Philippians 3:4-9 “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. For 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 Jesus Christ 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.”
One occasionally looks back through one’s life and thinks of the most helpful and positive experiences, but also one is drawn to the ‘killing fields.’ Times of discouragement come when we think to ourselves that it’s all been a dead loss, and we can fill our hours with vain regrets, and sink down and down into a vortex of self-pity. Yet there are better times when we think of our past as Paul does here. He won’t ignore what’s happened, but he will evaluate it by the only standards that matter, by God’s standards. He puts his life in the Lord’s eternal and perfect balances and he measures it by the those criteria. He tells us here how over the years he came to change his evaluation. The things he once thought were the great pluses in his life he now knows were the minuses. The things the world envied him for and for which he used to envy other men he now scorns as unenviable and pathetic. But there are events and attitudes that the world would want to dismiss which he considers to be some of the most wonderful things that ever happened to him. You meet Christians who have gone through great trials which make those of us who observe tremble, and as time passes they will say quietly to you, “I would not want to have missed that for anything.” In fact they are glad that the years of fame, adulation and wealth have come to an end.
In other words, if we are going to be delivered from confusion and despair then we have to have the right world view, systems of ethics, a true philosophy of life, and enduring standards of truth by which we can say what was success and what was failure.
Paul had made this discovery. The standard for the apostle was not the law, it was a person. It was Christ Jesus who had become his Lord. That theme comes through continually in this section: “Whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ” (v.7): he is the benchmark. Again, “I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Jesus Christ my Lord” (v.8): he is the norm. Again, he tells us that the things he once considered great he now considers to be rubbish “that I may gain Christ” (v.8): he is the pattern by which everything is measured.
In other words this man has gone through a tremendous re-evaluation of his life. There came a time when he was brought up sharp, and he had to look at himself, and he said, “Am I going to go on like this? Is this what I want in life? Am I going to defend this wretched life of mine? My frustrated, empty life? Am I going to keep saying, ‘Not Christ. Never Christianity. Never the New Testament. That would be simply unthinkable.’ Am I going to keep kicking against the goads that insist I should think again about Jesus Christ? Some of you are doing that, but I ask you, why should Jesus Christ be unthinkable? Have you read the Sermon on the Mount? Do you know what Jesus Christ said, and what he did? I am urging you not to get it wrong in the most important area of life. Jesus Christ claimed to be God. He claims to be your God. He said that one day he would gather all souls before him and judge them. Those are either the claims of God or they are the words of a megalomaniac. Yet was there ever a saner man than Jesus Christ?
So the Lord had presented to Paul a model by which to judge what was the good life, who is my neighbour, what is man’s chief end, how then should I live, who is God, what is death, and what lies beyond it. We all need answers to those questions to evaluate how we’re doing, and how we’re going to spend our days, how we are going to handle our relationships. Paul always turned to Christ for guidance. For him Jesus could say nothing wrong. He gave Paul tenderness and backbone. This is what made him utterly uncompromising – like the later John Bunyan who said, “I will stay in jail to the end of my days before I make a butchery of my conscience.” And yet Paul could also become all things to all men; he would become as a weak man to help others who were weak. He would advise people that if their enemies were hungry they should feed them. Paul had a standard to measure life by and it was the right standard.
You go upstairs in the Aberystwyth Museum just down the road from the church 50 yards away and in a corner of the first floor gallery you see all the old official weights and measures of pounds and gallons and bushels and so on that were used by inspectors throughout this county of Ceredigion. They kept a standard of consistency, fairness and truth in every village shop across hundreds of square miles of central Wales. Imagine going to a a butcher and asking for two pounds of the best steak and he gives you a tiny piece of meat, and when you protest he says, “But that is two pounds to me.” Or if you should go to a filling station and watch with horror as the dial tells you that you have put in 100 litres of fuel, and yet your tank is still only half full. The owner tells you, “But that is what I judge to be a litre.” That is unacceptable. There has to be a standard, whether you are measuring carats of gold, the quality of a diamond, the purity of water, the length of piece of silk, or the size of a tumour. I am saying that God has revealed to man what the standards are for all who live in his creation, and they are all found in Christ.
