I grew up believing I was a good person.
I had it all together.
To me, being a Christian was something I inherited from my family, like a last name. It was familiar, safe, clean, and stable. It meant church every Sunday. It meant being home schooled and having a section out of my homework binder requiring a specified amount of Bible reading each day. It meant AWANA when I was eight years old and Christian friends. It meant my hem-lines were long and my necklines were high. It meant I didn't watch bad movies or have cable TV. It meant knowing the right answers to questions about what I had grown up believing. It meant morality and good behavior. It meant I didn't cuss, do drugs, drink, smoke, party, or live a promiscuous life.
Those things might be enough when you're young, but those things don't save you or make you a good person. That outward behavior doesn't mean you know and love the God of the universe who created you.
Underneath conformity and the appearance of being the right kind of person, I hid in my heart a lot of junk, a lot of rebellion, anger, bitterness, impurity, sin. I didn't talk about those things because I was ashamed and I knew something was missing. As I got older I knew that I didn't love the Lord and that scared me because I didn't know what to do about it. I knew my heart was hard but I didn't want God and that was even scarier. For so long, I kept the rules, but rules don't keep you.
And my story may have been a lot different had God's grace not swept into my life at twenty years old.
I found out I was desperately sinful and needed salvation and that knowledge set me free. The cross became to me what it truly represents: a perfect God who sent His perfect Son to take my place, bearing my sins, and that is absolutely incredible. When I came face to face with Who God is, and who I am, I didn't see a good person anymore. Yeah, to other people I may have looked like a model church girl who was everything good, but I could see my heart, and it wasn't a good place. I desperately needed saving because "...for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23) and "...as it is written: 'None is righteous, no, not one' " (Romans 3:10). But I didn't need those verses to tell me that because when you begin to grasp the perfection and undeserved love of God, you see the desperate sinner that you are. You see how much grace you really need even if you kept all of the rules.
With being a new Christian there's this euphoric existence for a time. There's a very clear line between the life you used to live and the life you now live in Christ. At that point in time, you don't think you'll mess up because, well, how could you even want to? You've shed that old person and you're now a new person in Christ, clothed with His righteousness, and that old sin nature seems pretty far and distant and quite a thing of the past. But, as we quickly find out, our sinful nature is still present with us and it's quite strong at times. Satan wants us still.
John MacArthur explains the reality of our still sinful flesh in his sermon Spiritually Living, Yet Still Sinking.
"...Lazarus offers a graphic illustration of our predicament as regenerate Christians. We have been raised to walk in newness of life. We've come out of the grave. Our old man has died and a new man has been born. Our old self is gone, we have a new self. This is recreation, new birth, regeneration. Yet we are still prisoners of a stench that remains from the grave. We're held prisoner by the remnants of our former life, our very fallenness clings to us. And though we live, we stink. It is as if we are bound in our grave clothes. That's the reality of our spiritual condition.
It is true that in conversion you are a new creation. It is true that in conversion the power of sin has been broken, the dominion of sin has been broken. The sovereignty of sin has been broken. Sin is present with us no longer dominating us, but it's still present."
So, you love Jesus, and you know He's better than all that the world offers. You know it, you've experienced it and you experience it. So it takes us by surprise that when things are hard, sometimes Jesus doesn't seem like enough, and we look for fulfillment, comfort, answers, hope, direction, joy, peace, somewhere else entirely. Our old "corpse" of our former self rears it's ugly head. We revert back to not believing His promises in those sinful times, and that scares us because we come face to face again with that old sin-ridden flesh that we thought didn't exist anymore. In those times of sin, we buy into the lie that we needed, we need, something more. And when that happens and we're standing on the other side, feeling shame, sick shame, grip our hearts, the grace we originally celebrated and believed in can disappear from the equation in our mind all together at times. Grace is scandalous and hard-to-believe, especially when you need it the most. Isn't there something we can do to make up for what we've done?
But here's the truth:
Just as grace came for the prostitute brought before Jesus in John 8:1-11, grace came for you and I. Just as grace came for the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4, so grace came for you and I. Just as grace came for the prodigal son in Luke 15:11-32, so grace came for you and I. Just as grace came for the thief on the cross in Luke 23:39-43, so grace came for you and I. And just as grace is available to you and I, so grace is available to the "worst" people who have done the most atrocious things.
No matter where you come from, what you've done, we all meet at the same place when we're saved. We all learn the same truth, love the same God. We all needed/need His changing grace. We all don't deserve His love, His grace, mercy, kindness, rescue that He gave when he saved us and continues to lavish on us when we fall. I don't care what you've done or how bad you think you were/are, we're all the same in Christ. He doesn't group us into categories of really good, good, decent, bad, really bad, hell bent. We were all headed towards hell and we didn't deserve God choosing us to live a life on this earth for Him and to live after this life with Him. We all know the same grace.
These past two years since becoming a Christian, God has taught me much about grace. Grace is not an excuse to sin, but the grace God has for us when we do always comes. It doesn't expire or run out and it isn't conditional. It drives us to our knees in praise and thankfulness. It gives glory to God. The same grace that I did nothing to deserve when I was first saved is the same grace that brings me back when I wander and picks me up when I fall. That grace, mercy, and love that we celebrate in our own lives and in the lives of others we can continue to celebrate when we lose sight of truth. God's grace was revealed to me the day I was saved. Grace came unexpectedly, undeservedly. And still, in all of my failings, mess-ups, sin, God's grace comes unexpectedly and undeservedly just as it did then.