What is my worth? What is my value? I think these are questions that every person has asked himself or herself at one time or another. I grew up with this idea that everything that was ever given to me had to be earned. I used to have such a difficult time receiving things from people. I remember how awkward birthday parties felt as a kid. I used to hate being the center of attention growing up. Subconsciously, I never really felt worthy of people’s time or money, let alone God’s love and grace. It felt like I had to earn it and prove I was good enough.
I believed that if anyone really got to know me, they would quickly realize that I didn’t deserve their gift, their friendship, or whatever else. It wasn’t like I was out committing debauchery, robbing people, or murdering puppies. I even grew up in a good Christian family, with parents that would always try to force me to go to church. I used to hate church.
Still, I grew up pretty sheltered. I wasn’t even exposed to porn until I was 17 years old. I still remember that day a friend from my football team approached naïve, oblivious, teenage me and handed me that DVD and told me, “Dude. Go home. Watch this. It’s going to rock your world.” Even worse, I didn’t even know what a virgin was until later that same year. I just had this feeling since a young age of dirtiness and unworthiness that I just couldn’t shake off. It haunted me, and I was reminded of it every time someone tried to express some kind of kindness or generousness towards me.
Personally, I believe value is connected to identity. You need to know who you are. I really believe that you really don’t know who you are, until you know who Jesus is. Jesus said if you lose your life, you find it (Matt. 10). I never quite understood that growing up, but I have come to realize that if you lose yourself in Jesus and keep a clear perspective of who he is, you won’t ever forget who you are.
1 Corinthians 5:17 says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. Old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” I go to a church called Bethel Church in Redding, California, which is an amazing community I’m proud to call home. Our pastor, Bill, once said, “The blood of Jesus actually changes our history into his story.” I love that. His forgiveness and grace actually changes our past.
It’s a truth that took me awhile to learn. When I graduated from high school I decided to do a little bit of community college. I decided to major in accounting, but I dropped out after a year and got a job at Target, living the dream, working the early morning shift from 4am to 12pm.
If you lose yourself in Jesus and keep a clear perspective of who he is, you won't ever forget who you are. Click To Tweet
One day, I remember coming home from work, exhausted, and I awkwardly sprawled myself over my bed, when out of nowhere I heard a voice. The voice itself was powerful and strong, both fearful and loving—the kind of voice you would hear from your dad. This was unusual for me, hearing God so audibly. It sounded so real to the point I believed someone was in the room with me. It said, “Israel, my grace doesn’t excuse you. My grace enables you.” That was it.
My goal isn’t to convince you this voice was real or any of that, but to this day I believe it was God speaking. I didn’t understand what I heard right away, but as time passed, I became obsessed with this thing called grace. I had to understand it.
As I explored this idea of grace, I began to realize that grace isn’t just some ideology, philosophy, or doctrine. Grace is a person. It is so easy to abuse a system or set of rules. It is much more difficult to abuse a person or relationship. Author and Minister Jack Hayford once said, “Grace is God coming to man at their greatest point of need in the person of Jesus.” That is beautiful and possibly the best description of grace I have ever heard.
I still remember when I first met that person. I was 13 years old, just making that awkward transition into a teenager. That day is forever embedded in my mind. I was home watching my 3-year-old brother when my mom came home, asking where he was. I was in my room, playing video games or something like that, and wasn’t sure where he was. Great big brother, I know.
We looked everywhere but couldn’t find him. We were starting to panic and began thinking the worst. I went outside and noticed my dog Raffles—yes that really was his name—was barking hysterically, tugging on his chain, wanting to be loosed. I let him go and he rushed to the back of the house where our neighbor kept his horses.
I ran right behind him until he finally stopped. I’ll never forget what I saw. Lying in a massive puddle of blood was my little brother. I forced myself through the barbed wire, as it was cutting at my skin, and rushed to him, chasing away the horses that were around him.
I turned his body over onto my lap so his face was facing mine. That image is engraved in my mind. His skull was crushed in and he was barely breathing. Children should never have to experience that type of horror.
We rushed him to Harbor View Hospital in Seattle, Washington. I remember hearing the doctor talking with my parents, saying, “Mr. and Mrs. Ledesma. I want to be honest with you. Your son is in critical condition and is being rushed into surgery. Just be prepared for the worst.”
I remember walking away down the hallway that lead to the cafeteria, angry with myself and angry with God. I kept walking. Then I stopped, leaned against the wall, and slid down to sit. The pain was so unbearable. I wanted it to be me, not him.
