Greetings, gentle readers. I hope this Lenten season finds you well.
I’m sure from the title, you have surmised what this post will address. After all, about 90% of my posts since November have had to do with my struggles with an old pain. And there seems to be no end to those insufferable (I mean, er…inspirational) Internet memes in my Facebook feed that constantly admonish me to just “forget it and let it all go.”
Well, you’d be wrong. 🙂
I was doing research for another topic the other day and stumbled across Philippians 3, where the Apostle Paul speaks about “forgetting what is behind.” And after reading what he wrote, I wondered for a second if he had utterly lost his mind and I had signed up for the wrong religion:
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. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage… (v. 4-8)
To help you understand my visceral reaction to these words, let me describe where my thinking was. Over the past year, I have developed a deep respect for the Jewish perspective of scripture. After all, there would be no Christianity without it. We forget, too, that Jesus was a Jew of the Pharisaical order, who taught in synagogues and kept Sabbath and Passover with the best of them. This is a rich heritage, one worth acknowledging and honoring. I’m slowly (but surely) reading Jewish Literacy by Rabbi Telushkin and plan to further my studies this year.
And Paul calls it garbage!
His Jewish heritage. His tribal identity. His studies of the Torah. His keeping of the Mosaic law. Garbage. Worthless. Bunk. The audacity of his words took my breath away, and I felt…angry. Really angry. For just a moment.
And then a little voice whispered to me, “You know exactly what he’s talking about.”
Ah, ha. Yes, I do. Too well. I cut my teeth on a church pew. At one time, I could quote whole chapters from the Bible verbatim. King James Version, in fact. I attended three services per week, in dresses. I listened to Christian music. I went to Bible camp. I signed a purity commitment card at a True Love Waits rally. I can currently describe for you all of the main doctrines of my particular denomination: eschatology, Biblical inerrancy, speaking in tongues, complementarianism and Trinitarianism. I can regurgitate the endless evangelical spiel concerning personal responsibility and upholding Biblical standards. And you know what?
I think all that’s garbage, too.
Why? Because it means nothing–absolutely zilch–in light of the divine relationship I have with Christ.
That’s what Paul was really talking about.
I can sign all of the purity commitment cards I want. I can quote scripture until I’m blue in the face. I can have a complementarian marriage that would make John Piper pee himself with envy. I can go to seminary and become an eloquent minister of the gospel. I can say the right things, wear the right clothes, give the right amount of money in the offering, sing in the choir, attend church every Sunday and observe Lent every year. But none of these things are guaranteed to help me draw near to Christ or to know him better. In that, they are worthless–just rules to follow, motions to go through.
In fact, I almost envy some of my newly saved friends. I suspect they might have a more unfettered understanding of God’s grace and love than I do.
In some ways, I’m grateful for my evangelical upbringing. It introduced me to Christ and to the scriptures at an early age. But, like Paul, I have lost all confidence in my own ability to be righteous. It’s an illusion. The only thing that can make me righteous is redemption, and nothing I can do can redeem myself. So while my heritage may have been honorable in some regards, it’s ultimately useless to me. Therefore, this one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:13-14).
Happy Lent. 🙂