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Series: Visiting Speakers
Sun am 15 March 2015 – Tim Hawkridge
Phil. 3:1-11 (The Message Bible); Rom. 2:29
I want to talk to you about confidence. What increases confidence? And that’s about it, friends. Be glad in God! I don’t mind repeating what I have written in earlier letters, and I hope you don’t mind hearing it again. Better safe than sorry—so here goes. Steer clear of the barking dogs, those religious busybodies, all bark and no bite. All they’re interested in is appearances—knife-happy circumcisers, I call them. The real believers are the ones the Spirit of God leads to work away at this ministry, filling the air with Christ’s praise as we do it. We couldn’t carry this off by our own efforts, and we know it—even though we can list what many might think are impressive credentials. You know my pedigree: a legitimate birth, circumcised on the eighth day; an Israelite from the elite tribe of Benjamin; a strict and devout adherent to God’s law; a fiery defender of the purity of my religion, even to the point of persecuting the church; a meticulous observer of everything set down in God’s law Book. The very credentials these people are waving around as something special, I’m tearing up and throwing out with the trash—along with everything else I used to take credit for. And why? Because of Christ. Yes, all the things I once thought were so important are gone from my life. Compared to the high privilege of knowing Christ Jesus as my Master, firsthand, everything I once thought I had going for me is insignificant—dog dung. I’ve dumped it all in the trash so that I could embrace Christ and be embraced by him. I didn’t want some petty, inferior brand of righteousness that comes from keeping a list of rules when I could get the robust kind that comes from trusting Christ—God’s righteousness. I gave up all that inferior stuff so I could know Christ personally, experience his resurrection power, be a partner in his suffering, and go all the way with him to death itself. If there was any way to get in on the resurrection from the dead, I wanted to do it (Phil. 3:1-11). Paul is challenging them to stay focused on what he taught them because a group had moved into that church telling them that their faith in Christ was not enough and that they needed to add things to their faith in Christ. They wanted the Philippians to become Jews first as they took the route to becoming Christ followers. They wanted them to be circumcised to fulfil the Old Testament regulations, and then their faith in Christ would be justified. Paul emphasizes that only by faith in Christ are we made right with God; no additional conditions needed to be added.
What are the things that increase or diminish your personal confidence? When somebody criticises us harshly we lose confidence very rapidly. But what are the things that increase our personal confidence? Maybe the affirmation of someone else; maybe a sense of competence in the challenge that you are facing. There is a confidence that is based on your track record. Every so often, particularly in social settings, we may be inclined to gain substance-induced confidence, Dutch courage as they call it. Sometimes our confidence is based on some impression we have that we are special, that somehow we have got it and we can do it. Over-confidence can be dangerous. We can make idiots of ourselves. It can be based on a high level of ability, it can be based on great wealth; it can be based on our power, or on our success, or our good looks. Under-confidence is also dangerous. Some consider themselves completely worthless and cannot see any value in who they are or in their lives. We discover that some people are not as confident as we think they are.
So, should we be confident? Not over-confident, not under-confident, and if we are going to be confident, in what? Paul warns the Philippians to steer clear of the group he refers to as “the dogs”. They pounce on any weakness, anything they see they can get, they go for. It is a group that has insisted that faith is not enough but that outer markings are necessary to make us acceptable to God. They want the Gentile believers to be circumcised and then they will become real Christians. Paul points out that every Christ follower has received the true circumcision; circumcision of the heart by the Spirit (Rom. 2:29). This is the way God marks us, not outwardly but inwardly and through His Spirit.
There are a lot of “qualifiers” that people want to put on top of faith today. There are still people who believe we have to fulfil every single requirement of the Old Testament, all the little details of law and regulation that were more about the Exodus and the journey through the wilderness than they ever could be about today’s life. We need to get the horse before the cart, and faith in Christ is enough! Some of the other “qualifiers” we add today are dressing in a certain way, or not dressing in a certain way, speaking “christianese”, or experiencing the supernatural in a particular way. Nor is it about wearing specific religious symbols, or being baptised in a particular way or not another way. That does not make us Christ followers. Only faith in Christ! Everything else flows out of that.
What is your source of confidence today? Apart from your faith, apart from your standing in Christ, where do you put your confidence? Some people have trophies from the past, but who are you now? What is God doing in your life now? Now is actually what matters, the rest is history. We may put confidence on the basis of our wealth or our youthfulness, but if our confidence is in that, what happens with the passage of time? Sometimes we are confident because we are strong and healthy. Sometimes we put our confidence in our families; either the families we came from or the families we are, but that sometimes shakes and wobbles. Sometimes we put our confidence in our children or our grandchildren. That cannot be what our life is all about. Our confidence cannot be in our families or our education. Our education cannot define us and cannot be the root of our confidence. Sometimes we put our confidence in our careers, in politics or politicians. That does not last long. Sometimes we put our confidence in scientific research or in relationships, confidence in who we are connected to and who we belong to. Good relationships are great; they encourage us, they anchor us but we cannot rely on their eternal security. We cannot rely on relationships or anything else in life to give us what we need to live with confidence.
Paul says that if he looks at his life he would have many reasons for claiming confidence and he lists them (Phil. 3:4-6). He was a Pharisee and fanatical about keeping all the rules. Paul was so confident in his Jewishness until on the road to Damascus he was knocked off his horse by a blinding light – the glory of God (Acts 9:3-5). As good as we may think we are the standard is not the next person; the standard is Jesus. There is nothing we can bring to the party that can justify us before God. Paul says the only true confidence we can find is in Christ; that everything else he has ever done pales into insignificance against the backdrop of what he calls the “high privilege of knowing Christ Jesus.” Every day I have an intimate conversation with the King of kings, the Lord of lords; if you want to drop names, that is the One to drop. This new relationship with God comes from a new righteousness, and it is not a result of our own effort. He does not want the inferior petty brand of righteousness that comes from keeping a list of rules. He rather wants the robust kind that comes from trusting Christ who is God’s righteousness. That changes the price tags. The things we once thought were important are now secondary, peripheral. The things that are important are the things that God offers us. He clothes us with His purity. We shrug off the dirty old clothes we had for years, our own righteousness. He wraps us in the robes of Jesus. When He looks at us, He does not see us, He sees us in Christ, a new creation. The old has gone, the new is coming into being. We have been redeemed! The things we do for God, living a holy life is not a pre-condition to earn God’s favour. He already gave us His favour; He already gave us His love while we were yet sinners. But once we know that grace and how much God loves us, our response will be to live a life that honours Him. Otherwise we become like those “dogs”; we want to add “qualifiers”. There is nothing that you can do that will make God love you any more or any less. His love is without any condition – it is a given. There is however a lot you can do to bring glory to God. There are ways you can live and choices you can make to express the confidence that you have in Christ.
In the end it is not about earning forgiveness by the right kind of behaviour or grovelling, it is actually about the right kind of trust – trusting what God has already done for you and saying, “I have been forgiven, that is my confidence.” If we take that as a beginning point, our confidence grows. It is a confidence in the Father and in the work of the Spirit.
No matter what you have experienced in terms of knocks to your confidence, in terms of trying to earn a place in the world, or earn God’s favour or smile, most of us carry a deep seated uncertainty about God’s love for us; a deep seated under-confidence in God’s love and sometimes it is an over-confidence in our own ability. Let us create space in our lives for God to move into our hearts and demolish what needs to be demolished, and build what needs to be built. Discover again what the heart of your confidence is.