As I sat there, tears streaming down my face, I had a conversation with a God I wasn’t even sure existed. I don’t believe you really make deals with God, but I was only a kid. I sat there and said, “God, if you are real, please save him. If you save him, I promise I’ll give you my life.” It was strange, but it felt as if someone sat down next to me and put their arm around me. Love and hope filled me. In that moment, amidst this tragedy, I knew God loved my brother and that he loved me. People can tell you, “Hey. God loves you.” That’s great and all, but it’s completely different when God himself tells you he loves you; same words, different lips. The first is a fact, and the second is revelation.
I was gone for a while. When I got back, I saw the doctor talking with my parents. He explained that the surgery went amazingly well and that my brother would be out in two days. Two days! Not weeks or months. To this very day he remembers everything. He is completely normal and does everything a kid should be able to do. The kid’s a living miracle.
By no means am I saying that God allowed something horrible to happen to my brother in order to grab my attention; we just happen to live in a world where bad things happen. But, amidst my pain, God reached out. I met the person of Jesus and my life was changed.
I didn’t live a perfect life from that point on. I still made mistakes—so many mistakes that I would wonder if I was even saved. But when grace approaches you, you become transformed from the inside. First comes an internal change, which later turns into an external change. Religion simply cares about the external, and I hate religion.
It is vital that we as followers and ambassadors of Jesus understand what and who grace is. Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of your works, lest anyone should boast.” Did you catch that? Grace is a gift. When you come down to it and see it for what it is, you begin to realize that the essence of our belief system is based on a gift.
The thing with a gift is that it ceases being a gift the moment the person who received the gift attempts to pay back the person who gave the gift. It is then no longer a gift, but a debt. Romans 4:4 says, ‘Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace, but debt.” The New Living Translation says, “When people work, their wages are not a gift, but something they have earned.”
There is no “paying back.” There is no “working for.” There is no “earning” when it comes to grace. I believe that when we try to get what we already have by grace through our own efforts, we voluntarily put ourselves under the power of the law.
Still, there are so many people who don’t realize that grace is a free gift. Some have this mentality that they need to first work on themselves before they approach God and ask him in. They say things like, “Don’t worry. I’ll come to God eventually. I just need to work on myself. I need to do my part,” and God is just like, “Your part? Your only part is trusting me. Your only part is depending on me, leaning on me, resting in me. You have no other part.”
I have a friend from Florida who raises horses. Weird, I know. Alligators I get, but horses? Weird. One day he explained to me how he had a young colt who was stubborn and simply wouldn’t pull the yoke that was placed on him. He just wouldn’t budge. But when they decided put a much larger horse—who ended up taking up most of the burden—next to the colt, the colt decided to move alongside him.
We were not created to try to work for love, but, rather, from love. In Matthew 11:28-29, Jesus says, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you…and you will find rest for your souls.” Our only job is resting in him and receiving the gift he wants to give. There is no effort.
Without an idea of what grace is, people can go their whole lives trying to earn God’s love and burn out, never coming close. That, or they can live a ridiculous life expecting God to forgive them every single time Sunday rolls around. He does forgive every time, but there’s more to grace than that. I believe Paul says it best in Romans 11:6 when he said, “And if by grace, then it is no longer of works; otherwise grace is no longer grace.”
I must admit I still don’t completely understand this idea of grace, but when I think of it, I think of an avalanche. I find avalanches so intriguing. If you could go onto my YouTube account and see my suggested videos based on my viewing history, you would find videos of lions versus hyenas, puppies, Ellen, and avalanches.
The thing with an avalanche is that there really is no escaping it once you get caught up in it. Avalanches can reach speeds up to 80 mph in as little as five seconds. Ephesians 1:7-8 says, “…the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us…” That word lavished means to bestow profusely. Profusely means abundantly, never lacking, always enough. Grace is like an avalanche that sweeps you away. The truth is that if you would just allow yourself to get caught up in his grace, you would go further than you could ever go on your own.
You might be reading this, thinking, “That’s great and all, but you don’t understand what kind of life I have lived. My life is just too screwed up. I’m nowhere near perfect. I’m just a hot mess.” That doesn’t matter. Colossians 3:3 says, “You are dead and your life is hidden in Christ…” In other words, when God sees you, he sees Jesus because your life is now hidden in Jesus, and Jesus is perfect, therefore God sees you as perfect. The Bible is clear that where sin abounds, grace abounds even more (Romans 5).
The scandalous truth about grace is the belief that a perfect God would die for flawed humans. C.S. Lewis once said that the death of Jesus on the cross was completely perfect and completely humble. Perfect because he was God. Humble because he became a man. No one else could do what he did with his perfect sacrifice.
As I mentioned earlier, grace doesn’t excuse you, but enables you. It empowers you to live the life you couldn’t live on your own through works. Don’t get me wrong, works are important, but we no longer do works to be saved. Rather, we do them because we are saved. I believe that when we embrace this avalanche called grace, we don’t just get empowered to do what we can’t do on our own, we get what we don’t deserve too, the best gift possible—we get Jesus.