That Which We Have Already Attained

There’s a lady at church with whom I have a hard time.

And I don’t mean in the sense that we don’t get along. We do. Very well, in fact. And I don’t mean that she has some kind of annoying habit, irritating mannerism, or even overt sin that causes me to be distracted. No, none of that.

It’s the opposite, actually. I have a hard time around her simply because she seems so perfect. And not physically (though at times she seems that way too!) No, she seems so perfect spiritually. You know the type. These women who seem to embody a Spirit-filled lifestyle, who exude peace, gentleness, and joy at all times, whose “fruit” is so over-flowing they could make jam with it. Those women who are so full that it can sometimes makes you feel…empty.

Don’t get me wrong. I think having people we look up to in spiritual way as a good thing. It’s wonderful to have examples, inspiration, and goals. But, for me, sometimes my admiration for this woman sometimes crosses the line into an unhealthy place–a place of comparison rather than commendation.

Sometimes I’m tempted to look at her and wonder why I’m not where she is. Why her faith seems so much stronger than mine or her relationship with Jesus so much more solid. When I think about Paul and his quest to “press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14), I can’t help but wonder why she’s so much closer to that prize than I am.

What am I doing wrong that she’s doing right?

Have you ever felt that way?

While I do think there are benefits to examining the spiritual habits of others, especially those older Christians who are further along in their faith walk, I think entertaining these comparison traps can be a dangerous and damaging thing, not only to ourselves, but to our faith. Did you catch the subtle sinfulness in my question above? What am I doing wrong that she’s doing right? Although the desire may have come from an admirable place (a longing for stronger faith and intimacy with Jesus), my question twists that into something that takes the focus off the very thing I want and places it squarely back on myself. It takes my faith walk and makes it all about me.

And when our faith becomes me-centered, it runs dangerously close to not being faith at all.

Interestingly enough, Paul addresses this very thing in that same chapter of Philippians. He reminds his fellow believers that they should “put no confidence in the flesh” (3:3b). He recounts his “righteousness qualifications”: “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 Pharisse; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless” (3:5-6).

On paper, Paul had everything going for him. He was doing everything “right.” And yet none of those things led to his salvation nor even a true relationship with God. The only thing that achieved that was “knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ 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 righteous that comes from God and is by faith” (3:8b-9).

Paul recognized that faith–true faith–wasn’t about him or the things he was or even any of the things he did. It was about knowing Jesus.

In fact, he goes on to say “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, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead” (3:10-11).

For all the ways he’d already experienced Christ, literally coming face to face with Him and hearing His words on the road to Damascus as well as years in service to Him and His kingdom, Paul still maintained his goal as knowing Jesus. He recognized faith as a journey and a process, telling his audience he knew he hadn’t yet obtained the fullness of Christ but was to continue each day, pressing on toward the goal (see verses 12-14).

But, as wonderful as all of these sentiments are, one of my favorite parts of this passage comes tucks into verse 16:

…let us live up to what we have already attained.

After laying out for us the ultimate prize–fullness of Christ–and imploring us to continue along the path that will one day lead us there, Paul pauses for just a moment to remind us of this truth: we may not have it all yet, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have something.

You see, if my eyes are so focused on the things I haven’t yet achieved (and that lady in church has), I can very easily lose sight of things I have and thus become discouraged on my faith walk. The moment I placed my trust in Jesus, I gained forgiveness. A place in heaven. The in-dwelling of the Holy Spirit. I became a member of God’s adopted family. I gained brothers and sisters from all races and nationalities. I gained the ability to talk with my Heavenly Father whenever and wherever I wanted–and the reassurance He hears me. I entered into a relationship with the Creator of the Universe, the one who formed not just the world, but me.

I became accepted. Washed clean. Saved.

And yet how often do I fail to even live up to those things I “have already attained“?

I can admit that, those times in which I do fail to remember all the aspects of my inheritance, come more often than not when I’m staring at the life of another believer, wondering why I’m not yet where she is in her journey. When I take my eyes off of my Savior and onto myself. When my faith becomes, like Paul’s list of “righteous,” about my qualifications rather than God’s mercy.

So that’s my goal for the year. Like Paul, “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection” more deeply and intimately by “liv[ing] up to what [I] have already attained.” I want to live 2023 from a spot of blessed recognition rather than comparative self-centeredness. No, I’m not where I want to be…but neither am I where I used to be. Instead of pining for a fast-forward, where I can be on par with those around me, I want to live up to the goodness of God I have already attained and walk with Him on this journey of discovery–because its along that journey that true intimacy develops.

I want to know my God deeper. But I also want to take full advantage of the knowledge I already have.

And what I know is God.

By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of this by coming to know him, the one who called us to himself by means of his marvelous glory and excellence” (2 Peter 1:3, emphasis mine).

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