The short answer to the question posed in the title of this article is, “Of course he or she can. We’re all sinners (I John 8:8, 10), so if God doesn’t use sinners he doesn’t use anyone.” So the question changes: What kind of sinners does God use? The short answer: repentant ones.
Did God use Paul? Yes he did – mightily. Did he use him when he was living in his sins – i.e. persecuting the Church? No. God had to transform Paul into the kind of person he could use. He had to bring him to repentance. He had to make Paul see his world with fresh eyes. He had to anoint him for a new mission – that of preaching the Gospel to the goyim – gentiles – and then making lifelong disciples of them.
Paul, of course, was special. What about the rest of us? Can we be used of God? Some of us – myself included – have pretty reprehensible pasts. I became an atheist. I spoke against Christianity at Humanist meetings – in fact against religion in general. I lived by humanistic values. I lived as a “practical atheist”- as though God did not exist.
Later, I came to my senses and repented, but damage was done. Through sin I had etched deep scars in my psyche. To some extent, those scars continue to manifest themselves today. By indulging sin when I really knew better, I lost dignity. My “image” and my credibility as a minister were shot to ribbons.
Sin is never without effect. When we sin, we affect not only ourselves, but others. Take alcoholism for example. It’s both a sin and a sickness (I Corinthians 5:11). It involves a loss of self-control and a chemical dependency. Husbands, wives and children are all profoundly hurt by living with an alcoholic. Sometimes that collateral damage is as hard to fix as the alcoholism itself. The cure involves repentance, healing and treatment. On the part of those who are damaged, it involves healing and forgiveness. It says in Ecclesiastes 9:18, “One sinner destroys much good.”
Any form of addiction within a family usually does damage to the whole family. There are many kinds of addictions, all of them hurtful. The top ten are: alcohol, smoking, drugs, gambling, food, video games, internet, sex, shopping and workaholism. Can a person who has been overcome by any one or any combination, of these addictions be used of God?
Can a divorced person serve in the ministry? Can a person who has murdered someone be trusted with responsibility?
The Case of David
David was guilty of two sins: lust leading to murder and adultery. In Judaism – the religion of the “Old” Testament – those are two of the worst four sins a person can commit (the worst is idolatry, and the fourth worst is slander). Yet David repented (Psalm 51) and never repeated those sins. God forgave him and David grew to become “a man after God’s own heart.” The king was instrumental in writing some of the most beautiful and compelling words of Scripture. He even became a type of the Messiah. In short, he was used mightily of God.
If David could be used following repentance, the rest of us can – at least in theory.
What About Divorce?
Joan Hunter is the daughter of Charles and Francis Hunter – both of whom were well-known for their healing ministry. She too is gifted with the ability to pray for the sick and see them healed. Some years ago, Joan was divorced. She writes, “People didn’t believe that God could use me because I was a divorced woman. People marked me…The Word does not say that God cannot use a divorced person. The Word says you can repent of any sin in your life…[but] people sent letters to my parents and to me, saying I was a hypocrite and claiming that God couldn’t use me because I’d been divorced,” Power to Heal by Joan Hunter, pp.31-32.
In the years since her divorce, Mrs. Hunter has been happily remarried. She has prayed for thousands who have been ill. Many have been miraculously healed. God has richly blessed her healing ministry. She points out that many of the people God used were morally dysfunctional (sinners). Noah drank too much. Jacob lied. Samson was a womanizer. Rahab was a harlot. Peter denied Christ.
God knows our frame. He made us of the dust of the ground. We’re just animated dust. We’re full of flaws, weaknesses and sins (Romans 3:23). Yet God loves us. He is not willing that any of us should perish. Jesus came to redeem us that we might have eternal life. God loved us while we were yet sinners – not just after we’d repented. Look at the kind of people God calls to salvation – and to use in his kingdom, “Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were,” (I Corinthians 6:9-11a).
Once “wicked” people like this are washed, sanctified and justified, they can be used of God (verse 11b). Paul said that the formerly sinful Corinthians did not “lack any spiritual gift” as they eagerly awaited Jesus’ revealing (I Corinthians 1:7). The fact that some of them had been temple prostitutes in idolatrous cults didn’t stop them from being used upon repentance. They had, like David, buried their old life. They were a new creation in Christ. All of us can be the same. If we repent, burn our bridges, leave our old lives behind, we can be used mightily of God to advance his kingdom, both now and in the world to come.
The old man – or woman – is dead. Long live the new one!