Paul is telling us here that once he had confidence in his own judgments. He was his own reference point for what he believed and how he lived; “I put confidence in the flesh,” he says (v.4). Notice how he changes here in the fourth verse from talking about ‘us’ and ‘we’ to talking in the first person, about ‘I.’ “Let me tell you frankly about my own experience. Some of you think very highly of yourselves. I was just like that, but more than all of you. I once thought I was in the fast lane, living life at the top,” he said. Many are like that. You’ve always said that you’ll go through life in your own way – the way that seems right to you. You don’t need religion to tell you. Once the late singer, Frank Sinatra, came off the stage having belted out for the thousandth time that anthem to human arrogance, “I did it my way”, and he snarled at someone in the wings, “I never did like that song.” Good. That was the smartest thing he ever said, but did he ever find the one who said, “I am the way”? I’m saying to you that if you don’t have Jesus Christ then you are doing it the wrong way. Your way is not God’s way, and Paul saw that and he changed, and you must change. In what ways? Let’s clear away a lot of the rubbish that clutter our lives.
1. WHAT IS NOT THE WAY?
There are many suggestions from religions old and new, preternatural and humanistic, about how to please God. Paul clears away a lot of confusion.
i] RELIGIOUS CEREMONIES ARE NOT THE WAY.
‘I have been “circumcised on the eighth day”‘ (v.5) the apostle says. We could ask Paul why he’d been circumcised, and he’d tell us that the one true God had commanded Abraham to circumcise his sons, and that ever since that time those who were the descendants of Abraham had been circumcised. “I was not circumcised as a young convert when I got initiated into the Jewish faith. I was no incomer, and no queue-jumper. I was born into the true religion, and a mere eight days after I was born my father did the correct thing and had me circumcised. My family strictly kept the rules of the faith. I have been a member of the true religion from my first breath. I’ve had that advantage from my infancy.” For millions of people what they have been told are the religious ceremonies are their passport to heaven. They went through some ritual as a baby and all is well because of that, but after Paul met Christ he moved circumcision from the profit column to the loss. There are millions of circumcised people in hell; millions of people who have been christened and baptized who are lost men and women. Do you know Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour? If you don’t, your religious ceremonies are a dead loss.
ii] BEING A MEMBER OF THE CHOSEN RACE IS NOT THE WAY.
Paul tells us that he was “of the people of Israel” (v.5). He was of pure racial stock, not an Ishmaelite or an Edomite, a person of mixed origin. He was of the pure blood of the patriarchs. He was a member of the elect nation, and he could trace his line back to Abraham, Isaac and Israel. He once gloried in that. How crucial it has been during this last hundred years to have been a member of one of those ‘pure’ races. Are you Hutu or Tutsi? Your life would depend on which race you belonged to in Rwanda. Look at the Balkans and the ethnic cleansing that wiped out multitudes. Have you British blood in your veins? Then you may leave Zimbabwe and be granted asylum in England. Are you a true Aryan or is there some Jewish ancestry? On that racial test would depend whether you could stay in Bavaria or be shipped off to the Buchenwald concentration camp. To belong to a certain people is the glory of some people, but once Paul had come to know Christ, the Lord of the nations, belonging to one special race mattered nothing at all. Do you belong by the grace of adoption to Christ’s people? That was the issue. Have you been cleansed in the blood of the Lamb of God? If you have, then ethnic superiority is all the more abhorrent to you. Christ has opened the door of a new heavens and a new earth to those who come to him from every single ethnic group. To many of the people of Israel he will say, “Your race can’t be your salvation.”
iii] BEING A PATRIOT IS NOT THE WAY.
Paul tells us that he was “of the tribe of Benjamin” (v.5). He had ancestral advantages. He was not of the tribe of Judah, the royal tribe, but he was from Benjamin from whence came the first king of Israel, David. The tribe of Benjamin had been the loyal tribe when all the others except Judah left the house of David. Benjamin people were conservative and patriotic. Mordecai of the book of Esther was a Benjamite. ‘Little Benjamin’ had the same spirit as the people of the Netherlands in Europe, one of the smallest of the nations on the continent but conscious of their history and significance. But how many people of the tribe of Benjamin cried, “Crucify him! Crucify Jesus!”? How many of them said that he was a liar and blasphemer and they would not have Jesus reign over them. For Paul there were greater issues than the strength of your patriotism.
iv] SPEAKING THE LANGUAGE IS NOT THE WAY.
