“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 apostle Paul knows what it’s like to seek his own righteousness by his good works and his right beliefs. He knows firsthand about trusting in his heritage and his holy deeds. He tells the Philippians he has reasons for such confidence. He claims he has more reasons than anybody else to put his faith in his works.
I’ve been circumcised, Paul says. I know what that means. Not only that, my father is from the royal tribe of Benjamin. My dad named me after Israel’s first king. I speak both Hebrew and Aramaic. I’ve memorized the Holy Scriptures. I have diplomas from the highest rated synagogue schools. I studied under Gamaliel – he personally signed my dissertation. And I’m a Pharisee. You can’t find a more devout, more orthodox keeper of the Law than me. You can’t find anyone more enthusiastic, more on fire for our God and his commands and our traditions. I have no tolerance for commandment breakers. You want to talk about keeping every single letter of the Law? You want to compare legalistic righteousness according to doctrine and interpretation and teaching and practice? Buddy, I am it! Perfect! Blameless! Faultless! All the rituals! All the feasts! All the prayers! All the washings! I am righteous!
But Paul realized all that added up to a big fat zero. Nothing. He’s got nothing. All his life’s work, all his commandment-keeping, all it earned Paul was a righteousness of his own, not God’s righteousness. And God’s righteousness is the only righteousness that counts.
Like an auditor, like an accountant, Paul takes all his assets, all the good things, all the good works he’s done, who he is ethnically and nationally, where he lives, how he was raised – he takes all those good things and he transfers them into the liabilities column. The things he always assumed assured him of righteousness, the black ink on the left hand side of the books, he moved over to the right hand side in red. These are losses.
I’ve got a life ledger, too. I know about my good works and my right beliefs.
Raised by godly parents in the godly state of Texas. Third generation member of the Pleasant Grove Church of Christ, where I spent my childhood and formative years. My grandfathers and father, my uncles and cousins – almost all of them are elders and preachers and song leaders and deacons and teachers in God’s Church. Baptized into Christ, by immersion, for the forgiveness of sins, at the age of accountability, in church, on a Sunday morning – “Trust and Obey” was the invitation song. Dallas Christian. Oklahoma Christian University. Austin Graduate School of Theology. Two semesters of Greek! Deacon. Bible class teacher. Men’s ministry. Service projects. Communion to shut-ins. Hospital visits. Feeding the poor. Gospel preacher.
That’s my book. How much holiness does that earn me? How much righteousness do I have because of all that?
None. Nothing. A big fat zero.
Paul realized he had to lose his religion to gain the righteousness of God. And if we can’t do the same thing, we’re in trouble.
Our doctrine. Our traditions. Our practices. Our beliefs. Our good works. Our weekly Lord’s Supper. Our baptism rituals. Our food-packing and missions-giving. Our worship. The name on our sign. None of that makes you or me righteous. They’re all good things, wonderful things. But none of it makes us right with God.
I want to know Christ. This is more than a motto. This is our salvation. Christ Jesus has become for us our holiness, righteousness, and redemption (1 Corinthians 1:30). This is everything.
Now, Paul did not count his heritage or his good works as rubbish. He didn’t stop keeping God’s commands or renounce his schooling. He didn’t seek circumcision reversal surgery. Those things are not worthless. His FAITH in those things is worthless. Confidence in his own law-keeping and ritual following is rubbish. Faith in his heritage and his practices – that’s a loss, not a gain. Paul realized, as we all must, that his own righteousness cannot save him. He can only trust the righteousness that comes from God through faith in Christ. Us, too.