (Col 1:10), and to “walk as children of Light” (Eph 5:8).

The Lord is able to use believers who are humble (1 Pet 5:5), who study His Word (Psa 1:2; 2 Tim 2:15, 1 Pet 2:2), and live by faith (Heb 10:38; Jam 1:22). Christians who advance spiritually will become more and more righteous, which means we will sin less and less; however, it never means we will attain sinless perfection in this lifetime. Jesus, in His humanity, was the only Person to ever live a spiritually and morally perfect life in this world, as Scripture reveals He “committed no sin” (1 Pet 2:22), “knew no sin” (2 Cor 5:21), was “without sin” (Heb 4:15), and in whom “there is no sin” (1 John 3:5). Apart from the Lord Jesus, there are no perfect people in this world. All humanity, even the saved, are not perfectly righteous in character and conduct, nor ever will be in this life, “for there is no one who does not sin” (1 Ki 8:46), and “there is not a righteous person on earth who continually does good and who never sins” (Eccl 7:20; cf. Prov 20:9; Rom 3:23; 1 John 1:8, 10). We don’t have to be perfect to be used by the Lord. However, when called in the moment, we need to be humble and obedient to do His will.

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Related Articles:

[1] From Scripture we know the names of eight of David’s wives: Michal (1 Sam 18:27), Abigail (1 Sam 25:39-42), Ahinoam (1 Sam 25:43), Bathsheba (2 Sam 12:24), Maacah, Haggith, Abital, and Eglah (2 Sam 3:2-5). And he had other wives and concubines that are not named, as Scripture reveals, “David took more concubines and wives from Jerusalem, after he came from Hebron” (2 Sam 5:13a).

The Meaning of Sin

     The MeaningThe word sin is found throughout Scripture, and both the Hebrew and Greek share the same basic meaning. The Hebrew word חָטָא chata means “to miss the target, or to lose the way,”[1] and the Greek word ἁμαρτάνω hamartano is defined as “miss the mark, err, or do wrong.”[2] In Judges 20:16 the Hebrew word is used of skilled soldiers who do not miss their target, and in Proverbs 19:2 of a man who hurries and misses his way.[3] Sin is when we transgress God’s law and depart from His intended path.[4] The apostle John states, “Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness” (1 John 3:4). “Sin may be comprehensively defined as lack of conformity to the law of God in act, habit, attitude, outlook, disposition, motivation, and mode of existence.”[5]

     Divine laws are a reflection of the righteousness of God. The righteousness of God may be defined as the intrinsic, immutable, moral perfection of God, from which He commands all things, in heaven and earth, and declares as good that which conforms to His righteousness and as evil that which deviates. God’s character is the basis upon which all just laws derive; either divine laws from God Himself or human laws which conform to His righteousness.[6]

The underlying idea of sin is that of law and of a lawgiver. The lawgiver is God. Hence sin is everything in the disposition and purpose and conduct of God’s moral creatures that is contrary to the expressed will of God (Rom. 3:20; 4:15; 7:7; James 4:12, 17). The sinfulness of sin lies in the fact that it is against God, even when the wrong we do is to others or ourselves (Gen. 39:9; Ps. 51:4).[7]

     God permits sin, but is never the author of it. Sin is the expression of a creaturely will that is set against God. The sin we commit may be mental, verbal, or physical. It may be private or public, impacting one or many, with short or lasting results. Below are biblical examples of sin:

  1. Lucifer sought to place himself above God (Isa. 14:12-14; Ezek. 28:11-18).
  2. Adam and Eve disobeyed the command not to eat the fruit from “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” (Gen. 2:15-17; 3:1-7).
  3. Lot’s daughters got him drunk and had sex with him (Gen. 19:30-38)
  4. Aaron led the Israelites to worship an idol (Ex. 32:1-6).
  5. Moses struck the rock when the Lord told him only to speak to it (Num. 20:8-12).
  6. Samson slept with prostitutes (Judg. 16:1-4).
  7. David had an affair with Bathsheba and conspired to have her husband, Uriah, murdered (2 Sam. 11:1-21).
  8. Solomon worshiped idols (1 Kings 11:1-10).
  9. Peter tried to prevent Jesus from going to the cross (Matt. 16:21-23).
  10. Peter publicly denied the Lord three times ( 26:34-35; 69-75).
  11. The Christians at Corinth engaged in quarrels (1 Cor. 1:11), jealousy and strife (1 Cor. 3:1-3), fornication (1 Cor. 5:1-2), selfishness and drunkenness (1 Cor. 11:21). 
  12. The Apostle John twice worshiped an angel and was rebuked for it (Rev. 19:10; 22:8-9).

