by Mike Ratliff
ἀδελφοί, ἐγὼ ἐμαυτὸν οὐ λογίζομαι κατειληφέναι· ἓν δέ, τὰ μὲν ὀπίσω ἐπιλανθανόμενος τοῖς δὲ ἔμπροσθεν ἐπεκτεινόμενος, κατὰ σκοπὸν διώκω εἰς τὸ βραβεῖον τῆς ἄνω κλήσεως τοῦ θεοῦ ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ. (Philippians 3:13-14 NA27)
Brothers, I do not consider myself to have made it my own; but one thing, forgetting what lies behind while straining forward to the things ahead, according to the goal I pursue the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. (a personal translation of Philippians 3:13014 from the NA27 Greek text)
Those truly in Christ are new creations (2 Corinthians 5:17). Not all agree about what that means, but according to that passage it does tell us plainly, “ὥστε εἴ τις ἐν Χριστῷ, καινὴ κτίσις· τὰ ἀρχαῖα παρῆλθεν, ἰδοὺ γέγονεν καινά” or “so that if anyone is in Christ he is a new creation; the old things passed away, behold he has become new.” Those who are a καινὴ κτίσις· have moved from spiritual death to spiritual life in Christ Jesus. He or she now live for Christ by living for others, effected by the power of the Holy Spirit (2 Corinthians 3:3, 6, 18) and the death of Christ (5:14-15). This was destined by God to come amid this evil age. Notice it was never meant to suppliant it, but to be in the midst of it and be continually at war with it. This war causes many casualties. So many professing Christians fall victim to taking the wrong side in this war and find in the end that their profession was nothing more than words. The god of this age blinds the eyes and hearts of his slaves and many of them are very religious. This blindness creates hearts so hard and unbelief so thick that the Gospel, even when well preached, interests them not at all.
I remember when I had been a member at a SBC church in Oklahoma a few years and was asked to submit as a yokefellow to a Deacon for a year. After that year, those who passed muster would be ordained as Deacons. This had to have been around 1988-1989 or so. My brethren, I had been a Christian a total of two or three years at that point. How mature could I have been? What were they looking for in the election of deacons? It was faithfulness in attendance. It was the heart to serve. It was how well our family life was. All that was taken into account. I was teaching in the children’s department at that time. I did whatever was asked of me. My family life was good and was all wrapped up in the activities at that church. Well, at the end of that year, I made the cut as well as my fellow yokefellow (each Deacon had two).
What surprised me was that other yokefellows did not. Also, some of the other Deacons resigned during that time. In any case, it was just a couple of years later I was elected as Chairman of the Deacons and the Deacon who had been my fellow yokefellow was vice chairman. Then just a few days later we lost both pastors and went almost a year with the two us running the Church as we searched for another pastor. All of that was going on as I was unemployed for the first couple of months and had to look for another job.
As our new Pastor came on board and my 1st year of chairman was up, I told them that I needed a break. What was so interesting about all that was that our new Pastor came in with a hidden agenda. He was Purpose Driven to the core and his method of management was change for the sake of change. Well, I took a couple of years sabbatical from teaching and serving on committees though I helped when asked. However, what happened was that all those older Deacons who were there when I was first brought up as a Deacon, went to the new Pastor individually and protested all of the changes he was making and were shown the door.
After about 14 months or so, all that was left was just a shell of the original leadership and a large number of 20 and 30 year old couples who had come to be part of the carnival that our church had become. I was asked to host a small group. Then it was taken away. I was asked to teach a class on Sunday night. Then it was taken away. Then I was asked to host a small group on Sunday night, et cetera. That was what it was like. The last 18 months we were there, my wife and I hosted a small group in our home on Sunday nights, we taught a couples class on Sunday morning and I taught a Deacon’s Bible study after our small group was over. When God moved us from the OKC area to Tulsa at the beginning of 2000, it was like I had been given a vacation on Sundays.
While we were in the Tulsa area, I substituted in Sunday School some, but I never was involved at the level I was at our old church in OKC until we moved to the KC area in 2001. There we found a small SBC church that needed a Bible teacher and I fit right in. However, it was just a few years into this that God did something miraculous.
He drew me to get my focus off of the religiosity treadmill and back onto the prize. That happened in 2004. I have mentioned this several times. It took from nearly all of January to about the first half of August. Over that time, I stopped all television. I quit all pursuit of anything that smacked of fleshly pursuits. I just prayed, worshipped, read, and studied my Bible. By the middle of August that was all I did when I had any time to myself. From that, God graciously gave me this ministry over the next couple of years as I fumbled around trying to understand what it was that I was supposed to do. I knew it had to do with writing and teaching, et cetera, but I just could not conceive of that being outside of the confines of the highly structured, well organized Evangelical Church. :-)
Again, God intervened. Our Pastor and some of the other Deacons began an attempt to change our church to become Purpose Driven. By this time, I was doing a great deal of research online, had become involved on the old Slice of Laodicea blog, and become friends with Ken Silva. He helped me deal with the PDC takeover. I tried to get the church to address it, but it was a lost cause. When it became apparent that they were going to implement it without any discussion or challenge being allowed, my wife and I left. That was in May 2006.
