Freed from Self

Posted by Josh Gilchrist on February 19, 2023
Freed from Self
Tony Medina and his family at church on a recent Sunday. Photo by Seth Weber.

Tony Medina is a man who can attest to the change brought about by denying self and following Christ.

Tony grew up in a home where he and his five siblings were pretty much left to themselves. His father was in and out of their lives, and their mother was constantly working to provide for six children.

Tony and his siblings would go to Catholic church on Sundays with their dad’s side of the family, but that did not continue once their parents separated. From that point on, Tony says, “There was no God or church in my life.”

“I hung out with my brothers mainly,” he remembers. “We had groups of friends that we’d hang out with, getting in trouble with each other. That’s just what we did.”

“There was no God or church in my life.” Tony Medina

During his teenage years, Tony started getting into “mischief, hanging around with bad kids.” He was arrested for stealing at his junior high and summarily expelled from the school district. He moved to a new school district, and, not being one to really reach out and make friends, Tony was befriended by a new group of troublemakers.

Tony started using marijuana his freshman year of high school. It did not seem like a problem to him because he had always smelled it around his dad’s house. He looks back on a number of things in his dad’s household that were not the best influence for kids. He was allowed to watch very violent movies at a young age and was given sips of beer. To Tony, though, these things were not a big deal, as he looked up to his father.

Not answering to anyone

Tony did not enjoy school. However, he discovered he could earn his own money by doing hands-on work around his neighborhood, so he could buy what he wanted. He recalls, “That built a sense of pride. I’d accomplished this. I could do this and do that.” In the midst of this new sense of accomplishment, he remembers, “I was guiding myself.”

Tony was kicked out of high school his junior year and never returned. For the next seven or eight years, he focused on working so that he could continue making money for what he wanted, with little guidance and direction. He lived with his mom and stepdad, then with his dad until he could afford to get his own place.

Tony describes his mentality then: “Now, I am living by myself. I am not answering to anybody.” With no one holding him accountable or serving as a visible sign of authority, he fell deeper into doing whatever he wanted.

This led into a life consumed with drugs, alcohol, and girls. Marijuana led to harder drugs, and he soon found himself at odds with the law. He says, “I got charged with seven DUIs from the time that I was 21 to the time that I was 28.” He was found guilty of five of those and started having to serve different stints in jail.

Tony was blessed to have a sister and brother-in-law who loved Jesus and were bold with their faith. He says, “Throughout these times, Theresa and Dustin (Erbeznik) would be sharing the Gospel with me. Theresa would be like an iron fist. Dustin would come in calmly and say, ‘This is what Jesus does.’ I know that it worked. Their faithfulness to God and his sovereignty just worked.” It would take a while for it to work, but seeds were being planted.

Staying clean on his own proved to be impossible. By age 31, Tony had fallen deeper into selling and using drugs. Over the next four years, he was involved in high-speed car chases and had people pull guns on him. He was knocking on death’s door.

Relinquishing control

More time in jail helped Tony see what his life had become. He remembers phone calls with Dustin telling him that he needed to give up the steering wheel of his life and hand it to the Lord. He recalls praying and asking the Lord to take over, but he still had more to learn about relinquishing that control, seeking Christ on a daily basis.

Tony found himself in a drug treatment program in Idaho, a 10-year prison sentence hanging over his head if he failed to complete it. He had asked Theresa and Dustin if they could send him some money so he could buy items from the commissary. Dustin agreed on the condition that he would promise to read the Bible that they sent to him.

Tony, whose “desire was to get money,” started reading the Bible to pass his time. Scripture helped him to see that he had only ever lived for himself. That was the problem. Change was necessary.

God began to transform his decision-making process. He had only ever done what he wanted to do. In 2018, as he left incarceration for the last time, he realized that he needed to deny himself and do the opposite. So, when the choice to live with either his mom or with Theresa and Dustin presented itself, Tony chose Theresa and Dustin because living with his mom would have been what he wanted. When Dustin invited him to attend Faith Bible Church and Bible study with the family, he went even though he would rather keep to himself.

“It’s so hard to fathom that for all that I have done that He would redeem me as a free gift and does it so graciously.” Tony Medina

Redeemed and whole

Eventually, Dustin made Tony start attending Fundamentals of Faith on Wednesdays. Through this class, he got to learn about Christ and the joy of fellowship through the class leaders, Chris and Marty Tornquist. It was through this class that Tony knew he wanted to give his life to Christ.

“It’s so hard to fathom that for all that I have done that He would redeem me as a free gift and does it so graciously...and just, so whole into every facet of my life.”

God has graciously removed Tony’s desire for drugs. While he still struggles with self-will, he knows that he can deny himself daily and follow Christ. God has provided jobs that have given him enjoyment and fulfillment.

Aside from his salvation, nothing can compare to the gift that God brought to Tony in his wife Eline, four stepchildren, a baby daughter, and another baby on the way. Throughout his life, he had always desired a family, but it had taken a “back burner status” to Tony’s pursuits before knowing Christ.

As he turned away from himself and sought to please Christ, he also prayed for a wife. God brought Eline into his life, and he worked in the hearts of Eline’s four kids to be open to Tony and getting to know him.

“God has given me everything,” Tony says. The Lord graciously rescues sinners from themselves and then, in turn, gives them so much more.

Josh Gilchrist

Josh serves as Resident College Pastor for Faith's college ministry, Doxa. He and his wife, Pam, have three children.

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