Paul tells us that he was “a Hebrew of the Hebrews” (v.5). Paul is saying, “I was the Hebrew son of Hebrew speaking parents,” (but in the New Testament the word ‘Hebrew’ refers to those who spoke Aramaic. No one had spoken the Biblical Hebrew for centuries). Why does Paul refer to his mastery of the language? Because there were Jews who lived throughout the Mediterranean basin, and even in the promised land themselves, who had been so influenced by living amongst the Gentiles that they could no longer speak a word of Hebrew/Aramaic. They had lost their heritage. But for Paul it was the language of the hearth and home and heart. He had not had to learn it in the synagogue. Dad had sent him from Tarsus all the way to blessed Jerusalem to study under old Rabbi Gamaliel. Paul was steeped in the language and culture and heritage of his people. But there had come a time when he had stood with a crowd of screaming Hebrews and they had gnashed their teeth in rage at a Christian called Stephen and they had stoned him to death – “Hebrews of the Hebrews” had done that to followers of Jesus Christ, and Paul had come to see the hollowness and emptiness of religion which had at its heart the preservation and use of a language. He had seen that men could love the language but hate the living God.
v] STRICTNESS AND DISCIPLINE ALONE IS NOT THE WAY.
Paul goes on to remind us that he was “in regard to the law, a Pharisee” (v.5). Flavius Josephus was a contemporary of Paul and a Jewish historian. He said that the Pharisees were “a body of Jews with a reputation of excelling the rest of the nation in their observance of religion, and as exact exponents of the law.” They had developed a commentary on the five books of Moses in which there were 603 commandments spelling out what governed every day of your life from sun-up to sun-down, and everything you did and every relationship. The Pharisees were the aloof group who considered themselves the custodians of the true faith, elitists through and through, the super-believers. Paul’s teacher Gamaliel belonged to them. They were the strictest sect of the Jewish religion. Paul was concerned to live in conformity to these laws down to the smallest details in everyday life, tithing the very mint and annis and cumin. He was climbing the ladder to head up that group. He was the most strict and religious of them all. If anyone could have been saved by his religion it was this man, but what a change! He had come to see how external and hardline and evil this religion was. The Pharisees had sat in judgment on the Lord Jesus at the Sanhedrin trial, and they had condemned him to be crucified. All of Pharisaism for Paul, instead of being a wonderful example of multi-faith to be admired, was considered ‘rubbish’ (v.8).
vi] ZEAL IN RELIGION IS NOT THE WAY.
Paul says that “as for zeal – persecuting the church” (v.6). There were these false teachers coming into the church at Philippi and they were zealous. They were talking about their view of religion night and day. If someone showed any interest the false teachers were there knocking on their doors. Paul is telling the Philippians that he knows only too well what destruction can be wrought by blind zeal for a religious cause. He had been so incensed at what Christians were saying about the Lord Jesus that he had set up the machinery of an inquisition, arresting them, throwing them into prison, trying to make them blaspheme by torturing them and incessantly questioning them, voting for the death penalty so that they would be stoned to death, and guarding the coats of those who threw the jagged rocks. What zeal for this religion! All his buddies loved him for what he was doing. What an example! But Jesus Christ had changed this bigot, and he would look back at that time in his life when he had been the most religious with the deepest shame. “I was the chief of sinners,” he would say, “for I persecuted the church.”
vii] MORALITY ITSELF IS NOT ENOUGH.
Paul makes this final claim, “as for legalistic righteousness, faultless” (v.6). The law told Paul how he should live. It provided remedies for sin, prescribed certain sacrifices, taught him to look to God and find mercy in the scapegoat and the great day of atonement. Paul did all that the law told him to do. He was utterly obsessed with keeping everything God had written down in the Torah. Paul was like the rich young ruler who had diligently kept God’s commandments from his childhood. However demanding the law’s regulations Paul strove to obey them. There was no more moral man in the whole world than he was. You would think that this must be the essence of true religion. Isn’t this what every religion, major and minor, and every Christian cult, is teaching its followers? “Keep our rules to the very letter!” Isn’t this successful and sincere religion? Paul was surely an exemplary man. No one could point a finger at him and accuse him of breaking any of the outward requirements of the law of God. Paul seemed blameless, but that kind of man-made righteousness was what he had come to despise when he wrote this letter, because it had dethroned the living person of the Lord from the centre and heart of his life, and it had put in Christ’s place the blameless Paul himself who tirelessly and self-consciously kept all the rules and regulations. He had been faultless in human eyes. What a change now! Paul considered all that religious zeal to be a grief. If the Judaizers were coming into the churches, drawing aside people, telling them what was wrong with the doctrine of those in leadership and that it was the Old Testament law that needed to be preached more often, then Paul could say, “Been there: done that. I can tell you now that that destroys a walk with God. If you go down that road you end up a proud self-righteous man.”
