– though I myself have reasons for such confidence. If someone else thinks they have reasons to put 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; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless. But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. (Paul’s letter to the Philippians, chapter 3, verses 4-7)
If I think I’m the bomb, I will bomb. If I think I’m that and more, I’ll be less. If I think I’m hot stuff, I’ll burnout.
Isn’t it strange that Christians are accused of being arrogant when they say they’re sure they’re going to heaven because they have believed on Christ? I suppose it could be perceived that we’re taking credit for having faith, but the usual complaint with us is that no one could or should think they’re that good. This is a fundamental misunderstanding of what it means to be a Christian, but it is strangely in agreement with what Paul is saying to the Philippians. No one who boasts in themselves really knows the Lord.
Paul had a lot of spiritual boasting credentials. The list he provides is the highest pedigree possible for a Jew. There were many Jews who had accommodated themselves to Greek culture and other cultures, but Paul, though a native of Tarsus, had thoroughly immersed himself in the Judean form of Jewish culture. His adherence to Pharisaism made him one of the elite among religious zealots in Israel. But ironically, his very pedigree and fanaticism led him to persecute Jesus and his church.
The only way for Paul to have Christ was to disown his own achievements, to negate his own positive credit, and to burn his own bridges to God. Our bridges to God are our arrogant attempts to prove to God why we deserve to be acclaimed by Him as worthy of His kingdom. The only ones He deems worthy are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, not those who already think they are full.
When Paul realized how badly he had misunderstood himself and God, he had to give it all up. He needed to view his achievements as losses. What was gain for him was loss. Do you want God? Whatever you think you have to offer must be dumped in the trash. You have to see it as worthless and, more than that, dangerous to your welfare. As long as you cling to your own righteousness you won’t have any hands to reach out to God. Empty hands – that is what God is looking for.
Paul identified the false gospel as one centered on self-righteousness. Perhaps you came to Christ with empty hands and received his forgiveness despite having no merit to claim anything from Him. But now the way you think about yourself is in comparison to others. You might compare yourself to those who don’t follow Christ and think, “Wow, their behavior is so bad. I could never do that kind of stuff.” You might compare yourself to other Christ followers and think, “I may not be the best but I’m better than them.” Both of these responses are so dangerous.
You are in danger of falling away from the true gospel when you adopt these comparisons. You are measuring your connection to God with self-righteousness. You are making the same mistake the unbeliever makes who accuses us of arrogance for saying we know we’re going to heaven. They think we think we’re that good. But we are just as self-righteous as they are and just as actually deficient in righteousness as they are. Blessed are the poor in spirit.