A World of Switched Price Tags
The story is told of some college students who broke into a department store one night and changed various price tags. They removed the $299.99 tag from a vacuum cleaner and put it on a bag of clothespins, while placing the $1.72 tag from the clothespins on the vacuum cleaner. They took the $8.97 price tag off a can opener and placed it on a flat screen TV, while putting the $429.99 tag from the TV on the can opener. They did the same with many other items. When the store opened the next morning, the managers did not catch the changes for several hours. By then several customers walked out with great deals while others raised complaints over exorbitant prices.
In his letter to the Philippians, Paul shares a similar story from his own life. He had grown up believing that there was great value in his pedigree (“circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews”—Philippians 3:5), his achievements (“in regard to the law, a Pharisee”—Philippians 3:5), and his assumed superiority to others (“as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless”—Philippians 3:6). He grew up convinced that performance was of highest value.
In Freedom from the Performance Trap David Seamands remarks, “The performance-based Christian life comes from the malignant virus of sinful pride—a pride which encourages us to build our lives upon a deadly lie. This lie claims that everything depends on what we do and on how well we perform, on our efforts and our work. We will enjoy acceptance and love if we can win them, success and status if we can earn them” (p. 26).
Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend point out that this performance trap is what Paul described as being “under the law” rather than “under grace.” They explain, “Paul contrasts the phrase ‘under the law’ with being ‘under grace.’ Instead of having a God who is for us and giving us what we need, the law is against us and says we have to earn, through our own performance, what we need…. To get anywhere, we have to make it all happen ourselves. Law means God is ticked off and says, ‘Do it yourself.’ Grace means God is for us and says, ‘I will help you do it.’ Grace reverses the law.
“When we are under the law—in our natural state—we feel that God is the enemy and that we get what we deserve. We naturally try to ‘earn’ life. We try to do whatever we think will get God to like us or whatever we think will solve our day-to-day problems. Thus, we are trying to ‘save ourselves.’ We try to get God to not be mad, and we try by our own efforts to grow and resolve our issues. Yet Paul says that this way of living is the exact opposite of living according to faith and grace” (How People Grow, p. 67).
While on the road to Damascus, God revealed to Paul that he had been fooled by switched price tags. What was of true value was not performance but grace. What truly mattered was not what Paul accomplished but his relationship with the living and loving God.
Thus Paul shares with the Philippians, “But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, 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 is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith” (Philippians 3:7-9)
The challenge for a Christian is to recognize how the world has switched the price tags. The challenge is to stop valuing the things the world values, such as pedigree, accomplishments, and assumed superiority (or inferiority) to others on the basis of such things as position, power, looks, wealth or status. The challenge is to begin valuing more highly relationship with God and the things God values. Micah 6:8 summarizes it well: “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”