How do you define “success” in the Christian life? Sinless perfection? Church attendance? Everybody seeking your approval before doing anything? How about, being transparent about your sin and flaws and need for God’s grace and repentance? Because that is how the apostle Paul describes it in Philippians chapter 3.
Paul even encourages us to follow his example. v.17 “join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.” What is his pattern? How is it shaped by Jesus and the gospel?
Paul was honest about his faults. vv.12-13 “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, … I do not consider that I have made it my own…”
To me, that’s an amazing statement, because Paul is an old man when this was written. If anybody had the right to claim he had arrived it would be Paul. He wrote most of the New Testament. He single handedly spread Christianity throughout the Roman Empire. He made an incredible impact on the world.
Yet, at the end of his life, says “I don’t have it all together. I haven’t arrived. I’m not perfect. I’m still growing.” Even when he gets to be an old man, in prison, he says, “I haven’t arrived.”
Today, many Christians will give you the impression that they never have any problems. That they have arrived. They are sinless and perfect; no problems or doubts!
Personally, these people make me a little uneasy. The longer I grow as a Christian the more acutely aware I am of my own inadequacies, limitations, weaknesses and faults. Rather than saying “Look how far I’ve come,” I have to say, with Paul, “Look how far I have to go!” Paul says this is the starting point for successful living — to face up to your sin and need for God’s grace and repentance. Some people are uncomfortable with a leader that demonstrates transparency like this – they think leaders are supposed to be the “very perfect model of a modern Major-General.”
Transparency is a mark of emotional maturity. A lot of people are afraid to admit their weaknesses because they are more interested in having a reputation than they are in being godly. For these people, appearances are the most important thing. Any admission of fault or inadequacy is viewed as a mark of inferiority – a reason to be distrusted. They refuse to model repentance before others and will not submit to anyone who does.
But, to varying extents, we’re all good at evaluating other people and advising where they need to change. Do you have courage to sit beside Paul, and say, “I’m with you. I haven’t arrived yet either.” Do you?