"If anyone has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born 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
Is this Christian thing mainly about all the stuff we do or are supposed to do? Living in the right neighborhood, attending another meeting, serving another meal, writing a book, erecting a new building, enlisting in another cause, being perfect parents or flawless sons or daughters. Is that it?
Paul thought that was what religion was all about: the right pedigree, a long list of achievements, crossing all the t's and dotting all the i's, about being, well, perfect. If that is the point, Paul was in a very good position. He had what you would call "a strong resume." (see above)
Born of the best family, grew up in the right neighborhood, went to the best prep school, Ivy League undergrad, Harvard MBA, married well, kids are perfect, the dog too—perfect. Well, that's not exactly what he said above, but you get the idea.
Then in the next breath, Paul says of his very strong resume, which once meant everything to him, that it was all so much rubbish. All his strenuous attempts to prove his worth, to get it right, to be perfect are garbage compared to this one thing, "the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord."
Welcome, Paul, to the human race where the name of the game isn't perfection but progress, the progress we can make when we know ourselves to be loved, and forgiven, and recipients of the unexpected grace of an amazing God.
The Christian thing, the gospel, isn't about all the stuff we have to do to get on God's good side. It is about this: in Jesus Christ, God has taken our side, and promises never to leave it. That's grace. That's gospel.
"When we've been here ten thousand years, bright shining as the sun, we've no less days to sing God's grace than when we first begun."
Tony Robinson, a United Church of Christ minister, is a speaker, teacher, and writer. His newest book is Called to Lead: Paul’s Letters to Timothy for a New Day. You can read Tony's "Weekly Meditation" and "What's Tony Thinking?" at his website, www.anthonybrobinson.com.