Eleven years ago, his business gone, his marriage on the rocks, and his home facing foreclosure, Trey Etheridge sat in his truck at an interstate rest stop in Florida with a knife in his hand, his life reduced to a single choice: His wrists, or his throat?

But a timely phone call from a close friend was all it took to put his life on a different course.

“I think a lot of it was just trust—he asked me questions out of total love, I didn’t feel like I was about to get judged or condemned by anybody,” Etheridge recalls. “That night, as I was talking to him, I got nothing but an understanding ear, a ‘Brother, I’ve been there.’ He told me things about his life that were so similar to mine, and I’d had no clue they were going on in his life as well. I felt years of baggage just jumping off my shoulders and out of my heart.”

He says he also felt the Lord’s grace—grace that he had once felt as a teenager at church camp but hadn’t reflected on much since then. Now, through MPACT (Men Passionate About Christ), the ministry he founded with a group of friends four years ago, he aims to help men at similar crisis points in their lives feel that grace as well. The ministry’s tagline is “Discovering grace one man at a time.”

“I believe it’s just a natural part of who I am,” says Etheridge, who left a corporate job to devote his life to MPACT. “I’m not the guy who’s going to stand on a box on a street corner and start screaming the gospel. But I do feel comfortable in my own skin now that I can say, ‘I don’t have all the answers, but this is how Jesus affected me, this is what I understand from the Bible about what it means to believe in Him, and this is how I got there’—and I can give that story to somebody who needs to hear it.”

What does restoration mean to you?

Other men just understanding who they really are is kind of my passion. We might do things that we’re ashamed of or have a past that we keep bringing back up even though it’s in our rearview mirror, and it’s just understanding that those circumstances or our history aren’t what define us, they aren’t who we are as Christian men—we’re bigger than that. Being restored, to me, is walking in an identity that’s different from what I used to be, knowing I’m complete and I make no apologies for it.

In your podcast, you talk about professing your faith in Jesus Christ as a teenager, but you say you didn’t think that much about it for the next 30 years. Were you kind of “going along to get along,” wanting to be part of the crowd, telling people what they wanted to hear?

Yeah, I think that’s part of it. I think there are so many of us Christians today who are walking around with the “I got that taken care of, I checked that box” kind of attitude. I don’t discount my experience at that church camp at all—I believe the seed was planted; I believe that day I was saved. But we’re all on different journeys as far as understanding what it means to be a Christian and what Jesus’ blood and resurrection did for us. I like to say He was my “pocket god”—I took Him out of my pocket every Sunday and put Him right back as soon as church was over.

That’s kind of the mindset—”I got that taken care of, I ‘got my god on’ ”—and it never went deeper than that for me. I know the night when we were at that church camp, I think I was 13, I felt something amazing, I felt a peace, but after that day it was a long time before I felt that peace again.

That experience is probably common to a lot of teenagers, but something that, as you demonstrated, can set the tone for a large part of your life. How do you keep your faith from being just another one of those false fronts you display to the world?

I sound like a broken record because I use the word “identity” a lot, but the more I grow in the knowledge of who I am, the identity of me is not Trey anymore—we focus on our identity being Christ and the Holy Spirit of God inserted directly into our hearts the day that we believe in Jesus for the forgiveness of our sins. There’s a sea change that happens; unfortunately, I was never taught much about what that change was. So for me, it took some pretty major events in my life to kind of put the brakes on and say, “Stop, wait a minute—if I say I’m a Christian, what does that really mean?”

I’m still growing on it, and I don’t know it all yet, but I feel like so many of us would be redeemed so much quicker in our hearts if we just put the brakes on for a second and tried to understand what Paul and Peter and James wrote about in the New Testament.

You also talked about all the things that “the deceiver” offers you, all the things he makes look really enticing, and as someone who’s dealt with severe depression, what you’re describing sounds a lot like that—indulging in laziness or addictions rather than addressing real problems with your marriage, your finances, that sort of thing. Escaping them rather than confronting them. 

Instead of sitting down with my wife and creating an open line of communication about my finances back in the day, he convinced me that I was the man of the house, I was supposed to take control of it, I was supposed to take care of things and not worry my family with it, so I had to do it myself. It was a great deal of rationalization, and it pretty much led to my divorce.

We put up a lot of false fronts, we build up walls around our hearts, and we think we’re doing the right thing, but at the same time, are we really being real about who we are as men? When someone finally joins us for one of our sunrise meetings, a lot of times they’ll just listen to the other guys, and you can see a light bulb go off in them—”Wow, he’s sharing some deep stuff here. I don’t want to be that vulnerable, I’m not ready for that yet.” I’ve had men come to our meetings and then say, “You know, I don’t know if I’m ready for that right now.” It takes something happening in our lives for us to let those masks off. But when we do, it’s like the weight just starts falling off our shoulders, and then we realize how redeemed we really are. 

When you finally opened up to your friend on the phone that night, what did it feel like to finally be that honest with someone and just “purge” all your troubles and failings rather than continue to put up that false front?

It’s tough to grasp what grace is, but for some reason, that night with my friend, I felt grace. And in my heart, in those moments, that translated into “Wait a minute, Jesus is with me now no matter what.” What my friend gave me was, “It’s OK. You’re my friend. I see you. I know what’s going through your head right now.” All those things were coming out of his mouth, and I immediately translated that into the grace that the blood of Christ guaranteed. So I keep going back to Romans 8: “There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

You’ve said that “Grace is the most powerful force ever,” yet you’re also clear that it doesn’t free you from consequences. A lot of people are looking for God to save them from the consequences of their own actions, but His grace isn’t about being free from consequences, it’s about being strong enough to face them and wise enough to grow from them.

There are consequences for sin. There just are. But when men realize what the blood of Christ means and grow in the knowledge of what grace truly means, and they realize how powerful grace is, I think that’s when the light bulbs start going off in their hearts. Like I said in the podcast, and in my testimony to so many men, through all those horrible things I’d done in my life, He never left me. When I was 13, He inserted himself into my heart because I professed it, I believed it, and He was just waiting on me to pick up the phone and call Him. He never left me. He was still there.

I always tell people that just because Jesus forgave me for all my sins, I understand it might not mean I’ll never sin again—but I do firmly believe that the more I grow in the knowledge of His grace and how powerful it is, and the more my heart and mind are renewed, I think I’m going to sin less and less and less as a result of the power of his grace. And when I say that, I think people go, “OK, I see what you’re saying.” It’s a growth, it’s a process.

So tell us about your life now—do you think you’ve fully achieved the life that you realized God had in store for you on that night in 2010, or do you feel like there’s still more work to be done?

I don’t like to say there’s more work to be done, but I do think there’s more for me to discover. I use the term “God wink”: Every morning I wake up and He says keep going, keep pushing, there’s another man that needs to hear this message. There’s another man that says he’s Christian but doesn’t fully grasp it yet. Sometimes, when we can instill a little bit more knowledge in him to help him through, I would say I feel at peace that this is what I’m supposed to do. I don’t have any problem talking about God or Jesus to a stranger anymore. I believe it’s just a natural part of who I am. I still feel like every time I open the word, I have another revelation about something. I go a little bit deeper in the knowledge of who I am, the whole “renewing of the mind” that Paul talks about. It just gets clearer and clearer.

MPACT Ministries is a Partner of The Redeemed