By: Jon Meerdink
I have a pretty dramatic salvation story, if I do say so myself. At some point before I entered the first grade, I was drawn out of the sinful life of playground malfeasance, saved from the evil of cheating at kickball, and sanctified for a life of honest lunch time snack trading. I’m glad God got ahold of my life when he did, because otherwise I might have been headed down a pretty scary path. Maybe someday an after school detention would have straightened me out, but I shudder to think of how my life could have been different had I not been steered into righteousness.
Obviously I’m understating the significance of my youthful conversion. It’s terribly important that everyone, no matter what age, comes to know Jesus as their Savior. But it occurred to me recently that growing up in the church may have robbed me of some pretty important perspective on one of the most incredible things in the world: God’s grace.
Wayne Grudem’s book Bible Doctrine defines grace as “God’s goodness towards those who deserve only punishment.” As I’m sure you’ve heard, “those who deserve only punishment” works out to include everybody, ever, since “there is no one righteous, not even one” (Romans 3:10). But even though I memorized that verse growing up, I have to admit I always felt pretty righteous. Compared with a lot of other people in the world (Hitler, criminals, people in church who weren’t me), I always felt like I was coming out ahead in the righteousness contest.
Compared with a lot of other people in the world (Hitler, criminals, people in church who weren’t me), I always felt like I was coming out ahead in the righteousness contest.
Clearly I wasn’t, but it took me a while to figure it out. At some point, I took an honest look in the mirror and realized that, honestly, there are quite a few areas where I need work. Pride was an obvious starting point, among other things. At any rate, it became obvious that I wasn’t the sinless wonder kid I had thought.
Learning how un-amazing I actually was had a strange effect on my life. It was like nothing changed, but at the same time everything did. Realizing my own shortcomings was like balancing an equation for me. Before, I hadn’t understood how much I needed Jesus. In a way, I thought I was doing God a favor in getting saved. After, though, the tables were turned. Suddenly it wasn’t me coming to God or me giving my heart to Jesus. Understanding how little I could do to save myself from sin helped me understand that God’s grace is all about him coming to us.
I’m not saying I regret having the “good boy” upbringing I did. I’m thankful that God chose to work through me the way he did. But my difficulty in understanding grace has helped me realize one thing: without a proper perspective on our own sin, God’s most amazing gift, his undeserved love, can seem a lot less amazing than it really is. We can never make the mistake of thinking we deserve something we can never, ever earn.