The Apostle Paul was one of the most remarkable converts to Christianity. He started out as a persecutor of the believers in Jerusalem and eventually took a trip to Damascus to round up anyone that was of “the way” there (Acts 9:2). It says in Acts 9:3-5, “He went on his way until he came near Damascus. All at once he saw a light from heaven shining around him. He fell to the ground. Then he heard a voice say, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you working so hard against Me?’ Saul answered, ‘Who are You, Lord?’ He said, ‘I am Jesus, the One Whom you are working against. You hurt yourself by trying to hurt Me’ (NLV).
Paul’s effort to stamp out Christianity was halted midstream because he was working against the very thing that God wanted him to do, to preach the gospel. Paul described his previous Jewish belief system as walking in the flesh (Romans 8:1). What Paul meant by walking in the flesh was living life focused on the material world as opposed to the spiritual realm of God. Circumcision was a sign of the covenant God made with Abraham and his descendants (Genesis 17:13), but the Jews turned it into a ritual that meant nothing more than a regulation that had to be followed. Paul told the believers at Philippi, “For we are the circumcision, who worship God in the Spirit, rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh” (Philippians 3:3, NKJV).
Paul had a lot of things going for him in terms of working his way to heaven. He told the Philippians, “If anyone else thinks he may have confidence in the flesh, I more so: circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; concerning the law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the church; concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless. But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ” (Philippians 3:4-7, NKJV). If it was possible to score Paul’s effort to get himself into heaven, he probably would have gotten an A+, but Paul said he counted everything he had done as a loss, meaning it was worthless, he wasn’t scoring any points, because the only thing that mattered in God’s scoring system was Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross.
Paul concluded his discussion about works of the flesh by stating, “Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14). Paul’s attitude toward heaven had changed dramatically because he no longer saw it as something that he could apprehend or own in the sense that he had a right to go there. Rather than a reward for good behavior, Paul saw heaven as a prize that he must strive toward with no confidence that he could or actually had already attained it.