One Hidden Price Tag for ‘Sowing Your Wild Oats’

Over a recent dinner with friends, I found myself yet again bemoaning the fact that so much of my youth and early adulthood had been devoted to the vices of alcohol, drugs and sexual licentiousness. Though filled with immense gratitude that Jesus had come to seek and save me in my late 30’s, after decades of living as a committed enemy of God, I can’t help but wonder “what life might have been like” had I renounced ungodly living in my early 20’s or (better yet) never wandered out into open rebellion to begin with.

Of course, this sort of wishful thinking denies the biblical truth that God is sovereign over absolutely everything (Isaiah 46:8-11) and that He has always had a plan for my life (Jeremiah 29:11). It also fails to fully appreciate the active role I played in two decades of personal hell-raising. Perhaps worst of all, such unhelpful speculation holds me back from more fully appreciating all that God has done for me in Christ, much of which is evident in the life I live today.

Back on the ground in Nov. of 2013, the temptation to wonder what my life might have looked like had I (for example) come to Christ as a youth and entered into seminary training at the age of 22 (rather than 48!) still rears its head every now and then, but five years of facilitating DivorceCare and developing relationships with other men caught up in addictions of one sort or another has had the cumulative effect of really driving Jeremiah 29:11 deep into my heart; I now know for certain that Jesus has always had my name engraved on His hands (Isaiah 49:16), and can more readily trust the “wilderness years” to His authority. Certain of God’s good plan to redeem for Himself a people, I can now confidently offer that hope to others.

In his excellent book Children of the Living God, pastor, speaker and author Sinclair Ferguson has done much to help me see more clearly that Jesus is very much in the business of collecting trophies of grace and setting places at His banquet table for committed enemies. Though these statements might sound so familiar to us that they have begun to lose at least some of their meaning, Ferguson delves deep into these truths to help us see that we are all rebels – even those of us who put up a good front – and that we all have unfettered access to the love of God that He holds for us in His Son. One passage in particular caught my attention (emphasis mine):

We should not be surprised to discover that when God makes sons out of derelicts, the work of restoration may be slow, difficult, and even painful to us. Habits are ingrained in us that are an affront to the father. We have lived, perhaps for years, with tendencies that are contrary to his will. In many ways we might more easily become a ‘hired servant’ as the first prodigal son imagined he would be (Luke 15:19). In some ways life would be a lot easier! But God will make us nothing less than sons! He will not be satisfied by anything short of the restoration of his own image and the reflection of his own glory in our lives. He does not want hired servants (he has angels enough!); he wants children.

Over the years, I have heard countless wannabe Christians say something to the effect that they are planning to make a commitment to Jesus “soon,” but for the time being they want to “have some fun,” “enjoy the whole college experience,” or otherwise put off “getting serious about my faith” until they have taken care of some sinful line items on their personal bucket list. In addition to presuming upon the grace of God, this thinking seems to indicate that the “someday Christian” believes he or she will be able to walk away from a chosen life of depravity without dragging into their new lives of faith some of the old filth in which they have been wading.

There are many things I could say about this thinking. For today, I simply want to focus on the truth that Sinclair Ferguson has offered with regard to the hardening of heart and ungodly habits that remain etched in our lives long after we have come to the end of ourselves and cried out for rescue.

My testimony is simply this: Ferguson is dead-on in his assessment. “Sonship” is much harder to accept when we’ve deliberately given ourselves over to years and years of sin. I’d still prefer to be welcomed into the house of God as a servant.

In 2013, more than 16 years into my sobriety, there are sins I continue to commit even though I very much do not wish to do so (Romans 7). Twenty years in the wilderness – filled as it was with anger, profanity, drinking and so forth – has left some well-worn paths in my heart and mind that I continue to travel even against my wishes. Yes, I have been saved. Yes, I have been given a new heart of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26). Yes, Jesus continues to soften me in ways that are both surprising and unsettling. But there yet remains a lot of work to be done, much of it painful, and all of it largely due to the years of ungodly, rebellious choices I made. Knocking down the monuments of pride and sin is going to take much longer than it would have otherwise, and the work will be all the more difficult as a result.

No one can stop you if your plan is to “live it up” for a few years and then get serious about following Christ once you’ve gotten married and decided to settle down. I would simply respond to that idea by saying that it will be much easier to put down a bottle (no small feat) than it will be to evict the demons you have unwittingly invited into your heart and your home. It will not be as easy as you might think to simply “turn.” The spirits you entertain in your youth will not so easily be untangled in middle age. Trust me on this one.

Luke 11:24-26 (ESV)
“When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, and finding none it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when it comes, it finds the house swept and put in order. Then it goes and brings seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there. And the last state of that person is worse than the first.”

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