Upon what do you base your confidence? Where do you go to when you are feeling a bit battered? When your self esteem is low? Or when you have made an error of judgment and you are feeling pretty small…?
Hanging behind our loo, which is at one level modest but is the once place that everyone (every man anyway) is likely to see them, I have three framed and, to me rather too precious, certificates.
They all have a similar style, slightly old world language and all are addressed to me and are all statements of character.
One is signed by General Jack Harman, on behalf of the Queen, and says “we reposing especial trust and confidence in your loyalty, courage and good conduct do by these presents constitute and appoint you to be an officer in our Land Forces’: The Queens Commission. One signed by the Master of the Rolls Lord Denning which says that he is satisfied that I ‘am a fit and proper person to act as a solicitor of the Supreme Court’. Another signed by is signed by the Bishop of Winchester and refers to him being assured ‘of my sufficient learning and godly conversation’ as he admits me into the Holy Order of Priesthood….
Upon what do you base your confidence?
Is it, as it has been for me, your qualifications? Is it your success and what that brings, in terms of property ownership and assets? Is it being a mother or a father, confidence based upon the successes of your children? Is it the family in which you were born and brought up and the position and property that gives you in the community? Or your school, university or even regiment?
Some people’s confidence is based upon the impression that others have of them. Actors typically go from great highs to great lows, depending upon their reviews.
On the other hand, some people’s sense of confidence can be entirely delusional.
When President Trump recently came to Britain, he said ‘I get so much fan mail from people in your country. They love what I am saying about many different things’. The opinion polls say differently with only 11% of Britons saying that he is a good president and 67% saying, he is a terrible president.
We can be deluded about things and confidently think we are wonderful, like President Trump, or we can be deluded into thinking we are less wonderful than we are, being completely unrealistic about who we are.
A recent study indicated that nearly half our teenagers are not confident, with girls, despite having good academic grades, particularly being trounced in confidence because of their perception about their looks. And it is not entirely surprising where this comes from with apparently 82% of parents believe that physical appearance is a vital element in being successful compared to being naturally clever.
But this does not necessarily go away with age. Michelle Pfeiffer the famous film star apparently is not at all happy about her appearance. She says ‘I’ve got small boobs, big lips and a bent nose. My face is completely wrecked. I have never been confident about my looks.’ Complete nonsense….
But where should our confidence come from? Ultimately the only thing which matters at the end of the day….is what happens at the end of the day….
Upon what are we basing our confidence before God?
Or to use religious language, on what are we basing our claim to righteousness; which means our claim to a right relationship with God?
The creator of the Universe will one day ask us to give an account for what he has placed in our hands for the duration of our lives. How confident are we about this?
St Paul in Philippians 3:4-6 lists all the reasons why he was confident that his standing at the end of the day, his standing with God, his righteousness should be high. He had all the outward marks of the Jewish religion. He had been circumcised (which in the Jewish faith has a similar effect to baptism has in Christianity) on the eighth day as required by the Jewish Law: Righteous! He wasn’t a gentile but rather of the people of Israel (so one of God’s chosen people): very righteous! Of the tribe of Benjamin, honoured before all the other tribes: Even more righteous! A Hebrew of Hebrews! A righteous Israelite! So from the perspective of Judaism, he was top dollar righteous by birth and family.
But not only by birth; even by behaviour, he was the bees knees. As to the law, he was a Pharisee: He was very religious. As to the level of enthusiasm for his religion: – zeal he was more zealous than anyone else: he was a persecutor of that heretical sect (from the perspective of the Jews): the Christian church. He encouraged, possibly even led the stoning to death of the first christian martyr, St. Stephen. No one could claim that he was guilty of any sin under the Jewish religious law because, as to righteousness under the law, he was totally blameless.
But, verse 9, Paul says he counts these things as rubbish or in the original Greek – excrement, ‘in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him’.
He recognises that these things which he had always before thought were so important do not constitute grounds for a good relationship with God, do not make him righteous.
But what really matters is the righteousness that which comes through faith in Christ: the righteousness from God that depends on faith; belief in him…..trust in him…..
Paul continues ‘that I may know him and the power of his resurrection and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead….’
Paul is saying that he treats the things upon which he based his confidence in the past as rubbish. Now that he has the new heart we spoke about in February at Valley Worship
He wants to: construct his confidence, not on being a Hebrew of Hebrews but on Christ.
He wants to construct his confidence on Christ
You see long after the frames of those certificates in our loo have been sold in some second hand shop or at Help the Aged in Alresford, and the certificates have been put into land fill or burned on some great bonfire by my daughters, the only thing which matters is how God sees me, not how the church, the Law Society or even the Queen sees me: have I based my life on belief in him?Have I based my life on trust in him? Have I constructed my confidence on Christ?
Or have I trusted in my achievements, have I trusted in my gifts and talents; have I constructed my confidence on my own character?
Because our talents and what we do with them are never enough to make us OK with God.
Once there was a budding lawyer who was determined to lead a life which would please God. Much to his father’s annoyance…he became a monk. But monastic discipline by itself was just not enough for this lawyer. Despite fasting for days and spending sleepless nights and beating himself to get rid of his physical temptations… he was still plagued by how he could possibly become righteous in comparison with the ultimate righteous God, who always did the right thing, who always stuck by his promises and who always behaved perfectly: whose standard for humans was just too high.
He was particularly troubled by the passage In Romans 1.17 which says: ‘For in [the gospel] the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith’. He thought that this meant the gospel reveals just how righteous God is….He hated that righteousness of God because he saw reflected in it his own lack of righteousness, his own constantly failing character, his sinful nature and he could see how the task of being righteous enough to please a completely righteous God was just impossible…..
But he was trying to construct his confidence on his own character and when we do that we are always going to be disappointed in ourselves because we always fail to impress even ourselves, let alone God.
And then it began to dawn on him that the righteousness of God that Paul was referring to in Romans, the good character which he was trying to obtain by self discipline, Paul was actually describing as a free gift from God, for those who have faith in God.
So the penny dropped for this zealous lawyer, whose name was Martin Luther. For it was him who had this experience in the 15th century and Luther described his reaction to realising this as follows: he felt as though he was born again and that he had walked through the gates of paradise.
As more and more people accepted this interpretation of Paul’s letter to the Romans they had this rebirth experience. The Reformation was the result and the world was totally changed.
John Wesley had a similar experience having read Luther’s commentary on Romans, again the world was changed.
Our standing before God, our confidence before God entirely depends on our faith in him our trusting of him. He is the one who tells us who we are: how we are loved more than we can possibly imagine: how we have a right to be here: how we have a role in the outworking of the future of the universe which he has in his hands.
We cannot possibly be righteous before him, save for the righteousness he gives us because of our trust in him.
So whatever we have done or failed to do provided we trust in Jesus Christ our confidence can be unshakeable and the world will changed as a result