The Surpassing Value of Knowing Christ, Part 1 (Mike Riccardi)

Philippians 3:8   |   Sunday, October 6, 2013   |   Code: 2013-10-06-MR



Well we return this morning to our study of Paul’s letter to the Philippians. And we find ourselves again in the third chapter of that great letter: Philippians chapter 3. And as we’ve said for the last number of weeks, in Philippians chapter 3 Paul’s great concern is to define and delineate the nature of a true Christian: What does it mean to be a true child of God? He is concerned to treat this topic as a result of a very practical situation that has arisen in the church of Philippi. And that is that there were certain men, whom we know as Judaizers, who were professing to be followers of the Lord Jesus Christ, but who were teaching the Philippians that in order for Gentiles like them to be saved and to be counted righteous before God, they needed to not only believe in Jesus, but also to be circumcised and observe the ceremonies and rituals of the Law of Moses. The righteousness which is to be found in Christ alone through faith is not enough, they taught. Man must add to Christ’s righteousness the merits of his lawkeeping.


But because Paul knows that this doctrine undermines the grace of God that is proclaimed to us in the Gospel, and because he knows that no righteousness that man can provide could ever satisfy God’s holy standard of absolute perfection, he issues to the Philippians one of the most scathing warnings found anywhere in his writings—a warning driven by a deep passion for the purity of the Gospel of grace. Speaking of the Judaizers, Paul says in verse 2: “Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of those who call themselves the “circumcision” but who are nothing but mutilators of the flesh—and not just mutilators of the flesh, but mutilators of the souls of men, as they teach them to put their trust in a false gospel that promises them heaven but takes them to hell.


And so over and against the Judaizers, who are teaching that the true child of God not only believes in Jesus but also receives circumcision and observes the Mosaic Law, Paul defines the nature of a true Christian in verse 3. He says that the true circumcision—the true people of God—are those who worship Him, not by animal sacrifice and ceremonial ritual, but by the Spirit of God—those who glory in Christ Jesus, and put no confidence in the flesh.


And in elaborating on that third distinguishing characteristic of the true child of God, Paul answers the Judaizers’ objection that his dismissal of having confidence in the flesh stems from the fact that he’s got nothing to be confident in. “No,” he says in verse 4, “if anyone has a mind to put confidence in the flesh, I far more.” “If anyone could make a case for deriving their righteousness from the Mosaic Law, it’s me.” For the sake of argument, he temporarily adopts the Judaizers’ practice of putting confidence in the flesh in order to demonstrate to the Philippians that if the Judaizers’ teaching was true, Paul himself had much more grounds for confidence in the flesh than the Judaizers did. And so in verses 5 and 6 he lists seven religious advantages that he had trusted in for righteousness before he met Christ.


He says he was circumcised on the eighth day, and so he trusted in his ritualistic orthodoxy. He was of the bloodlines of the chosen people of Israel, not merely a proselyte like many of the Judaizers. And so he trusted in his birth. He was of the tribe of Benjamin, able to trace his descent to one of the most highly regarded tribes in Israel. And so he trusted in his high social standing. He was a Hebrew of Hebrews. Though he was born in Tarsus, he was educated in Jerusalem, and his parents were sure to maintain their traditional Jewish customs over against the pagan influences of Greco-Roman culture. And so he trusted in his religious traditions. With respect to the law, he was a Pharisee—a member of the strictest, most religiously fastidious sect of Judaism. And so he trusted in his religious devotion. A mark of honor and nobility in the Jewish culture was zeal for God. The Judaizers may have been zealous for making converts. But Paul says, “as to zeal,” I wasn’t just a proselytizer, I was “a persecutor of the church.” “I was so sincerely zealous for the purity of Judaism that I killed Christians because I saw them as a pollution and a corruption of the Law.” And so he trusted in his religious sincerity for acceptance with God. And finally, he says, “as to the righteousness which is in the law, I was found blameless.” “No one observing my life could accuse me of violating any external commandment of the Old Testament Law and the Pharisaic tradition.” And so he trusted in his own self-righteousness.


Paul says he listed out all of his fleshly advantages—all of the privileges he had inherited by birth, and all of the attainments he had achieved by his own effort—and with respect to establishing his righteousness before God, he regarded them all as gains, as pluses, written in black ink in the “Assets” column in his spiritual ledger book. But then he says in verse 7, “Whatever things were gains to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ!” He says, “Everything that I had counted on and trusted in for my righteousness, to admit me into the holy presence of God—when the Lord Jesus invaded my life on the road to Damascus, and opened the eyes of my heart so that I could finally see, I regarded everything that I thought was to my advantage as loss!” All of the fleshly advantages that he possessed and that the Judaizers were teaching the Philippians to pursue, Paul says, “When I met Jesus I found out they were absolutely worthless to merit acceptance before God.”


And not just worthless, but loss. As the glory of Christ in the light of His holiness shone across the pages of Paul’s ledger book, he saw that every fleshly advantage that he had written in the “Assets” column had been moved to the “Liabilities” column. All of the black ink was now showing up as red ink. All of his gains now added up to one huge minus, one overwhelming liability, one colossal loss. And we used Paul’s shipwreck in Acts 27 to illustrate this. The cargo on that ship that contained food and supplies and other goods, and at one time everybody on that ship considered that cargo as gain. But when the ship was being tossed in the storm and the men faced the threat of sinking, they realized the cargo was weighing them down. And they came to count the cargo not merely as worthless, but as loss—as positively harmful to their hopes of survival. And so they took it, and they cast it overboard into the sea.


