Two years ago I stepped out into the unknown, along with some of my closest friends, to plant a church in Downtown San Diego. I had what I thought were good motives at the time. Looking back now, I marvel at God's great grace, that has been discipling and changing my heart all along the way.
I had a good motive... one good motive: I wanted to reach people who were not being reached. In retrospect that one good motive was grossly eclipsed by my many other, lesser motivations which included: searching for my independence, seeking to prove myself, finding my identity, and so on. These other motivations were the result deep heart struggles. Without realizing it I was giving my life over to my savior... the 'god' who sat boldly on the throne of my heart - Pride. At the time I thought I was serving Jesus. I was not.
Pride was an idol in my heart because I often felt I was in the shadow of greater men, and that if I was ever going to be my own man, I needed to make a name for myself - without anyone's help. I needed to prove myself, firstly, to my family, who had great expectations for me and let me know from the time I was little (I was a fourth generation Pentecostal and the anointing was building up in the bloodline). I needed to prove myself to my peers, because I was always that loner preacher's kid, with no siblings, who desperately wanted to fit in with all the cool kids around him (In fact, I did some pretty stupid things to try to gain everyone's approval). I also needed to prove myself to... well, myself... because I knew what a screw-up I was, and how if people ever saw all the junk deep in my heart they would hate me and kick me out of their lives. Not least, I needed to prove myself to God because I was sucking up all His air and taking up all His time and using up all His mercy, and not showing anything for it except more blunders and screw-ups! I was a walking contradiction, full of self-hate and self-love.
I left everything to follow God, to win souls... and to prove myself.
You can probably look through the fog of my self-delusion and clearly see the answer that I needed: God's Grace. But at the time I was oblivious to it. I didn't see the problem... much less the solution. In fact, all of the stress from managing my morality throughout my early years of following Christ, had created a trap door in my heart, which I frequently found myself falling through, swinging wildly into sinful addictions then repenting and holding onto rigorous moral standards in order to protect myself from further moral failure. I was miserable... but it was all I knew.
In an attempt to prove myself further, while at the same time trying to build a protective wall to guard myself from my self-destructive ways, I threw myself into the deep end of theological pool, reading everything I could get my hands on. But an interesting contradiction resulted: as I grew in my knowledge of God, my heart grew farther from His. Instead of His truth invading my heart and causing love, gratitude, and compassion... instead of allowing my understanding of grace to grow into humility, I held His truth as some personal trophy and I looked down my nose at others who didn't understand this wealth of theology. I judged those in my past with their ignorant (as I saw it) legalistic beliefs. And as much as I judged others, I judged myself... understanding the truth of God's grace as some abstract principle, but not believing in its reality and power in practical ways. Grace was something God had to do for everyone. I tried to give grace to myself and others, but not out of a thankful heart. Instead it was because I had to. It was a requirement.
It's an interesting contradiction to find yourself in.
If I lived morally (according to my standards) I judged others.
If I failed, I judged myself.
I was carrying the cross... it was just the wrong one.
Somewhere in there I found myself doing all the right things for all the wrong reasons.
One day the reality of God's Grace started invading the dark places of my heart and shining a light into the shadows. It wasn't a sudden invasion, but a gradual, subversive overturning of pride's reign within my soul.
This gospel-mutiny against pride's control over my life grew steadily as I began to realize that I was living a life totally out of sync with the beliefs I knew to be true. If the fruit of my life was so self-centered and destructive, the root couldn't be God's truth... it had to be something else. Something besides God's liberating truth was in my heart, and I knew this because I was bound with feelings of self-condemnation and judgment of others. How was that possible? How can someone know all the right things and live all the wrong ways, constantly jumping from one extreme to another?
Connection. I met some amazing friends during this time who began talking about the difference of head knowledge and heart-level-belief. They showed me how we can know all the right truth about God in our heads, but never really believe it in our hearts. If there is a disconnect there, His truth never works its way out into our lives. They showed me that sanctification is not the act of applying external motivators for godliness, but simply allowing the Holy Spirit to close the gap between what we know to be true in our heads and what we believe in our hearts. This is pure grace. This is the gospel flowing from God and into our daily lives.
The surface problem I had was that I was storing up an artillery of truth in my head to be used in the battles for faith... the real problem was that, even in that, I was self-deceived... I was really just storing God's truth up there in my head to protect my pride and prove my worthiness to myself and everyone around me. The problem was that His truth was not connected to my heart, so I was not being changed by it and Sin was reigning in my life. My only defense against sin was not the gospel, but my own moralistic effort. When I succeeded in reaching my moralistic goals I gloated and judged others; when I failed I judged myself. My self-image spiked upward and downward with each transaction between my failure and His grace...
The worst realization of all came as I realized that Jesus Christ was not my savior. I wasn't letting Him save me. I was trying to save myself.
Surrender. I had to surrender. I had had enough. I had failed myself. I could not save myself and I was done trying. Pride was a false savior. I had to put my trust in another. My loss of hope in myself and my learning and my impressing others, created a vacuum for the truth to invade my heart and overcome pride's reign. The moment I lost hope in myself was the moment I found hope in my Savior. I began to realize that I was already made worthy... not through anything I had done, but through the sacrifice Christ made on the cross. Nothing could change my status. Not some mistake. Not some sin. Not some comment some person made. My identity was secured through His finished work. I was free.
Jesus paid it all,
All to Him I owe;
Sin had left a crimson stain,
He washed it white as snow.
I hear the Savior say,
“Thy strength indeed is small;
Child of weakness, watch and pray,
Find in Me thine all in all.”
For nothing good have I
Whereby Thy grace to claim;
I’ll wash my garments white
In the blood of Calv’ry’s Lamb.
And now complete in Him,
My robe, His righteousness,
Close sheltered ’neath His side,
I am divinely blest.
Lord, now indeed I find
Thy pow’r, and Thine alone,
Can change the leper’s spots
And melt the heart of stone.
When from my dying bed
My ransomed soul shall rise,
“Jesus died my soul to save,”
Shall rend the vaulted skies.
And when before the throne
I stand in Him complete,
I’ll lay my trophies down,
All down at Jesus’ feet.
The realization of that truth has continued to grow in my life daily, applying itself to more and more situations and rooting itself deeper within my heart. When someone brags on me or when someone else tears me down, I have a priceless gospel-opportunity to remind myself that I am more broken than I could ever imagine and at the same time I am more loved forgiven and accepted than I could ever dare to believe. My words and works do not define me. His work on the cross... this final word on the matter defines me: "It is finished!" There is no room for pride... there is no room for condemnation, because Jesus paid it ALL.