Failure and Fellowship

You blew it.  Badly.  Your spiritual progress now depends on what you do next.  

Here are a few mindsets that will lead to deeper trouble:

 I’m halfway down this road already; might as well make it a complete trip. 

Aw shucks, everybody makes mistakes.  God will forgive it anyway.  It’s His job, for crying out loud.  

I’m no longer qualified to follow Jesus, be in church, read the Bible, or pray.  Forget the whole thing.

None of these attitudes are any good.

Consider the single darkest moment in the book of Exodus—the worship of the golden calf (Ex. 32).  The Israelites became antsy because Moses was gone too long on the mountain with God.  They demanded Aaron, next in command, to “make gods who will go before us.”

In short order, Aaron constructed a molten image, set up an altar to worship it, and declared a holiday, “a feast to the LORD.”  Just that quickly, the people committed idolatry, and violated God’s law.

Though the Lord chooses not to destroy the people (thanks to Moses’ prayers of intercession and repentance), consequences immediately unfurl:

  • Moses calls for punitive action against the unrepentant people, leading to the deaths of many.
  • God plagues the people with outbreaks of illness.
  • God commands the people to remove their jewelry, eliminating the appearance of celebration.
  • The people mourned.

Forgiven souls beloved of God often find themselves enduring the spiritual, emotional, or physical consequences of their sin.  They have the gospel’s assurance that they will not perish in the second death, but smart under the pain of their own foolishness, praying for relief that never seems to come.

Moses models fellowship with God in this type of aftermath.  Though he had not personally indulged in the idolatry, he identified himself with the people.  The low, depressed national mood must have weighed upon him considerably.

Prior to this vile chapter, “The Lord used to speak to Moses  face to face, as a man speaks to his friend” (Ex. 33:11). Similarly, Christians are also called friends of God in John 15:15.  Jesus told the disciples, “…I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.”

But the horrid incident with the idol had occurred.  Now what would that fellowship look like?  Shouldn’t it be dissolved?  Hobbled forever? Christians, today’s “friends” of God, must ask the same question.  After repentance, shouldn’t we tuck tail and head away for a cooling off period?

Instead, we find Moses saying to God, “Please show me now your ways, that I may know you…” (33:13). He exhibits spiritual hunger—“If your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here.  For how shall I know I have found favor in your sight, I and your people?  Is it not in your going with us…”

Moses’ stepped in to deeper fellowship.  He didn’t slink away.  If this were a dance, the people had just stomped on Yahweh’s feet.  They should by rights, be disqualified.  But here, as represented by Moses, they step in for more.

Yahweh said to Moses, “This very thing that you have spoken I will do, for you have found favor in my sight, and I know you by name” (Ex. 33:17)

Sensing this shred of divine favor, Moses makes an even more daring request: “Please show me your glory” (Ex. 33:18). This man had a hunger for God and a reputation for it, too.  God had said, “I know you by name,”  which is like saying, “When I think of someone who wants to know me and loves my presence and my ways and my glory, I think of the name Moses.”

It’s good for God to know your name that way.

God told Moses, “I will make all my goodness pass before you, and will proclaim before you my name ‘The Lord’” (Ex. 33;19).  Pray the way Moses did, because God answers those prayers.

But again, this all occurs in the aftermath of deep failure.  How dare you make such grand requests? Because of what you did, you were fired or jailed.  You were grounded.  You’re pregnant out-of-wedlock.  You’re in divorce court.  Demoted.  Ticketed.  Sick.  Broken.  Addicted.  You’ve apologized, tried to make things right, and even prayed for the ill-affects to go away.  Most of them haven’t.

And you’re stepping in to fellowship with God?

You bet.  But know the rules.

God said to Moses,

“You cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live” (Ex. 33;20)  In essence, He’s saying our fellowship with Him is mediated.  You can’t relate to Him directly.  When total depravity meets total holiness, terrible things happen.  People die. We need to keep in mind 1 Timothy 2:5: “there is one God and one mediator of God and man, the man, Christ Jesus.”

Remember that your fellowship with God is through Christ.  It is not through any channel we wish.  Get rid of the fallacious theology that says all roads lead to the same place.  Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life, no one comes to the Father except through Me.” (John 14:6).

Next, God told Moses, “While my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by” (Ex. 33:22).  All the greatness of God is seen as we are in Christ.  On the cross, the side of Christ was punctured, broken open by a Roman spear as He hung there.  God places us sinners in that cleft as the ideal place of fellowship and protection.

The death of Jesus satisfies the glory of God and shields us from the judgment we deserve.   Your relationship with Him is not based on your personal perfection.  It is based on His perfect work.  You are “justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 3:24).

Though Moses was denied a look at the face of God and could only be admitted to his “back,” things are different for us, because the Mediator, Christ Jesus, has come.  “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6). 

This is how fellowship follows failure.  We don’t minimize the failure. We maximize repentance and seeking the glory of God, all in the person and work of Christ.

James, a fellow I met a while back, found this out.  He was a “Christian” who always seemed to flirt with sin.  Then one day it seemed like a good idea for him to rob a gas station.  He hadn’t figured the attendant would keep a gun under the counter.  As he turned to leave with the loot in hand, the attendant pulled a pistol and shot him in the back of the head.

James lived.  He regained consciousness in the hospital, totally blind.  It was a consequence he would live with for the rest of his life, and he only had himself to blame for it.  James turned to Christ, and began to follow him faithfully.  Though to this day he reads his Bible in braille, at heart level he sees glory in the face of Christ.

Don’t sin.  It will cost you.  But if you do find yourself flat on your back, don’t order a tombstone just yet.

Step in.



Photo credit:  Scott Maxworthy


  1. That’s right: never give in to the notion that you can’t get back up again. Godly sorrow leaves no regret, only more resolve (2 Cor 7:10). And God sees everything you do anyway, so you might as well pray before, during and after you sin.

    Your sin is only the second most stupid thing to do. Letting your sin make you want to hide from God is the stupidest.

    Thanks for this post, John.

  2. John,

    A real blessing this morning, thanks. Blessings to you and yours, hoping y’all have fully recovered from your vacation.

      1. Vacations do seem to be vastly overrated. But, sometimes, they are worth the investment. Best ones are free—grab the Book and head out to the woods, maybe take the hound so he can stretch his legs.

        Oh, and there’s another mindset to add to those at your opening salvo…”Maybe I can work this out/off. Just knock on a few extra doors/hand out a few more tracts/maybe sweep up down at the Hall…etc. etc. etc.” commonly found among most cults.

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