The Process of Unlearning

Watch out for those dogs, those men who do evil, those mutilators of the flesh. For it is we who are the circumcision, we who worship by the Spirit of God, who glory in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh— though I myself have reasons for such confidence. If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put 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; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless. -Philippians 3:2-6 (NIV)

The Apostle Paul had good reason to warn the Philippian Church about the Jewish teachers and enforcers of the Law, because he had been one of them.  He could speak more authoritatively, and with greater credibility to the new-born church about what he and they believed, about their present circumstances, and about potential error, because of who and what and where he once was.  Because of his prior “confidence” in the Law and empty religion, he could speak evenly more “confidently”…faithfully about experiencing a more fullfilling way of “worship by the Spirit of God,” and the full “glory in Jesus Christ.”  And yet, while Paul was now a believer in and follower of Christ, and an Apostle to the Church, he never stopped calling himself a Jew. 

Rather than denying his Jewish heritage, and teaching, Paul used everything he had been taught and educated in to enable him and to enhance his new faith and in his ministry and mission to preach the gospel of Christ and to evangelize both Jews and Gentiles.  And, his Jewish educational resume and credentials were impressive.  He had been taught by Gamaliel, one of the most revered and respected teachers of Jewish law and religion, even to this day.  Paul himself spoke about his mentor and teacher with respect: “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city. Under Gamaliel I was thoroughly trained in the law of our fathers and was just as zealous for God as any of you are today.” (Acts 22:3)  Rather than a hindrance to Paul’s ministry for Christ, his credentials gained (when he was Saul) lent credibility and authority to his conversion.

I was “born-again” through the ministry of a church affiliated with and part of the Southern Baptist Convention.  My first exposure to the Bible, and to the God of the Bible came through SBC Sunday School, and in what used to be known as “Training Union.”  I was baptized by emersion in a Southern Baptist Church.  My first sharing of the Lord’s Supper was in a Southern Baptist Church.  Later in my life I recieved the call to full time ministry while a member of a Southern Baptist Church.  I was educated and prepared for that ministry in what I still believe to be the best of all the Southern Baptist seminaries.  I learned theology under Dr. Danny Akin, who in my estimation is the brightest, best respected and most dedicated teacher of  Theology among his contemporaries and, I believe will be remembered as such historically.  Having said all this, although I am no longer a part of the Southern Baptist Convention, some part of me will always be a Southern Baptist.

Now please, unless you might misunderstand me, I am not comparing myself spiritually or qualitatively to the Apostle Paul.  But, like Paul, I have had to unlearn some of things I learned while becoming a better and more dedicated Southern Baptist in order to learn to be a better and more dedicated follower of Christ.  What I have discovered is that the “unlearning” process has been just as laborious and intensive as was the “learning” process.  And like Paul, it has been a process of unlearning the things of the intellect and of the flesh, and of religion and learning the things of the Spirit and (dare I say it), experiencing the power of the indwelling presence of and the power of God. 

For Paul, at the start of his unlearning process, it took getting knocked off his donkey on a road to Damascus.  Then he tells us that he spent three years in the desert of Arabia and then in Damascus before he ever returned to Jerusalem to face the apostles, Peter and James (Galatians 1:17-18).  After that it took another 14 years of preparation before he returned again to Jerusalem with Barnabas and was sent out on mission to the Gentiles (Galatians 2:1; Acts 13).  Like Paul, I have gotten knocked off my high-horse.  I have spent time in my own desert region.  Over the last couple of years I have been taken to school by the Holy Spirit to unlearn and then to learn how to minister in a brand new way. 

This new way is not the way of some denomination, or of some human teacher or most importantly of my own intellect, skills or manner of doing things.  The preparation continues.  I’m not sure how old Paul was when it all started for him, but I’m 55 now.  I hope it doesn’t take me as long as it took Paul!  But, here’s what I know now…the Lord has made gifts and power available to me and to every believer through His Holy Spirit that I never knew were there for the taking.  But, they are not there only for the taking.  They are there for the giving away of them for the glory of and the sake of Christ and His Bride.  So, no matter how old I am when this process is finished, let me again like Paul, do it until my race is done (2 Timothy 4:7).


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