When I was in middle school, my family started attending a church gathering. I went because, well, of the free donuts. The church was fairly new, maybe a year old, and there were about 300 people in attendance. The speaker was a normal guy wearing normal clothes who had a great gift of storytelling.
Over the course of the next two years, things got crazy. The church grew to over a thousand people, and the part that really inconvenienced me? I had competition over the donuts in the morning. I was fairly young, so I’ll do my best to portray the next part accurately: One Sunday, things got weird. No one really even told me directly; I just overheard that our pastor had an affair and was stepping down. Now before I tell you my reaction, I should give you some backstory on my self-righteousness.
I went to a Christian school for fifth and sixth grade. During my time there, we would often play games to help us learn things. For one of these games, we set the guys against the girls. After one round, the teacher gave the girls an extra point I felt they didn’t deserve. I stood up and yelled at the teacher,
“Romans 2:11! God does not show favoritism!”
I’d like to tell you I learned my lesson from the three-day suspension I earned that day, but unfortunately my self-righteousness only got worse in high school. I memorized Scripture like a soldier loads his weapons preparing for war. I thought knowing more meant that I was better.
Going back to the story, hearing the news about my pastor, I went into super-Chrish mode (a.k.a. “super Christian”). How could this pastor do this? Doesn’t he know Jesus? And who was this woman? I wanted to know the details, not to better inform my prayers but to better condemn those I felt were now unworthy of talking about Jesus. The concept that “all have sinned” was something I used to point out faults in others, forgetting that I’m in need of the cross just as much as the prodigal son or, as in my case, his condescending brother.
The one thing I loved more than watching people admire my knowledge of the Gospel was hearing the sound of my own voice. I loved talking on stages and having people be impressed with me. I used my tales of living in my car and my broken engagement to gain peoples sympathy. I was great at exaggerating my story to make it seem more like a Hollywood blockbuster than a love affair between the God of the universe and a sinner. I made myself the hero in my story and even got good at deflecting compliments. People would say, “Wow, you’ve been through so much!” and I’d dismiss it with a casual, “Oh, it’s all by the grace of God.” In reality, if someone had ever told me I was messed up and God was so great for pulling me through the hard times, I would have been mad that I didn’t get any of the glory. I was such a good storyteller, and I was so afraid of appearing weak that I ended up doing everything I could to make myself (and my opinion) the god in other people’s lives. Thankfully, God wrecked that.
Fast-forward several years later. My faith had been challenged a bit, and I was walking closer to God—still with an arrogance that I battle today. Little did I know God was about to take care of that, too. I had started praying this prayer a friend taught me that I thought was extremely powerful: “God, show me the areas of the Gospel that I’m not believing.”
A year later, I had an affair with my best friend’s wife. They have four kids.
Even when I would share that with others I was quick to make sure they knew there was no sex involved. As if just kissing made it better in some way or made it less of a sin. I hoped people would still idolize me if they thought it was more of an accident. This didn’t last long. The root of what I had done was from the selfishness of my heart, not in the act.
Now I was the guy I judged. I now was the adulterous preacher. I now was the liar who waved such a high banner that turned out to be nothing more than an illusion. I was, as Paul so elegantly states, “the chief of sinners.” I had perverted my own mind and entertained my selfishness to the point of trying to take something that didn’t belong to me.
I made a ton of mistakes; one of the biggest was thinking I was above sinning.
This is where my story goes from me being the hero to being the rescued by a great Savior. I used to hate it, but now it’s my favorite part.
The family I almost sabotaged is working through the pain and is proclaiming the Gospel through their struggles. Praise God. The people closest to me refused to let me run. They showed me that love isn’t just praying for someone to find Jesus; it’s walking with them until they do.
During this process, I was hurt by the church I was attending, only to watch them humbly come to me and apologize while showing me truth in love, helping me give my heart back to God out of my white-knuckled grip. Married couples who were so angry with me were slowly moved to compassion, realizing this can happen to anyone who chooses self over Jesus.
No one is above any kind of sin. To be honest, there are still many people who react in instant anger when I tell this story. People who have felt betrayal themselves and want to see me pay for the horrible things I did to that family. People who have kids and instantly empathize with what those little ones are going through because of me. I’ve been called (and have felt like) every name in the book: selfish, perverted, disgusting, home-wrecker, pig, fake, liar, worthless, loser, among other words that I can’t list here. What still gets me to this day is that, while I still see myself as these names from time to time, Jesus sees me as forgiven. Jesus sees me as His own. Jesus wasn’t surprised by my sin but rather hoped it would lead me back to the cross.
I don’t look at my affair with shame anymore. Did I make a mistake? Duh. Absolutely, and I’ll regret it for the rest of my life. I look back on it all now as a sobering reminder of who I am apart from God. I look at the life that I deserve and how it differs so much from the life I have because God refused to give up on me.
He is now the hero in my story.
This has released so much pressure off me to perform. Now, when I share my story, there is no way for me to be glorified. You can’t twist an affair to make it sound like you’re the good guy. But God can take even an affair and make something beautiful. I have been forgiven so much, and because of this I’m able to love much. Every single thing I do now that is “good” is directly out of the goodness that was first shown to me.
Apart from God, I am an adulterer. I am a thief. I am a liar. With God, I am a son clothed in righteousness. Hallelujah. What a Savior.