On September 17, the sovereign timing of God and the simple trust of a man converged. That Sunday I met a man who came forward after the service. He said, "I would like to talk with you, and I think what I have to say might ruin your day." So I said, "Well, I'm finished preaching. Go ahead and ruin my day."
He said, "I need to confess something to you. I intend also to confess this to the authorities. I committed a very serious crime over twenty years ago. I've never been apprehended. But I feel I need to bring peace in my life; I know that I will never advance in my spiritual walk unless I come forward with this."
His name was John Claypool. I asked John about the nature of the crime. He said, "Twenty years ago without motive, as a 14, I shot and killed two people." That began a journey that has been well publicized for the past , but that began long before that in John's life.
We met that following Wednesday, and John told me about his spiritual journey. Four years ago God brought him a place where he said, I'm tired. I can't run from God any more. The Spirit of God drew his heart to the basic message of the Gospel, that God so loved John Claypool that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life.
John 3:17 says this: "For God did not send his son into the world to condemn the world but to save the world through him." John Claypool agreed with God about his sin. John agreed with God that he needed a Savior. And he gave his life by faith over to God. He received Jesus Christ as his Savior, and John, for the first time in his 34 years, experienced freedom.
He was spiritually cleansed and brought into a new relationship with God. He said, "You don't know how many times I have laid awake at night and wished that I could go back to that night when I was 14 years old, drunk and high on marijuana. But I can't go back and undo what I've done." But he said, "You know the words, 'reborn, born again' have a special meaning, because with God my life started over. I got to start on a clean slate."
His life began to change. He began going to Bible studies and attending church. By the power of God, he was able to relinquish the drug and alcohol habits that had tyrannized his life. He began new relationships on the basis of his new identity, a good neighbor, a loving dad. He was starting over.
But there was this horrible secret in his life, and it wouldn't go away. Had God forgiven him of his guilt? Yes. Could John go back and undo history? Could he pay for the pain he had caused? No. What could be done? This powerful secret with its fear and regret and horror seem insurmountable. But John decided to obey God and trust him to bring beauty out of what appeared to be ashes in his life.
By the time John came to me, he was already convinced of what he needed to do. He had made peace with God. He knew he was forgiven for his guilt, but he knew that God was asking him to make peace insofar as he could with the damage he had done.
So John did what seemed unusual. God gave him the courage to walk back toward the consequences; a trail he had left behind. That seems to be the picture of the transformed life. Our sorrow over sin drives us to grace. Grace brings healing and strength. Strength gives courage to walk back toward restoration.
In the process, John has been asked repeatedly, "Why are you doing this? You got away with it. You'll never be convicted. Get on with your life." Yet it was impossible to go on without obedience to the God who had saved him.
We prayed. I affirmed his decision. We immediately sought legal counsel. We went to our church counsel who said, "John, you're doing the right thing." Then he connected us with another attorney.
Last Tuesday John surrendered to authorities at the Wabasha County Jail. Thursday he entered a guilty plea to two counts of second degree murder. And today he is in the Wabasha County Jail until he will be sentenced. But as John said on the witness stand, "I am more free now that at any time in the last twenty years, though I'm incarcerated."
God has made a way for the worst of sinners.
There are many messages we could glean from the events of this past week. Probably the most obvious is that drugs and alcohol will ruin your life. The second one is that wrong friends in a culture that elevates violence will destroy our country. A deeper lesson is that taking responsibility for one's actions requires more than just a breezy apology. Taking real responsibility means taking action, standing in the truth. The greatest message of all is found in Scripture: God has made a way for the worst of sinners.
After hours of testimony by John in the sheriff's office, we had a few minutes together. I said, "John, I can't give you a specific verse, but I want you to go back to your cell and read Colossians 1 and 2. After all you've had to dredge up about your past, you need to know that all that has been nailed to the cross. It can no longer be attached to your spiritual record."
