(Photo: Derwin Gray)
Derwin Gray, founding pastor of Transformation Church in South Carolina, reminds readers in his new book, Limitless Life: You Are More Than Your Past When God Holds Your Future, that their identity is found in Jesus Christ, and not in labels like "addict," "orphan," or "failure" that family members, friends or life might have thrown their way.
The Transformation Church leader and former pro NFL player writes in Limitless Life that the truth of one's identity, worth, and purpose is centered in God through Jesus Christ. Nothing but God's grace, not even "religion," can remove the barriers placed upon people because of these labels, or "soul-tattoos" as Gray calls them.
When asked what he believes is God's desire for His children, Gray answered, "To be transformed into the image of Jesus and to continue Jesus' redemptive mission on earth through our gifts as the Holy Spirit empowers us, His Church, in every facet of life."
Read more of Gray's comments regarding his new book, Limitless Life in the Q&A below.
CP: What do you mean exactly by "limitless life," and why is it important to live with a "limitless" kind of attitude?
Gray: Limitless Life is a 'Derwinism' that I use for the biblical term "eternal life." Jesus, Himself, is the Limitless Life (John 1:4; 1 John 1:5:11-13)! He wants to, by grace, implant and impart His Limitless Life in us so we, the church, can join Him on His redemptive mission on earth (Galatians 2:20; 2 Peter 1:4).
This is important because a lot of Christians try to live FOR Jesus. This leads to performance-based living, which leads to pride or despair. Pride says, "Look how good I'm doing." Despair says, "Look how bad I'm doing." Either way, the focus is on ourselves and our performance instead of Jesus and His performance on our behalf. We are to let Jesus live THROUGH us by the Spirit's power. This produces a life of worship, which leads to a transformed life that brings glory to God. (See Galatians 2:20, Colossians 1:29, 1 Corinthians 15:10; Philippians 2:13).
CP: You talk early on in Limitless Life that labels can be both good and bad in terms of establishing limits. Please comment briefly on that.
Gray: I thought I was worthless because of some childhood trauma I experienced, so my self-esteem was low and this produced stuttering. The "worthless" label limited me. I thought I was unlovable so I refused to let people get close to me. The "unlovable" label limited me in developing authentic relationships of love.
Even positive labels limited me. I was the poster boy for the American Dream. I escaped poverty and ended up in the NFL, but my identity was found in success and being an NFL player, so my life was filled with anxiety and fear because I didn't want to lose my career. If I did, I would lose my identity. The "successful" label limited me.
In Limitless Life, my passion is to get people to see that the only labels we need to live from are provided by Jesus, free of charge. He gives us a new identity, filled with life-giving labels.
CP: Based on your experiences, what would you say are some of the most common, limiting labels that people often find themselves dealing with?
Gray: From my own life, and from a decade of counseling people, I've learned that people live the limiting labels of fear, addict, worthless, damaged, messed up, failure, religious, successful, orphan, consumer, and purposeless. We all live from the heart. And if our hearts are tattooed with negative labels caused by our sin or the sin perpetrated against us, we will be limited in life.
CP: What are some ways those dealing with negative or hurtful labels can overcome them and the limits they place on their lives?
Gray: We can't remove the negative labels that are destroying us. Only Jesus can replace the negative, life-limiting labels with positive life-giving Gospel labels of grace. On the cross Jesus becomes our sin (negative labels) so that we might become the righteousness of God (positive, life-giving, Gospel soul-tattoos). His identity becomes ours because we are in Christ and Christ is in us. Our union life with Jesus is the key that opens the door to maturity in Christ.
CP: In Limitless Life, you spend some time on explaining justification, sanctification and glorification, all tied to God's grace. Why do you think some Christians have a hard time personally embracing God's unmerited favor, even though we believe it and even teach/preach it?
Gray: Because we really don't think grace is as amazing as it really is. On the cross Jesus said, "It is finished." Then he rose from the dead and ascended to the right of His Father. All that was needed to unite us to Jesus, become His Church, and join Him on His redemptive mission was done! He's done it all! And all we need to is trust Him to reproduce His life in and through us by the Spirit's life-transformative power. We struggle with grace because we want to be in control. Grace, and grace alone, means we are trusting Jesus to bring God glory through our lives (Titus 2:11-14).
CP: At the end of every chapter, you have "Head, Heart, Hands" suggestions. Why are these "transformation moments" important?
Gray: The "Transformation Moments" are important because I want the readers to slow down and prayerfully let the Holy Spirit take what they've read and integrate it into their lives. When I read a book, I read it like three times and write prayers in it and journal in it. Being a professional football player has taught me that I study to integrate what I'm learning and apply it to real life.
CP: Labels become attached early in our childhood and even teen years. What would you say to parents about speaking the "right" kind of labels into their children's lives?
Gray: I think parents need to Gospel their children, not moralize them. There's an eternity of difference between the Gospel, which produces a transformed life (Galatians 5:22-24) and moralism. Moralism focuses on do's and don'ts and produces pride or despair and self-worshipers, which is idolatry. Parents must shepherd their children's heart with the Gospel so their children will worship Jesus, not their behavior. (Romans 12:-2).
CP: Throughout the book, you also refer to your own personal challenges with labels and limits, such as failure, having an absent father, drug abuse in your family, etc. How did those experiences affect your writing of Limitless Life?
Gray: I wrote Limitless Life as a testimony to Jesus' life-transforming power, that if He could transform me, His glorious grace could transform anyone. I now see that all my pain and hardship has become a testimony to set others free. Out of Jesus' wounds I have been, and am being, healed.
CP: What do you hope would be the biggest takeaway for readers of Limitless Life?
Gray: I pray the biggest takeaway would be for the reader to say, "What an EPIC Jesus! His unsearchable riches are breathtaking! In light of His great grace, I can't help but live a limitless life."
Learn more about Limitless Life: You Are More Than Your Past When God Holds Your Future online: http://limitlesslifebook.com.