A Surprise Failure
Years back, I worked in children’s ministry at our church. Since I had a background in music, my boss tasked me with composing an original song for the kids to sing in worship services on Easter Sunday. I wrote a simple melody with lyrics based on Psalm 67 and then recorded myself singing and playing the piano so the kids could easily follow along.
Two hundred burned CDs later, I had the parents pick up the music the following Sunday at church. I encouraged them to play it whenever they could leading up to Easter.
That is until I received some urgent phone calls.
Apparently, the software I had used to burn the CDs had somehow changed my song titles into random expletives. To this day, I have no idea how this happened, and I was mortified. Those poor kids! I immediately emailed the parents to apologize.
It was the definition of an epic failure.
The Sting of Failure
If I asked you to remember a time when you failed, you’d probably not have to think too long or hard about it. Failure often embarrasses and shames us, and therefore it gets imprinted on our memories like a scar on impressionable flesh. Of course, some failures are more like inconspicuous marks rather than gaping wounds, but regardless, failure always stings.
Perhaps failure after failure has seemed to define you, and you feel stuck, unable to change, and afraid of the patterns you can’t break. But what you need to know is this: God’s promise of acceptance is for you.
Or maybe you’re a perfectionist, and a good kind of determination can quickly devolve into an exhausting and fear-driven pursuit of the unattainable. God’s promise of acceptance is equally for you.
Forgetting Our Great God
So much of our fear of failure, and our resistance against anything that will make us look weak and incapable, comes from forgetfulness. We forget that only God is God, perfect in power, wisdom, and character. We forget that we are not like Him, that He made us flesh-bound creatures—molded in His image, yes, but with limitations that are good for us because they keep us dependent on Him. We forget how lifeless and empty and foolish are the world’s messages that deceive us into thinking we’ve got this and we’re enough. That is, until we don’t “got this” and we’re clearly not enough, so we feel even worse than when we started.
And we forget the great extent of God’s mercy and grace for sinners, that He has promised to accept us through the saving work of His Son: “And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness” (Romans 4:5).
What’s the basis for such a magnificent promise as this? The grounds of our acceptance are not our earning it; nor does God simply sweep our sins under the rug. The basis of God accepting us, as Romans 4:5 states, is that “[he will justify] the ungodly” who believe in Him by faith in Jesus Christ.
But what does “justify” mean?
An Astonishing Reality
In Romans 5:6 we get our first clue toward a definition: “While we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.” Jesus, the God-man and the epitome of godliness, did what ungodly and forgetful sinners could never do. He feared God with perfection—He worshiped and revered Him, and Him alone—all the way to the cross, where He became the acceptable sacrifice for sin. He took our place upon the tree, because we, in our ungodliness, could never earn God’s acceptance. And because God, in His righteousness, could never justly sweep our sins under the rug.
On the cross, Jesus became sin—He became our unacceptability before God—so we might become His righteousness and be accepted by God.
This is what many have called the Great Exchange. In God’s compassion and love toward ungodly and forgetful sinners, He gave his only Son, so that “to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness” (Romans 4:5). The grounds for God’s acceptance of His people, then, involves this astounding exchange called imputation: our sins upon Jesus, His sinlessness upon us.
Justification, then, means that an ungodly sinner has received Christ’s sinless record and has been declared righteous in God’s sight. It means the Great Exchange has been accomplished by Jesus on the sinner’s behalf.
Justification means, in these astonishing words, that it’s just as if we had never sinned.
Fight Failure with These Three Truths
Yet our struggle with forgetfulness won’t cease until we see the One in whom we have believed by faith. We need to fight every day for the truth of the gospel message to fill our minds and penetrate our hearts. So, when you’re struggling with the fear of failure, tell yourself these three truths, taken from Paul’s words in Romans 5:
1: God’s promise is trustworthy and true.
“Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (v. 1). If you have laid hold of Jesus Christ by faith, then declare to your own heart what God has declared in the heavenly places: I am justified in Jesus Christ. Yes, I have sinned and failed, but Jesus came for this, to bear my sin and remove my guilt. I am at peace with God. He has accepted me.
2: God’s glory is the goal.
“Through [Christ] we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God” (v. 2). The end of all things and the aim for which we live is the glory of God. This means you can rejoice and persevere even when you fail, since your hope isn’t in yourself but in God who gets glory as you learn to trust and fear Him.
3: God’s Spirit is at work.
“Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (vs. 3–5). Since Jesus is sovereign and good, He will use your failures, and even suffering, to accomplish His transforming work in you, which is ultimately for the advancement of His purposes so that many more people will be pointed to Him.
Meet the Author:
Kristen Wetherell is a wife, mother, and writer. She is the co-author of the award-winning book Hope When It Hurts: Biblical Reflections to Help You Grasp God's Purpose in Your Suffering, as well as Fight Your Fears: Trusting God’s Character and Promises When You Are Afraid. She has contributed to several compilation books and writes regularly for the Gospel Coalition, Desiring God, and Revive Our Hearts. She and her husband, Brad, live with their daughter in the Chicago suburbs. Follow Kristen at her website, kristenwetherell.com.