By Ellen Ceely
If anyone else 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. Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith. Philippians 3:4-9 (NRSV)
Throughout the years, I’ve noticed we all have different sins we deem worse than others, and virtues we believe are superior. No matter what political, denominational, or theological backgrounds we ascribe to, we believe certain things make us more or less worthy in God’s sight.
As a teenager I would secretly think, “Well, I struggle with this certain sin, but at least I don’t do xyz like the kid in my youth group,” or “they may have done that, but it’s not as good and pleasing to God as me doing this.” My legalistic heart loved to find ways to lure me into believing I was somehow better than those around me based on my actions. My poor understanding of “saved by grace” allowed me to live in a subtle state of striving for perfection rather than simply seeking to love and please God.
The temptation to live a life of legalistic rule-following while judging my fellow believers is exactly what Paul is confronting in Philippians. The early church struggled with legalism just as we do today, and Paul was trying to help them understand salvation comes through faith alone. We are not made righteous because we are descended from a “holy family” or perform a specific ritual. Our righteousness comes from God because of our faith in who Christ is and what he’s done for us.
I still struggle with this mentality of being somehow spiritually superior to specific believers. It’s an easy trap to fall into. It’s easy for me to think, “How could this fellow Christian possibly believe that?! God must be so upset with them. I am so much more in tune with God’s heart.” But I’m wrong. My acts and specific beliefs about certain things are not what make me righteous or holy in God’s sight. Only my faith in Jesus can do that.
Is there anything you believe that makes you feel superior to or holier than your fellow believers? It could be a specific sin, action, or theological stance you hold. As you read through today’s devotional, you might’ve had something come to mind. If there is something, what’s one way you can acknowledge this judgmental false belief and remind yourself it’s God’s grace alone that makes you worthy and righteous? We would love to hear your thoughts in the comments.
In our six-week small group Bible study on the book of 1 John, you are invited to live and celebrate true life in Christ. Throughout his first letter, John wrestles with the assurance of salvation. How do we know that we are genuine Christians, and how can we recognize authentic faith in others? The Apostle John taught that you can enjoy full assurance through believing in the incarnate Son of God, walking in the light of obedience, and loving God and his children. Embark on this study with us today!
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