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Knowing Christ

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What gain do you have? It’s an important question because we all have something that makes us exceptional, something that we want to be acknowledged before God and people. These days I’ve been going to academic conferences for work. These conferences are on theology and the Bible primarily. There are quite a few badges of honor held in high regard. Many of them include, on some level, competence and peer approval. Some of them are quite odd. One professor I worked with is a younger guy. His badge of honor was this horrible green sport coat. This thing was remarkable. Unmistakable. It was his coat of many colors. I’m not sure I’ve seen a tweed with that many colors in it. It was bad. But he loved this thing. When he lost it briefly when traveling, he wrote a blog post about it, lamenting his loss. We all have our badges of honor. Some more mainstream than others. They can be big things or insignificant things, at least to others.
So what is it for you? Maybe it’s the college you went to, or the fact that you didn’t need college. Maybe it’s money, or hard work, or overcoming some adversity. Maybe it’s children or grandchildren. Maybe it’s musical gifting. It could be humility. We all bring something to the table. Good things. Gifts from God. Things to be thankful for.
In the verses leading up to this morning’s passage, Paul mentions a few of his.
You can see this in Philippians 3:4-6
Philippians 3:4–6 ESV
though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for 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; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.
Paul does not seem to be modeling humility for us at this point. He’s got a strong resume, by earthly standards, at least for a first century adherent of Judaism. He brings a lot to the table: his religious and cultural background, his status in the religious elite. His family tree. If there was a first century, Jewish equivalent to the saying, “If you’re not Dutch, you’re not much,” you can bet that Paul knew it. He brought character traits, his zeal, as he mentions, and to cap it off, a blameless righteousness under the law. But he had a realization when he met Christ.
Philippians 3:7 ESV
But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ.
These things in our lives, these good things, things that make us who we are, things we like on Facebook to show that they are a part of our identity, when they go up against Christ, they need to lose. Jesus said that
Matthew 13:44 ESV
“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.
And that’s what Paul does. He says
Philippians 3:8 ESV
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
Paul is describing a moment of conversion, of repentance. He may be alluding to Isaiah 64:6 which says
Isaiah 64:6 ESV
We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.
Paul’s eyes were opened, literally, and he understood that these merit badges we carry around with us, don’t ultimately hold us up. They aren’t the things in life that keep us afloat. They cause us to sink. They weigh us down in the moment that Jesus calls us out on the water to come to him. What we need to do is take off the coat they are hanging on. Paul let his life medals sink to the bottom of the sea. He counted them as the loss that really were for the sake of his new and greater prize, knowing, experiencing Jesus Christ.
If Christ needed him, he was ready to leave anything and everything to follow and obey. Not just because of the benefits he could receive from knowing Christ, but instead, knowing Christ, was his benefit. And he was willing to lose everything else in order to truly know Christ and follow him, not just the things he didn’t care much about anyway. Not just his As Seen on TV collection, but his identity, his conception of what is honorable, his life’s work, his connections and he found his new identity, sense of honor, life’s work and connections in Christ, but he wasn’t just trading up to Christian things. He was trading up to Jesus Christ himself. It’s just that, in his goodness, Christ caused those things to follow.
That’s why it’s important that if you’re going to let your life achievements and very identity fall into the sea, it had better be the real Jesus that’s calling to you on the water. Paul knows that these things are not rubbish in and of themselves (except maybe the As Seen on TV collection). No, these things are rubbish in comparison to the actual, real, person of Jesus Christ as he truly is. When comparing them to a false conception of Christ, to a Jesus we’ve created in our own image, maybe it’s a push. In fact, if we’re holding to a Jesus we’ve created in our own image, a healthy, wealthy Jesus, a republican or democrat Jesus, an all roads lead to God Jesus, a judgmental, stingy Jesus, or a simple comforts Jesus, if we’re holding to any one of these Jesus pin merit badges, they need to drop to the bottom of the sea along with our accomplishments, ethnic identity, and life’s work, when the real Jesus calls us out on the water.
If knowing Christ is the goal, then it needs to be the real Christ, and it needs to be really knowing him, not just knowing about him, not just knowing Jesus as a set of principles that govern your behavior. Such things are good things, but they are not worth considering the defining things of your life as rubbish. Less than actually knowing the actual Jesus Christ is not worth considering the good things in your life as rubbish.
And maybe that’s why we settle for knowing about Christ. Maybe that’s why we settle for lesser Jesuses. It’s only the real Christ who is worth considering the good things in your life as rubbish. And maybe that’s why us Western Christians avoid pursuing Christ like we should. We have a lot to lose. We have a lot of good things to consider rubbish. If we never encounter the real Jesus Christ, maybe we won’t have to leave our merit badges, our medals behind. If we settle for knowing about Christ, maybe he will never call us out on the water.
But if that’s our secret hope, will we ever gain him, as Paul does? And will we ever gain the immense blessings that Christ bestows on those who truly know him?
