We all know that feeling of defeat and disillusionment in our walk with Christ. We have just failed Him again. We are full of guilt. We wonder if we will ever have victory over that particular sin. How we respond in that moment reveals our understanding and application of who God is. There are many texts of Scripture that we could go to for encouragement and counsel for those kinds of moments. One essential response is to freshly apply the realities of the gospel; that God actually justified us when we were ungodly (Romans 4:5) and that He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins (1 John 1:9).
But there is a striking reminder from the life of Ahab King of Israel in the Old Testament that ought to give us much hope and incentive to humble ourselves before the Lord in times like these. If we were to list the kings of Judah and Israel in the two categories of “good” and “bad” there would be some kings we would have difficulty categorizing, but not Ahab. He is decidedly on the “bad” side. Rather than looking at all the evidences of his “badness” (of which there are plenty!) consider these verses:
1 Kings 21:25-26 Surely there was no one like Ahab who sold himself to do evil in the sight of the LORD, because Jezebel his wife incited him. 26 He acted very abominably in following idols, according to all that the Amorites had done, whom the LORD cast out before the sons of Israel.
Many kings did “evil in the sight of the LORD”, but “surely there was no one like Ahab who sold himself to do evil in the sight of the LORD.” From these verses it is clear that Ahab was strikingly wicked. But the Holy Spirit records an event in the life of Ahab before and after these verses that highlight the striking character of God. Ahab took part in Jezebel’s evil plot to murder and then take Naboth’s Vineyard. This was the capstone of a life of evil and God’s judgment was pronounced:
1 Kings 21:19-24 “You shall speak to him, saying, ‘Thus says the LORD, “Have you murdered and also taken possession?”‘ And you shall speak to him, saying, ‘Thus says the LORD, “In the place where the dogs licked up the blood of Naboth the dogs will lick up your blood, even yours.”‘” 20 Ahab said to Elijah, “Have you found me, O my enemy?” And he answered, “I have found you, because you have sold yourself to do evil in the sight of the LORD. 21 “Behold, I will bring evil upon you, and will utterly sweep you away, and will cut off from Ahab every male, both bond and free in Israel; 22 and I will make your house like the house of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, and like the house of Baasha the son of Ahijah, because of the provocation with which you have provoked Me to anger, and because you have made Israel sin. 23 “Of Jezebel also has the LORD spoken, saying, ‘The dogs will eat Jezebel in the district of Jezreel.’ 24 “The one belonging to Ahab, who dies in the city, the dogs will eat, and the one who dies in the field the birds of heaven will eat.”
Right after this proclaimed judgment we are told of Ahab’s notable wickedness. All of this makes complete sense. Ahab was wicked, and because God is good and righteous He would judge Ahab. But what verses 27-29 recount is something that shouts to us the character of God and the hope for people like us in those moments of failure that we all so often know. How would wicked Ahab respond to this pronounced judgment? He humbled himself:
1 Kings 21:27 It came about when Ahab heard these words, that he tore his clothes and put on sackcloth and fasted, and he lay in sackcloth and went about despondently.
In those moments of defeat after sin we know in our heads that God is love and gracious toward humble sinners who trust in Christ alone, but at that moment we think we are unique. We think that we must be the exception. We think “I have done it one too many times now.” How will God respond to me this time? But before we let ourselves continue with those kinds of thoughts, be shocked with the example of how God responded to Ahab, that strikingly wicked king:
1 Kings 21:29 “Do you see how Ahab has humbled himself before Me? Because he has humbled himself before Me, I will not bring the evil in his days, but I will bring the evil upon his house in his son’s days.”
This response of the Lord to wicked Ahab must inform how we respond to “another time of failure” in our walk with Christ. Wicked Ahab got grace because he humbled himself. As we continue to read in 1 Kings it is clear that Ahab went back to his old ways, but in this one instance Ahab humbled himself and God did not oppose him, but gave him grace (James 4:6; 1 Peter 5:5). If you have ever turned from your sin and trusted in Christ alone for your salvation then you are in union with Christ. How do you think God will respond to you in that moment of failure if you just humble yourself before Him rather than being despondent and ashamed to approach Him? Do you think you will know God’s grace? Ahab did. Ahab was notoriously wicked and he ended his life that way as well, but even in this wicked king’s life God’s gracious character to the humble shines through; in fact, it brilliantly shines and it almost seems that God’s grace scandalously shines. Why should God be gracious to wicked, but in this instance, humble Ahab? Because that is who God is. God delights in lavishing sinners who know they are sinners with His mercy and He does so righteously because of the sacrifice of Jesus in our behalf for our sin. So get up from failure by getting down before God in humility. The way up is down and sinners like us can boldly come before the throne of grace because we have found Jesus to be our all in all, not ourselves. Confidently come before God’s throne of grace floored before him in humility and floored by His response of grace to a sinner like you.