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How Philippians 3 Guides Us to Our True Self

Jesus comes to us as a beacon of our true identity. by Phil Needham

Scripture for Reflection: Philippians 3:1-16

Among the most often quoted lines of Shakespeare are from his play Hamlet (Act I, Scene III). They are words of advice spoken by Polonius to his son: “This above all: to thine own self be true, /And it must follow as the night the day,/Thou canst not then be false to any man.” Being true to oneself, however, requires or assumes that we know who we are. Today, many people change their identity as often as they change clothing styles. Others have no sense of who they are; or once did and have lost it. Some define who they are by joining hate-filled political groups premised on a race-based or others-dismissive culture. Still others have found personal identity in a church that requires unquestioning loyalty to a narrow-minded pastor and/or a set of legalistic and judgmental interpretations of Christianity. 

In a world of lost, confused, shifting, and intolerant self-identities, how does the disciple of Jesus find his own true self to whom he owes allegiance? In the Bible passage for reflection above, the apostle Paul lists some of the outstanding accomplishments in his own religious life before he met Christ and everything changed. All his religious accomplishments as a member of the order of Pharisees suddenly became junk, garbage, throwaways. Paul is telling us we can be religious on the exterior while our inner self is dying of starvation. 

So how do we discover our true self, the self that has been awakened and given life by Christ, the self that is not manufactured, invented, or pretended, the self that is worth our being true to? We must write off as loss our false self, says Paul, for the sake of Christ (v. 8). But it’s not just a transaction, a tradeoff of a false self for a true self. Paul goes on to describe it as an intimate relationship with Christ his Lord, a knowing Christ that goes deeper than any other relationship. He says it’s not any righteousness of our own, something we can manufacture, or that our self-produced ‘goodness’ can claim, not even our strict obedience to religious laws. Rather, it is the righteousness that comes from “the faithfulness of Christ” (v. 9) It is based solely on Jesus and the grace that he brought to us, the grace that wins us over and empowers us to give up on our false selves, our pathetic accomplishments, our empty assets, and live by faith in him.

Jesus is our true self. He comes to us as a beacon of our true identity. He is the image of God in the flesh, shedding light and clarity on who we are as those whom God created in his image. As different as we are from each other, Christ gifts us all with his image, the Godlikeness that makes us truly human. It comes from knowing Christ, receiving the power of his resurrection, participating in his suffering, being conformed to his death, and reaching the goal of the resurrection that follows death. It is not won by our self-conscious spirituality; it is pure gift, received only by faith (Ephesians 2:8-10). 

Once we have said and believed this, we have nowhere to go except to our knees, the place where we confess our utter helplessness without Christ, the place where only our humbling gets us anywhere worth going, the place where we’re ready to receive the marks of our true identity, the marks of Christ. Here, and here alone, is where we find our true self. So long as we remain here, we have an identity, a self to which we can be true and give allegiance.

Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, as you have chosen to bind my identity to yours, please help me to surrender my false identities to your grace, so that I can more and more gain Christ, be found in him, know him, participate in his life, be conformed to his death, and be transformed by his resurrection. May this relationship, this imprint, by your grace reveal in some way my allegiance to the better me you are making. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

This is an excerpt from the book “Renewals” by Phil Needham.

Renewals Book

“Renewals” continues the spiritual journey of “Christmas Breakthrough,” “Lenten Awakening” and “Easter People.” It launches the second half of the Christian Year that some Churches call Trinity and others call Common Time. Trinity because the relationships of the Feather, Son, and Holy Spirit have so much to teach us about our own relationships and the living of our lives as God’s People. And Common Time because during these months we also search the Scriptures to find practical help in living our lives day to day as Jesus’ disciples.

“Renewals” explores how the Trinity teaches us to relate to all those with whom we have a close or distant relationship. All our relationships are covenantal: our personal relationships, our church relationships and our relationships with the world. They call for constant renewal. Because summer is a good time for spiritual renewal, one week is devoted to these resources. The book concludes by exploring the Beatitudes as very specific pathways to renewal.

More from “Renewals:”  How to Honor Family: Lessons from Deuteronomy 5:16 & Luke 2:41-50

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