THE RIGHTEOUSNESS THAT COMES FROM KNOWING CHRIST: Philippians 3:8- 11
Reflection | Paul is in the middle of offering a rebuttal. He is countering the assertions of those who have embraced Jesus as the Messiah while at the same time trying to require adherence to the requirements and practices of Judaism. Otherwise known as “Judaizers,” they insisted that in order to receive the full salvation of the Gospel in Christ, all Gentile converts needed to abide by the Law of Moses, including the ritual of physical circumcision.
Paul has rejected this premise as a dangerous and faulty assertion of self-confidence. To make such a claim falsely presumes the merit or achievement of one’s own work and goodness – rather than to fully depend on the grace of God exercised through the person and work of Jesus Christ. For a moment, Paul assumes the argument of those with whom he disagrees. If it’s all about personal status and achievement, Paul is more than willing to flash the impressive credentials of his birth, his education, and his reputation.
But then, Paul underscores his point by declaring all his “gains” as “loss for the sake of Christ” (v. 7). He goes on, “What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus…” (v. 8). Paul willingly relinquishes and forfeits all claims, all the advantages and privileges of his heritage, training, and achievements. For Paul, reaching the kind of personal milestones most of us would dream of, accomplishing what most of the world still views as the pinnacle of success, is nothing but “garbage” – or more appropriately and yet shockingly translated, “excrement.”
One of Paul’s favorite words is “righteousness.” He uses this word as he continues here speaking of “not having a righteousness of my own” but “the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith” (v. 9). The distinction Paul delineates here is one between a moral righteousness and an attributed righteousness. In purely human terms, righteousness is a measure of being good, true, and justified according to our definition of what is moral and right. Biblically however, righteousness is defined as very character of God. Therefore, being righteous is being right in the eyes of our Creator, fully reflecting the image of God in terms of our character (nature), conscience (attitude), conduct (action), and following of God’s command (His word).
In our divorce from the Lord through our rejection and rebellion against God’s will and direction for our lives, what is otherwise known as sin, we are incapable of living up to this standard of righteousness. Our desires, thoughts, deeds, and obedience do not perfectly conform to that of the Lord’s. Righteousness, then, is not something we earn, merit, or claim on our own – according to our definition or our effort. In fact, any attempt to do so only further contributes to our unrighteousness – of making ourselves God rather than yielding to the One who alone is God.
Paul has learned this the hard way. When he first started on that Damascus Road, Paul perceived he had it all – that he was as righteous – as good as one could get. But when he encountered Jesus on that road, Paul received a new revelation. True righteousness was not something he could ever achieve. It was something he could only receive from Christ’s sacrificial, victorious, and redemptive work on his behalf. As Paul expresses it in another letter, “God made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21).
Righteousness, Paul discovered, is a gift from God. A status we are graciously given by God in Christ even though we don’t deserve it or merit it. A state of being that becomes actualized as our character, our conscience, and our conduct are changed by Jesus through the work of the Spirit. While this righteousness, this salvation is offered universally, it must be received by each of us. And this means more than praying a prayer. This involves more than an intellectual or heartfelt assent of belief in Jesus. Righteousness and salvation are ours by faith – through continually relying upon and putting our trust in Jesus.
Paul is not complacent in embracing this righteousness that comes from God. We cannot but hear his earnestness and his commitment to following Jesus when he writes, “I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death” (v. 10). The kind of knowledge Paul invokes here is not merely intellectual knowledge about Jesus. Paul’s desire is relational knowledge. Being in regular conversation with Jesus. Repeatedly looking to Jesus as his mentor and guide in doing life. Accurately representing his reliance upon Jesus through whatever he says or does.
Paul recognizes to truly know Jesus in this way means one will suffer like Christ. Jesus told us plainly to follow him we must die to ourselves. To be transformed, we must be changed – and change requires a release, a relinquishment of attitudes, prejudices, and practices that are not of the Lord. But let us also notice that for Paul, gaining and living out of such knowledge was possible because of the dynamic power of Christ’s resurrection. The resurrection isn’t just a past, historical event. Resurrection isn’t just our reward on the other side of our physical death. The power of Christ’s resurrection is what enables us to die to ourselves without fear. And for Paul, this power of the Resurrection has been extended to us through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. As he writes elsewhere, “the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you” (Romans 8:11).
Beloved, our righteousness has nothing to do with what we do. It does not derive from all our achievements and accolades. In Christ, it does not waver based upon our continuing shortcomings or any feelings of personal inadequacy and unworthiness. Our right standing with God has everything to do with Jesus’ redemptive work and our daily dependence upon him. The only thing that really counts is knowing Jesus – following Christ tangibly and practically with every breath, with every step we take together. Anything and everything else in our lives is either a blessing to that end or a curse that keeps us from it.
Consider & Discuss | Is righteousness something you do or is it something you are? Are you doing what is right in your own eyes or are being made right through the work of the Spirt in you? How well do you know Jesus? How is your knowledge of Jesus more than just in your head or in your heart? How is your knowledge of Jesus leading you to Christ-likeness – becoming more like Jesus?
Prayer Focus | Righteous God, apart from You, we can do nothing. Apart from Your intervention in our lives in Christ, all we work for, all we boast about, all we think we have achieved is worthless. And yet we confess how easily and how often we can become “the elder son or daughter” in that parable Jesus taught us – indignantly standing outside the door of Your Kingdom unless we get our perceived respect and due. Protect us, free us from our own self-righteousness. Our worth and the value of our lives comes from Your grace alone. We claim nothing but Your love. We ask for nothing but Your mercy. We will abide in nothing but Your presence, wisdom, and direction. Amen.