So those are the seven attainments of the apostle Paul. This is what had made him a confident man. He had gone through the ceremonies; he had racial purity, patriotism, fluency in the old language, strictness and discipline, zeal, and he was as straight as a ramrod. What attainments! A pious home, a privileged nation, a good family, all the advantages of a fine education, energy to serve the cause he loved, membership in the right party, and a goal for living. Can anyone here claim that combination? These are the reasons Paul says that he had such confidence in himself (v.4).
Yet a day came when Paul realised that none of these things would be good enough. He could see himself standing before the everlasting doors that guard the entrance to heaven. He could hear himself marshalling his arguments as to why those gates should be opened and he be granted admission. “It’s OK, I’ve been circumcised . . .” Nothing moves. “I’ve gone through the right ceremonies . . .” “I’m a member of the right race . . .”” Zilch! “I’m a Benjamite . . .” “A Hebrew of the Hebrews . . .” No sound of keys turning in locks. No grinding of vast doors on old hinges. “I was a Pharisee . . .” Total silence. The words hang in the air. “How zealously I served you . . .” The words fall to the ground and lie there dying. Then Paul’s trump card, kept until the very end, as though all the others were just a tantalising tease: “my righteousness is faultless . . .” Then he waits expectantly for the flurry of movement and the opening of the everlasting doors and the honoured welcome. “Isn’t heaven thrilled to have such a new member?” He smoothes his beard and adjust his dress for his entrance, but not a chink of light, not a sound of any movement is heard. He is at the right gate, to the heaven of God. There is no other entrance, and his own righteous living is not the key to opening the gate. He is ever on the outside. Heaven is closed to him.
Paul had come to see all that when the Lord found him. He judged that everything he had outside of Jesus Christ was despicable. Why? Because he had been deluded by them all, and so had millions of others. They were the way to hell not heaven. The shouts of his admitting friends – “Way to go, Paul! You’ve got it made.” – were the cries of the lost. But Paul knew that his great need wasn’t a righteousness that would be acceptable to his cronies but to the Holy One of Israel. You looked at Paul’s life and you said, “Isn’t he smart? Isn’t he hard-working? Isn’t he moral? Isn’t he patriotic? Doesn’t he love his country and its traditions and its religion.” What Paul had done all pointed at Paul. But when Jesus Christ met him did any of these attainments give Paul a shred of confidence that all was well between himself and God? None at all. He might seem the most privileged man in the world, but set him down in the presence of the Lord Christ and he felt he was garbage. He was the most moral man in the world but he felt lower than excrement before Christ. He was the most religious man in the world but when Christ came Paul was on the floor with his face in the dust. He was the most zealous and devoted man in the world but he was veritable refuse before God the Son.
With whom are you dealing? God is light and in him is no darkness at all. The seraphim who have never sinned hide their eyes in the presence of uncreated holiness. Paul once gathered all those achievements together and he would hold his head high, but he now saw them in Christ, and sin was mixed through them all. There was pride and vanity and ego in everything Paul had done. They were loathsome activities. Before he met Christ he thought a lot of himself, that all his life had been very profitable existence. When he met Christ he saw himself as he really was – an utter loser. The great Divine Accountant came and scrutinised everything, and added everything up, and he put at the bottom of a whole life – ‘LOSS’. Paul had nothing to commend him to God. After the Saviour met him on the Damascus Road Paul would have sooner brought before God the contents of the septic tank, and the waste disposal unit, and the vomit bag, and black plastic bags of rubbish and say to the Almighty, “This is what I am giving to you as the reason you let me into heaven” than present to God his own works. That is how he felt about all his religion. It had not brought him to God. It was a substitute for God. He had constructed a terrible idol of his life; Paul had been worshipping Paul.
2. WHAT IS THE WAY TO GOD?
This is how Paul describes his life with the Saviour: “the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (v.8). In one column he set down everything he had been and everything he had achieved, and he writes under it ‘LOSS’! What he once thought were the gains of his life he discovered were life’s losses. In the other column there is Christ Jesus, and he writes under that ‘GAIN’!
