Like the Apostle Paul, There’s a Great Need to Check my “Confidence in the Flesh”
God is continually mucking around in my life challenging my self-sufficiency and self-righteousness. The process is grueling but necessary. I don’t like it but I keep asking for it. So, here’s the latest…
I’m taking my cue from Paul’s spiritual journey (though mine pales miserably to his) as he compares his background to his current intense desire to know Christ. Of course, his background was Judaic about which he reminds us in Philippians 3:3-11. My background is fundamentalist-evangelical. There actually are some parallels. Here are the background issues I need to count as loss —
Mimicking Paul’s writing: “If anyone else has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more…”
born into a fundamental, Bible-believing, minister’s home where we had daily family devotions and God was talked about constantly; a perfect environment for a solid spiritual foundation,
part of a dispensational, pre-millennial, evangelistic, missions-minded, doctrinally conservative “denomination” which stood firm for “truth” and “biblical morality,”
educated in the fundamentals of the faith in my home, college, seminary, and Ph.D. program with theological, liberal arts, and Christian education degrees taught by the finest men and women,
a fundamental-evangelical of fundamental-evangelicals, Baptist of Baptists,
as to the Bible, an inerrantist, literal-historical interpreter, non-allegoric,
as to zeal, a devoted and diligent pastor, committed to expositional teaching, discipleship, spiritual growth, and loving relationships,
as to righteousness, under the morality defined by fundamental-evangelicals, blameless.
But whatever gain I received from all this, I COUNT AS LOSS FOR THE SAKE OF CHRIST.
Indeed, I COUNT EVERYTHING AS LOSS because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake, I HAVE SUFFERED THE LOSS OF ALL THINGS and count them as RUBBISH, in order that I may gain Christ.
So, here are some personal takeaways applied to my spiritual journey —
- Compared to experiencing union with Jesus Christ, e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g in my past is garbage – my theological ideas, my spiritual experiences, my moral standards, my “higher” education, and my “trustworthy-correct” information.
- To gain Christ, I must dismiss all that was “beneficial” to me, spiritually, relationally, theologically, and morally putting myself “out on a limb” of pure devotion and attention on Jesus Christ.
- I need to start over, from ground zero, as if none of my background matters. Though I cannot undo anything from my past, I can somehow live with concentrated attention and effort on Jesus Christ such that my past seems insignificant.
- Experiencing (participating in) Jesus Christ is the supreme and critical issue of living. Nothing is as vital to my entire life as experientially knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.
- In light of the value of knowing (participation in) Jesus Christ, everything up to this point is stinking sewage.
- The need to gain Christ is a real thing. Paul’s conversion had indeed been initiated. Yet, it continues as he dedicates his heart, life, and efforts to participate in Christ more fully. This needs to be my approach to the life I seek to live. I have come to know Christ. Yet, I do not know him as fully as I am able – I have not “gained” him. According to the Apostle, gaining Christ is the journey of Christian living.
- The “righteousness” I assume I possess is actually self-righteousness. This righteousness is mainly of my own making and largely in my own mind. Due to my background, I impersonate the righteous person I think I should be – a phantom of my imagination. But, like Paul, I must realize that successfully abiding by external standards, even moral ones does not produce righteousness in me. Righteousness is only discovered by participating in Jesus Christ, a righteousness that comes only from God Himself not from anything I do.
- Faith is the key. My attempts to rationally think my way into a deeper knowledge of Christ are futile. Assuming that I can trust Jesus Christ AND also rely on the soundness of my upbringing and thinking destroys true faith. True faith is not irrational but it does not rely on rational thought. Nor is true faith confidence in past learning or experiences. They find their rightful place only when life in Jesus Christ is the focus of my being and efforts.
St. Maximos (7th c.) says: “All visible realities need to be crucified and all intelligible realities need to be buried.” Only then will Jesus Christ assume His rightful place in our hearts. It is then that we will begin to know Jesus Christ.
So, how about you? Like St. Paul, do you have an incessant desire and real drive to know Christ?
Are you willing to evaluate the “gains” in your background as garbage and “count everything as loss” for the purpose of knowing Christ Jesus your Lord?
Is “gaining Christ” the core of your faith journey?
These are challenging and rather frightening thoughts. Yet Paul and all the saints who ever walked this earth have gone through this same process.
Let’s join them in “forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead” (Phil. 3.13) so we can begin to experience what it is to participate in the life of Christ.
Share your thoughts and questions below.