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, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith.
Do you have a merit badge mentality?
I remember being in the Boy Scouts and the quest to amass merit badges. If you wanted to advance in the ranks of scouting, you had to earn merit badges. Like young soldiers, we longed to decorate ourselves with these marks of our achievement. They were markers of status and prestige and sources of pride, and all of that was just fine for the Boy Scout phase of my life.
You will remember from yesterday’s text how a group of Jewish Christians (the Judaizers) wanted to require non-Jewish people (the Gentiles) to earn a host of merit badges (keeping the Mosaic law, namely circumcision) before they could become bona fide Christians. Paul would not have it, and you will remember how he essentially pulled out his own collection of merit badges (a.k.a. his bona fides) and put them on display. Well, today, he all but throws them in the trash.
What happened? Paul met Jesus, and he never got over it. He met the one for whom he had longed. Once we see the treasure of Jesus, our trophies so pale in comparison we regard them as trash.
Permit me a little latitude to make an observation. Like many of you, I am well past any shred of illusion that my merit badges can earn me even the slightest modicum of salvation. What troubles me is my merit badge mentality on this side of the cross.
Years ago I found myself in a spiritual retreat setting with a group of men I had never met. We all knew each other had to be “somebody” in order to even be present in the group. In no time, all of us were finding ways to humbly let each other know of our Christian merit badges. On one hand we all knew we were miserable sinners who had been saved by grace alone (and we even had a way of turning that into a merit badge of sorts), but after that we had all done pretty well at distinguishing ourselves as super-Christians. I will never forget the retreat leader’s first words to the group. He said, “It’s time to take off your spiritual badges. They need to be checked at the door.” We all knew exactly what he meant, and I have been trying to take mine off ever since.
Something in me, and I suspect in you, doesn’t just want to shine; I want to outshine. I want you to know who I am for Jesus and what I’ve done for Jesus and how I’ve lived for Jesus. I want to show you my merit badges. I want to be admired and appreciated and affirmed. Compare this to Paul’s words:
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, that I may gain Christ and be found in him.
Paul wanted us to know who Jesus was for him and what Jesus had done for him and how Jesus lived in him. He wanted to show us Jesus’ merit badge: the cross. He wanted Jesus to be admired and appreciated and affirmed.
There’s a great story about Saint Thomas Aquinas, a thirteenth-century priest, scholar, and doctor of the church. One of the most prolific and influential theologians in the history, he had written more than one hundred books, treatises, and theological documents by the time he was fifty. On December 6, the Feast Day of St. Nicholas, in the year 1273, he was celebrating the Eucharist in the Chapel of St. Nicholas in Naples, Italy, when he had an encounter with God from which he never recovered. He was writing his magnum opus at the time, Summa Theolgica. Though not complete, it amounted to some thirty-eight treatises, three thousand articles, and ten thousand objections. After this encounter he refused to ever write again. In response to his secretary’s urging, he famously said, “Reginald, I can do no more. The end of my labors has come. Such things have been revealed to me that all I have written seems as so much straw.”
The surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. . .
Abba Father, we thank you for your Son, Jesus, whom to know is to love and whom to love is to live. Come, Holy Spirit, and open the eyes of our hearts to grasp the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus our Lord and then to see the paltry collection of merit badges we once considered gain. Shake us free from our illusions about ourselves that we might see the true vision of Jesus and find ourselves alive in him alone. We pray in Jesus’ name, amen.
- What is it about you that wants others to see your collection of spiritual merit badges?
- Where are you in your grasping of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus your Lord and being found in him with a righteousness you had nothing to do with?
- Why is it we think we must be justified by grace but don’t grasp that we will only be sanctified by grace in the same way—Jesus only, Jesus ever?
PS— I want you to consider coming to the New Room Conference this fall— Sept. 22-24 in Nashville, TN. Come on!! NewRoomConference.com. It’s filling fast and rates increase Friday.
For the Awakening,