Philippians 3…the sequel

It’s not often that the daily lectionary reading gives us back to back passages. It happens, but not a lot. However, this is one of those rare times. Today’s reading comes from Philippians 3:12-16 and directly follows the reading that I explored yesterday.

Now, in yesterday’s reading (view the reflection here) Paul discusses how he considers all religious accomplishments as unimportant when compared with knowing Christ. He ends by saying I want to know Christ and become like him. This leads into the beginning of today’s reading when he says “Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal.” I have to admit that this passage can present a bit of a tricky situation. At first glance it seems to support the notion that we, somehow, manage to improve our selves or our standings. This can be a slippery slope. Is Paul suggesting the idea of works righteousness here?

As we look through the rest of the passage I think it could certainly be argued. He does use verbiage that indicates our own actions. “This one thing I do” (verse 13), “I press on” (verse 14), “hold fast to what we have obtained” (verse 16). As a Lutheran who adheres to the notion of grace alone this idea of self empowerment is troublesome.  Can Paul really be suggesting what it sounds like he’s suggesting? Or is this some sort of misunderstanding?

As I mentioned a moment ago, this is the point where the “first glance” of this passage needs a second look. In my opinion, the moment of “Lutheran ease” occurs in verse 12 and we need to spot it. “Because Christ Jesus has made me his own.”  All these things that Paul is striving to do are the result, or perhaps the response, to what Jesus has already done. He is not suggesting that we are able to make ourselves into Christ. Rather, he is saying that we should learn from Christ’s example and strive to become more like him. Personally I think this is talking about the process of sanctification, which I believe is lifelong. It is also something that we do not accomplish on our own, but only with the help of the Holy Spirit within our lives.  Paul hints at this idea in verse 15 when he says that God will reveal things to you. It is through the Holy Spirit that truths are revealed to us.

So what’s the take home? Fake it till you make it? Sometimes I wonder if that’s what we are supposed to do. I’ll admit it, sometimes the whole bondage of the will verse free will, or the whole justification by works verses works as a response debate makes my head spin. I understand where the debates come from but that’ doesn’t mean that they are easy to wrap my head around.

Perhaps I’ll show my Norwegian heritage and simply say…uff-da.

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