A New Creation in Christ1
Paul has just enumerated the earthly and fleshly achievements in which he might have put his confidence had he not met Christ. But we now hear him say: “Whatever gain I had because of these privileges and achievements and fame that happily came my way, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ!” Continue reading . . .
“Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you is no trouble to me and is safe for you. Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh. For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh—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. But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 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 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—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” (Phil. 3:1-11).
Paul has just enumerated the earthly and fleshly achievements in which he might have put his confidence had he not met Christ. But we now hear him say: “Whatever gain I had because of these privileges and achievements and fame that happily came my way, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ!”
Can you hear in Paul’s words the echo of what he wrote in 2 Corinthians 5:17? There he declared that “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.” Yes, that’s right, if someone such as I used to be, a man who at one time put all his hopes and dreams in his earthly, fleshly achievements, if even someone like that “is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away, behold, the new has come.”
Think again in terms of a ledger book, with one side listing all your assets, all your possessions, all your personal holdings; with the other side listing all your liabilities and debts; everything you owe. Paul is saying that on the side of my assets one would find everything in vv. 4-6, and no doubt much, much more. And in that I took great pride. In that I placed my confidence and hope. On the other side, where one’s debts and liabilities would be listed, there was nothing. And it was the source of great personal pride in my heart.
But then I was captivated on the Damascus Road by the risen Christ. Ever since that day, everything that I formerly considered an asset or a credit shifted to the other side and is now a liability, a debt. That in which I used to take great pride is now an indictment against me and a threat to the welfare of my soul.
And then, in one glorious act of divine mercy and love, God took the blood of Jesus Christ and wiped clean from the ledger of my life every deficit, every debt, every liability, every sin, and every failure. But he didn’t stop there. Oh, praise God that he didn’t stop there. He directed my eyes back to the asset side of the ledger and there I saw one word: Christ! He is my only asset! He is my only credit! He is my only hope! All my confidence and trust is now in him alone!
Dear friend, listen to me. If there is but one event, a singular experience, one possession, one act of your own will, that you regard as an asset that stands equally with Jesus Christ on the ledger of your life, you are lost! If there is anything in which you are trusting other than Jesus, anyone you are claiming besides him, any righteous act or good intention beyond what is found in Jesus alone, you are lost!
Let me make several observations on how Paul proceeds to unpack this glorious truth.
First, note that what Paul once counted loss in the past, he still counts as loss into the present. In v. 7 he uses the past tense, “counted,” but in v. 8 he uses the present tense, “count.” The past decision is still a present, on-going reality in his life. I have counted it as loss and I still count it as loss! The settled decision I made when I first came to faith in Christ is still the ruling principle and power of my life.
Second, as we saw in an earlier article on this paragraph, the reason or ground or cause of Paul’s transformation is . . . “the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord!” Paul embraced Jesus by faith because in comparison with all earthly praise and possessions he is of unparalleled excellence; he is of supreme advantage; he is of inestimable value.
Third, note that he does not speak merely of knowing “that” Christ is Lord or knowing “about” Christ as Lord. He knows Christ, my Lord! This is the language of personal relationship, the language of love and intimacy. Is it language that you can embrace as your own?
Fourth, he regards those things he once prized as something more than mere liabilities or loss. When compared with the surpassing greatness of knowing Jesus he considered them “rubbish” (v. 8). Let me be as graphic as Paul intended to be. The Greek word translated “rubbish” (skubala) was often used to refer to table scraps or leftovers, and thus carried the connotation of rubbish or trash or something spoiled and deserving only to be cast aside and thrown away. Eventually it came to be used of piles of manure or excrement.
The force or sting of this incredibly vulgar term is designed to highlight in the most vivid way possible the totality of Paul’s transformation, the radical extent of his embrace of Jesus above all else. It is as if he says, “I’m utterly sickened and nauseated by the things in which I used to put my hope and confidence. Now, all I have is Christ!”
Fifth, please don’t misunderstand Paul. He’s not saying that he’s no longer a true descendant of Abraham or that he is no longer a member of the tribe of Benjamin. His education in the Law as a Pharisee isn’t something at which he now scoffs. It is simply that none of these things are his treasure! He no longer trusts them. He has renounced confidence in anything other than Christ. He’s not any less outwardly righteous than when he was a zealous Pharisee. He simply no longer invests his heart or his hope in such things to reconcile him to God. All he has now and forevermore is Christ!
