In Philippians 3:4-6, we have a list of beliefs Paul had to disbelieve in order to believe, to unlearn that he may learn. For instance, according to this list, he believed in God and country until God corrected it to just “God.” He prided himself in being a Hebrew of pure Hebrew parents, and not a half breed from a mixed interracial marriage; God persuaded him that his parentage wasn’t enough, but being in God’s family was. Paul pointed to his prestigious Pharisaic denomination as though it put him in a high position, until God pointed out that Jesus didn’t check church attendance as a qualification. So much to unlearn! Little by little, all that he trusted in was refined so that it resulted in trusting just Jesus for righteousness (Philippians 3:7-11).
It’s hard to unlearn the lessons drilled into us by our parents and culture. Those things make sense, not faith in God. Faith in an invisible God is not automatic after a lifetime of faith in the seen. So if Jesus is to increase, we must decrease. (I’m using faith with the biblical definition, not the popular one. So in this article, it doesn’t mean to “believe without proof,” but to have confidence in something.)
We tell a protesting teenager, “Wait ‘til you have children of your own.” That’s because experience counts for something. Conclusions about life based on bad experiences warp our judgment concerning spiritual things, and the lessons must be unlearned. So we actively take steps of faith and gain new experiences that validate a life with God.
“All things work together for good?” some ask. “How can any good come from this? I’ve lost my job and am losing my home.” This is evidence of a flesh and world mindset. God and Career. God and Mammon. God and the American Dream. God and Comfort. God and the Easy Life. God and Cherished Possessions. When the Holy Spirit has our minds renewed to think biblically, it’ll be just “God,” and the losses we experience will be small compared to Him and what He is willing to do for those who fully trust in Him. Just ask those missionaries who discarded much that they may live in a foreign land for others. They had built up enough experiences of God’s provision that they could confidently dispose of vast amounts of possessions and other weights to trust God for their needs.
Parents, what are we teaching our children? God and a Good Education. God and Church Affiliation. God and Family. God and Home. God and Hobbies. God and Internet. God and Fitting In. God and Nationality. God and Good Causes. The Holy Spirit’s work is to help us let go of our cherished ambitions so that just faith in Jesus remains.
God gave us 1500-page book to refine our faith, to hone the faith we exhibited when we first believed in Jesus. Those who have walked with God for a long time can tell others of the simplicity of faith, but those who recently accepted Jesus by faith look uncomprehendingly at them, thinking it too simple. They think faith in Jesus was the entrance into something else. Faith (“confidence,” according to the biblical definition) is not a side issue; it’s the main issue. The Bible is written to regain our faith, our confidence in God every moment; it was written in part to show us what’s wrong in order to correct us.
Jesus gave many examples of our lack of trust in God, and how much we conform to the world or a religious establishment. Reading the Bible in this manner, we can see how much of Jesus’ teaching appears to be negative – He’s breaking apart all that’s dear to us to settle us more firmly on trusting God alone. Look at just one sample chapter in Luke:
14:1-6: Jesus heals a man on the Sabbath, which is not legal. He challenges the Pharisees with, “Which of you, having a donkey or an ox that has fallen into a pit, will not immediately pull him out on the Sabbath day?” They had put restrictions on their mercy that God does not have. We need to unlearn our barriers to compassion so that God’s desire for it will be on display wherever we go.
14:7-14: Jesus tells them to take the lower place at a feast, not the higher place. That way, the host will see you at a lower place and ask you to come up higher, elevating you at the table where you were sitting. The Pharisees had elevated themselves and positioned themselves in places of honor rather than live the life that honors God – then God will glorify that person. We need to unlearn our desire to “look good” to others, to just do the right thing, and not place ourselves above others by artificial means. Some people in honorable positions are just not honorable people.
14:15-24: A certain man gave a great feast and the people who were invited made excuses about not going. So the man got angry and declared that they shall not taste of his food. So he invited all the poor to the feast instead. Jesus’ hearers needed to unlearn the values of possessions, home life, business, and relationships (all used as excuses not to accept the invitation) and to put God’s value of communing with Him at a higher level. What excuses do you make that keep you from communing with God regularly?
14:25-33: Jesus tells us that we must make great sacrifices to become His disciple. If we place our family relationships first, we can’t be His disciple. If we can’t bear our cross and cut off the pleasures of the flesh, we can’t be His disciple. Uh-oh – there is no way to get the best of God’s kingdom without being a disciple of Jesus. What to do? As a result of this conflict, or rather, lack of it, many churchgoers are on the broad way, living the same as the others in the world. However. the way to life is the narrow way, following Jesus. If we are unlearning old ways to obey Jesus more, then we have confidence that we are on the narrow way.
14:34-35: Salt is only good as long as it has flavor, otherwise it is good for nothing. In our present spiritual state, are we of any use to the Father? What must we unlearn to be a sweet-smelling offering to God?
(There is nothing of God-choosing-us-for-salvation-in-advance predestination in these verses, is there? Your reward rests entirely on what you choose to do with Jesus moment by moment to the point of death.)
Paul’s list in Philippians 3 was part of a longer list of things he had to discard if he wanted to appear before God in Christ’s righteousness – the only righteousness that matters. All else is of the flesh, of which works will be burned at the judgment.
He who keeps his life will lose it, but he who loses his life for Christ will keep it. Every Olympic gold medalist knows of the great sacrifices that must be paid to compete for the highest prize. Paul realized that the personal sacrifices for the greatest God has to offer is correspondingly high, so he fought strongly, not with uncertainty. What is God’s best worth to you? Will the world and the flesh be enough for you, or will you drop dead weights and race for the greatest treasures to come?