4 although I myself might have confidence even in the flesh. If anyone else has a mind to put confidence in the flesh, I far more: 5 circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee; 6 as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless. 7 But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8 More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, 9 and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, 10 that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; 11 in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. [NASB ‘77]
Paul shows how the threefold description of Christianity in verse 3 plays out in his life. He worships in the Spirit of God, glories in Christ Jesus and puts no confidence in the flesh, and it shows in his joyous surrender of all things for the sake of gaining Christ. What he’s lost is nothing compared to the surpassing value of knowing his Savior.
Paul elaborates on the last description of a believer in verse 3 – put no confidence in the flesh. He makes it clear that he was as dependent on human credentials as the Judaizers before he found Christ, and his credentials are impressive. The point of listing them is to show that as impressive as they are, they’re now meaningless to Paul because they’re meaningless for salvation. If the Judaizers want to push for credentials under the Law, he has credentials. But they’re nothing to him in comparison to what he now has – Christ.
When he says that he was found blameless under the Law, he means it in the sense of how the Jewish religious leaders see obedience to the Law. For them, external compliance is everything. It’s not about the heart, it’s not about motives, it’s not about spiritual growth. It’s all about how you visibly obey. It was the same for Paul before Damascus. He kept the Law and considered himself blameless under it. This perspective, of course, all changed after Christ grabbed him on the way to Damascus. He now sees his sin very clearly in light of Christ’s work on his behalf – Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? (Rom 7:24); It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all (I Tim 1:15).
Verse 7 marks a transition from his old way of thinking to the new. All the credentials that at one time Paul took pride in and depended upon for his righteous standing before God are now meaningless to him. He counts them as loss for the sake of Christ. That he counts them as loss instead of just saying they’re worthless is notable. What he means is that more than just not being of any value in his salvation, they actually stood in the way of his salvation. He had to give them up and replace them with Christ. He couldn’t just add Christ to what he already had and he couldn’t bring what he had to Christ in order to improve his standing. He had to get rid of what he had and replace them wholly with Christ. Thus he stopped putting his confidence in the flesh and instead gloried in Christ Jesus.
Paul changes to present tense in verse 8 to discuss how he lives now as a disciple of Christ. He continues to count anything that stands in the way of knowing Christ as loss. NOTHING compares to knowing and living with his Savior – Christ Jesus my Lord. There is nothing in this world, no praise for himself, no achievement to advance his career, no reward or temptation that man or society offers that measures up to the surpassing value of knowing Christ. His life is all of Christ.
Paul also says he’s suffered the loss of all things for Christ. He doesn’t explain what this is, but it perhaps includes the loss of prestige that he had as a Pharisee, the intellectual standing he had as a student of Gamaliel, his standing among the religious leaders, and perhaps his wealth since he now either depends on the gifts of others or works as a tentmaker. All these things are gone, but Paul doesn’t care – they’re rubbish to him now because he’s gained Christ. Once again, he’s a man whose entire existence is based on and centered on Christ – nothing else is important by comparison. For Paul, Christ is the pearl of great value that caused the merchant to sell all he had in order to purchase it (Matt 13:45-46).
Just as we did in our study of verse 3, it pays to stop here and consider if we can honestly say the same as Paul about our lives. Do we value knowing Christ above all things? Is this a picture of us? Does the rest of the world pale in comparison to Christ? Do our lives reflect that we count all things as loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus our Lord? Do we count the ongoing pursuit of knowing Christ as the most important use of our time?
The last three verses of this text describe justification, sanctification, and glorification respectively, and flow out of Paul’s description of Christ surpassing all things and replacing all things. Paul counts everything he used to depend on for his righteous standing before God as loss; thus he doesn’t want to come to God in his own righteousness derived from the Law (against which he used to count himself blameless). He wants to stand before God in Christ’s righteousness. His life is all of Christ and that includes his righteousness in God’s sight. He’s now justified not by his own achievements or credentials or righteous works, but by Christ. He no longer wants his righteousness because it’s worthless – it’s loss. His righteousness gets him damned. He wants only Christ’s righteousness.
This is justification. We stand before God clothed in the righteousness of Christ and ONLY in the righteousness of Christ. And because we stand in His righteousness, God justifiably allows us to enter His presence. To exclude us would be unjust (we don’t sneak in the back door of the throne room of God and sheepishly hope we don’t get noticed – we come boldly before the throne because we are fully justified by Christ – God’s just nature requires that we be granted entrance). Christ paid the penalty for our sin and imputes His righteousness to us; therefore we’re found in Him not having a righteousness of our own but that which is through faith in Christ.
In verse 10 Paul gives a picture of sanctification. Sanctification is the process of a believer becoming like Christ. The Christian wants to know Christ and become like Him in the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings. Christ defeated death and that power is now made available to us as we strive to know Him and become like Him. And if we become like Him we’ll share in His sufferings. Paul already told the Philippians that it has been granted to them to suffer for His sake (1:29). The believer who longs to be like Christ must understand that suffering is part of the equation (II Tim 3:12). If the world rejected Christ it will reject His disciples (Jn 15:18-21). So we suffer, but we have Christ’s resurrected power at our disposal to enable us to persevere through the suffering.
Note, however, that we know the fellowship of His sufferings. He goes through hard times WITH us. We may suffer as His followers but we never suffer alone. We serve a risen Savior who suffered but didn’t stay dead. Thus we walk with Him through our valleys and know that the One who walks with us is stronger than he who is in the world (I Jn 4:4).
Fellowship means we go through hard times with Him but it also highlights how suffering is part of the process of knowing Him more. We don’t go through suffering randomly; we go through it so we increasingly know and depend on Christ. That means we have to see suffering in this light. When we have trials, we can’t consider them unjust or unnecessary if they’re part of sanctification. The most out-of-the-blue difficult circumstance can’t be written off in bitterness or incredulity if its purpose is to further our knowledge of Christ.
And that’s what these two elements come back to. The fellowship of His sufferings and the power of His resurrection work together to allow us to know Christ. We want to KNOW Him. To know Him carries with it the sense of intimacy – knowing at the deepest level. We spend our lives knowing our Savior more and more. Paul prays on more than one occasion that those he ministers to will grow in their knowledge of God (Col 1:9-10, Phil 1:9). The overarching goal of sanctification is becoming like Christ through knowing Him. This is the knowing Paul referred to earlier as being of a value that can’t be measured or compared.
Underlying the pursuit of Christlikeness is that we’re being conformed to His death. This is similar to what Paul told the Galatians about being crucified with Christ. The one crucified with Christ no longer lives but Christ lives in Him and that life is a life of faith even while in the world (Gal 2:20). It carries with it the death of self and the death of the power of sin over our lives. We put our righteousness and our confidence in the flesh on the cross, and we glory in Christ who now lives in us and in His righteousness that justifies us.
The end result of justification and sanctification is that we attain to the resurrection from the dead. We ultimately share in Christ’s glory and His victory over death. The grave will not hold us because it didn’t hold Him. The ultimate end of sin is no more – we don’t receive its wages. We know Him and become like Him in His sufferings and through the power of His resurrection so we can someday overcome the grave as He did. The glory of the Father’s presence is open to us because of the resurrection of the Son.
The believer is truly a new creature. What he prized the most before he met Christ he now counts as loss in view of knowing Him. And that knowledge is the pursuit of his life. He longs to know Christ through the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, and he willingly crucifies all that he once prized in life in order to do it. As he pursues Christ he enjoys sweet fellowship with Him in this life and shares in His glory in the next. Thus the believer has it all even as his life in this world is potentially hard. He has strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow.