By James Metsger
Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you is no trouble to me and is safe for you. Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh. For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh— though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. (Philippians 3:1-6)
2020 has been marked by missed opportunities. Students have missed out on graduation ceremonies and proms. Couples have missed out on dream weddings. Some people, tragically, have missed out on opportunities to say goodbye to loved ones. What’s even more tragic is how many people live their lives and miss out on God. Let me show you how easy it is to do:
Step #1: Work your way to God
Paul writes that people of God worship by the Spirit and put no confidence in the flesh (v.3), so if you want to miss out on God, work your way to Him. Don’t serve by the Spirit, serve by self. Let your life be a never-ending “to-do” list for God. Spend your life rededicating yourself to God, gutting it out, and hyping yourself up to do it all over again. Commit to working harder and doing more by the sheer power of your will. Live as if every day is January 1 filled with new resolutions that you’ll keep for a few days before failing again. Repeat.
Step #2: Celebrate self
You want to miss out on Christ? Celebrate self. Make yourself the hero of your story. Talk about how you finally figured it out. Consider how wise or strong you were to finally change and get your act together. Discuss your spiritual credentials in order to validate your spiritual maturity for all to know.
Step #3: Make your trophies your treasure
Put your confidence in your conduct. In your mind, pick and choose all your very best accomplishments, and gather them together to form an impressive spiritual resume, so you can be quick to celebrate all you’ve done. Make sure that trophy case is stuffed full of all your good conduct, so everyone knows you are a good spiritual person.
Step #4: Forget steps 1-3
All of these are, of course, the exact opposite way to live according to Paul. Paul writes in v.3 that the true people of God “boast in Christ Jesus.” Our glory is in Christ alone! Paul famously says it like this: “But as for me, I will never boast about anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. The world has been crucified to me through the cross, and I to the world.” (Galatians 6:14)
The lure of worldly accolades held no power over Paul once his eyes had been opened by God. We too should not glory in our earthly status, in our achievements, or in our gifts. Personal boasting in salvation is foolish for the Christian, for salvation has come to us through the work of another, a gift of the sovereign and gracious God. We must then boast only in Christ.
To the Corinthians Paul said, “The one who boasts must boast in the Lord” (1 Cor 1:31).
Who is the hero of your story? When you tell it, who gets the credit? God chose you. God opened your eyes. God showed you. God pursued you. God saved you. When you frame it that way, it’s pretty obvious who’s doing all the work.
Listen to how Paul tells our story to the church at Ephesus:
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the bod and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved (Ephesians 2:1-5).
We like to celebrate self, but God says that without his rich mercy, we were dead people, devoted to our own flesh, our own passions, and our own desires. It is God who is rich in mercy. It is God who loved us first. It is God who made us alive.
For we are the circumcision,
who worship by the Spirit of God
and glory in Christ Jesus
and put no confidence in the flesh— (Philippians 3:3)
Paul says true life with God is the exact opposite of finding confidence in our accomplishments. If there was anybody who could have had confidence in his status as a Jew, one of God’s chosen people, it was Paul. And, he proved it to the Philippians by listing his achievements:
though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. (Philippians 3:4-6)
Paul writes, “Anything you can do, I can do better. In fact, I did better! I was all about ritual and rule keeping, zeal, and obedience to the Law.” We will see though that Paul counted all those things as nothing because they could never have made him alive in Christ. Only God could accomplish that. When we miss out on that reality, we miss out on God. Our lives are HIS trophies put on display in HIS trophy case. That’s much better than anything I could ever do.
Who or what are you putting your confidence in?
How does that play out in your daily life?