I grew up in a classic suburban family — two kids, heavily involved in sports and activities, minivans — the whole deal. We were culturally religious, went to church every week and prayed before meals. My brother and I went to Christian school through high school. I was fine on the outside, but inside I understood God to be somewhat of a cosmic killjoy — if you followed the list of “do’s and dont’s” well enough, he’d let you go to heaven. I knew about Jesus, and I had heard that he died for my sins, but that just meant I owed him and had to pay him back. However, I was more interested in my own success, my own popularity, my looks, my grades, my girlfriend, my points-per-game average. I desperately needed people to like me. Through high school and early in college, I pursued worldly happiness through academic achievement, sports success, and relationships with the opposite sex. And I was somewhat successful, but I felt empty, and a guilt loomed over me that I couldn’t place.
At the University of Minnesota, the first true secular public school that I had attended, my safe cultural Christian upbringing came into serious conflict with an onslaught of atheism, humanism, and cynicism. Brook (my girlfriend at the time) asked me one day if I really thought that I was a believer. Thinking about it seriously, I replied “maybe not.” I didn’t truly have a foundation to stand on, and I knew that a shaky mental assertion that Jesus lived and died wasn’t the ticket. The death and funeral of a high school friend accelerated my questions. God led me to his word searching for answers. I started in Romans, and God graciously opened my eyes to the preciousness of the gospel for the first time. I realized that I was more wicked than I ever knew — “None is righteous … All have turned aside … There is no fear of God before their eyes” (Romans 3:10–18) — but in Christ, I was more loved and accepted than I ever thought possible — “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly … God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:6, 8). Following that season, Jesus became the most intriguing and impressive person in the world. I recognized that he was the hero, the main character of the story — not me.
So my life began to change. With Jesus as my substitute, the guilt and the need to perform were gone. And with Christ as my new treasure and deepest source of joy, my desperate need for others and worldly happiness slowly dissipated and a deeper peace started to flow in. I began to enjoy church and love singing praises to the God who saved me. God placed me in several deep relationships through Campus Outreach and Bethlehem Baptist Church that bore fruit in turning from sin and enjoying Jesus more. As the years go by, I have definitely not attained perfection. I still sin, a lot, and I still need the gospel every day. Now that God has blessed me with a beautiful wife and two kids, I must rely on and apply Jesus’s death and resurrection to my stumbling service of others above myself. My identity is not in being the perfect father or husband. My identity, my life is “hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is [my] life appears, then [I] also will appear with him in glory” (Colossians 3:3–4). True life, true joy, true peace is found in Jesus Christ, the God-man who laid down his life for me.