Good Man or Godly Man?
(Paul wrote) I was circumcised on the eighth day. I’m a descendant of Israel. I’m from the tribe of Benjamin. I’m a pure-blooded Hebrew. When it comes to living up to standards, I was a Pharisee. When it comes to being enthusiastic, I was a persecutor of the church. When it comes to winning God’s approval by keeping Jewish laws, I was perfect. These things that I once considered valuable, I now consider worthless for Christ. It’s far more than that! I consider everything else worthless because I’m much better off knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. It’s because of him that I think of everything as worthless. I threw it all away in order to gain Christ and to have a relationship with him. This means that I didn’t receive God’s approval by obeying his laws. The opposite is true! I have God’s approval through faith in Christ. This is the approval that comes from God and is based on faith 10. that knows Christ. Faith knows the power that his coming back to life gives and what it means to share his suffering. In this way I’m becoming like him in his death, with the confidence that I’ll come back to life from the dead.“
A modern parable:
A man, tattered and torn, enters the church doors. He’s dirty and disheveled with a back bent under with the weight of the world. His eyes and cheeks sunken from the years of abuse of alcohol, drugs, and fleshly desires. He hasn’t eaten in days. The money, for which he has panhandled,, has been spent on his last fix.
Those drugs are now decaying in his system and he is sick beyond imagination. Holding himself upright by sliding along the wall, he makes his way past the glares and stares of the neatly dressed people congregated in the foyer and enters the sanctuary. All the rear pews are already filled, so he he just slides down the back wall, to sit crosslegged and stooped over, head in hands.
Another man enters the church. His head is held high. He strides purposefully into the foyer. He greets people by name, shaking their hands and clapping them on the back. He is smartly dressed, as befitting his station in the community. He is a business man with income in the mid to upper brackets. He was raised in the church and is on several of its committees. He is a good husband and father who habitually attends worship service most Sundays, unless away on vacation or business.
He enters the sanctuary and sees the man slumped to the floor. He looks around and sees all eyes are upon him. He walks to the man on the floor and extends his hands to help him to his feet. The He guides him to his pew, the same pew where he and his family has sat for years.
What do you think, which of these two men is to be pitied the most?
Some might say the man, who has been called ” a waste of human flesh.” Certainly not the church goer, for he clearly is a good man.
Though the tattered man is so far down that he can sink no lower, he stumbled into this holy place knowing he needs God.
The good man’s downfall is that has never felt the need for God’s salvation. Having been raised in the church, the has adopted the language, customs, and world view of the church. Though he calls himself a Christian, he has never accepted his own sinfulness and asked for forgiveness. He has never given the control his life over to God making him truly Lord of his life.
(Disclaimer: I am going to repeat a word here that Saint Paul used and for the same reason … the shock value.)
As Paul’s Jewish listeners heard the letter to the congregation in Philippi, I can almost see them smiling and nodding in agreement with what this good Jewish man had just said.
circumcised on the eighth day (circumcision was a token of the covenant made by God with Abraham and his descendants an “everlasting covenant”(Genesis 17:13 “))
Descendant of Israel (the patriarch also know as Jacob, who wrestled with God)
From the tribe of Benjamin (Benjamin was the last-born of Jacob’s twelve sons. He was the progenitor of the Israelite Tribe of Benjamin.)
A pure-blooded Hebrew (The Talmud holds that a marriage between a Jew and a non Jew is both prohibited and also does not constitute a marriage under Jewish law. However, Paul’s lineage was pure)
A Pharisee (The Pharisees were a strict social and religious movement in Judaism which asserted that God could and should be worshipped even away from the Temple and outside Jerusalem. To the Pharisees, worship consisted not in bloody sacrifices — the practice of the Temple priests — but in prayer and in the study of God’s law.)
