Growing up, I always thought I was perfect. I excelled in school and sports, went to church every Sunday with my mom, and was super polite and charming to all the adults I knew. In turn, I received a lot of affirmation from these adults, confirming the fact that I was a great kid. Whenever something did slip, or there was a conflict in my life, I found a way to convince everyone around me that it was something or someone else’s fault. After all, I was perfect.
I built my identity around the mindset that I was perfect and could do no wrong. This eventually found its way into my identity as a Christian. It was a heavy chain that I wore with the biggest smile on my face. I would go to a party with friends, but graciously decline any alcoholic beverages, because I was a Christian. On the flip side, I would sit in youth group and judge all the kids around me from my high horse, thinking that I was the only one living the perfect balance of real life and the Christian life.
As I prepared for college, my youth pastor strongly encouraged me to find a college ministry that was connected to a church, recommending the college ministry of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Campus Outreach. I put the note in my back pocket and went off to college. As God would have it, Campus Outreach found me before I found it.
Within my first few weeks at college, I became friends with one of the pastor’s sons. While having lunch at his parents’ house after church one Sunday, I was introduced to a guy who said he was on staff with Campus Outreach. He asked if I wanted to grab lunch on campus, and following our second meeting, he got me connected with one of his friends, Eric Lonergan. Though I didn’t know it at the time, it was the beginning of my first discipleship relationship. Eric was eager to hang out with me a few times a week, and eventually asked me to join a Bible study with him and a few other freshman guys. My plan was to show him how perfect I was, and eventually finagle my way out of the Bible study.
Eric saw right through me, and refused to abandon the Pharisee that I was. He started to ask me the hard questions. He challenged me to think through all of my thoughts and actions. What was my motive behind them? What was I trying to convey to those around me? How did I think God perceived these thoughts and actions? Every time he asked a question, I found myself getting frustrated, rather than actually wanting to think through the questions he was asking me. Why was he being so harsh and naggy? Why couldn’t he mind his own business? In reality, God was using Eric’s questions to reveal my sin to me, slowly, but surely. A breaking point came when Eric asked me what the gospel was. I sat silent and confounded. I tried to piece together the best Sunday school response I could, but could not get out a single word.
Over the next year, I spiraled downward, as God slowly revealed to me the fact that I was not perfect. I felt convicted of sin in everything that I did. I saw my pride, and how much I fought to protect it. I saw my judgment on others. I saw how much I cared about what others thought of me. The gospel became more real than ever. 1 Timothy 1:15 tells us, “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.” This is why Jesus died for me. This is why I could call myself a Christian. Not because I was perfect, but because Jesus was perfect in my place. The burden that I had experienced from all of my sin was finally lifted, as I began to find my identity in being a sinner saved by Christ!
I still struggle, daily, to see my own sin, quickly justifying mistakes or conflicts as the fault of another. But thanks to my gracious wife and friends, God continues to show me that I am not perfect, and that I need him more than ever. The cross that Jesus died on becomes bigger everyday, and for that, I am extremely grateful.