For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh— 4 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: 5 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; 6 as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. 7 But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— 10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
I used to be a Pharisee. A blind Pharisee because I didn’t know it. It wasn’t until I was in a Bible study on Philippians that I came face to face with the fact I was a practicing Pharisee. These verses struck me right between the eyes. And really, what I heard in my heart was this personalized version of verses 4-6:
If anyone else thinks she has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: prayed the prayer of salvation on March 1, 1986, of a Christian family, of a missionary family at that, a missionary kid of missionary kids; as to the law, a compliant, obedient child and law-abiding adult; as to zeal, serving God wholeheartedly; as to righteousness under the law, in my opinion, blameless.
I had always assumed the word “gain” in verse 7 meant fleshly desires: riches, fame, pleasure. Through the study on Philippians I discovered “gain” refers back to Paul’s list of religious credentials. I realized “whatever gain I had” was the sum of all of my good deeds. The entirety of my pride, my good background and upbringing. All the merit I could stack up.
My seemingly flawless record actually weighed against me in the scales of salvation. Isaiah 64:6 says, “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags.” (NIV) No matter how hard I had tried, I would not measure up to the perfection of God’s Son. My striving was actually hindering, not helping, my relationship with God. All that “gain” was actually loss.
As we are thinking about discipleship, I’m reminded our focus is on living in the way of Jesus with the heart of Jesus. Not in the way of the religious with the approval of the religious. Our discipleship is about following Him, not religious rules, regulations and rituals. We put all our confidence in Him and His work on the cross and not on our own works.
Today, think about where your emphasis of discipleship has been. Fully on Jesus and following in His ways or reaching for the impossibility of self-righteousness? Perhaps you make a list of your religious credentials. Take those to Jesus today and confess your good works to Him. Ask Him to make you a disciple who listens to Him and follows in His ways, not your own.
By Ellen Rosenberger