“And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” Ephesians 3:17-19 (NIV)
My life has truly been outrageously blessed by God. There are so many good things in my life that had nothing to do with my choices, behavior, or knowledge. I don't deserve the life I have and I certainly don't deserve the life everlasting. From the beginning of my life I have been graciously loved by the Good Shepherd. In fact, one of my earliest memories is my mom explaining the gospel to me.
Like all young children I disobeyed my parents daily and, in love, my parents disciplined me. Even though every child receives punishment, the LORD used a common experience to show me His mercy. Sometime around the age of four or five, I remember standing in the kitchen of our house. I don't know what sparked the conversation or what followed, but I do remember being told that just as I disobey my parents and I deserve punishment for my actions, we all have disobeyed God and deserve punishment for our actions. However, Jesus has taken our punishment for us so that we can be with God when we die.
What amazes me is how I could understand some of the concepts in this simple gospel message. How did I understand who God and Jesus were, what death was, and how someone could take on my punishment? I don't know how I believed, but I did. The LORD was gracious to me.
But the fact remains that the gospel is not only this simple truth as explained by my mom, it is richer and deeper than we can possibly imagine. Throughout my life I have been shown more and more of how in Christ “are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col. 2:3). I have come to know and experience that the gospel is not just for the moment of conversion, but it is the very lifeblood of the Christian.
Throughout my childhood, my knowledge of the Bible and of God grew. Enrolled at a Lutheran School from K-12, I was taught Biblical history and was required to memorize Scripture verses as well as parts of Luther's small catechism. I learned a lot of information and understood the difference between the Law of God (His Commands) and the Gospel of God (His Grace). I even lived out what would have been considered a Christian life, but I still hadn't grasped the breath and length and height and depth of the love of Christ.
On the contrary, I thought I had everything pretty much figured out. I thought I knew the Bible well enough -at least better than most people. I knew arguments for the authenticity of the Bible and Christianity. I knew plenty of theological concepts, including the basics of the gospel Certainly, I could sin less than I did, but I was sure that as I got older I'd become more disciplined that would solve most of my problems. Oh, how little did I actually know!
In the summer after my freshman year of college, I read Crazy Love by Francis Chan. This book opened my heart to the fact that although I knew a lot about Christ I barely knew Christ intimately and emotionally. This really shook my life's trajectory. Following Jesus doesn't mean I can only have knowledge of Christ's sacrifice, but I needed “to know this love that surpasses knowledge,” Instead of focusing most of my time and energy to academic and personal achievement, I needed to focus on Christ. This drove me to seek out Christian community at the University of Minnesota which I thankfully found in Campus Outreach.
This community changed my life. Through the relationships I made and the truths that I heard my understanding of the gospel has deepened. Throughout my childhood I had always understood the gospel as a courtroom scene where I stand before God the Judge for a fatal sentencing, but Jesus steps in and takes my punishment instead and I can walk free. However, I learned that another way to look at the gospel as a hospital scene where I lie before God the Healer with a fatal disease, but Jesus steps in and gives his blood for me so I can live again. This second view showed me that sin is not bad behavior, but it is a brokenness of the soul. I needed Jesus not just for covering my bad deeds, I needed him to change my heart and mind, my very soul.
This deeper understanding of my sin problem prompted me to look at my desires and my emotional responses to the gospel. It pushed me beyond just knowing the truth, but to loving the truth. This was truly transforming who I was. I realized the gospel was not just for life after death, but for my life now. The solution to my problems was not discipline, but Jesus!
Over the past several years, I have come to understand my desperate need to daily remind myself of who I am by the death and resurrection of Jesus. Knowing Jesus is not like knowing physics and world history. Knowing Jesus is believing the gospel so well that I am changed to my very core, that I am continually being changed to image Jesus because his blood flows through my veins, through my very heart. I cannot truly live without him.
Now there are also many other things that Jesus has done, is doing, and will do in my life and in lives everywhere. I can easily say with John that “Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written” (John 21:25), but for now this will have to be enough.