If you have heard a testimony of a newly convert Christian it might have come about something like “I didn’t know Christ, now I thank God I have known him”. And if you ask “what major benefit of having met Christ have you enjoyed most?” he/she might answer: “oh the joy of being forgiven, of being accepted as righteous before God just because of believing in Christ! I now stand not on my merits but on His.” Then if you are a typical Christian of long age in the LORD, you might respond, “lucky you young man, you got the Christian basics right. Now you are well started to pursue deeper things of the Spirit!”
Paul had certainly experienced Christ that way when he collapsed under his power on the road to Damascus. He was then in his 30s. Ever since, you can be sure he was pursuing the ‘deeper things of the Spirit’. Things beyond the basics, beyond mere ‘knowing Christ’, mere ‘righteousness from God’.
By the time He writes to the Philippians, he was in his 60s. He had invested 30 years of prayer, study, meditation, and service. Wouldn’t you expect him to have graduated these ‘basics of Christ? Even if it were to take him some years to master these basics, a few years would have sufficed. Take this ‘knowing Christ’ for instance, certainly no field of knowledge takes 30 years of search without coming to some confident sense of ‘I know this’!.
And this righteousness from God also called Justification. “Paul, you are a master in this! You have even written a treatise-letter about it to the church in Rome. Is there anything yet to still learn about it?”
And yet, and yet, when he writes the Philippians, it feels he is just in first grade. Listen: 7 But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 8 What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ–the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. 10 I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.
“Paul? Don’t you know him? You once said you have been in the 3rd heaven and heard things not permitted to man to hear!( 2Cor.12:2). Even Kings acknowledged you are very learned in these matters (Acts26:24). And don’t you know his power? You have yourself been transformed, you have raised the dead, you have seen people falling on their knees at the preaching of His word, even a cloth you have touched would heal people (Acts 19;12)! What kind of power of him you have not experienced?”
He would just calmly reply: “yes I know. On the road to Damascus I knew him. But oh how unsearchable he is. I just still want to know him. The more I know him I just find I have not begun to know him. He is always more than I can know. And there is always more of his righteousness to own and more of my righteousness to let go! Did I tell you that I was united with him. O surely! But I still want to be united with him even in his sufferings and his death! Because then, I will be united in his resurrection even as I live on. I will be a ‘walking resurrection’!”
He is in effect telling the Philippians, brothers, never think of me as having ‘graduated’ the basics of Christ. I want to know him and be found in him having his righteousness that comes by faith, not of my own, i.e that my knowing him be more authentic, my righteousness be totally of him not of my own. It’s what worship leader Don Moen sings: ‘More of you…and Less of Me’!
What does he do to progress in these basics of Christ? one simple thing: “forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead” (Phil3:13b). It’s an approach that everyone can afford. Surely anybody can forget! And go for what is ahead.
So my friend ‘Mature Christian’, come back to the basics. With Paul we discover, to progress in the deep things of the Spirit is to go deep in the basics. And by the way that’s the way of maturity. ‘Let those of us who are mature think this way’! This is the measure of a healthy Christian life.