by John Ellis
(Edit: Shortly after I emailed him this evening, Jonathan Pokluda emailed me back, demonstrating humility and charity as he expressed concern for me over and above his article. As I contemplated his kind words to me, I thought, “Would I respond with this much humility and charity if someone challenged one of my articles?” I don’t know the answer to that, but I pray that I would/will, by God’s grace.
Writing online is a tricky business. Rarely are you able to say all that you want and all that you believe on a given topic. I wrote this blog post under the assumption that Jonathan Pokluda did not intend to provoke the response I had while reading his article. But, I had my response and I was concerned that others might have a similar response. In His kindness, God has me in a place, spiritually and materially, where my existential navel-gazing is overcome by His mercy and kindness exhibited in my sanctification, by the power of His Spirit. However, before I began writing, I wondered how my response would’ve festered if I had read something similar as a new Believer. So, while I stand by what I’ve written below, I would be remiss if I didn’t say that I believe that Jonathan Pokluda would counsel Christians who have “ruined” their lives that, in Christ, their life has not been ruined. If I never meet Pokluda in this life, I look forward to laughing with him about this in the new heavens and new earth.)
It’s not that I disagree with Jonathan Pokluda’s advice in his article “How to Ruin Your Life in Your Twenties.” It’s that in his article he allowed little to no room for me and others like me. You see, I ruined my life in my twenties. I violated every single one of his resolutions. And, yet, although I ruined my life, my life is not ruined. And that’s a paradox of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
In his article, Pokluda gives seven ways to ruin your life in your twenties: 1. Do whatever you want. 2. Live Outside your means. 3. Feed your addiction. 4. Run with fools. 5. Believe this life is all about you. 6. Live for immediate gratification. And, 7. Avoid accountability.
After providing a brief commentary under each heading, Pokluda provides a corresponding resolution. He then concludes his article with these two paragraphs:
People don’t resolve to ruin their lives. We hope to be great employees or business owners. We hope to be great moms, dads, husbands, or wives. We hope to be successful and contribute to society. We hope to be faithful in our walk with Jesus. But all faithful walks start with small faithful steps. Great mature adults are created through the faithfulness of young adults.
You are becoming something, and the resolutions you make and keep today will shape who you become tomorrow. Who do you want to be when you grow up? You will be that person much sooner than you think. What are you doing to become him today?
In my twenties, I did whatever I wanted, living with the single-minded objective to gratify my desires. Throughout my twenties, I left angry creditors in the rearview mirror of my life. Every morning, day, and night, I ingested marijuana, or worse. I didn’t just run with fools, I was the lead fool. Rejecting the God of the Bible my parents had faithfully taught me about, I believed with every ounce of my being that I was all that mattered. Because of that, immediate gratification was the primary variable I considered when making decisions. And accountability? From whom?
By the time I finally repented of my sins and placed my faith in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus at the age of twenty-nine, I had a series of ruined relationships to deal with, was unable to go to sleep at night without getting high, had no marketable skill sets outside of theatre, and had destroyed my credit. I was ruined.
This morning, fourteen year after having been saved from my sins and adopted into God’s family, I clicked over to the article from The Gospel Coalition website. As I read it I began crying, wounded.
You see, in His providence, God has me going through a hard season where I am being asked to fully trust Him and His sovereignty and His full and final resolution for me that will be revealed on the Day of the Lord, when my King and Savior Jesus Christ returns. I’m in a season where my past failings and my past decisions are being used by my flesh in an attempt to suffocate me into self-pity and anger directed at myself and into doubting God’s infinite goodness. Every morning, for the last two weeks, I’ve had to cry out to God to sustain me by His mercies, to cause me, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to continue to cling to Jesus, the rock of my salvation. Thankfully, by God’s grace, He has done so.
By God’s grace, throughout the day, I remind myself that I am the child of the Sovereign Creator of the Universe and one day I will come into my full inheritance of my full and final sanctification and be ushered into the physical presence of my dear Savior for all of eternity. By God’s grace, throughout the day, I remind myself that I have been saved out of dark rebellion and have had my feet placed on the path of righteousness. By God’s grace, throughout the day, I remind myself that my identity is not defined by my “ruined life” and its consequences that I am still facing, but that it is defined by my position in Jesus Christ. I am “Christ’s, and Christ is God’s (1 Corinthians 3:23).”
And, so, by God’s grace, I write this post to encourage my brothers and sisters in Christ who, like me, have ruined their life. To them I implore, please do no steer into the word “ruined.” Do not own that word. If you are repenting of your sins and placing your faith in Jesus, you cannot possibly be ruined because you are a child of the King of Kings. Yes, in this life you are being asked to navigate the consequences of your past actions. But, remember, your Savior and your King fully dealt with your ruinous actions on the cross, and God remembers them no more. Furthermore, Jesus’ Spirit indwells you, giving you the power and strength to glorify God as you navigate the consequences of your past, ruinous actions. What a privilege! Pray for the grace to cling to Jesus and to live in a way that honors your Creator.
For those who ruined their life in their twenties and are attempting to navigate the consequences of your past action on your own power, please stop. Surrender. Let go of your rebellion and bow the knee before God in repentance of your sins and place your faith in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Doing so won’t make this life magically better. But doing so does provide immediate meaning to your life. And that meaning is to glorify your Creator. What’s more, if you repent of your sins and place your faith in Jesus, God will not leave you to deal with the consequences of your ruinous actions alone. His Spirit will carry you through to the final day when all your suffering, all your temptation, and all your sin will be utterly consumed, and you will be ushered into the physical presence of Jesus to spend all eternity in God’s full and final rest.
Yes, what you do in your twenties will shape your thirties and your forties and beyond. But, no, you are not trapped by the foolish and sinful choices you made in your youth. No, who you are in your twenties does not determine who you are in your thirties, forties, and beyond, unless, of course, we are defining “who you are” purely in materialistic terms. Thankfully, God doesn’t do so. He defines the identity of His adopted children by the identity of His perfectly obedient Son, Jesus Christ.
Although I ruined my life, I am not ruined because I am in Christ.
Soli Deo Gloria