When “good” gets in the way

race track

At a recent meeting I tried to talk about Philippians 3. Unfortunately, the kids playing outshouted the adults quietly studying, and it was hard to maintain a consistent train of thought amid the ruckus. All blame on the kids aside, I just didn’t quite get where I was hoping to go, so I’m going to try again here.

In Philippians 3, Paul lists the reasons why he has reason to be proud or “confident in the flesh.”

I was circumcised when I was eight days old. I am a pure-blooded citizen of Israel and a member of the tribe of Benjamin—a real Hebrew if there ever was one! I was a member of the Pharisees, who demand the strictest obedience to the Jewish law. I was so zealous that I harshly persecuted the church. And as for righteousness, I obeyed the law without fault. (Phil. 3:5-6 NLT)

Our culture might be a bit different than Paul’s, but reasons for being proud or confident in ourselves fall into the same categories: things related to our birth, upbringing, belonging, education and deeds. It’s important to point out that most of the things on his list (except persecuting the church) are good things. Our list might include our parents, our siblings, our country, our hometown, our education, groups we belong to or identify with, and the “good” things we’ve been able to accomplish. Being proud of where we’ve come from or what we’ve done is natural. But Paul goes on:

I once thought these things were valuable, but now I consider them worthless because of what Christ has done. Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ and become one with him. I no longer count on my own righteousness through obeying the law; rather, I become righteous through faith in Christ. For God’s way of making us right with himself depends on faith. (Phil. 3:7-9 NLT)

This is the hard part–leaving what seems good for what is better. We feel a strong belonging to our family, our nation and our own accomplishments. Sports, fitness, hobbies, clubs, activities, education and other things help us make up our identity and give us a sense of pride. But Paul told us that knowing Jesus is of such great value that everything else is like garbage in comparison.

It’s important to draw attention to the fact that we shouldn’t “add” a relationship with Jesus to our lives. Instead, we are joining Him and His kingdom. We are choosing to find our belonging and identity in Jesus Christ, rather than in other things. Coming to a saving relationship with Jesus Christ involves confessing that the good things we’ve enjoyed so far have not brought us to salvation. As good as our family or church or heritage or nation or actions might be, they can not bring us to spiritual life. Jesus put it this way: “Flesh gives birth to flesh but the Spirit gives birth to spirit” (John 3:6 NIV).

Thus, coming to Jesus can feel like “leaving home.” These “valuable” things that we’ve found comfort in have surrounded us for a long time. Making a choice to belong to Jesus means letting everything else be “worthless” in comparison to him.

I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead. I want to suffer with him, sharing in his death, so that one way or another I will experience the resurrection from the dead!

I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us. (Phil. 3:10-14 NLT)

After coming to Christ, it is easy to slip back into an attitude of trusting in ourselves. The blessings of being a child of God may include a spouse, children, a job, a place to live, education, favor with colleagues, peace in our relationships and comfort knowing that our future is in God’s hands. Once again, the “valuable” things can get in the way of knowing Christ. “Pressing on” involves counting even the blessings as nothing in comparison with what Jesus has done for us. Rather than trying to preserve and protect what we have, we let Jesus take us further. Am I willing to find belonging, purpose and direction in the Lord, rather than in the things he gives? Am I willing to let him give and take away as He sees fit, knowing that a relationship with Jesus Christ is of much greater worth?

 

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