How do we gain the surpassing greatness of Christ? Clearly not by ceremonies: not by patriotism; not by birth; not by lineage and breeding; not by belonging to the right group; not by zeal; not by law keeping. Paul had done that and they had not brought him to Christ. But have you realised that? Have you totted up all your natural attainments and religious knowledge and good works and written under them all ‘LOSS’? Have you felt the pain of that? Those dear idols, whatever they be, have you said to them all, “You’re a dead loss. If I keep hanging on to you we will go to hell together”? Have you felt the pain of smashing your gods, and pouring contempt on all your pride? You do not gain Christ by climbing up to him by a ladder you make for yourself, where the first rung is religious ceremony, and the next is education, and the next is good works, and the next is law-keeping, and the next is zeal, and so on. In life there are snakes as well as ladders. Don’t imagine that by climbing a ladder of good works you will find Christ at the top because that ladder is in fact a snake which goes down not up, and at the foot of it is the entrance to the pit.
You start with Christ. That is where you begin, with this great Alpha. He says, “I am the door.” You are nowhere unless you are through that door. We are talking about the Jesus Christ of the Bible, promised in the Old Testament and appearing in the New Testament. The Christ of the apostles, who recorded his words and claims and deeds and names so that men may know him. So we are not talking about a slogan, not any Christ but this revealed Saviour. Christ is your first breath. He is the first rung on the ladder. He is your first answer when God speaks to you. He is your foundation, and your hope. He is your energy to get from where you are to where you want to be. He is the Map to guide you and the Protector to keep you on the journey. To see that is saving faith. One comes to God not by works, and not by labour, and not by doing. We must stop doing, and first look to the surpassing greatness of Christ, and entrust yourself to him. That is how you gain Christ and be found in him. That is the faith that is in Christ. There is a righteousness in him; there is all unrighteousness in you, and you need to get out of your unrighteousness and into his righteousness. His cross takes our unrighteousness and his love gives us his own righteousness.
“Nothing in my hand I bring,
Simply to Thy cross I cling.
Naked come to Thee for dress,
Helpless look to thee for grace,
Foul I to the fountain fly,
Wash me Saviour, or I die.” (Augustus Toplady).
Paul has been telling us in these verses what had been his journey. There were once things he considered profitable. That was in the past, and he uses the past tense when he speaks of them: “whatever was to my profit” and then he turns to the present tense, “I now consider loss for the sake of Christ” (v.7). He is looking at the same things – the formerly esteemed ceremonies, and the zeal, and the law-keeping, but he sees them now from a totally different perspective. They used to be profit, but now they are loss because he has discovered Christ. All personal striving and merit and effort to get a righteousness have all gone. They had been keeping him from Christ. Religions are some of mankind’s greatest crimes. What lay between Pa ul’s past and his present was the Christ of the Damascus Road. Jesus Christ is the great turning point in his life.
Paul’s plea is no longer “having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law” (v.9). He has seen the impossibility of becoming righteous through keeping the law. The more he sought to keep the law the more its perfections mocked him. Have you known that? Do you know that there is a murderer sitting in this congregation? Yes there is. I know it. Just yesterday he murdered someone. He didn’t think that anyone saw him, but he was wrong. I have a written statement from an eye witness that I am going to read. Here is what he says. ‘Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer’ (I Jn. 3:15). Paul thought he had kept this commandment, “Thou shalt not kill” because he had never taken a knife and slit the throat of anyone, but he discovered the law condemned murderous words and hateful thoughts. Perhaps our anger has never registered itself for a moment in our eyes or in our words, let alone in our actions, but it has been there in our hearts and we’ve been judged by the law, and found wanting. We are murderers in God’s sight. That is just one of the commandments and there are nine others and they say, we are all thieves and adulterers and liars and idolaters. The last commandment, “Thou shalt not covet” expressly addresses the emotions, and it asks if we are truly content with all that God had given us and all that he has refused us. Where in the world would anyone ever attain a righteousness if that were the standard?
