I have a confession to make.
I was once an Atheist.
I hated God. I hated church. I hated Christians. The funny thing was that I did not have a reason to be so hateful. I grew up as an average, middle-class child, with a loving family, (mostly) solid friends, and access to a great education. I did not grow up in the church, but that is sadly not uncommon amongst modern youth. The lack of a Christian education growing up simply created ignorance towards God for the majority of my childhood.
But then I went to high school. And not just any high school, but a Catholic high school that was filled with some of the wealthiest families in Northern California. My family is not Catholic, nor did we own a winery. But the public schools were overcrowded and dangerous.
So here I was, an awkward high school student, trying to fit in to environment where everyone knew each other, sitting in classes that were all based on Scripture, and attending Mass every month. To make matters more interesting, I was bullied, picked on, and pretty much an outcast from day one. So in my immaturity, I got angry. Very angry. At my classmates. At school. And especially at God.
Hating God empowered me. I was able to take a stand and essentially mock God in front of my teachers and classmates, thus setting myself apart. This separation empowered me because I had something that made me different.
After I graduated from high school and went on to college, I discovered that I was not so unique for hating God. I lost my “power”. I lost my uniqueness. At that time I met a lovely lady by the name of Emily who was the daughter of a pastor. You can imagine how awkward our first few conversations were. Anyways, through Emily I started going to church and reading the Bible. I even transferred to a Christian college. And then a funny thing happened– I started believing.
Despite accepting Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior, I still did not feel worthy. I had spent a lifetime either not knowing or hating God. And then there were people like Emily, who have known and loved Christ since they can remember. How can I can be worthy of God’s love? I felt as if everyone else, including God, were looking at me and shaking their heads in disgust for who I was.
But then I discovered The Parable of the Workers in the Vineward in Matthew 20: 1-16 (NIV), which states:
1 “For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. 2 He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard.
3 “About nine in the morning he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. 4 He told them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ 5 So they went.
“He went out again about noon and about three in the afternoon and did the same thing. 6 About five in the afternoon he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, ‘Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?’
7 “‘Because no one has hired us,’ they answered.
“He said to them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard.’
8 “When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.’
9 “The workers who were hired about five in the afternoon came and each received a denarius. 10 So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. 11 When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. 12 ‘These who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’
13 “But he answered one of them, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? 14 Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. 15 Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’
16 “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”
Translation: Jesus leveled the playing field.
Whether you have believed in God all of your life or you became a believer on your deathbed, you will still be accepted with the same love from God.
That is the grace of God.
As my wife Emily wisely noted, a changed heart is an often overlooked miracle that God performs. It may not have the same wow factor as changing water into wine, but it is still a miracle none the less. I am a testimony of that miracle. I share my story not for praise, rather as a message of hope. If a common man such as I can be worthy of the grace and forgiveness of God, then so can you. It does not matter what you have done. All sin is equal in the eyes of God. More importantly, all sin is equally forgivable through God. That offer stands for everyone.