It is a thought that troubles me. It leads me to observe again the seduction of sin, to grapple once more with the weakness of the human heart, to consider anew the sheer darkness of depravity. It makes me wonder, could we, could I, be in the time in-between? Could I be oblivious to the reality that I am living in the time between the first blush of God’s gracious blessing and the crushing blow of his just discipline?
I have been a Christian long enough to see more than my fair share of men fall. This I have observed: It’s so often the ones who seemed to be at their greatest moment of success who were on the precipice of destruction. Like blind men about to blunder off a cliff, they were oblivious to their impending doom. They failed to heed God’s warnings in that time in-between.
For a while their ministry thrived. Souls were won, pews were filled, lives were changed, churches were planted. They preached powerful sermons at huge conferences and wrote successful books that hit the bestseller lists. Thousands or even millions marveled at what God had done and at what God was doing.
But then the news broke: He is a serial adulterer; he is a spiritual abuser; he is a financial mismanager; he protected himself by burying someone else’s depravity. His resounding crash echoed around the world.
In almost every case, the transgression that undid him was not his first and only. In almost every case, it soon came out that there was a long and ugly history behind it. It’s rare that a man goes down for his first offense. Sometimes we learn he lived a double-life, hiding his aberrant behavior from even the most observant companion. But more commonly, we learn that those who were closest to him saw this behavior for months or years. They had tried to address it and been hushed, or perhaps they had been complicit in it. “Never criticize what God is blessing,” right? And who could doubt the blessing of God when so much good was being done.
In almost every case, there was a lengthy in-between time. He sinned or began to sin and for a time God held off the immediate consequences. God gave him time to repent and correct his behavior, to begin leading with love and humility. Or God gave him time to express integrity by owning his sin and quietly, humbly resigning from ministry as one disqualified from it. Meanwhile, God continued to bless his ministry, to give him success, to give him skill with his pen and unction in his preaching.
But still that man did not repent. He did not learn the lessons God longed to teach him. He did not heed the gentle warnings of the Holy Spirit. He did not receive the rebuke of godly friends. God’s patience elapsed. God’s justice was exercised. The news broke, the man fell, the church wept. It may well have been a kind of fulfillment of Romans 2: “Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?” (Romans 2:4). God patiently waited but that man stubbornly persisted. So at last God exposed him as a fraud, as a hypocrite, as an impenitent. What could have been done quietly and privately turned into a public scandal. If only he had heeded God in the time in-between.
And I wonder, could I be in the time in-between? Could you? Is it possible we are presuming on God’s grace even right now? The blessing we enjoy today, the success we see in this moment, may be an expression of God’s patience as he gives us the opportunity to heed his Spirit, obey his Word, and repent of sin. Pray! Pray that God would make you eager to hear, tender to consider, and brutal to act against every sin. Cry out with the man after God’s own heart, “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!” (Psalm 139:23-24).