In my early days of working out my faith, I was fully convinced that God had a big, long list of losers, a list He glared at daily. If these losers actually got into heaven, I figured, they would only have Him to thank, because it sure wouldn’t have anything to do with any their good deeds.
I was relieved to know that I was not one of those losers.
Nope, I was actively involved in my church, to the point of near exhaustion. I had rid my life of all manner of vices that vexed only the most broken of believers. I had an explanation for every scripture; I had a rule for every moral question; and every temptation was a new opportunity to prove my worth as a believer in Jesus.
Three years into that guilt-ridden phase, my stomach perpetually ached and my shoulders were all knotted up, but there was one thing of which I was certain: God loved me – uh, sort of – you know, as long as I . . .
- Moved to a third world country after college and lived in a hut
- Didn’t drink alcohol
- Read my Bible every night
- Prayed regularly
- Didn’t curse (unless I could find the curse word in the Bible)
- Wasn’t prideful (unless I was proud of being religious)
- And kept my thoughts as pure as the driven snow (“Define ‘pure.'”)
Needless to say, my “relationship with God” was looking a lot less like a relationship and looking a lot more like a religious obsessive compulsive disorder. Despite all the Bible reading and all the suffocating religious activity, I had somehow missed the basic point that, thanks to Christ’s redeeming work (not mine), I was a son, not another one of God’s employees (John 8:34-36).
Scripture tells us that the more rules we pile on, the more sin we’ll discover popping up in our lives (Romans 5:20), and I was living proof of it. First off, whether I wanted to admit it or not, my religious pride stunk like spiritual B.O. With pride naturally preceding one’s fall, I eventually worked up quite a laundry list of additional sins in my life. The rules weren’t working for me anymore.
Then the beginning of the long breakthrough began one day when I was talking to my buddy Shon about my extreme disappointment with myself, about what a klutz I felt like for continuing to be a perpetual failure as a Christian.
“You know what your problem is?” he asked.
“You’re a loser, just like everyone else,” he replied, matter-of-factly.
What might have offended me in the past all of a sudden felt very liberating.
“You mean, I’m like, one of God’s problem children? One of ‘those kinds’ of Christians?” I asked.
“Yeah, one of ‘those,'” he said.
And for one of the first times in my Christian walk, rule-based self-preservation not only seemed unattractive, but unnecessary. It was like God was saying, “Hey, Joshua, before you have a nervous breakdown trying to show me how worthy you are of My love, how about this news flash: you’re not. Welcome to the family, the family of losers.”
And I eventually ended up in a place that was deceptively similar to where I had started, but with an important difference: I finally understood that God did, in fact, have a big, long list of losers, but (1) I was one of those losers, and (2) He wrote that list with the unerasable blood of His Son; therefore, He looked upon those names, including my name, with love (Rev. 21:27, Isaiah 49:16).
I had spent so many years running from failure as a Christian. Then I finally faced it, and I discovered that only in being broken, in being a loser, could I truly find the healing I needed, for, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick [the losers]” (Matt. 9:12).