Can You Fall from Grace?: If Grace Can\’t Help, What Can?


You may have heard about the recent situation with Heath Mooney, founding pastor of Ignite Church in Missouri. He was arrested and charged with a DWI. It costed him his church and great embarrassment for his congregation and his family. If you have not heard about Mooney, I am sure that you can put another name there with an associated scandal. The name and situation changes but pastors and scandals have become rampant in the news. Mooney\’s scenario got me thinking sincerely about the problem of what we often call \”Pastors who fall from grace.\” The salient question becomes, what now? If anyone falls from grace, where else can one go? If God can\’t help and restore, who can? Who cares?

As a product of the sanctified church tradition, I believe very strongly in holiness. God calls us to live out holiness because God is holy. The truth in scripture leads us to discovering a life of holiness. Holiness is holistic, speaking to what it means to be, to live and to rest in God. To get there, we must fast, pray, seek God and fellowship with people who are going in that same direction. We can\’t live out truth, alone. And we will struggle in various areas, depending on our own vulnerabilities.

I believe strongly in redemptive grace. Christ comes full of both grace and truth. John 1:14 states, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

Truth calls for disciplined living that is oriented toward the holiness of God. Grace calls for redemption through the struggles that each of us will inevitably face in the pursuit of a holy life.

Pastors must come to terms with the relationship between grace and truth. Christ calls us and the Holy Spirit empowers us. Christians must stand for what it right, while also seeking to redeem humanity through Christ’s redemptive power. Humanity includes us. We are tasked with preaching truth as a goal and not as an achievement.

Paul says, “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own” (Philippians 3:12).

The tension that exists between grace and truth has been one that I have wrestled with over the years. Once I thought that to be serious about my faith meant that I must profess perfection and must be hard on others who come short of it. But my assumption was the product of sincerity but also naïvety.

Life and faith has taught me over the years that people struggle in different places. Christ works with us, beckoning us toward holiness. For some, the journey takes longer than others; the roads are rough and full of potholes to trip us up. Thus, Paul teaches that we must “work out [our] own salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12). This means that we have responsibility to respond to the divine expectation to become who God wants us to be. Yet, Christ offers continued grace. And no one has moved beyond that place and space of grace. The question becomes, why do we think that we have? Christ does not give up on us.

Even the preachers have space for grace. Society, the church, and ordinary Christians place too much expectation upon the people of the cloth. That expectation is often more of a pressure than a call to responsibility.

Pastors are neither gods nor demigods. In a celebrity-driven, photoshoped perfect image expectant society, pastors often succumb to the pressure of pretending to be something that they are not. They  need to know that God did not call perfect men, gods nor demigods to serve in ministry, and we need to know that, too.

This fact does not give pastors a pass on the pursuit of truth. But, it should also give them access to grace for their own journey of faith. While preachers should strive to be examples in word and deed, they also struggle in one place or another just as all Christians. All of us need God’s grace to help us in the areas of weakness.

To say that we need help does not diminish the sacredness of the pastoral call to serve as leaders. It also does not mean that pastors must live and make choices with responsibility of the call to leadership. However, the reality of their own human struggle must take the spotlight off of the pastor and put it back on Christ, where it belongs. God chooses those who are willing to dare to say yes, not those who are perfect.

God is the all-sufficient one, not the pastors. Moreover, when a pastor fails morality, we should ask, what led to the fall? Was it the pressure to perform or to be more than a human in need of God’s grace? Did that preacher ever think of himself or herself more highly than he or she should have? In any case, preachers need to realize that while they are called to lead, they are called to follow. Preachers are called to propagate truth. Yet, they are also called to propagate grace. Preachers are called to live in truth. Yet, they are called to accept grace in the pursuit of truth for their lives and for others.

Pastors are called to serve in leadership and lifestyle. Yet, Paul sheds light on God’s grace when he says, “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted” (Galatians 6:1). And yes, this goes for all Christians, including pastors. Christ is beckoning for those who have fail to admit it, repent of it, heal from it, and move forward in truth and grace.

No one should ever let go because their mistakes prove that they were not as perfect as they or others thought they were. If one thinks of him or herself to be perfect, the moral failure was also a complex manifestation of God’s grace to awaken them and their followers to the harsh reality that they never were perfect. So now that they know that, perhaps their ministry would have greater impact.

May Heath Mooneyham and so many other pastors discover and rediscover God’s grace. Indeed, we are disappointed in our leaders when they fail; we also disappoint ourselves when we fail. We want to succeed in every area of our lives. That is our goal, even when mistakes are overtly ridiculous. Yet, the process of holiness requires grace for the journey. So, may all Christians and the congregations live out what it means to respond to failures appropriately with truth and grace more than we respond out of embarrassment and negative judgment.

It has been said that when a pastor has a moral failure, he or she falls from grace. Contrariwise, I have come to believe that a person who accepts the truth about sin, even their own, never falls from grace. Rather, he or she only falls into the arms of grace. Grace points to truth, offers forgiveness, heals and restores.

Christ\’s grace does not evade truth; it acknowledges the truth about sin — affirming that our wrong doings are indeed wrong, even despicable at times. Stated plainly, Grace says, \”Look at the truth of the matter. Truth does not accept excuses, only says that the thing is right or wrong.\” But grace, furthermore, insists, “Christ forgives and gives yet another chance.” May Mooneyham and others be forgiven, healed, and granted another change to pursue what God has called for him to do.

The beauty of Christ’s grace that works with truth is that it takes brokenness and births a future of hope and help for others who are desperate for righteousness and restoration.

Dr. Antipas L. Harris
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