Martin Luther let me know that I was not qualified to receive the victorious-Christian-life merit badge. He also let me know that I wasn't a very good Christian.

The gospel that put an end to the proud monk Martin Luther and produced a Christian created one of the few mystical experiences of my life. That gospel laid itself out in my mind and heart in a way I'd never seen it or heard it before.

For the first time, the truth that Jesus is the one Mediator between God and human beings knocked me to the floor and suspended me over the truth that God had done all things necessary for my salvation. I could stop looking for the secret key, and I could ditch the quest to demonstrate that I was a Christian hero. I was humbled as I looked at a universe of grace that filled my empty soul with the love of God in Jesus.

He did it all. He traversed the separation. He brought together the irreconcilable. He had paid the debt and become the necessary sacrifice. He had loved me to the uttermost. He had given all this to me as a gift. I had nothing to offer, nothing to contribute, nothing to do but simply stop ignoring his gift and receive it. I was a drowning man whose rescue depended on stopping all efforts to swim and trusting Someone who was not going to make me a better swimmer, but who would drown in my place.

This experience did more than give me a racing heartbeat. It demolished the idea that I could be anything other than what I was: a broken, sinful, wounded, failing, hurting human being. To try to become something else was an affront to God's love for me. To try to make myself presentable or acceptable made me less capable of receiving the simple gift of Jesus' mediation on my behalf.

Jesus was not clearing the road so I could ride victoriously through life. He was becoming the road that would carry me through all the garbage, falls, failures, and disasters that were the inevitable results of my existence. In trying to make myself loveable, I had been distancing myself from true love. In pretending to be a leading candidate for the religious life, I was abandoning the life of grace. In seeking to be a good Christian, I was deserting the truth that there is no gospel for "good" Christians, because the Lamb of God was nailed to an altar for those who are not good, and who are no good at pretending to be good.

Excerpted from Mere Churchianity by Michael Spencer. Copyright © 2010 by Michael Spencer. Excerpted by permission of WaterBrook Press, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Related Elsewhere:

Mere Churchianity is available from and other book retailers.

Michael Spencer died earlier this year. Mark Galli and Spencer discussed "the coming evangelical collapse" last year.

Previous book excerpts in Christianity Today include:

The Christian Atheist | Believing in God but living as if he doesn't exist. (July 19, 2010)
Blinded By Stuff | Radical: Taking back your faith from the American dream. (June 21, 2010)
A Positive Life | Living with HIV as a pastor, husband, and father. (May 11, 2010)

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Mere Churchianity: Finding Your Way Back to Jesus-Shaped Spirituality
Mere Churchianity: Finding Your Way Back to Jesus-Shaped Spirituality
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