Since then, I have been writing and blogging. Ken asked me to become part of CRN in 2007. My role as a Bible teacher is still intact. My heart is still to minister to God’s people. Sometimes that means warning them about wolves in sheep’s clothing, et cetera. However, it also means teaching the truth about our role as new creations in the lost and dying world while never taking our eyes off of the prize.
Being on the religiosity treadmill is not what being a Christian is all about. It took how long for God to teach me that? Here is Philippians 3:12-4:1.
Οὐχ ὅτι ἤδη ἔλαβον ἢ ἤδη τετελείωμαι, διώκω δὲ εἰ καὶ καταλάβω, ἐφ᾽ ᾧ καὶ κατελήμφθην ὑπὸ Χριστοῦ [Ἰησοῦ]. ἀδελφοί, ἐγὼ ἐμαυτὸν οὐ λογίζομαι κατειληφέναι· ἓν δέ, τὰ μὲν ὀπίσω ἐπιλανθανόμενος τοῖς δὲ ἔμπροσθεν ἐπεκτεινόμενος, κατὰ σκοπὸν διώκω εἰς τὸ βραβεῖον τῆς ἄνω κλήσεως τοῦ θεοῦ ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ. Ὅσοι οὖν τέλειοι, τοῦτο φρονῶμεν· καὶ εἴ τι ἑτέρως φρονεῖτε, καὶ τοῦτο ὁ θεὸς ὑμῖν ἀποκαλύψει· πλὴν εἰς ὃ ἐφθάσαμεν, τῷ αὐτῷ στοιχεῖν. Συμμιμηταί μου γίνεσθε, ἀδελφοί, καὶ σκοπεῖτε τοὺς οὕτω περιπατοῦντας καθὼς ἔχετε τύπον ἡμᾶς. 1πολλοὶ γὰρ περιπατοῦσιν οὓς πολλάκις ἔλεγον ὑμῖν, νῦν δὲ καὶ κλαίων λέγω, τοὺς ἐχθροὺς τοῦ σταυροῦ τοῦ Χριστοῦ, ὧν τὸ τέλος ἀπώλεια, ὧν ὁ θεὸς ἡ κοιλία καὶ ἡ δόξα ἐν τῇ αἰσχύνῃ αὐτῶν, οἱ τὰ ἐπίγεια φρονοῦντες. ἡμῶν γὰρ τὸ πολίτευμα ἐν οὐρανοῖς ὑπάρχει, ἐξ οὗ καὶ σωτῆρα ἀπεκδεχόμεθα κύριον Ἰησοῦν Χριστόν, ὃς μετασχηματίσει τὸ σῶμα τῆς ταπεινώσεως ἡμῶν σύμμορφον τῷ σώματι τῆς δόξης αὐτοῦ κατὰ τὴν ἐνέργειαν τοῦ δύνασθαι αὐτὸν καὶ ὑποτάξαι αὐτῷ τὰ πάντα. Ὥστε, ἀδελφοί μου ἀγαπητοὶ καὶ ἐπιπόθητοι, χαρὰ καὶ στέφανός μου, οὕτως στήκετε ἐν κυρίῳ, ἀγαπητοί. (Philippians 3:12-4:1 NA27)
Not that I already have obtained or have been perfected, but I pursue if indeed I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold by Christ Jesus. Brothers, I do not consider myself to have made it my own; but one thing, forgetting what lies behind while straining forward to the things ahead, according to the goal I pursue the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. Therefore, as many as would be perfect, let us think this; and if you think anything different, even this God will reveal to you; nevertheless to what we attained, by the same rule we are to follow. Brothers, join in imitating me, and notice those who walk according to our example. For many walk of whom I was often telling you, and now also weeping, I say, they are the enemies of the cross of Christ, whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly and their glory in their shame, with their minds set on earthly things. For our citizenship exists in heaven from where also we eagerly await a Saviour, The Lord Jesus Christ, who will transfigure our body humiliation into conformity with the body of His glory according to the working of His power even to subject all things to Himself. (a personal translation of Philippians 3:12-4:1 from the NA27 Greek text)
What is it that God wants from us while we are here after He saves us? I promise you, it is not to get on that religiosity treadmill doing all those “works” according to fleshly or worldly motives. There is not one thing wrong with teaching a Bible study class or being in one, et cetera. No, but what are your motives? If our god is our belly and our own glory is the goal then our motive is some sort of earthly self-glorification. Been there, done that, but God had other plans. What is so amazing to me is that I DID NOT REALIZE IT at the time that that was what was going on. It has been over the last few years as God has taken me through some very serious fiery trials that all of that, I hope, has been burned away. This ministry exists to serve God’s people, to get them focused on Him, His glory, and to get them to humble themselves, pray, and serve Him as their Sovereign Lord and to keep them focused on the prize.
Now my brethren, the prize or goal we are straining for is the fullness of blessings and rewards in the age to come, but most importantly, to being in perfect fellowship with our Lord Jesus Christ forever. That goal is the prize. That is what I am working or straining to get to in all of this. How about you?
Soli Deo Gloria!