I learned about Jesus as a child. As long as I can remember, I've considered myself a Christian. I was aware that Jesus died for my sins, and as a result, I was forgiven by God. I had no trouble believing in this concept. The idea that there was an answer to my sin, that left me standing clean before God, sounded like good news. My problem, however, was not what I said I believed, but rather how my life, both inside and out, reflected (or rather didn't reflect) the implications of this belief.
Through my childhood and teenage years I treated God as a "fairy godmother". I would find myself testing God, asking Him to prove that He was there for me by making the things in my life go the way I wanted them to. I figured, if I could impress God, He would "return the favor" by giving me what I wanted. When life didn't go as I planned it, as it often did, I felt as if I had fallen from God's grace. I felt that I had to, again, become worthy of His love and adoration. I lived a very defeating and self-centered life. I completely missed the point of the gospel.
When I was in college, I joined a campus ministry. I tried endlessly to paint a picture that I really knew what I was talking about as a believer in Christ. I volunteered for everything, and sought the approval of the leaders and the other students. I was living an uphill battle based on performance and recognition.
Thankfully and miraculously, God sought me out. My heart was impacted dramatically on a retreat, centered around the gospel. I was actually pretty annoyed to have the gospel as the main subject. I had a very strong "I've graduated from this, let's get to the deep theological stuff" mentality.
During an evening talk, the concept was expressed, that we do NOTHING to earn our salvation; I stopped dead in my tracks. I literally said out loud, "Nothing? But, I mean, I do at least a little, right?". This talk lead to an understanding of how I was heavily warping the meaning of the gospel. By trying to add my "good deeds" to the earning of my salvation, I was relying on myself to be in good favor with God. I was not trusting that Jesus dying for my sin was enough. By putting myself in the equation, I was changing the gospel into something that is not good. To quote Pastor Chris, I was "jumping ahead to apologetics without having a gospel invaded heart". I was making my salvation partially up to me, and in turn I was unable to fully accept the gift of the Gospel.
The gospel offers us a freedom in Jesus Christ, not a list to follow or expectations to be met, in order to find favor in God. "But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8).
God so graciously allowed me to understand that taking myself out of the equation of the gospel was the remedy my heart so longed for. Suddenly, I understood, that because of the gospel, my sin does not change God's love for me. Jesus died on the cross, so I can be PERMANENTLY reconciled to God. "For our sake he made him (Jesus) to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Corinthians 5:21) When God looks at me, He sees Jesus.