Then Paul discovered the righteousness of Christ was revealed to us in the gospel. Paul tells us that it “comes from God and is by faith” (v.9). Do you understand the wonder of it?
i] It is a human righteousness. Here is the righteous obedience of the man Christ Jesus. He was born under all the requirements of the moral law, the ceremonial law, and the civil law, and he did everything that the law required. He rendered to Caesar the taxes that were Caesar’s, and to the temple he paid the taxes that were the temple’s due. He was circumcised, and he went to the feasts at Jerusalem. He kept the Sabbath day and attended the Synagogue. He obeyed all the ten commandments from his heart perfectly. He had no other gods but the Lord. He never bowed down to any idol. He never took God’s name in vain. He honoured his mother and father. He did not steal or kill or lie or covet or commit adultery. He was absolutely pure. In other words he loved God with all his heart and he loved his neighbour as himself. He even loved his enemies praying for them when they were crucifying him. This world has seen a man as holy is God is holy. His Father can look at him and say, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” There was not a deed or a word or a thought or even an imagination which was tinged by sin. There was nothing he had to take to God and ask to be forgiven . . . ever . . . while he was a child, a teenager or a man. He was as righteous as the angels in heaven who have never fallen. But at the same time he is a three dimensional attractive dynamic character. The flavours that wickedness give to a life are not enhancing or the slightest bit interesting. How boring is sin! See Jesus of Nazareth’s human righteousness – the righteousness of the last Adam. It is a magnificent life, none like it in all history.
ii] But – remember this! – this is also the righteousness of the God-man. This is the Son of God’s righteousness. It is the righteousnes of the second person of the godhead, and so it is immeasurable righteousness: it is eternal righteousness: it is infinite righteousness: it is unchangeable righteousness: it is divine righteousness. When the earth dissolves and the sun becomes a black cold rock this righteousness will be immutably the same. It is an enduring righteousness and so it will last for ever and ever. It is an immeasurably full righteousness. You take some from it and there is always more left. If you cover every star in the cosmos and every atom in the universe with it then there is an infinite amount remaining. It can be imputed to every drop of water in the sea and every grain of sand on the seashores and still there is an immeasurable fulness remaining. It comes from God and so it is as glorious as God himself, but it is the righteousness not of the Father nor of the Spirit but of the Lord Jesus Christ, the child of Mary, the son of David. It is a human righteousness. It is divine righteousness. It is the God-man’s active obedience.
So when we are reading the gospels and the life of Christ we are observing how the Lord Jesus accomplished a righteousness for us, resisted sin for us, overcame temptation for us. We are looking at what has become through grace our own righteousness, freely imputed to all of us who believe. Then how tawdry our own righteousnesses seem. In fact they seem like filthy rags. There is something intensely human in the desire to know exactly how a precious possession was made, best of all to see it being made. We may actually see this righteousness being made in the active obedience of Jesus Christ as it is recorded in the New Testament. Paul Johnson’s mother told him that when she and his father became engaged, he wasn’t content to buy her a ring from a jeweller. He took her to a tiny workshop in a back street, where an old man with a skullcap and a magnifying-glass in one eye, selected and mounted the diamond before their eyes. Maybe he even cut it too. Paul’s father held that ‘to watch the creation of an object is a major part of the joy of possession.’ Think of Christian Dior making a dress for a beautiful lady so that it fits her and adorns her and suits her perfectly. We watch the creation of the righteousness of Christ in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. It comes from God, and yet it is also human, and sinners may receive it into their own lives by faith.
On a wedding day I stand in the front of this chapel and I say to the bride, “Will you take this man to be your lawful wedded husband?” She says that she will, and thus she is joined to him in marriage. What he is becomes hers. The two become one flesh. So Christ in his righteousness has come to the world for us, and he has taken all our liabilities and he has discharged all our debts, and given to us all that he has and is and ever will be. We are joined to him for ever. We take his name, his inheritance, the love the Father has for him, the home he has prepared for us, his protection and his love. The righteousness of Christ becomes ours as we entrust ourselves to him. So when we come to Christ we make a bundle of all our filthy garments and we destroy them, and we make a bundle of all our righteousnesses that come from the law, and we destroy them too, and we hide ourselves in the righteousness of Christ that we receive by faith. That was the great discovery that the apostle Paul made.
3. WHAT CHARACTERISES THOSE WHO HAVE RECEIVED THIS RIGHTEOUSNESS?
Have you received Jesus Christ and his righteousness? What are the marks of those who claim, “The Lord is my righteousness”?
i] THERE IS A GROWING KNOWLEDGE OF CHRIST JESUS AS YOUR LORD.
