[God] saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit.
When I look back at the last 45 years or so of my life – which is about as far back as I can remember – I am astounded and amazed that a) I lived this long and b) people who knew me didn’t eliminate me!
I recently told a story in a sermon about when I was 10-years-old and probably should have died or at least been severely injured because I had done something. It wasn’t that what I did was stupid, but it wasn’t too bright.
It was summer and I was climbing trees in our apartment complex. If that sounds kind of strange, you are probably a young person reading this.
Back “in the day” boys used to play outside in the summer and climbed trees and ran around and rode bikes and stuff. We didn’t sit in the shade with our iPhones or stay inside and play on our Xboxes and Playstations – because we didn’t have anything like that when I was 10.
So, I’m climbing this tree in front of our apartment. I guess I was pretty good at it because pretty soon I was on a large limb of the tree looking into my bedroom window on the third floor.
I was pretty impressed with myself and I leaned back on a branch to survey my accomplishment. Only I didn’t know the branch I leaned back on was dead.
With a gut-wrenching snap I started to fall and at the last moment I was able to grab another, sturdier branch. My heart was pounding and I had trouble breathing as I quickly climbed down to the safe, solid ground.
I never climbed trees ever again. I’m convinced that my guardian angel pushed me back up on that limb and then saw that I was able to safely climb down again.
As I got older, I presumed I was getting wiser and more mature. But I still did some pretty dumb things. I also said some pretty dumb things. At times I hung around the wrong crowd. Sometimes I would go along with what my friends were doing and hurt my parent’s feelings. Along the way I made some enemies by what I said or did.
There were two guys and a couple of girls during high school that tended to look past these things and were my good friends. And in college and especially in seminary, I was able to find a core group of friends. I didn’t always say the right things to them and I hurt them by what I said and did at times, but thankfully I can still call them my brothers and sisters twenty to thirty years later.
But for the longest time I felt that they had it all together even when they were younger. They didn’t do stupid things like I did when they were younger. They were always well liked and always did the right things and always said the right things. At least, that’s what I thought, especially when I compared them to the way I grew up and acted.
Then I read Titus 3:3 and I realized that even the giants of the Christian faith like St. Paul lived pretty rough at times.
For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another (Titus 3:3).
That sounds like me! I suspect it sounds like a lot of people.
The comfort in this is that St. Paul follows up this admission (that hits so close to home with me) with the Good News that God loves us in spite of what we have done!
We don’t have to be good or do good things or say the right things in order to get God to like us. We don’t have any hoops to jump through to get God to save us from our sins.
God saved us by, in mercy, pouring his Holy Spirit on us through Jesus Christ!
We are justified by grace! Saved, made right in God’s eyes, all by grace. Not by what we do or say, but by God’s love and mercy and grace alone!
What an amazing God we have, that loves us in spite of who we are and what we have done!
Heavenly Father, I’m amazed that you could love someone like me. But I’m so thankful that I don’t need to be perfect for you to show mercy to me. Help me to overcome my fears of not being good enough and look to Jesus who is perfect for me. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
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