Two of the verses, Colossians 1:2122, illustrate what happened in Wabasha, and illuminates life for us: "Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ's physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation." Having received forgiveness at the foot of the cross, nothing, not even walking toward the truth, is impossible. Jesus said in John 8:3132: "If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free."
It is easy to glibly rattle off the last part of that verse: "The truth will set you free." But the first part of it says, "If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free."
We live in a culture that fosters the erroneous belief that thinking things is the same as doing things, that hearing about them is the same as living them, that talking intellectually about the truth is the same as experiencing that truth. But for the last months I have seen a living illustration of the first part of this verse that has made the second part of the verse live. "If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples."
Blessed is he whose sins are forgiven.
That is why the actions John Claypool has taken seem so abnormal. They seem fanatical, sometimes even to Christians, because a man has taken ideas and translated them into actions. He has taken the truth and has lived it. So I bring you to Psalm 32 for some spiritual thoughts. John Claypool's life is an incarnation, an illustration of Psalm 32:12.
"Blessed is he." The word blessed means happy or to be envied. To be envied "is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord does not count against him and in whose spirit there is no deceit."
Padding down the cold tile hallways of that old Wabasha County Jail is a man in an orange jumpsuit who has been convicted of two counts of second degree murder, who is more free today than many of the people seated in this room, because he has acknowledged his transgression. Listen to Psalm 103:1013: "God does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him. As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us. As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him."
What John Claypool has done, which is the lesson for us, is that he has finally been set free of the power of his secret. When the worst about you is known to God and then known to the people who have been wounded or affected by it, you are free. The secret no longer has power to rule in your life. John is free. He has not only been forgiven, he is free of his secrets. What else can hurt him? Nothing.
When God pulls away the plaster that hides our secrets, he does it because he loves us. God wants to help us break the tyranny, the ruthlessness of the rule of secrets in our lives.
God saps our strength if we keep our sin secret.
Look at Psalm 32:34. This was written after David's sin with Bathsheba. He had held the secret at least a year, perhaps more. David said, "When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me. My strength was sapped as in the heat of summer."
David could have pulled it off. Nobody knew. John could have pulled it off. Nobody had evidence. They couldn't have convicted him. But as Francis Thompson has written in the poem, "The Hound of Heaven," God knew what was happening. Listen as I read.
"I fled him down the nights and down the days,
I fled him down the arches of the years.
I fled him down the labyrinthine ways of my own mind.
And in the midst of tears I hid from him,
And under running laughter.
Up the visited hopes I sped and shot
Precipitated down titanic glooms of chasm fears
From those strong feet that followed
But with hurrying chase and unperturbed pace
And a voice beat more instant than the feet.
'All things betray thee,
Who betrayest me.'"
John Claypool tried to run from God, even as a believer. But God continued to show him that nothing would satisfy until this secret was dealt with. God's hand clasped him, and he gained the strength to walk toward the fire. God would not let him rest.
The Bible is full of testimonies of people who tried to run from God. David was one of them, the writer of this Psalm. David's lust drove him to adultery. Adultery brought on a pregnancy. The pregnancy led him to a plot, and the plot led to the murder of the husband. The death of the husband led to silence. And in the secret silence David said, "My bones rot."
2 Samuel 11 tells the story: "But the thing David had done displeased the Lord." Like that epic poem, "The Ancient Mariner," where a man kills an albatross without motive, his punishment becomes the albatross around his neck, which rots. The stench of his crime fills everything in his life. That's what happens with secrets, with sin. The conscience is restless. The fire of guilt is kept under control only by constant energy and vigilance.
John Claypool would share with you that this secret stunted his life. It poisoned every relationship. It infected his energies for twenty years. He was on guard all the time, always wondering who might find out. That heavy, secret stole his strength.
Do you have a secret?
Do you have a secret? The deeper they remain hidden, the more powerfully they rule your life. A secret by its very nature leaves you friendless at the core. God isn't even where you clutch your secret. Friends are not there. You are utterly alone. That secret will rule your life ruthlessly. David knew that.
