The Past, the Future, My Christian Experience
Charles F. Strong
The Apostle Paul, also known as Saul of Tarsus (Cilicia, now in Turkey), was and is the most notable follower and representative of Jesus the Christ. He was the human author of twelve or more of the books within the New Testament. Prior to his faith-acceptance of (belief in) Jesus as the Christ, he was a prominent Hebrew Pharisee and active persecutor of Christians throughout the land (Philippians 3:5, 6).
Even though he was not one of the twelve apostles, he was chosen by God to be the most prominent leader and teacher of the Christian faith. And although prior to his Christian conversion he had a prominent and distinguished past, he allowed it no influence on his life for Jesus Christ, choosing to take the position of “forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead” as he continued to “press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13, 14).
I personally understand and support Paul’s conveyance of this position as he expressed it in the third chapter of his letter to “all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi” (Philippians 1:1). To a small degree, it reminds me of my personal remembrance of and outlook on my past, not that it would compare in any way, shape or form with the pre-Christian life of the Apostle Paul. Still, every Christian has a specific “past” that can have influence in and on his or her present Christian experience.
Then again, I suppose I have never been an advocate of emphasizing the past; or, for that matter, “significantly honoring” certain societal popular ceremonies or special occasions. As a young man in school back in my home town, I can remember often telling my mother that upon my death I should not be given a funeral. Rather, she should just dump my body in the trash back in the alley and let the garbage personnel dispose of my remains. As I think back, my reasoning was, as it is now, that the body is really not the person. It is simply the container of the real person (spirit/soul), which (the body) is generally given way too much honor in funeral proceedings. I also figured that the high cost of funerals would be best expended on a person while he/she is alive, for only then could he/she appreciate it.
Then, there is the matter of various occasions, such as birthdays, anniversaries, etc. Again, it was, and still is my position that the expenditures and celebration of such affairs should be an ongoing application throughout each person’s life, not just once annually. As to birthdays, I can only observe that this is a less popular event as one grows “more mature” (old) in life. Admittedly, few agree with me on such views, especially the various economic enterprises that profit from such occasions. To this end, and let me be quite clear, I hold no disrespect or harbor any criticism for anyone who disagrees with me regarding these issues. I have been wrong many times in my life, and this may be the case now.
In any event and as with the Apostle Paul, I firmly believe that my “citizenship is in heaven” (Philippians 3:20) and it is in that future existence alongside Jesus Christ that I chose to express my loyalty and devotion, even though I come short of His guidance often. Still, it is my firm belief that every Christian should take Paul’s testimony to heart as expressed in the third chapter in the book of Philippians; and, as much as possible, orient their Christian experience alongside of it.
To this end, my personal testimony relative to portions of this passage of Scripture is offered for the reader’s consideration.
But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith.
I still remember the Christmas Eve night (December 24) of 1959, when I endeavored to locate a drinking/carousing buddy of mine (Joe Bryant) who I thought may be attending a Christmas Eve service at the Calvary Baptist Church in Harlingen, Texas. To make a long story short, I did not find him there but was exposed to several Christians who tried repeatedly to awaken me to my need for Christ, presentations that I could not understand since they would not emphasize good works as the key to achieving eternal life.
Frankly, I had never been a “church-goer” (“religiously inclined”) in my life and truly had no personal knowledge of the Bible. Still, the efforts expended on my behalf while visiting the church that evening gave me pause, which I expressed to Joe when I located him driving around Harlingen later that night. I was then quite surprised to see what appeared to be a complete deflation in appearance and demeanor of my buddy Joe. As he settled down behind the wheel of his vehicle, he proceeded to tell me that salvation was completely by faith in Christ apart from any good works. It dawned on me that if Joe was “saved,” such could not be the result of sustainable good works; therefore, I finally understood that salvation isn’t based on a person’s works, but only upon the work (sacrifice) of Christ on the cross, which could only be acquired by faith.
Realizing (i.e. via the work of the Spirit of God [John 16:7-11]) that mankind is completely unable to accomplish any kind or type of work that will secure eternal life, it was then apparent why, by God’s grace and love for His creation, it became necessary for Christ to come and “pay the price” for the sins of mankind while on the cross of Calvary, as seen in the following passages of Scripture.
