Dear Church Kid,
I’m writing you this because I love you and because I relate deeply to your situation. I have to tell you something awful and wonderful that will likely rock your cozy little world:
You are not doing Jesus any favors by pretending you have it all together. You are failing your brothers and sisters in Christ and worse, those outside of Christ, by being a good person. You are actually a bad person, just like the rest of us (see Romans 3:10-11, 23, & Ephesians 2:3).
I know your deep-seated protest: you’re not as bad as “that guy.” I know you consider the Boston Marathon bombing a tragedy and the Kermit Gosnell case an atrocity. I know that if someone asked you if you thought you were better than those guys you would give a nervous laugh and say, “Well, the Bible says we’re all sinners, you know…”
Did you know that you functionally deny the reality of our need for grace in Christ when you put on your church kid mask? As soon as you’ve placed yourself on that ladder of goodness above the Boston Marathon bombers but still below Mother Teresa, you’ve just spat on grace. You are the Pharisee in the parable who prays, “God thank you I’m not like that guy”–even if you tack on “And help me to one day live up to that guy,” that’s not humility. Humility is considering Christ more precious than your good works. Humility is considering Christ to be the only thing worth considering. In Mere Christianity C.S. Lewis said, “True humilty is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less,” and I would add to that: and think of Christ more. The wonderful news is that Christ’s righteousness is enough! You don’t have to work so hard to keep that church kid mask on, you can just admit that you’re not worthy of God or heaven. Jesus’ good work counts as yours!
Church kid, please don’t be like me. Don’t come to church week after week and gather information about how to be better and then apply it and become simultaneously gooder and prouder. If we are living out the principles we learn in God’s word (read: if we are outwardly better than that guy), then we must be all the more vocal about the grace of God in our lives. We must explicitly tell people what Christ has done for us and how, lest they think we were simply “born Christian.” Do what I did not do for my unsaved peers and neighbors: tell them you’ve been saved by grace alone and not by your goodness or your fortunate circumstances of growing up in a Christian home.
Despite your pleasant, suburbian, nuclear-family oriented, even home-schooled upbringing, you do not have a boring testimony. Hear me church kid: your testimony can be one of the most powerful and profound of all. You may be dismayed to hear that your testimony will have to consist of deliverance from self-righteousness. Not as glamorous as drugs and alcohol you say? Think again. Paul’s testimony to the church in Philippi was about his deliverance from his “goodness,” not his “badness.” In Philippians 3:3-6 he lists off his resume of goodness: “circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.” Pretty impressive right? But then he hits you with the kicker:
But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith.
See church kid, your testimony can and must be the same as Paul’s. And it is one of the most breathtakingly miraculous kind there is! Pastor Byron Yawn, in a fantastic article, put it this way:
When a heroin addict repents everyone says, “Well, that makes sense. He really needed Jesus.” When a really good kid from a really good family repents even heroin addicts take notice. When that kid stands in the waters of baptism and declares the Mercy of God in his life, everyone looks a little deeper. If his goodness isn’t good enough then whose is? (emphasis added)
Allow grace to kill your pride! Living in light of Jesus’ death and resurrection for your sins will free you to be truly humble. And then you’ll be more inclined to tell people about it. And then they’ll see that grace is for ALL PEOPLE. Grace is for the terrorist and the Salvation Army volunteer, for the prostitute and the worship leader, for the drug addict and for your pastor. Of course you know that because you’re a church kid, but I beg you to live it out. And no, I’m not talking about being a “living testimony” or remembering that “you are the only Bible some people will ever read” or “preaching the Gospel at all times and if necessary use words.” I’m talking about using words. Open your mouth and tell them they need grace. Just. Like. You.
Love from one of your own,