The Best Kind of Fanaticism

Philippians 3:1-11

Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you is no trouble to me and is safe for you.

Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh. For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh— though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people 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 righteousness under the law, blameless. But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— 10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

Berries in the Window

Fanatic basketball fans paint their faces with team colors. Fanatic political junkies watch Fox News, CNBC, CNN, or C-Span and listen to Talk Radio for hours on end. Fanatical Islamic extremists foment terror. What do fanatic Christians do? Some embrace a fanaticism of over-the-top doctrinal purity detection. Others will inflict pain on themselves in an attempt to salve their own consciences or gain God’s favor. Some attempt to do as many meritorious works as possible, dedicating themselves to prayers, masses, and all manner of religious duties. Still others dress a certain way or assume a certain posture as evidence of their faithfulness.

Paul called such actions putting “confidence in the flesh,” and describes his own abandonment of that kind of religious fanaticism. He counts as rubbish all his zeal, spiritual heritage, religious pedigree, and law-abiding righteousness.

So what’s better? Paul says he abandoned all religious trappings for the sake of knowing Christ Jesus his Lord, being right with God by means of faith in Jesus, knowing the power of his resurrection, and obtaining the resurrection from the dead. Paul had a radical conversion experience – unlike most of us have ever even imagined. He has exchanged his former religious pedigree for a life devoted to his Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ.

Our conversion may not even be a conscious event. You, like me, may have grown up never remembering a time when you didn’t believe in Jesus. Whether as an infant at the baptismal font, as a child hearing Bible stories in your parent’s lap, hearing of Jesus from a Sunday School teacher or through an encounter with the gospel later in life, we are all converts. Our call is daily to leave behind all kinds of rubbish in favor of Jesus’ righteousness.

Paul’s initial urging, “Rejoice in the Lord,” points us toward a better kind of fanaticism – a fanaticism of hope, love, and faith. Such a focus on Jesus Christ allows us to avoid false displays of piety and smug self-righteousness because we recognize him as the source of a better tomorrow, the power of sustaining love, and the focus of true faith.

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