In his helpful, gospel-centered autobiography, Samson and the Pirate Monks, Nate Larkin tells the story about his nagging, mere proximity to the gospel: “When I think about my life as a Christian, it seems to me that I spent the first forty years in the upper deck… I liked those seats just fine. I was in the stadium… I didn’t really know the other fans in my section, but I enjoyed their company. When we talked, we talked about… the game. The gospel was far away, but we could still see it, analyze it, and argue about it. We relied heavily on broadcasts from experts who were closer to the field, and when things got slow we entertained ourselves with diversions… I always enjoyed hearing the gospel, even during those years when I was sitting in the upper deck. Its songs and stories captured my imagination [and often] could move me to tears… There were times, of course, when I yearned to move closer to the field, but I didn’t seem to have the right ticket. As I understood it, only men (and women) of integrity could play the real game.”
Obviously, Nate came to realize that he had mis-understood the gospel. The “ticket” to really experience God up close and personal as an Abba, Father is not a ticket that we purchase by our moral and religious performance and accomplishments. Rather, it is a ticket purchased by Jesus and given to anyone who will receive it. It is a gift. Period. No money? No obedience? No goodness? Perfect. It’s yours! Take it. Go get some grass stains.
This means that anyone can get on the field, whether the most irreligiously lost (like John Newton, former slave trader turned preacher of grace) or religiously lost (like the apostle Paul, former Christian persecutor turned preacher of grace). Whichever the variety, sin, failure and need is NOT a liability, but a requirement for grace. In other words, we must NOT be able to play in order to play! This is what it really means to show integrity—being honest about my inability and need. Only with THAT kind of integrity am I able to receive the ticket and experience real grace rather than trying to pay for it myself.