Paul has been using accounting language in the early verses of Philippians 3 to express what happened when he was saved. It involved jettisoning all that he had formerly depended upon to make him worthy before God—his good deeds, his religiosity, his scruples and moral values, his circumcision (which would be similar to us thinking we have to be baptized to be saved), his top-notch religious pedigree, his all-out commitment level, his superior behavior—all of that Paul gave up to know, in an intimate way, Jesus Christ.
That is the first thing we noted that Paul had gained—knowing Jesus Christ, which is the essence of eternal life.
That is revealed in Philippians 3:7-8
7 But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ
This personal relationship built on interactive knowledge is expressed at the end of verse 8 as “that I may gain Christ.” Everything he once depended on is now in the “loss column,” but Christ is in the “asset column.”
To “gain Christ” expresses how deep this knowledge is. It speaks of being intertwined in a bond of intimate love and knowledge so that you are joined to Christ: you are in Him and He is in you.
Paul loves that concept. Paul uses the words “in Him” and “in Christ” and like terms 164 times throughout his epistles.
Union with Christ is the second exceedingly valuable experience that Paul had gained with Christ.
We are in Christ, placed into Christ by the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Now we are united to Him in everything and every way (except that we are not divine gods). Paul says in Galatians 2:20…
20 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
In Christ we died to sin. In Christ we rose to newness of life with an appetite now for righteousness. Christ, who is our righteousness, now lives in me. When I put my trust in Him fully and solely, He lives His righteous life through me so that I become righteous in practice.
That is why our righteousness now is not self-produced. It is produced by trusting Jesus Christ to live His righteous life through my life. It doesn’t come from myself; it comes from Christ.
Paul would likely say, “I don’t actually know where I end and Christ begins. We are so inextricably intertwined—that’s how deep and personal this relationship is.”
So, for Christ I have suffered the loss of all things. And I count them as “dung,” “manure,” “garbage” in order that I may gain Christ. “I’ve suffered the loss of all things,” Paul says. “And I don’t mind one bit. It’s all skubalon to me. That’s the Greek word for “dung,” “excrement.” Paul says, “I’ve flushed that down the toilet. It means nothing to me now.”
So the first benefit of this exchange is that when we make it we enter into a deep, personal, growing knowledge and love of Christ. And vice versa, He knows me in that deep, personal way and loves me. That grows out of the second benefit, being united with Christ.
The third benefit we see in this passage involves the righteousness of Christ. Paul says in verse 9…
9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—
Paul is talking here about justification.
You know what Paul had spent his whole life doing? Whole adult life? Doing what he says in the first half of the verse, “trying to gain a righteousness of his own that comes from the law,” or “law-keeping.”
That’s what he had spent his whole life doing. That was the essence of Judaism. That is why he became a Pharisee. He was one of the elite 6,000 Pharisees, who believed that they could attain salvation by perfect adherence to the law of God.
What kind of righteousness is Paul talking about? It’s a righteousness of good works, it’s self-righteousness. It is righteousness produced by self effort, in one’s own strength (and generally) for one’s own glory.
Righteousness is doing right. It’s doing the best you can. Like the Army commercial says, “Be the best you can be.”
But “the best we can be” is never, ever, good enough.
Paul had tried it. And he wasn’t alone. In Romans 10 Paul’s own heart breaks for Israel. Why? Because they didn’t understand God’s righteousness and they sought to establish their own. That’s their whole problem—life-long effort to establish their own righteousness through good works, traditions, sincerity, ceremony, ritual, etc. Even having a deep, passionate love for God (or Christ) is not enough.
As Philip Melanchthon said:
“If somebody believes that he obtains the forgiveness of sins because he loves, he insults Christ and in God’s judgment he will discover that this trust in his own righteousness was wicked and empty” (Apologia)
Well, from God’s viewpoint all of those things put together is not good enough. Remember Isaiah 64:6? “All our righteousnesses are like filthy rags?”
You see, Romans 3:20 says, “For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight,” not a single one. By the works of the law, by doing the law, does not justify a person, doesn’t make them right in God’s eyes.