And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins . . . even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved).
(Ephesians 2:1, 5)
Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation [payment: 1 John 2:2; 4:10] by His blood, through faith. (Romans 3:20-25a)
For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. (Ephesians 2:8, 9)
Later that night/early morning of Christmas Day of 1959 while home and laying on my back in bed, the truth of God’s salvation invitation again crossed my mind. It was then that I made the decision to trust only in Christ and His work on the Cross of Calvary for my eternal salvation; and then, looking straight up to the ceiling, as if to heaven, I expressed my decision to God and turned over and went to sleep.
(It is important to note that the precise moment a person is “saved” [i.e., granted eternal life with Christ] is the precise moment that the person decides to trust in Christ for his/her eternal salvation. It is not when a person executes any form of prayer to God, for such a prayer can only follow and express the essential decision of trust.)
Upon awakening the next morning, I was never the same. My thoughts, desires, intentions, interests, and attitudes began to change. As my interests in the activities of my past and present life waned, I found that I was more interested in the life to come – a position in which I am even more immersed in today.
That I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
As a new-born Christian (John 3:3, 7) on Christmas day in 1959, I was indeed a “babe” in Christ, i.e., one who is spiritually immature (ignorant) and carnal in nature – primarily influenced by the desires of the flesh (1 Corinthians 3:1-3; Ephesians 4:14; Hebrews 5:12-14). And as a young, immature child-of-God, I have made many mistakes and ill-decisions in my Christian life. Over time and with increased consumption of the only available spiritual food (God’s Word), I have been fortunate to have matured somewhat in the Christian faith. Frankly, I have a great deal more to obtain, achieve, and grow. Spiritual maturity will never cease in a Christian’s life, for it is the goal for every Christian to achieve what the Apostle Paul states in Philippians 3, verses 10-14 above.
Therefore let us, as many as are mature, have this mind; and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal even this to you. Nevertheless, to the degree that we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us be of the same mind. Brethren, join in following my example, and note those who so walk, as you have us for a pattern. For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame – who set their mind on earthly things.
Throughout my years as a Christian, I’ve certainly experienced spiritual ups and downs. Fortunately, when I’ve given in to my “old nature” and have fallen short (sinned) of God’s standard, I have been most thankful that when I “confess” (i.e., take ownership of) my “sins” that my Heavenly Father has been “faithful and just to forgive” me those “sins” and “cleanse” me “from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). And as I have submitted to a continuous study of God’s Word, He has allowed me a sure path to spiritual maturity, i.e., the “salvation of the soul” that follows the “salvation of the spirit” (John 17:17; Ephesians 5:26; James 1:21).
(It should be noted that Scripture addresses the salvation of the whole person, i.e., spirit, soul, and body [1 Thessalonians 5:23; Hebrews 4:12], a process better presented in the following study, which may be accessed at the following link: http://bibleone.net/print_tbs97.html.)
Regardless of my past spiritual failing, I daily look to Christ in faith (Colossians 2:6, 7) that I may indeed execute the “good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10).
Yet, as I have traveled this spiritual path, I have been made aware that there is a host of adversaries of Jesus Christ who claim His name. This is to say that I believe there are many so-called “preachers” and “ministers” within the Christian faith who actually are self-serving (personal and financial gain) and who place emphasis on “emotional displays” and “elaborate spectacle” rather than on a steady in-depth study (maturation) of God’s Word. Because of this, I have endeavored to keep the Internet ministry (www.bibleone.net) that God has given me free of such negative-spiritual-influences.
Philippians 3:20, 21
For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body, according to the working by which He is able even to subdue all things to Himself.
Today, after many and varied experiences within the Christian sphere, I find myself at total peace and comfort in addition to an exhilarating expectation within the Christian faith. Along with the Apostle Paul, I am assured of my heavenly citizenship, and I confidently and thrillingly look forward to the time when I will exit this life by the Rapture or in physical death to meet my Lord and Savior in and throughout eternity.
Each night as I speak to our Heavenly Father, I unfailingly pray that His “kingdom come” and His “will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10). And to you, the reader, I can only promise the following:
For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. (1 Thessalonians 4:16, 17)
He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming quickly.” Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus! The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen. (Revelation 22:20, 21)