Three Strikes and You're Out or Are You?

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Three Strikes and You're Out or Are You?

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"Strike three! You're out!" Hearing the umpire's final call, the batter bowed his head, turned and slowly walked away from the plate. The dugout was smothered in silence, unbroken by the coach's usual encouragement that would take the sting out of another failed attempt at bat. It wasn't the first strikeout for the young batter, and there would be many more times he would come away without getting to first base, let alone all the way around to home plate.

This time was different, though. The team members were counting on the last batter of the game to pull them out of the throes of another defeat and keep them in the race for the championship. But the batter failed. The game, and the season, was over. The weight of failure was heavy.

In many ways, our battle with sin is similar to that battle of the young batter. We don't always do our best when it is time to step up to the plate, when it counts so much. Sometimes we may be outclassed by a great pitch or strong defense. Sometimes we defeat ourselves by failing to prepare and get caught off guard by a fastball that sails right by us.

Failure hurts; the reality of what we have done overwhelms. If too many trips to the plate end in defeat, we are tempted to give up. David knew the feeling. "For innumerable evils have surrounded me; my iniquities have overtaken me, so that I am not able to look up; they are more than the hairs of my head; therefore my heart fails me" (Psalm 40:12).

Unlike a game that ends after nine innings, or a season that ends with the victory going to an opponent, the battle against sin lasts a lifetime. Instead of 10 or 15 good years in the game, we may spend 60, 70 or even more years in the fight against sin.

Why not just forfeit?

With the competition so strong and so highly skilled, why should a Christian keep coming back to the plate? Why continue the struggle to defeat the pulls of the flesh?

Certainly, part of the answer lies in the gift of salvation that will come—after a life of striving against sin, of fighting the good fight and doing battle against the foe—as a result of our repentance of sin and Christ's sacrifice. We are driven to continue so we can hear the words: "Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord" (Matthew 25:21).

But that is in the future, and a lot can happen between now and then. How can we know now-day by day-that continuing to fight is worth the effort? Is it true that we can win and attain the goal we strive for? Has God made a way possible for us to succeed in this our greatest battle of all so that we need never think about giving up? God's Word assures us that our efforts are not in vain (2 Peter 1:10-11).

God has a wonderful plan for us-a plan that included giving His only Son for the sake of all mankind so that we can inherit a life without end. When we take a closer look at this part of God's plan, we find the encouragement to keep going on, to continue the fight and not give up.

God knows the depths of despair we fall into when we fail to live up to His expectations. He knows the penalty of sin-pain, suffering and heartbreak. Surely God wants better for us.

Who's counting?

"Out of the depths I have cried to You, O Lord; Lord, hear my voice! Let Your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications. If You, Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?" (Psalm 130:1-3). Truly, if God kept track of all our failures, no one could ever hope to succeed. All hope would be lost.

But notice what God tells us through wise King Solomon: "For there is not a just man on earth who does good and does not sin" (Ecclesiastes 7:20).

By just, he means righteous-like Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham and many, many more. While we may feel at times like the worst of sinners, we are not alone in our struggle; others have walked this path before us. The saying is true that "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23). This truth should help a little in holding the right perspective. However, a rereading of Hebrews 11 should encourage us.

God does not leave us without hope. He knows we will need help, and He provides it. As the scripture says, "This poor man cried out, and the Lord heard him, and saved him out of all his troubles. The angel of the Lord encamps all around those who fear Him, and delivers them . . . Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all" (Psalm 34:6-7, Psalm 34:19).

But how does God deliver us?

We can find part of the answer in Psalm 130:4: "But there is forgiveness with You, that You may be feared." By God's great mercy, He is willing to forgive us when we stumble and fall. He knows we will need His forgiveness again and again, and He paid a dear price for the forgiveness He offers. Yet this is exactly how God has made it possible for us to continue this good fight. For this we should thank God every day.

God provides a Redeemer, one who paid the penalty of sin for us. "The Lord redeems the soul of His servants, and none of those who trust in Him shall be condemned" (Psalm 34:22).

Strike one

Unlike humans, God has enormous capacity to forgive. That does not give us license to sin or to treat with impunity the redemption available to us through God's Son. God knows our heart, and He knows the power of sin. If we trust in Him—if we keep stepping back up to the plate when it is our turn again at bat, committed to hitting the ball this time and getting to first base, then second and eventually home-He will be there whenever we need strength.

He has redeemed us once and for all and will forgive us over and over until the season of our life is complete. "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9).

David knew that God knew he had committed sin, and he knew he could not blame anyone else for what had happened. God knows what sin is, and so should we. We must come to recognize our part in the deadly process of sin, the breaking of the eternal, spiritual law of God.

"For I acknowledge my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against You, You only, have I sinned, and done this evil in Your sight-that You may be found just when You speak, and blameless when You judge . . . Behold, You desire truth in the inward parts . . ." (Psalm 51:3-6).

A willing heart

We must be willing to go before God and accept personal responsibility for our sins. Only then, with a heart committed to doing better next time, can we count on the forgiveness God makes possible.

We must never give up. Each time we're at the plate staring the foe in the eye, we need to ask God for the means to live in us and bring about the results He wants and we want: to succeed and inherit eternal life. Further, the team is encouraged if we take the bat confidently in hand and attempt once again to do our best. But we have to know just how much we need God every time at bat.

If we want the victory, God will help us overcome. "When with rebukes You correct man for iniquity, You make his beauty melt away like a moth; surely every man is vapor" (Psalm 39:11).

He shows us the error of our ways and then heals us. "I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely, for My anger has turned away from him" (Hosea 14:4).

But it takes the right attitude. "If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land" (2 Chronicles 7:14). "I, even I, am He who blots out your transgressions for My own sake; and I will not remember your sins" (Isaiah 43:25).

God's forgiveness makes it possible for us to step up to the plate again after the times we stumble and miss the mark. God's forgiveness is real, thorough and complete. We must be willing to believe that it is ours if we go to Him:

"Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits: who forgives all your iniquities, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from destruction, who crowns you with lovingkindness and tender mercies, who satisfies your mouth with good things, so that your youth is renewed like the eagle's ... As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us. As a father pities his children, so the Lord pities them who fear Him. For He knows our frame; that we are but dust" (Psalm 103:2-5, Psalm 103:12-14).

Our loving Father and our Redeemer, Jesus Christ, our faithful brother and friend, are committed to our success, in spite of our losses. But if we quit trying, if we give up, we will never win. We must never give up. "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is...the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only, but also to all who have loved His appearing" (2 Timothy 4:7-8).

Over the fence

The next time you strike out or get caught off guard, remember: "But there is forgiveness with You, that You may be feared" (Psalm 130:4). Then get back in training, preparing for the final victory that God promises, remembering that God makes salvation possible by His forgiveness.

What else can we do but give thanks? As David said in Psalm 40:16-17: "Let all those who seek You rejoice and be glad in You; let such as love Your salvation say continually, 'The Lord be magnified!' But I am poor and needy; yet the Lord thinks upon me. You are my help and my deliverer. Do not delay, O my God."