Be Merciful to Me, A Sinner; My Story of God’s Grace
A Good Desire Gone Bad
I grew up in a loving christian home and I’m the youngest of four boys. We moved from NY (go Yankees!) to Iowa, where my parents were originally from, when I was just 3 years old as my dad got a job as a pastor at New Covenant Bible Church. As you can imagine we went to church every week and from a young age I was very familiar with the Bible, church, and God.
I’ve always had an extremely strong work ethic and desire for excellence and to please. So as a child I very much lived within my parent’s boundaries and obeyed them… for the most part 🙂 As the youngest I’ve always been pretty impressionable and I remember being inspired by my older brothers’s faith. I wanted to be like them in many ways so seeing them be active in the church, read their Bibles, and pray had a big impact on me. Deep down though there was a desire to please and perform and impress others, which are good things. But it wasn’t long until my own desire to know God and live out my faith was hijacked and twisted by a more subtle desire to please and impress others, making it all about me. I remember in high school wanting so bad to be the next Michael Jordan at whatever sport I was doing, so that people would see me and worship me. I craved it.
I lived a life of pride and self-righteousness for a long time. Nobody would ever have known it though because I was always at youth group, I had verses of scripture I was memorizing in college, I was going on prayer walks, I put A.W. Tower quotes in my dorm room. Essentially, I was the rich young ruler. I was the older brother. I was the proud and stuck up pharisee. My genuine longing for God often times had along side it a greater desire to be noticed by others. I didn’t truly understand the gospel. Grace to me was more of an intellectual, spiritual idea than something that impacted my daily life. If I was honest, I felt no need for it. Grace wasn’t amazing. Jesus was small. My deeds were fairly sufficient. I put a lot of stock in my own goodness. All the while I had little real affection for Jesus but a real affection for attention and self.
Then a light bulb went on and everything changed. When reading The Gospel for Real Life and meditating on Philippians 3 I realized the gospel isn’t just a doorway for nonbelievers to walk through to be saved. Rather, it is for christians and non-christians alike because the gospel is for sinners. This simple truth fundamentally changed the way I lived. It can be hard for me to articulate it because in reality I am not doing much differently. A lot of my outward actions are the same. But God has transformed my motivations and has bought me to a place where I cherish his grace everyday and there is a deep longing for Christ to be seen and glorified (and not me) in all that I do. I am nothing without his righteousness purchased for me with his blood. All that I know is that once I was lost, now I am found. His grace truly is amazing and I weep over it with gratitude regularly.
The invitation of Jesus to the Rich Young Ruler in Luke 18 seemed so over the top and harsh, especially to a man of great wealth and character and high reputation. But it makes so much sense to someone who has also seen salvation as another task on my to do list.
The father’s love for his prodigal son in Luke 15 was always an endearing story. I never quite identified with it though until I came to the mind-blowing realization that it isn’t so much about the prodigal son but an invitation to the entitled, bitter, self-righteous older brother to come experience the loving embrace of his gracious father (see Tim Keller’s book, The Prodigal God). Wow, that one hit a little closer to home.
The pharisee’s prayer always made more sense to me than that of the tax-collector in Luke 18. I mean, the pharisee is doing those things and he is working really hard. The tax collector reeked of false humility. But when the light bulb went on it all made sense. When sin is manageable and Jesus isn’t necessary then grace and mercy is like your unneeded and unwanted appendix. These two quotes sum up grace well and were game changers for me:
“The irreligious don’t repent at all and the religious only repent of sins. But Christians repent of their wrongfully placed righteousness.” – Tim Keller
“I am thankful the dam of my goodness has broken, because God’s torrential grace has come pouring through.” – Erin Davis
A New Way Forward
Things have been completely flipped upside down for me. Life is no longer a struggle to prove myself, to make my name count, to validate my existence…. Life is about being proven by Jesus, making his name count, and resting in his validation of me through faith in Christ’s atoning work on the cross. It has been an incredible blessing to be in full-time ministry as God has opened my eyes to see him and the gospel more clearly. I wouldn’t have nearly the time to study the Bible or pray and have my affections awoken to the glory of Christ through his Word. To all who partner with us… your giving and prayer have not only benefited students on campus but they have ministered to my soul in ways you will never know.
Two last quotes that stand out to me as I close. Ironically enough both are by Jerry Bridges who passed away earlier this year. He wrote The Gospel for Real Life that I referenced to earlier. If you haven’t read that before I can’t recommend it enough, especially if you struggle to see why grace is so amazing like I used to. Also, check out my “tools” page where I list some other personal resources that have meant a lot to me that you might find helpful. Praise God for his work and hand on my life. Thanks for reading, I hope it was encouraging to you. From one desperate sinner in need of grace to another, God bless.
“Your worst days are never so bad that you are beyond the reach of God’s grace. And your best days are never so good that you are beyond the need of God’s grace.” Jerry Bridges, The Discipline of Grace
“The more a person counts as loss his own righteousness and lays hold by faith of the righteousness of Christ, the more he will be motivated to live and work for Christ. The same christian activity can be either an expression of our own righteousness that we think earns favor with God, or it can be an expression of love and gratitude because we already have His favor through the righteousness of Christ.” Jerry Bridges, The Gospel for Real Life