Paul lays out what they look like, starting in verse 9
Philippians 3:9 ESV
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—
The first benefit of truly knowing Christ is being found in him. We will come back to this in a moment. Paul goes on, demonstrating that he doesn’t settle for his own righteousness that comes from the Law, one of the things that used to define him. But no longer. The Law isn’t the most important thing about him any more. Christ is the most important thing about him. Christ is how he justifies his existence. Christ is the goodness in his life. Why wear your own dingy righteousness around proudly when you can wear the righteousness of Christ? Why find your identity in your family or your wealth or your smarts or your virtue, when you can find your identity in Christ? Knowing Christ, truly knowing him, means you get real righteousness, God’s own righteousness. And that’s not a righteousness that’s focused on keeping up appearances. It’s not a fragile righteousness to manage and fret over. It is a right standing with the only person for whom standing matters.
Paul doesn’t even have his own Law righteousness anymore. He’s traded his rubbish righteousness for God’s incorruptible righteousness in Christ Jesus.
And because Paul is found in Christ, and has traded in his own garbage righteousness for Christ’s incorruptible righteousness, this allows, in verse 10
Philippians 3:10–11 ESV
that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
Paul has access to the person of Christ, and because of this, access to the power of his resurrection, the ability to share in Christ’s sufferings, becoming like Christ in both death and in resurrection. Paul wants to suffer as Christ did, die Christ’s death with him and live in the power of Christ’s resurrection life. This identification with the person of Christ is only possible because of Christ’s death and resurrection. In those events, Christ paves the way for people to enter into his death and resurrection. This happens powerfully in Christian baptism.
I’m not getting any more mystical than Paul himself in Romans 6:3-6
Romans 6:3–6 ESV
Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.
There is a bond with Christ that happens in the moment of baptism. A dying when you’re put under the water. The evil of the Egyptian army, of our sinful past, drowns and is buried. And up through the water, like Israel through the parted sea, like Christ out of the depths of the grave, we rise a new person. A new creation who finds life purpose and meaning in identifying with Christ in his sufferings, in his victory over sin, and in his new kind of existence. This beginning of being unified with Christ and his resurrection is not just a new status before God, though it is certainly that, but it’s a powerful step on the path toward our own physical experience of resurrection. We know this because in verse 12, Paul shows us that his identification with Christ in his death and resurrection has not been attained in its fullness. Verse 12 reads
Philippians 3:12–14 ESV
Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
Paul lived this out. Paul has his new identity, his new purpose, his new life’s work, his new citizenship. Because of this Paul does something scandalous. He works. He strives. Paul presses on, he pursues the promise of the resurrection from the dead with the same vigor that he used to pursue and persecute the church. The Greek word for “press on” is the same here. He pressed on after the church to persecute it, but now, the new Paul, the spiritually dead and resurrected Paul, presses on after the promise of knowing Christ and experiencing the resurrection from the dead in a physical, literal way.
He doesn’t claim to have reached it already. If he had, pressing on wouldn’t make much sense. Going back to our analogy of walking on the water: to drop the things that weigh you down, and even to begin walking to Jesus, these things are good, but they are not the same as having walked on the water all the way to Jesus. Paul wasn’t there yet, and neither are we. There seems to be a corrective here. As he says elsewhere,
1 Corinthians 10:12 ESV
Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.
Be wary of perfect people. Be perfect, as your Father in heaven is perfect, but to think that you are perfect is probably not accurate. Paul shows us that you can’t attain perfection by aiming at perfection. Paul doesn’t see his striving as the way to make the resurrection his own. It isn’t his sheer will to rise from death that allows him to rise from death. If it was, then a great number of power hungry dictators would have done so over the centuries. Sheer will isn’t what is powering his striving. It’s love, love of Christ. Paul looks at Christ who has made Paul his own, and he lives into that love. The outcome of living into the love that Christ has shown in making you his prize, is to make Christ your prize. And to make Christ your prize brings resurrection as a result. Through Christ’s righteousness, his death, his resurrection, Christ has made himself the attainable prize. Paul’s love of Christ is what’s powering him, and Christ’s love for Paul is what brings about Paul’s love for Christ. And Paul’s prizing Christ means that he will attain the resurrection, because Christ wants to be attained to, and the resurrection is the perfect and complete, final way to attain Christ, our prize.
Our passage today is showing us something of the already, the now, and the not yet of Scripture. Jesus already died and rose, that’s the already. We will someday rise again just like Jesus did; that’s the not yet. These very powerful events mean something very powerful for the now. In fact, these powerful events break in to the now and overwhelm it. We live in Christ, having died with him. And since we are united to Christ in his death, and since we are united to him in his resurrection, we have a new life; in the future, yes, but we experience Christ’s resurrection life right now. We wear a new righteousness. We have a new identity. We have a new purpose. And we have a new power because Christ Jesus has made us his own.
So let’s drop our badges of honor, and let’s press on to our new goal, to truly know Christ and to be united to him, in life, in death, and in the resurrection. How do we do this. What can we do to press on like Paul did? Well, we are talking about grace here, so we can ask. We can ask that Jesus would remove barriers to seeing him truly and knowing him. We can ask for God to bring the reality of being united to him into focus. Perhaps that means looking back on your baptism, or seeking baptism. Ask for the courage to abandon to God the things that cause you to sink as he calls you out on the water. Ask that you are given the strength by the Holy Spirit to press on toward Christ, living your life in his presence, in his death, and in his resurrection.
Let’s pray.
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