Sixth, in v. 9 Paul says that now only one thing matters: to “be found in” Christ. Notice how he then unpacks that passion in three crucial phrases.
(1) “not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law” (v. 9a) – Don’t forget what Paul said back in v. 6. He had righteousness that came from the Law, but it availed for nothing! It gave him no confidence in God’s presence. But why not? Because no matter how much we may obtain, we can never know if it’s enough! After all, God requires absolute and utter perfection. Furthermore, even if we may have succeeded in observing the law and performing good works in the past, there is no guarantee that we will continue to do so into the future. And how would you even know whether the righteousness you think you have produced is precisely the righteousness that God requires? It’s all hopeless! Our righteousness simply must come from another source beside and beyond ourselves.
(2) Paul longs for a righteousness “which comes through faith in Christ” (v. 9b) – He does not say we gain righteousness because of faith or on the basis of faith, as if faith were the God-approved substitute for good works. Faith is not an alternative way of earning God’s favor. Faith is the very antithesis of merit. Faith is our confession that we are unable to do anything to win God’s approval. Faith always looks away from itself and to its object, to that in which the human soul has placed its trust and hope and confidence.
(3) The third crucial phrase is found in two words: “from God” (v. 9c). The righteousness on which Paul and you and I must depend comes “from God” as a gift of his grace.
Clearly, then, Paul conceives of two sorts or righteousness. On the one hand is that righteousness which a person achieves through good works. On the other hand is that righteousness which God gives through faith. On the former he pours contempt. It is the object of his most intense and fervent hatred. Those who promote it he calls dogs and evildoers (v. 2). On the other Paul heaps effusive praise. For it he gives thanks to God, and on it he has staked his eternal life.
Seventh, as a result of this new found relationship with Jesus Christ, Paul wants to experience the very power that raised Jesus from the dead (v. 10; cf. Eph. 1:19ff.; Rom. 8:11). This word “know” doesn’t mean merely to understand with the mind but also to experience in the heart. He wants to feel and be energized by this power so that he can say No to sin and temptation and devote himself fully to the worship and service of Christ.
Paul isn’t saying he wants to know more about the resurrection of Jesus, as if he were hungry for knowledge about its circumstances or the people who witnessed it. He is saying, “I want to feel the power by which Christ defeated death and sin and Satan! I want to live daily in conscious awareness of and dependence on this power that now works in me.”
Eighth, lest you think that Paul is some sort of crass triumphalist, notice that he also wants to “share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death” (v. 10b). Wow! From power to persecution! From the strength of the risen Christ to the suffering of the crucified Christ!
Paul’s desire is to live in such vital and inseparable union with Jesus that the same abuse and persecution that fell on his Lord might now fall on him as well. It isn’t that Paul wants to experience the redemptive and saving sufferings of Jesus. That’s impossible. He simply means that he wants to stand in precisely that relation to the world in which Christ himself stood, such that whatever affliction the world sought to impose on Christ might yet fall on him. If the world hated Jesus, then by all means let it hate me. If the world rejected Jesus, then I am willing to endure its rejection as well.
Please, do not let this moment pass by. Hear the words of Holy Scripture. Hear the words of your Creator. One day you and I will stand in his presence. We will be clothed, either in the so-called righteousness of our own making, or in the glorious righteousness of Christ Jesus. Those are the only two possibilities.
And the so-called righteousness or goodness of your own making is worse than nakedness. It is filthy rags. It is a repulsive garment that brings only death and condemnation. Renounce your trust in it! Renounce and turn from your confidence in anything other than Christ.
Invest yourself wholly in who Jesus is and what Jesus has done in his sinless life and what Jesus endured on the cross and what Jesus achieved by his resurrection from the grave. Make the words of that old hymn, The Solid Rock, your own:
“My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.
I dare not trust the sweetest frame
But wholly lean on Jesus’ name.
When he shall come with trumpet sound,
O may I then in him be found;
Dressed in his righteousness alone,
Faultless to stand before the throne.
On Christ the solid rock I stand,
All other ground is sinking sand;
All other ground is sinking sand.”