Self-Definition or God-Definition?
John Telgren

How would you sum up your life? This is often something we think more about at funerals, when we are facing death, or someone we know is facing death. I remember the first funeral I ever went to. The minister tried to sum up the life of my great uncle. He spoke of his job, some of the things that he liked to do, and some of his accomplishments.

When I read some of what the Apostle Paul wrote, I see a man who wanted to distance himself from his accomplishments in life. He gives his resume, and from what we can see, he was always exemplary in every way.

" … although I myself might have confidence even in the flesh. If anyone else has a mind to put confidence in the flesh, I far more: circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless. But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ” (Phil. 3:4-8).

Paul did not allow his accomplishments to define him. What defined him was Christ. He said all things are "summed up" in Christ (Eph. 1:9-10). For Paul, to live was Christ, and to die was gain (Phil. 1:21). I wonder if he was ever tempted to think of himself as a failure. How many preachers get stoned and left for dead? How many get arrested and spend years in prison? How many seem to have trouble and riots follow them wherever they go? Tradition tells us that his missionary career and his life literally ended in flames. If Paul was fleshly minded, he might look at his track record and define himself as a failure. After all, how many would hire a preacher that gets arrested and driven out of town all the time? Would you define him as a success or failure?

If we put no confidence in the flesh, then we will not define ourselves in this way. We would only let Christ define us. To live does not consist of accomplishments, popularity, cool clothes, cars, friends, or possessions. To live is Christ, and to die is gain. The only way to say this with the same boldness as Paul is to recognize that we are not of this world; therefore nothing of this world defines us. We don't even define ourselves. God defines us through Christ, and nothing or no one of this world can change that.

What effect would this perspective have on our sharing of the Gospel? How might it change our view of our lost friends, job, school, pursuits, or on opportunities to minister, even if it is something out of our comfort zone?