Sunday, December 29, 2013

Running the Race (soap journal #8)

S) I have not yet reached my goal and I am not perfect. But Christ has taken hold of me. So I keep on running and struggling to take hold of the prize...I forget what is behind, and I struggle for what is ahead. (Phil. 3:12-13)
O) I can't forget that I am going towards something--I am not just aimlessly living life. It is a daily purposeful thing--a struggle--to allow God to use everything to bring me closer to Him. Keep looking forward, don't think about past failure.
A) This is another scripture to memorize. I am not perfect (duh) but I am in Christ's hands. If I'm willing, then He's taking me towards the goal.
P) Lord, I know nothing else matters except finishing this race. Help me focus. Thank you for your work in me. (written 7/10/07)

As always, when I write these old journal entries on here, I go back to the scripture and read it in context. Some Bibles use headings to summarize the chapter's theme, and the heading for this chapter was "No Confidence in the Flesh". Seems an odd explanation for a chapter talking about having determination to run a race, doesn't it?

This is one of the most frustrating round-about teachings of Christianity. On one hand you are told that there is nothing you can do can earn your salvation. No good deeds, no rule following or self discipline will ever be good enough to earn you favor with's only by grace you can be saved. Then, almost with the same breath, your told you need to do good deeds, follow the rules, and "run the race" so you can get the prize. And what is this prize we are trying to achieve? God's love? Heaven when we die?

Regardless of my beliefs when I wrote this, the struggle was obvious to me. "To allow God to use everything to bring me closer to Him". I wasn't thinking about making it to heaven, or earning God's favor...I was thinking about transformation. What does it mean to "get closer to God"? When we say that, we know we are not looking to find a literal throne where a big man with a beard is sitting so we can try to get close to Him. We know it's something that happens within us. 

And so Paul is describing this transformation as a race, because it needs to be finished. He describes exactly what he's trying to achieve:

I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.

There it is--resurrection from the dead. Not making it to heaven when you die, but a transformation just like Jesus had. I know...nobody wants to think of salvation that way. Most Christians just want to think, "Jesus died for my sins and purchased my free ticket to heaven." But how can we just ignore what Paul is saying about "becoming like him in his death"? 

It's so very hard not to think of heaven as where we go when we die, though I'm not saying I don't believe in a realm that is hidden from us that will be opened to our understanding once we die. Jesus went somewhere when his physical body fact, the story is he went to hell to set the captives free. But that story aside, when he rose from the dead, he came back here...and he was changed. I know what your all thinking, "Yeah, but that was JESUS. We are not to ever think we can be like him! He's the only son of God!" But listen to what Paul is saying:

the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.

Everything under his control? Here is the Young's Literal translation:

who shall transform the body of our humiliation to its becoming conformed to the body of his glory, according to the working of his power, even to subject to himself the all things.

Not only is Paul saying we are to be transformed, but he is also saying that Jesus has the power to eventually "subject to himself the all things." (wouldn't that be people too?) But how?

Back to the "no confidence in the flesh" part. If you look at this chapter, you will see Paul is once again at war with religion. He describes in detail what he means by having confidence in the flesh:

If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee;  as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless.

We cannot be transformed by following rules, but for some reason that is always where we come back to, isn't it? Am I following the right rules? It seems to me it's what Christians are always arguing about; who is breaking what rule, and how it proves they aren't really a Christian. We've been running a race alright...the race of religion, and it's gotten us nowhere but destruction. 

But I have to believe it will change...we will change. It's the power of God--LOVE--that will someday get it done.