As Spurgeon once put it so well, good morals can keep a person out of jail, but only Jesus Christ can keep a person out of hell.
Paul had spent his whole life trying to achieve his own righteousness, but like Martin Luther, it suddenly dawned on Paul that righteousness was not a goal to be achieved, but a gift to be received.
Paul now wanted and gloried in this new righteousness, this “alien righteousness,” which comes not from ourselves, but from God through faith. When Martin Luther was reading Romans 1:16-17 which says
16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 For in it [the gospel] the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”
R. C. Sproul explains…
He says, “Here in it,” in the gospel, “the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith, as it is written, ‘the just shall live by faith.’” A verse taken from the book of Habakkuk in the Old Testament that is cited three times in the New Testament. And Luther would stop short and say, “What does this mean, that there’s this righteousness that is by faith, and from faith to faith? What does it mean that the righteous shall live by faith?”
And he began to understand that what Paul was speaking of here was a righteousness that God in His grace was making available to those who would receive it passively, not those who would achieve it actively, but that would receive it by faith, and by which a person could be reconciled to a holy and righteous God.
Now there was a linguistic issue that was going on here too. And it was this, that the Latin word for justification that was used at this time in church history was—and it’s the word from which we get the English word justification—the Latin word justificare. And it came from the Roman judicial system. And the term justificare is made up of the word justus, which is justice or righteousness, and the verb, the infinitive facare, which means to make. And so, the Latin fathers understood the doctrine of justification is what happens when God, through the sacraments of the church and elsewhere, make unrighteous people righteous.
But Luther was looking now at the Greek word that was in the New Testament, not the Latin word. The word dikaios, dikaiosune, which didn’t mean to make righteous, but rather to regard as righteous, to count as righteous, to declare as righteous. And this was the moment of awakening for Luther. He said, “You mean, here Paul is not talking about the righteousness by which God Himself is righteous, but a righteousness that God gives freely by His grace to people who don’t have righteousness of their own.”
And so Luther said, “Woah, you mean the righteousness by which I will be saved, is not mine?” It’s what he called a justitia alienum, an alien righteousness; a righteousness that belongs properly to somebody else. It’s a righteousness that is extra nos, outside of us. Namely, the righteousness of Christ. And Luther said, “When I discovered that, I was born again of the Holy Ghost. And the doors of paradise swung open, and I walked through.”
So the righteousness that justifies doesn’t come from ourselves, but from God; and it doesn’t come by the works of the law but by faith.
Now, let’s talk about this word “faith” for a moment. The Greek is literally “through the faith of Christ” and some have taken this to speak of Christ’s faith, or rather faithfulness. His obedience to God is the store of righteousness that is credited to our account.
But I think the “faith about Christ” or “faith in Christ” fits the context better as the counterpart to the works of the law. It is our faith in Christ that receives the righteousness of Christ and we are justified before God.
Now, what is faith? Faith is much more than mere intellectual knowledge, or even emotional agreement. It is built upon those things, but ultimately faith is the decision to place my whole trust in Jesus Christ alone for my justification.
Faith is not a ladder I must climb, but a lifeline extended towards me. We don’t have to climb a ladder or ascend a wall, simply walk through a narrow door.
I love the story of Charles Blondin to illustrate the nature of faith and the importance of making a decision to totally rely on someone else.
Charles Blondin was a tightrope walker who stretched a tightrope across Niagara Falls in the mid-19th century.
He walked 160 feet above the falls several times back and forth between Canada and the United States as huge crowds on both sides looked on with shock and awe. Once he crossed in a sack, once on stilts, once blindfolded, another time on a bicycle, and once he even carried a stove and cooked an omelet!
On July 15, Blondin walked backward across the tightrope to Canada and returned pushing a wheelbarrow.
The Blondin story is told that it was after pushing a wheelbarrow across while blindfolded that Blondin asked for some audience participation. The crowds had watched and “Ooooohed” and “Aaaaahed!” He had proven that he could do it; of that, there was no doubt. But now he was asking for a volunteer to get into the wheelbarrow and take a ride across the Falls with him!