Enthusiastic followed the strictest laws (Their ultra strict interpretation of the law is one of the things that Jesus railed against , calling them blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel. He also accused them of giving a tenth of their spices (as a tithe), but of neglecting the more important matters of justice, mercy and faithfulness)
Perfect in keeping Jewish laws (Saul had done as the prophet Joshua had said to do, “Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to … all the law … that Moses my servant commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go. This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.”) (Joshua 1:7-15 ESV)
Saul was assured of the promise of the Law. Obey the Law “For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.” Notice that all the Law can promised is that if … do not let that tiny word IF go un-noticed. The promise of the Law was conditional IF you do ALL that the Law commands, THEN life on this world will be great for you.
So Saul was perfect, when it came to winning God’s approval by keeping Jewish laws and expected to profit and succeed as promised.
It wasn’t until he had a very personal, dramatic, life-changing encounter with the risen Jesus, that he learned that whatever rewards he might treasure on earth, paled in comparisons with rewards he could expect in heaven.
Perhaps in some of his attacks on Christians, he came across the teaching of Jesus “Don’t lay up treasures for yourselves on the earth, where moth and rust consume, and where thieves break through and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consume, and where thieves don’t break through and steal. but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consume, and where thieves don’t break through and steal;
Though Saul had done all that he humanly could to win God’s approval, by keeping Jewish laws, he realized that it was all shit. Yes, that is the literal translation of what he wrote, shit. To not offend modern readers, nicer words were used: loss, trash, garbage, refuse, worthless or dung.
I’m sorry, but by “cleaning” the language, we lose the power of Paul’s intent. He intended his readers to be shocked by his comparison.
Paul wrote, reminding his Jewish readers how perfect he was under the law. And then … and then, he wrote the most unimaginable thing, his whole life and accomplishments were all shit compared to life in Jesus the Christ. He was glad to give it all away.
As a pure-blood Hebrew and as a zealous follower of the strictest interpretation of the Jewish laws, Saul had sought to win God’s approval. But it didn’t work. It couldn’t work.
Saul, now going by his Greek (gentile) name, Paul wrote to his fellow Jews, so that they might also understand the futility of the Law. The Law can not save. It can only condemn. It can only shine a light on our failure to be righteous before God.
But Jesus came to us, while we were still law breakers and at war with God. God was trying to bring us into his perfect will, while we were still willfully going our own way. That was when Jesus came and bought our eternal life through his death. His Holy blood covers our sins and purifies them in God’s sight.
Before I gave my life to Jesus, I was a good man, as the world judges men. I abided by the laws of man … most of the time. And as far as the laws of God, I hadn’t broken any of the BIG ones.
But that’s the problem, you see, there aren’t big laws and small laws. There is only THE Law. To have broken one law is to be guilty of them all.
Yes, I was a good man, but I wasn’t a godly man. I may have been upright but I was far from righteous. My own goodness kept me from seeing my need for salvation.
God’s truth reveals that all need saving, for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.
Paul knew that he was a good man, as the world judges men. And he felt no need for salvation. He was firm in his conviction that he was right in the sight of God. He was so assured of his righteousness that he actively sought to punish those who believed differently.
And then he meet Jesus and discovered his righteousness was a foul and disgusting thing in God’s sight. His only hope lay in the grace offered by Jesus Christ.
And, friends, my only hope, and your only hope lies in the grace of God through Jesus Christ.
Pray with me now.
God be merciful to me a sinner, and make me to know and believe in Jesus Christ; for I see, that if his righteousness had not been, or I have not faith in that righteousness, I am utterly cast away.
Lord, I have heard that you are a merciful God, and have designated that your Son Jesus Christ should be the Savior of the world;
and moreover, that you are willing to give him even to such a poor sinner as I am—and I am a sinner indeed. Lord, take therefore this opportunity, and magnify your grace in the salvation of my soul, through your Son Jesus Christ. Amen.
- Tom and Ella’s Daily Journal of Our Lives
- Visit my devotions blog new devotions every day (nearly)
- All content (except quotations) © 2020 Thomas E. Williams