My name is Eric Parker, and I used to think I was something special. One of the dangers of being good at things is that when you compare yourself to others, you come out on top. When I was growing up, I was good at a lot of things. Sports came easy to me. School came easy to me. Relationships came easy. Music came easy. Oh yeah, and church came easy. In short, I had a lot of ability and a lot of success. And that was dangerous. But what was more dangerous than the pride that came with success was my knack for manipulating people and situations to play out in my favor. As I look back, I’m not even sure I knew I was doing it. Saying the right things to the right people came so naturally to me, that I don’t think I even saw the deception in it. And as a result a lot of people liked me. I got tons of accolades, awards, and opportunities. My parents, teachers, and peers were always praising me for my accomplishments. And at some point, I began to believe my own hype. I began to think that I was indeed something special. The praise was like a drug. I was addicted to man’s approval. And when it came to my standing before God, I believed the same thing. Like I said, church came easy. Don’t drink, don’t smoke, don’t cuss, don’t sleep around. You know, evangelical Christianity (tongue firmly in cheek). At least that was the message I heard. And before you think I am blaming my parents or church for my misconception of the Gospel, I take full responsibility for my own deaf ears. But for whatever reason, I truly believed my own performance would solidify my good standing before God. I mean, why not? It worked in every other area of my life. You succeed, you get good standing. Say the right things to the right people, find yourself in a favorable position.
This process of me becoming a self-righteous, self-centered monster might have hit a fever pitch, but something happened. God had mercy on me, and showed me his grace. Just a few months before my 16th birthday, a young man named Ron Lowe, my counselor from Camp Vesper Point, followed up with me after the summer was over. He took me to lunch, and had the audacity to talk to me about the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I have probably shared this in a previous post, but it needs to be told in this context. Ron asked me this question; “How is your relationship with God?” My response was full of deceit and false humility. I said, “It’s pretty good, but sometimes I feel like no matter how good I am, I just don’t deserve to go to Heaven.” Now it is important to realize at this point that I absolutely believed I deserved to go to heaven. Really what I was looking for was the same pat on the back that I got from everyone else. I fully expected Ron to say “Eric, come on, you’re doing great.” But what Ron said was the first breath of real air that I had ever breathed. He said, “You’re not, and you never will be.”
YOU’RE NOT, AND YOU NEVER WILL BE. Let that sink in.
At first I was totally taken aback. I actually remember thinking, “you don’t know who you’re talking to, buddy.” But very soon, the good news of Christ began to melt away my pride and self-righteousness. Ron told me the truth that I had probably heard 300 times but just refused to comprehend. That all have sinned and fallen short of the Glory of God. That God is just, and He must punish sin. That Jesus had lived the perfect life that we should have lived, and that on the cross God poured out his wrath for our sin on his perfect Son. If I was to find favor with God, it would not be through my “good” works, but through the perfect work of Christ applied to my account by grace through faith in Him. The great exchange of the Gospel is that Christ took our sin and we get his righteousness. I believe that day at age 15 was the first time I understood the Gospel.
I had never really been a Christian. I had been a moralist, and a really bad one at that. You see, I wasn’t keeping God’s laws, I was keeping man’s laws. I was keeping the “house rules” of American moralism. I didn’t drink, smoke (often), cuss (all that much) or sleep around (as Bill Clinton would define it). In reality, I wasn’t really even keeping those rules all that well. I was just doing it in public, and better than most of the people around me. So when I heard the Gospel, I began to see the holes in my supposed “good works.” But the road from moralism to full trust in the work of Christ can be a hard one. During those last few years of high school I still struggled with pride and self righteousness. I still hurt and manipulated people. I still thought I was something special. When you have spent most of your life finding your self-worth in pleasing others, it’s hard to let go of that. When you have based your emotional state on the inflating words of others, its hard to be loved for any other reason than that people find you lovable. God’s love in Christ is scandalous. It it was hard for me to accept it. The Scriptures say that God loved us while we were yet sinners. The Scriptures say that we love, because he first loved us. It wasn’t due to our ability, our performance, or our accolades, and it certainly wasn’t because we had manipulated Him to get the outcome we desired. God doesn’t love us because we are loveable. He loves us, because he loves us. He is love. And the justice he poured out on Christ at the cross made us objects of grace and love, rather than wrath. We can’t earn it. We can’t win it. We can’t manipulate the books. We can only accept the free gift. That is hard for the performer to accept. It’s why Jesus said “it’s easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. ” Pride kills, and it keeps God away…until he breaks through it.
It’s been more than 20 years since Ron shared the good news with me, and the Holy Spirit quickened my heart to accept the free gift of salvation in Christ. Over those years I have seen the work of Christ more clearly. The Good News gets better with time, because part of the process of sanctification is seeing the hideous nature of your own sin more clearly. This year, God chose to give me a deeper clarity into the man I used to be (and still am in many ways). I have not enjoyed that. I have offered apologies to some of the people I hurt the most, and I have confessed a lot of past sins. But thanks be to God, I am no longer a moralist, and I am no longer a performer. To be sure, every day of my life I am tempted to walk down the old path. To turn around on the road and go show the world I can do it on my own. To show the world that I truly am someone special. Then the Gospel rushes in, and I am once again saved by the grace of God. I am no one special, but I am infinitely valuable to God. If ever I have leaned fully on the finished work of Christ on my behalf, it’s now. And that is true freedom.
For this post I am featuring a song by my friend Chris Slaten (Son of Laughter). This song is a call to stop trying to win God’s favor and accept his grace.