     The above list is a just a sampling of sins in the Bible. Biblically, every person is a sinner in God’s sight. Jesus is the single exception.[8] We are sinners in Adam (Rom. 5:12; 1 Cor. 15:21-22), sinners by nature (Rom. 7:18-21; Gal. 5:17; Eph. 2:1-3), and sinners by choice (1 Kings 8:46; Prov. 20:9; Isa. 53:6; Rom. 3:9-23). Sin separates us from God and renders us helpless to merit God’s approval. We are helpless to solve the sin problem and save ourselves (Rom. 5:6-10; Eph. 2:1-3). Good works have no saving merit before God (Isa. 64:6; Eph. 2:8-9; Tit. 3:5). We cannot save ourselves any more than we can jump across the Grand Canyon or throw rocks and hit the moon. Sadly, many people buy into the lie that they can help save themselves by doing good works. The biblical teaching is that salvation is never based on good works or adherence to law, but by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone (John 3:16; 14:6; Acts 4:12; 16:31). Scripture states, we are “not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified” (Gal 2:16; cf. Rom. 3:20, 28), for “if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly” (Gal. 2:21).

The Good News of the Gospel

     It does no good to talk about sin if we don’t also address God’s solution. God, because of His mercy and love toward us (John 3:16; Eph. 2:3-7), did for us what we cannot do for ourselves. He provided a solution to the problem of sin, and that solution is the cross of Christ (1 Cor. 1:18). God the Son—the second Person of the Trinity—came into the world by human birth (Luke 1:26-35), lived a perfectly righteous life (Matt. 5:17-21; 2 Cor. 5:21; Heb. 4:15; 1 John 3:5), and willingly died in our place and bore the punishment for our sins. The gospel message is that “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:3-4).  Jesus died in our place, “the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God” (1 Pet. 3:18; cf. Rom. 5:6-10). Biblically, we are “justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus (Rom. 3:24), and “we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law” (Rom. 3:28; cf. 4:5), “for by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast (Eph. 2:8-9), for “He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by His grace we would be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life” (Tit. 3:5-7). In order for us to be reconciled to God, we must simply trust in Jesus as our Savior (John 3:16; Acts 16:30-31). When we trust in Christ as our Savior, we are forgiven all our sins (Eph. 1:7; Col. 1:14), and given eternal life (John 3:16; 10:27-28).

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

Related Articles:

 

[1] Ludwig Koehler et al., The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1994–2000), 305.

[2] William Arndt et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 49.

[3] G. Herbert Livingston, “638 חָטָא,” ed. R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1999), 277.

[4] Other Hebrew and Greek words related to sin include: evil (רָע ra – Gen. 3:5), wicked (רָשָׁע rasha – Prov. 15:9), rebellion (פָּשַׁע pasha – Isa. 1:2), iniquity (עָוֹן avon – Isa. 53:6), error (שָׁגָה shagah – Lev. 4:13), guilt (אָשַׁם asham – Lev. 4:22), go astray (תָּעָה taah – Ps. 58:3), bad (κακός kakos – Rom. 12:17), evil (πονηρός poneros – Matt. 7:11), ungodly (ἀσεβής asebes – Rom. 4:5), guilty (ἔνοχος enochos – 1 Cor. 11:27), sin (ἁμαρτία hamartia – 1 Cor. 15:3), unrighteousness (ἀδικία adikia – Rom. 1:18), lawless (ἄνομος anomos – 1 Tim. 1:9), transgression (παράβασις parabasis – Gal. 3:19), ignorance (ἀγνοέω agnoeo – Acts 17:23), go astray (πλανάω planao – 1 Pet. 2:25), trespass (παράπτωμα paraptoma – Rom. 5:15), and hypocrisy (ὑπόκρισις hupokrisis – 1 Tim. 4:2). 

[5] J. I. Packer, Concise Theology: A Guide to Historic Christian Beliefs (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 1993).

[6] If there is no God, then there is no absolute standard for right and wrong and we are left with arbitrary laws based on manufactured values.

[7] Merrill F. Unger and E. McChesney, “Sin,” ed. R.K. Harrison, The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1988), 1198.

[8] Jesus, because of His divine nature (John 1:1, 14; Col. 2:9), and the virgin conception (Isa. 7:14; Luke 1:30-35), is the only person ever born without sin and who committed no sin (2 Cor. 5:21; Heb. 4:15; 1 Pet. 2:22; 1 John 3:5). His perfect humanity and sinless life qualified Him to go to the cross and die in our place. Jesus said, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).