I Thought I Knew the Gospel

(Guest Post by Molly Hilbert)

“It’s one thing to graduate from college ready to change the world. It’s another to be resolute in praying that God would change you” (Kevin DeYoung, The Hole in Our Holiness).

As a senior in high school, I was excited to fill out my application to Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, Illinois. I don’t remember the exact words that I had written on my application, but I do remember this: “I want to go through Moody Bible Institute’s Applied Linguistics program so that I can be trained and equipped to become a full time Bible translator among a tribe that has yet to know of Jesus.”

Honestly, I hated studying languages (French and Spanish in high school taught me this) and I didn’t actually want to live in a foreign country. I pursued this only because I thought I had to; I thought it was the biggest and most difficult and admirable way that I could serve. Ironically, before even setting foot on campus I changed my major to Women’s Ministries. Almost as soon as I did walk onto campus, I added a minor in Communications. After two years of taking these classes, I decided to change my major completely to Pre-Counseling.

It is obvious looking back that the Lord did a lot to change me during my time there, shaping my desires and passions to be more like His, revealing to me the gifts that He has given me and those which He has not (a year of Greek taught me that languages certainly was never a gift nor a calling!).

Though the Lord did much to change me and refine me during my time at Moody, this was usually not my focus; my focus was to change the people around me and the world beyond me.

Throughout my four years in Chicago, I tutored refugee children in the city, taught at various AWANA programs, helped to lead a youth group, led a women’s small group on campus, was part of the women’s ministry executive committee, served at two area homeless shelters, and was a resident assistant of a dorm floor for two years. I jumped from ministry to ministry, from church to church, trying to find something that I would enjoy, something that was a “good fit.” I never did quite find my “perfect fit.” Instead, I realized that God’s great calling that we spend our whole lives searching for, is usually right in front of us: our co-workers, our families, our friends, our neighbors, our fellow students.

The reason that I resonate so much with the above quote by Kevin DeYoung is because now, two years out of college, I am realizing how much my identity was wrapped up in ministry, especially in changing the world around me. I’m realizing how much my view of salvation and God’s love was dependent on my service to Him. How when others admired my deep involvement in so many different ministries, my self-confidence surged because this is where I felt my worth.

Remember those big dreams I had upon entering Moody Bible Institute and throughout my time there? Upon graduation, I spent the summer living at home with my parents and working in food service at the same retirement center I worked for during high school. After getting married to my Matt, I moved over 600 miles to live with him in a foreign state so that he could attend seminary. During this first part of our marriage, I barely knew anyone. I didn’t have good friends, a job, a church, or any sort of community or ministry that I could pour into or be poured into by. I still had my big dreams, but knowing that bills needed to be paid, I continued my work in food service, this time at an area hospital.

Without people to serve or a ministry to call “mine,” I fell into a deep depression. I felt worthless. Purposeless. For over a year, I battled with a darkness that told me that I wasn’t good for anything or doing anything that mattered. God felt distant, and so did His love. It was a dark, confusing, lonely time that I will never want to repeat but am grateful for what it revealed to my heart. For years, I had been pursuing ministry rather than the Great Minister. I had been loving the feeling I got from serving, rather than the One who had called me to serve and given me the strength to do so. I had placed my worth in how I saw people being changed around me through what I could do rather than what He has done. I wanted to change the world, but I didn’t think that God needed to change me. I lived as though God’s approval of me was based on how much I served Him.

As Tim Keller writes in his book, Center Church, for most of my life I was the religious person whose “identity and self-worth are based mainly on how hard I work or how moral I am” and only “when I am living up to my standards, I feel confident.” This is not what the Gospel teaches. As Keller goes on to write, when I am rooted in the true Gospel, “my self-view is not based on a view of myself as a moral achiever. In Christ I am at once sinful and lost, yet accepted. I am so bad He had to die for me, and so loved He was glad to die for me.”

Tragically, I do not believe that I have lived the Gospel for much of my life. Yes, I have always been serving. Yes, I have always been deeply involved in ministry. Yet it wasn’t until I was forced to be still—forced to not serve—that I realized that my sense of God’s love has often been placed in how much I could do for Him or how well I served Him or how much of the world I could change for Him.

As it turns out, Jesus loves not because of who I am, but rather because of who He is. “But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). He didn’t die for me after I gave my life for Him. He didn’t die for me after I got my sins and my life all cleaned up. He didn’t die for me after I became perfect and only when I got deeply involved in ministry. No, He died for me when my heart was turned against Him, when I hated Him, when my actions were repulsive to Him and I did not seek Him (Romans 3:11).

“For this is what love for God is: to keep His commands” (1 John 5:3). I don’t serve so that He will love me. I serve because I love Him.

It starts with me, with you. May we let the Lord change us first, before we try to change the world. May our resolve lie not in how much moral or political change the Lord can do through us, but rather how much change He can do in us. He loves us, not because of what we do, but because of what He has already done. He loves us, not because of who we are, but because of who He has always been.

Photo Credit: Molly Hilbert