For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. Ephesians 2:8-9 (NIV)

On our return trip from Tennessee, Southwest decided to take the milk route—Nashville to Los Angeles to Tucson. It had been a busy week and I planned to finish up my Bible study, When Godly People do Ungodly Things (by Beth Moore) on the way home, so I had my study guide and Bible on my lap.

As the plane filled, I hoped that we could keep the seat empty between us but after a few minutes as the plane began to fill, a young man asked to join our row. I scooted over to the middle seat and gave him the window. He was surprised at his good fortune and glanced down at my books as he sat down and commented, “Heavy reading.”

“Uh huh,” I replied. I hoped it would discourage this guy so I could finish up and get to my novel.

He pulled out his laptop and typed away. After a few minutes, he said, “Are you taking a test on this?”

“No, I’m part of a group of ladies and we will all share what we have learned.” I didn’t want to encourage any further questions.

I gathered he was reading over my shoulder when he made another comment about the book of Romans that I had open.

“OK, Lord, I guess you want me to talk to this guy.”

I put down my Bible, sent up a quick prayer, and started talking to him. I discovered that he had been very active in a church in the East that had disbanded. His fiancee had chosen a life in a religious community and broken off the engagement. He was heartbroken and very disillusioned about the church and his faith. A job change moved him across the country and now he was trying to pick up the pieces of his abandoned faith.

He is a very well read man. In addition to a vast Bible knowledge, he liked to read early Christian fathers. He encouraged me to read these guys but I told him that I had enough to do to read the Bible and understand it.

But, as we talked, I detected some doubt yet dogmatism. He really threw me a curve when he said, “Grace is highly overrated.”

We had a lengthy discussion about salvation, grace, and faith. He made it all so complicated and more than once, I told him that, for me, it was a simple faith. It was all about grace but he just couldn’t accept it.

I thought of the rich young ruler and his encounter with Jesus. Although he kept all the rules, giving up his wealth was one big stumbling block for him and he walked away very sad. My young friend allows the past to trip him up, resulting in confusion and doubt.

We had a break in the conversation and I finally finished my lesson. The study ended with the story of the prodigal son. How appropriate! That boy was welcomed as if he had never left home with all the rights and privileges of a son. His dad never even asked him where he had been—he just threw a great big party.

As we neared LAX, I encouraged him to find a church where the Word is preached. He is lonely. What better place to find friends? I pray that he will listen to the still small voice of the Holy Spirit and accept the grace, love, and forgiveness from the Father.

It really is just that simple.