Keeping secrets will ruin your life. It will ruin your marriage. It will ruin your friendships. It will clip your wings. It will shorten your stride. It will rot your bones. The Scripture says we give it power when we hide it in darkness.
Here's what the Bible teaches and history records: the worst thing you fear is the best thing God can do. What happened to David in his secret? Second Samuel 12 says that the prophet Nathan told David a story about a man who had many sheep and wanted more. Another man had only one sheep. The man who had many sheep overpowered the man who had one and took his sheep. David was enraged by this parable. He said, "I will punish that man who took that one sheep." Nathan said to him, "You are that man."
David's secret burst into the light. All his defenses evaporated and he said, in 2 Samuel 12:13, "I have sinned against the Lord." The moment he acknowledged his sin his life began again. The truth will set you free.
The smelliest, most heinous and grotesque deceit of David's life was brought out into the purest of light. What a horror that is. But in that light the power of that secret died away.
Look at Psalm 32:5: "Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, 'I will confess my transgressions to the Lord.'" The very best thing God could have done for David, the very best thing God did for John Claypool, the very best thing God can do for me or for you is to expose our secrets to the light. Otherwise, they rule us. They win; we lose. Secrets enslave; truth sets free.
Salvation does not come merely because sinners feel sorrow. Salvation comes because an , , God is waiting to hold us when our worst secrets become known. God in Christ was reconciling the world to himself.
From Genesis to Revelation the story of redemption presumes our guilty neediness. The story of redemption presumes that we have no way to make up for the horrible things we have done in God's sight. The whole story of redemption says we need help. That's why Jesus came. That's why confessing and repenting of our secrets gives God power to hug us close to himself. The worst thing we could do is to let that secret rule where it wrestles with us in unfair advantage and steals life from us. It doesn't let us live.
What happens when God forgives?
What happens when God forgives? Look at Psalm 32:67: "Therefore, let everyone who is godly pray to you while you may be found. Surely when the mighty waters rise they will not reach him. You are my hiding place. You will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance."
What happens when the secret is known? The one we feared the most now becomes our strongest protector. Having relinquished the secrecy, we now flee to the protection of the God whom so long we avoided. Now he becomes our fortress because the one who knows the most about us loves us the most.
People have said, "You know, though the circumstances of John's life are horrible, the process should be normal." Why don't we see more of this in the body of Christ? Why does this look so unusual even to Christians that a man did the simplest thing by faith? He said I'm going to obey the voice of God and trust him to bring beauty out of ashes.
Maybe your secret won't be blasted into a million homes or printed in the newspaper, but it will take courage to tell. It starts when God gives you life, and the secret dies.
Examine yourself before God today. Who is running from God? Your life is strewn with the wreckage. Your restless spirit finds no rest.
Jesus said, "Come to me. I'll give you rest."
Who here is tyrannized by a secret? An event happened. A wrong was done. You need to make it right. A wound has been inflicted, and you need to go back to that relationship. A lie has been told, and that lie has taken on more life than you can believe. It has spawned other lies. Now this web of lies keeps you reeling, and you need to go back to the original. Confess to God your secret. Let him lead you in the process of healing.
Maybe there's an addiction in your life, a habit that has escalated, and greater involvement brings less enjoyment. It's beginning to affect your relationships, your family. Maybe it's chemical. Maybe it's abuse. Maybe it's gambling or pornography or sexual immorality. Maybe it's unfaithfulness.
Have you stolen something and you need to take it back and repay it and confess your sin? Have you gone too far in a dating relationship, and you need forgiveness? Have you broken a vow to God? You need to confess to him.
The truth will set you free. Anything less is a straitjacket, a jailhouse, an incarceration to your secret. It will win because you are alone with it, and no one can help you there.
Roger Thompson is pastor of Berean Baptist Church in Burnsville, Minnesota. He is a graduate of Denver Seminary and contributor to Leadership.