“Each day that passes leaves me worse off than before. If doing good is what You ask, then I’m afraid I’ll never do as I’m told. It’s so natural for me to run from reality if I’ve made myself believe the dream looks more real instead.”
I wrote these words in the back of our tour bus the night of my 27th birthday. I don’t know where the bar is for the moral standards you have for your own life, but on that night, I knew exactly where mine was – and I knew I was miles away from ever reaching it.
I am the kind of person who looks at the course of life and says, “With enough time, with enough work, I can do that.” I tell myself that when I become a man of morality, then God will love me and give me salvation. I tell myself that if I do good today, tomorrow and this next week, then I’ll never double back on my prior struggles.
For a very long time, I have looked at life as a mountain and myself as a climber. I can see the summit touching the clouds. I look down at my arms and my legs and say, “With enough time, I will be fit enough to climb those cliffs and make my way to the top.” Throughout the course of my life, I’ve seen my relationship with God as a healthy business transaction: If I give God good morality, He will get me to the summit. He will give me salvation.
And all along I’ve been wrong.
Paul does a terrific job of explaining just how far morality will get you by confronting any pious thoughts with this bold statement: “If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more” (Philippians 3:4). He then goes on to list his moral attributes: He was circumcised on the eighth day, born of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin… If Paul were to list the details of his “moral score,” it would fill an entire book the size of the Bible. My tally would come short of a full page.
And yet, what Paul goes on to say changes everything: “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” (Philippians 3:7-8).
Paul is telling us that even the most superior, morally upright lifestyle gets us nothing if it doesn’t get us the “surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus as Lord.” Time and time again I fail to live up to my own high moral standards. Even in those moments when I strive for morality and I succeed, I find myself doubting my goodness because of the broad stroke of pride I feel rising up in me as a result of my “good” performance.
In his first of 95 theses, Martin Luther said, “The Christian life is one of repentance.” The way up is down. The way to power is weakness. The way to salvation is to admit to being a sinner.
That night I turned 27, I struggled with the fact that I knew the difference between right and wrong – and yet, once again, I had chosen to do wrong. I was fighting the feeling of shame and defeat and preparing to trust in my own strength to do better the next time. But after reading the words of Paul in Philippians, I realized that I might be in the same position on the night of my 40th birthday, 50th birthday and maybe even up until the day I die.
I began to realize the importance of counting all my goodness as loss for the sake of knowing Jesus, and the sacrifice He made for me on the cross. Do you think your morality will get you to the summit of the mountain of your life? Is there enough time in your life to perfect your own morality, or is it time to surrender in weakness to gain the worth of knowing Jesus Christ?