By grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
I had everything but I had nothing.
As the 1983 National League Rookie of the Year and a perennial All-Star throughout that decade, I had fame and fortune. But I battled a lifelong identity crisis that controlled my heart and mind off the field, and that undermined my on-the-field performance. My thoughts and choices away from the ballpark’s bright lights ultimately sabotaged my best intentions like an off- speed pitch to an overanxious batter.
Alcohol, drugs, partying, possessions, and promiscuity couldn’t quench my hunger for acceptance, purpose, and peace.
My relentless pursuit of physical, mental, emotional, and sexual euphoria to mask the pain of my father’s rejection provided short-lived diversions and only left me craving more. And with each foray into decadence, I sank deeper into depravity. It was like a cesspool of quicksand suffocating the life out of me.1
Take my word for it: the Enemy, Satan, really does come “to steal and kill and destroy” (John 10:10). He is a liar and deceiver who always peddles worldly wisdom as counterfeit solutions to our problems. Satan’s playbook hasn’t changed since the serpent told Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden that they could be wise like God by eating the eye-pleasing fruit God said to avoid. And with Adam and Eve’s disobedience, sin was unleashed on humanity.
I use SIN as an acronym for self-indulgence now. Every time we choose our way over God’s way, we sin. It has been said that sin always takes us further than we need to go, keeps us longer than we want to stay, and costs us more than we can afford to pay. Sin is costly. My sins cost me two failed marriages and millions of dollars in fines and penalties. Incarceration and multiple stints in rehab for cocaine addiction and alcoholism destroyed relationships and robbed me of years of peace and purpose. The Bible says in Romans 6:23, “The wages of sin is death,” but the second part of that verse offers one of the most beautiful truths in Scripture. It changes our eternal fate like a walk-off home run that snatches victory from the jaws of defeat: “But the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
That free gift of God is his GRACE — God’s riches at Christ’s expense.
God’s unmerited favor lavished on us through the sacrificial death of his Son, Jesus Christ, and His finished work on the cross is the only payment sufficient for the forgiveness of your and my sin debt. Ephesians 2:8-9 states, “By grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” By God’s grace and through the power of the Holy Spirit, I came to realize that my selfishly destructive choices and wicked ways offended God, who is perfect, holy, and righteous.
I wept uncontrollably each night while attending a weekend evangelistic crusade in Anaheim, California, in 1991. I should have been the happiest person on the planet, having recently signed a five-year, $20.25 million contract with my hometown team, the Los Angeles Dodgers — the second most lucrative contract in the history of Major League Baseball at the time. But in reality, I was miserable, empty and broken inside. An alcoholic and a womanizer, I was going through a painful divorce of my own doing.
At that crusade, I realized for the first time that my ability to hit majestic home runs and leave fans starstruck in my path couldn’t make me right with God and free me from the bondage of sin. Human abilities can’t bridge the gap that exists between the sinful human condition and God’s glorious perfection. We can’t achieve or buy a right relationship with God or perform godly works to make us good enough for God. God’s standard is not good; His standard is perfection. But here’s the good news — God did not leave us helpless and hopelessly alienated from Him. He did not leave me in my pit of debauchery, strung out on cocaine, or abandon me when I was in jail for violating probation. When I was running from God, full throttle on my path of destruction, He pursued me relentlessly with His unconditional and unfailing love. 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 paints an accurate picture of my condition before and after receiving God’s gift of grace and salvation in Jesus Christ: “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”
“And such were some of you.” That was me before I surrendered my life to Jesus and received Him as my Savior and Lord. But when I placed my faith in Jesus, I underwent a spiritual heart transplant, effectively exchanging my selfish and sinful heart for His self less and sinless heart. I was justified — made right with God — because my heart was replaced with his Son’s heart.
I used to wonder why God didn’t reject me after I repeatedly turned my back on Him. Then I learned that God loved you and me before we had the capacity to love Him. He has always loved us, even while were sinners. Romans 5:8 states it best:
God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
I am overwhelmed by the reality that God loved me at my worst, in my most rebellious state. In the midst of my deepest and darkest sin, He continued to call me to Himself — chasing me with His perfect love and not judgment. Jesus longed to heal me, not hurt me, and to deliver me, not punish me. I was on my way to hell as fast as I could get there. But God set up my detour. He never left me. I am amazed that God redeemed me from the punishment my sin demanded. God’s perfect and sinless Son, Jesus Christ, died in my place through a cruel death on a cross. And I am still in awe that God has restored me to a thriving relationship with Him through Jesus’s resurrection from the grave. Because Jesus defeated sin and death, I too can live victoriously every day and for eternity.
The full story is in my book Straw: Finding My Way, written with John Strausbaugh (Ecco, 2010).
Excerpted with permission from Turn Your Season Around: How God Transforms Your Life by Darryl Strawberry, copyright Darryl Strawberry.
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What sin and self-indulgence has God delivered you from? Is it hard for you to grasp that God’s grace is truly free? Do you sometimes still feel you have to earn it? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!