It is said that he asked his audience, “Do you believe I can carry a person across in this wheelbarrow?” Of course the crowd shouted that yes, they believed!
It was then that Blondin posed the question – “Who will get in the wheelbarrow?’
Of course…none did.
Nobody really believed that he could carry them safely across.
You might know a lot about Jesus Christ and appreciate that He is both God and man and that historically He did die on the cross and rose from the dead. You might want him to be your Savior because you know that you are a sinner.
But unless you put your faith into action by making a decision to stop trusting in yourself and your own ability to be righteousness and instead you put all your trust fully in Jesus Christ, you will not be justified.
Faith is putting all your confidence, all your hope, in Jesus Christ alone to save you. There is no “Jesus and…” this or that, but “Jesus alone.”
“As long as one keeps clinging, even in the slightest degree, to his own righteousness, he cannot fully enjoy Christ’s. The two simply do not go together. The one must be fully given up before the other can be fully appropriated.” (William Hendriksen, p. 165).
Do you want the work of Christ in your behalf, or your own efforts to try to please God? Paul came to realize that one was better by far—having Christ’s obedience and law keeping put in his account.
That happens not by trying but by trusting. Paul had a lifetime of trying. He traded it in for a life of trusting.
Like someone has said, “All the world religions are spelled D-O, do.” “But Christianity is spelled D-O-N-E, done.” It has all been done for us and we just receive it by faith. We have been saved “by grace through faith” (Eph. 2:8), “not as a result of works” (2:9).
In biblical terms, grace includes forgiveness from God that is undeserved, unearned, and unrepayable.
Faith is best described this way: Faith is the confident, continuous confession of total dependence and trust in Jesus Christ for the necessary requirements for entrance into God’s kingdom.
Remember how Paul began this exposition with the words “rejoice in the Lord”?
Joy in God, then, is inextricably linked to justification by faith alone. “The surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” will not be fully enjoyed apart from being joined to Jesus by faith and having his righteousness, which far surpasses our own, as the only grounds of our acceptance before God. A robust, solid embrace of justification by faith alone is essential for the life of Christian joy.
To the degree that we believe God’s acceptance of us rises or falls by our own merit, our joy is compromised.
John Bunyan (1628–1688), the persecuted Baptist pastor and author of Pilgrim’s Progress recalled the day, walking through a field, when the Spirit opened to him the glory of justification by faith alone — and with it opened for him the floodgates for the pursuit of joy. After much distress and anguish of heart, he says, he finally saw
that it was not my good frame of heart that made my righteousness better, nor yet my bad frame that made my righteousness worse, for my righteousness was Jesus Christ himself, “The same yesterday, today, and forever.” Heb. 13:8. Now did my chains fall off my legs indeed. . . . Now I went also home rejoicing for the grace and love of God.
Such has been the testimony of many, among the dead and the living. As John Piper writes,
The great gospel weapon in the fight for joy is the rock-solid reality that we are counted righteous in Christ by faith alone. . . . That gospel weapon is powerful only to the degree we keep the basis of our justification free from our own performances. God accepts us on the basis of Christ’s righteousness, not ours. . . . Oh, what a difference it makes to be assured, in the discouraging darkness of our own imperfection, that we have a perfect righteousness — namely, Christ’s. (When I Don’t Desire God, 85)
So also Bunyan and Piper have experienced, with the apostle Paul, that the full acceptance of God, by faith alone, on the basis of Christ’s righteousness alone, is essential to the unencumbered and uncompromised pursuit of joy.
Remember that Paul had said he “counted all things loss” (v. 7) and then in verse 8 he said he “counts everything as loss.” It will be a continual battle to maintain your faith and joy and glory in Christ. It is so easy to slide back into legalism, into believing that I have to earn my way into God’s favor today through spiritual disciplines, or ecstatic experiences. We wear ourselves out on the treadmill of performance and feel like failures, or we judge others to make ourselves feel better.
We have to learn to rest in Christ, to remember that we are “complete in him” (Col. 2:10) and that His love for us never changes.