During the National Day of Prayer last week, I had an opportunity to speak with and pray for two guys I met in the middle of town where we had an area set up to pray with folks. These kinds of meetings can be awkward, and the two guys were walking past when I asked them, “How can I pray for your you?” One guy said, “Pray we keep on keeping on.”
Our conversation continued when I found out they were on a path of recovery and sobriety from addiction. One of the guys shared with me that he had just a few days clean but at one time experienced 5 years of sobriety. Catch the timeline: addiction, 5 years sobriety, relapse, a few days clean. My curiosity was on overload and I asked him, “What happened?! How did you go 5 years without drugs, and then relapse?” He responded, “I didn’t think it could happen to me again.”
“I didn’t think it could happen to me…” I’ve continued thinking about that statement. How often is that true of me? Of you? What do you think you’re incapable of doing?
Growing in Christian maturity does not equate to an increasing righteousness within one’s self that renders a person immune to and incapable of grievous sins. Many deluded Christians consider themselves ‘mature’ while an overconfidence in their own ‘maturity’ continues to fuel self-righteousness in their hearts. Mature people don’t walk around pondering their maturity. Paul juxtaposes this reality in Philippians 3:12, 15. In Philippians 3:12 he states, “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.” Then, in Philippians 3:15, he says, “Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you.”
The kind of maturity Paul mentions in Philippians 3:15 is the kind that has Philippians 3:12 in view. It says, “I am not perfect. I have not attained completion in Christ, the resurrection of the dead, or a righteousness that’s found inside me.” It’s the maturity of the humble that know “nothing good dwells in of me.” (cf. Romans 7:18)
“There but for the grace of God, go I.” This expression was most likely uttered by John Bradford (1510-1555) while he watched criminals being led to their deaths. The only reason you and I are not walking a path toward utter destruction is because of the grace of God (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:10). The moment you think it’s anything more than that, you’re stepping onto a slippery slope of prideful, self-righteous sin.
The grace of God not only provides salvation and forgiveness for sin, but it provides protection from sin. If you have not fallen into some heinous, grotesque sin – the kind you might look down your nose at toward people around you – it is because of God’s grace. If you begin to think it’s for some other reason, Paul provides a warning for that too: “Take heed, lest you fall.” (1 Corinthians 10:12)