Paul speaks here of “the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (v.8). How little he knew Christ when he first met him on the Damascus Road. Christ was so glorious a figure. Paul knew that he was the Lord, but he knew little else about him except that he claimed he was the Messiah, and he had been crucified and killed outside the walls of Jerusalem a year or so earlier. So Paul began to learn about him from the Scripture and from months spent in the presence of Christ by himself in a lonely place in Arabia. He made many glorious discoveries as Jesus Christ revealed himself to Paul. How he grew in understanding, so that he was able to write the letters to the Romans and the Ephesians which have enriched mankind for two thousands years.
It is like that for everyone when he is converted. We come just as we are without one plea. We have little understanding of what Jesus Christ has done. We don’t know the meaning of atonement, and reconciliation, and propitiation, and justification, and adoption, and sanctification. We are only aware of this, that Jesus loves us, this we know, for the Bible tells us so. There is the long life of discipleship, and walking with Christ. There is apostolic truth found here in the Bible, and a growing appreciation of it and hunger to know him better – what Paul describes as the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. There is no diminishing of that desire in those clothed in the righteousness of Christ, but steady progress and greater appreciation. Are you growing in the surpassing knowledge of the Lord Jesus? Are you discovering more of the treasures of wisdom and knowledge found in him?
ii] THERE IS GREATER CONSECRATION IN SERVING THIS LORD.
“Whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to” knowing Christ (v.7). With the growing knowledge there came an increased realisation that things had to change. There was new faith in Christ alone. There was new distrust in one’s own life. There were new attitudes, new values, new self-denial and self-control, new service, new aspirations, new forgiveness. If Jesus Christ were the God the Son who had become my Lord then I was called to live for him, and anything that came between me and living for him I had to discard it from my life. If my right eye offended me so that I lost a comforting sight of Jesus then I cut it out. If my right hand offended me then it was loss to me and I cut it off. I had to have Christ at my right hand all the time. The great test for every activity, every relationship, every pleasure, every grief, all my use of the time and gifts God had given me was this – did it advance my knowledge of Christ my Lord? That growing consecration characterises the lives of those to whom the righteousness of Christ is imputed.
iii] THERE IS SUFFERING THAT KEEPS IN TANDEM WITH GROWING KNOWLEDGE AND CONSECRATION.
“For whose sake I have lost all things” (v.8). Paul lost his home and family when he went to them and told them that he believed that Jesus of Nazareth, crucified at the condemnation of the Sanhedrin, was in fact the long expected Messiah, and that he was going to spend the rest of his life worshipping and serving him, telling the Gentiles that this Jesus was the Son of God. Then his parents showed him the door, held a funeral service and told everyone that their son Saul was dead. He lost his career in the Pharisees. He lost his peace to sit and talk with his Jewish friends. From that time on he lived with a few clothes and possessions in a bundle on his back, and he survived by making tents and the occasional gifts that Christians took to him. In the end he lost his liberty, and spent years in prison and he may have lost his life also for Christ. Those sufferings came to him when he rejected his own righteousness and received by faith the righteousness of Christ. The sufferings were all for Christ’s sake. They drew him nearer to the Lord. How precious Christ became in the prison and while Paul knew the pain of the thorn in the flesh. The pinpricks and the calamities all became a route to greater blessedness from Christ.
iv] THERE IS GROWING SATISFACTION IN SUCH A LIFE.
“I consider … [what I have lost] rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him” (vv 8&9). Paul doesn’t want back any of those great attainments. He has no regrets about bidding them farewell and dismissing them from his life. Who wants the men who gather our refuse to turn up a week or month later and return to us what we have evacuated from our lives? Who is going to go scavenging through the tip after one has been given all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. Who will look fondly at the rubbish dump when one has the pearl of great price? What will you find in this world system which rejects Christ? The Son of God we have: the Son of God we want more and more. “More, more about Jesus!” It is he who satisfies. More than all in him we’ve found. It is he we would gain. We have had him maybe fifty years but we still are coming to him and saying, “More of Thyself reveal.” He cannot be taken from us, but the thought of losing him gives us a chill. We cannot face the future without him. He is our only hope for salvation, not ceremonies, not privileges, not religion and works of righteousness. We don’t care if we die or live. If we die we shall be with Christ. If we live Christ shall be with us. I could wish that every one of us would say to the people of this town next week that we are satisfied with Christ. Less is not desired; more is not needed. We are content to live in Christ and die in him, and when we stand before the throne of God all our plea will be that Jesus loved me and gave himself for me. That is a Christian and that is eternal life.
19th January 2003 GEOFF THOMAS