Has Jesus taken hold of you?
In Philippians chapter three, Paul describes a depth of self-abandonment of which few of us are acquainted. Before Christ confronted him on the road to Damascus, Saul lived a Pharisee’s strict, legalistic pursuit of righteousness. I say he pursued righteousness, because in his own words in Philippians 3:6, he believed that his near perfect attention to the law and Pharisaical tradition made him “faultless”. But we know, as he discovered following his conversion, that we are only made righteous through Christ.
Paul had received a fine education, at the Hillel school in Jerusalem and under the influential rabbi Gamaliel. He appears to have gained some influence for himself as well. The high priest trusted him to flush out Christ’s followers in Damascus and bring them in chains back to Jerusalem.
As he made his way to Damascus, Jesus took hold of him. He met the Lord in a blinding light from heaven, and Jesus made it clear that Paul persecuted not only His followers, but the Savior Himself.
What an astonishing turning point! Paul had goals, I’m sure. Perhaps he envisioned leadership positions among the religious elite in Jerusalem. He certainly rubbed elbows with, and was directly trained by, powerful men. Do you suppose, during the three days of blindness that followed, that he wondered what would become of him? Did he weigh the value of his future as a trusted persecutor of Christians against the the cost of becoming a believer and facing persecution himself?
Like all of us, Paul likely spent a lifetime setting a course for himself. He probably believed that he exerted the most control over his life, his ambitions, his future. Though he had devoted himself to a works-based fulfillment and wholly believed that anything else was heresy, as Jesus revealed Himself on the road, Paul had to come to terms with Jesus’ authority over him.
Christ took hold of Paul and put him on, not just a different course, but the opposite course! Where he would have pursued the persecution of Christians, endearing himself to powerful, influential Jews, he now faced the decision to become their enemy. He traded the fast track for hardship. But that hardship bore a staggering amount of fruit for God’s kingdom. And Paul knew that Christ is a better reward–
But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 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 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—that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
He had lived his former life as perfectly as possible–yet he concluded that anything to be gained from that life is no better than the rotten stink of a landfill.
Do you view knowing Christ as a reward? Does gaining Him, being found in Him, and being entrusted with hard work for the cause of His kingdom sound like the reward you want? To be honest, I struggled with this.
The first time I heard teaching on this principle, the teacher was so passionate. “Jesus is my reward. I want to gain Christ!” she said. And I squirmed inwardly.
I didn’t view those things as a reward. I saw them as a responsibility that was probably more than I could bear.
Here’s the thing. I wasn’t wrong. It is impossible to bear the responsibilities of the kingdom by myself. It is only through the power of His Holy Spirit that I accomplish anything of value for the cause of Christ. But God wants us to bear fruit. He takes hold of us, gives us what we need to walk in faith, and we press on to take hold of Christ.
God has been faithful to show me how rewarding it is to live for Christ. It takes discipline. I’m still learning. But I no longer question whether a life without Christ is rubbish. What progress I’ve made, while it isn’t on the same plane as Paul, has given me joy and fulfillment. And there is more to be learned and more to strive for.
I am glad the old is gone. I want Christ.
But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
Philippians 3:13-14 (ESV)