RENEW - Chronicles: Rediscovering Who We Are and Why We're Here - Sermon Study Guide #4- Success, Failure, and Renewal

READ – 1 Chronicles 21

Chapter 21 is a unique chapter in Chronicles because it tells the story of a major failure in the life of Israel’s model king – David. David is the most prominent character in Chronicles by a long shot. (21 of the 65 chapters are about him and all subsequent kings are measured against him.)  In a book that focuses almost exclusively on David’s positive example, we find that one of his greatest failures is highlighted as one of the most important lessons he left behind about how God brings renewal to our lives.

SUMMARY: Renewal comes when we are humbled in our successes and restored in our failures. 


1 Chronicles 18-20 recount success after success for David. Enemies that had plagued Israel for years were being defeated and driven away – the Philistines, the Ammonites, the Syrians even giant warriors (20). They all “fell by the hand of David and his servants.” (20:8) As we come to Ch 21, David seemed invincible. He was at the top of his game.

It was at this point that we read Satan (or an actual military opponent – the word “Satan” can be translated “adversary”) incited David to take a census of his army. What’s wrong with a census? It wasn’t David’s action that displeased God, but his motivation. Why would David take a census? Like many rulers of his time, David wanted to assess the power & strength of his military. The census was David’s way of measuring & proving his success, his security and his strength. His motive was pride. At his most successful, David was most vulnerable to pride, self-reliance, independence and self-absorption. The lesson - The most dangerous and potentially destructive moments in our lives are when we look at our success and accomplishments and there's that little voice inside of us that says, “Look what I've done.” One of the most important factors for our ongoing spiritual renewal is whether our success leads to becoming puffed up with pride or deeper into humility.


After David carried through with his census, God sent the prophet Gad to rebuke him and offer the choice of 3 different consequences for his failure - famine, defeat by enemies or pestilence in the land. David didn’t really choose; instead he asked to fall into the hand of the Lord “who has great mercy.” Verse 14 says God sent a plague that resulted in the loss of many lives.  This led David (together with his leaders) to put on sackcloth and publicly confess his sin and failure. “It is I who have sinned and done great evil… Please let you hand, O Lord my God be against me and against my father’s house. But do not let the plague be on your people!”

How did David move from selfish pride to humble repentance and willingness to suffer so others might live? I think the answer is two-fold:

1) He didn’t minimize his failure. It is when he saw and felt the impact his actions had on others that was humbled and broken. This story teaches us that failure can either harden us or humble us. David could have tried hide his failure, blame others or blame God – instead he owned it. But he had to feel the impact his pride had on other people. There is always a cost to others when we act out of pride.

2) He didn’t miss what his failure was teaching him. God’s great gift in failure is the smashing of our pride. When our pride is smashed, grace can flood into our lives. For this reason, our failures will be our greatest opportunities to see if we really believe the gospel. David began to understand that our failure and sin are costly and can only be forgiven and covered at great cost. He offered his own life but God accepted a substitutionary sacrifice in his place. In David’s failure, he was taught the heart of the gospel - God pays the price to redeem our failure.


The conclusion to this story is extremely significant. 22:1 tells us David said, “This (piece of land he bought for the sacrifice) is the house of the Lord God.” In other words. “I have found the place where the temple will be built.” What’s going on here? The very center of worship for Israel and the most important place in the whole nation is the Temple. It was the center of spiritual renewal for the people. This is the backstory to the temple. It was built on a place where great failure was covered, where great sin was forgiven and redeemed. It was built on a place where the tables were turned on evil and Satan.

The temple served as a foreshadowing of the gospel – God will redeem our failures through substitutionary atonement. He doesn’t ignore the consequences and cost of our prideful sin; he fully bears the cost Himself on our behalf in Jesus. The temple was meant to serve as a constant reminder until Jesus came – He is a God who redeems our failure. In John 2:21, Jesus tells us how his story ultimately fulfills the backstory of the temple. He said, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.” At the cross, we see that what seemed like the world’s greatest failure and tragedy (the cross) is the world’s greatest redemption.


1.       What about the sermon most impacted you or left you with questions?

2.      Have you seen how success can be an occasion for pride in your life? How has this looked for you? What has the impact been on the other people in your life? How might we handle success well?

3.      How would you say you usually handle failure? In what ways are you tempted to minimize your failure? How can we find ways to see and feel the impact our pride, sin and failures have on others?

4.      It was said in the sermon that “our failure whether we are living with a religious approach to life or a gospel approach to life.”  What is your reaction to the explanation of this below? What does your reaction to your own failures reveal about you?

·        Sin and failure are the great threats of religion to be avoided with all our energy. Religious people can’t learn from failure so they hide it, blame others or divert all their attention on other people’s failures and sin. Failure crushes the religious person. But sin and failure are not threats to the gospel. In fact, they are – no matter how great – our gateways into gospel renewal. Failure humbles but doesn’t crush the person whose life is built on the gospel.

5.      Do you agree that the greatest places of renewal and worship in our stories and lives will be the places where we have greatly sinned & failed and found a redeeming and forgiving God? Why or why not? How is this true in your life?

6.      How are you most struggling to believe that Renewal comes when we are humbled in our successes and restored in our failures? Share this with your group and close in prayer.