And in the same way, Paul says that his fleshly advantages at one time looked valuable to him—looked like gains to him in his attempt to establish his own righteousness before God. But now he saw that depending on his own good works as any part of the ground of his salvation was positively harmful to his spiritual welfare. It’s not just that his good works wouldn’t take him to heaven; it’s that trusting in his good works for righteousness would take him to hell. They would weigh down his ship and drown him into the sea of damnation and judgment. And so he gladly chucked all of his self-righteousness overboard into the billowing waves, and trusted in the righteousness of Christ alone for his acceptance before God.


And we learned from that text, friends, that that is what salvation is. That is what it means to be converted. It means to list out all of the things that you put your confidence in to earn your acceptance before God—all the things that you counted as gains: your inherited privileges, your natural talents, your obedience, your deeds of compassion, your educational and professional achievements, your church attendance and Bible reading and prayer time—and to count them all as one huge loss. It means abandoning all trust and reliance upon yourself for your righteousness—that’s repentance—and then turning to Christ and trusting Him to provide that righteousness in your place—that’s faith. So much more than simply believing that certain facts about Jesus and His Gospel are true, saving faith is trusting in Jesus to provide the righteousness that you need to enter into the presence of the Holy God of the universe.


And as Paul continues his spiritual autobiography, we find ourselves in the middle of what Pastor John calls, “one of the most significant statements of the doctrine of salvation in Scripture” (MacArthur, 226). Martyn Lloyd-Jones says, “We have here…certainly one of the most eloquent statements of what it really means to be a Christian” (Life of Peace, 45). Paul goes on outlining his own personal experience as a lens through which to see our own. Let’s read verses 7 through 11 together.


But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8More 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, 9and 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, 10that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; 11in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.


Through this personal testimony of God’s own dealings with him, Paul teaches the people of God much about the nature of saving faith, and about what it means to be engaged in a saving relationship with Christ. Commentator Moises Silva writes, “Paul, no doubt, would have been the first to protest that the gospel he proclaimed is too rich to be reduced to a few sentences. But if such a feat could be accomplished, the passage before us would be it” (Silva, 155). And so because of the great richness of this text, our focus this morning will be exclusively upon mining out the treasures to be found in verse 8, and we’ll save verses 9 through 11 for next time. But in just this single verse, we will find five characteristics of genuine saving faith.


And in this text, we have this conception of saving faith as being the Christian’s counting all the things he once trusted in for salvation as loss, and coming to trust in Jesus Christ for his righteousness. And the five characteristics of faith that we observe in verse 8 aren’t so much additions to that concept. Rather, if we, along with Paul, conceive of this “faith-as-counting-loss” as a diamond, these five characteristics would be like five facets of that diamond, whose contribution and brilliance you see only as you view the gem from various angles. And so we’re going to attempt to view that gem today—to behold these five facets of genuine saving faith—so that we might better understand what it means to be a true follower of the Lord Jesus Christ, and in that way let our own Christian experience be informed and interpreted by the Word of God.


I. The Resilience


And that first facet of saving faith I’m calling the resilience. The resilience of saving faith.


We’ve described Paul as coming to view trusting in his own inherited privileges and his own religious achievements as loss for the sake of Christ—viewing them as heavy cargo on a sinking ship that would only drown him if he clung to them. And so in the light of the glory of Christ, he counted them as worthless, and happily chucked them overboard into the tumultuous sea. But now it’s as if Paul anticipates someone coming to him and saying, “Now Paul, that was certainly a traumatic, emotional experience you had on the Damascus road there. I mean, blazing light, voices from heaven, physical blindness: that would put anyone in an emotional state where they would make hasty decisions. And that was 30 solid years ago, Paul. And you had so much to lose; after all, if anyone had a reason to put confidence in the flesh, you had far more! Paul, do you have any regrets? Do you have any second thoughts about throwing all of your self-righteousness overboard?”


And Paul says, “Not at all. Not only have I counted all my grounds for confidence before God as loss, in the past, but,” verse 8, “More than that, I [do presently] 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 [do presently] count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ.”


The phrase, “More than that,” translates what is really an untranslatable string of five emphatic particles. It’s a really peculiar combination in the Greek, and if you were to try to translate it literally it would read, “But, indeed, therefore, at least, even.” It’s as if Paul is searching for adequate language to intensify and emphatically reinforce the statement he’s just made in verse 7. And then he also shifts from the past tense in verse 7 to the present tense in verse 8. “Whatever things were gains to me, these things I have counted as loss at my conversion, but even more than that, 30 years later, I do now presently go on counting all things as loss for the sake of knowing Christ.” It’s as if he’s saying, “No Judaizer is going to change my mind about this, and they shouldn’t change your mind about this either, dear Philippians!”


And so Paul’s 30 year-old decision to chuck all of his self-righteousness overboard was not an impulsive, rash decision made in the heat of a passionate moment. It wasn’t a decision where, after the commotion died down, he began to question himself and regret it. To extend the metaphor, it’s not as if, after throwing his self-righteousness overboard while he was in the tumult of the storm, and then coming to safety on a nearby island—it’s not as if he’s sitting on the beach, forlorn, gazing out into the horizon, nostalgically mourning his lost treasure that now lays on the ocean floor. 30 years later, in a calm and settled frame of mind, Paul tells us that his present evaluation of all his fleshly advantages is the same as it was that day on the Damascus road. The deliberate, considered judgment of his heart, based on the careful weighing of the facts (cf. Hendriksen, 161n139), is that all his self-righteousness—his orthodoxy, his bloodline, his social standing; his traditions, his religion, his zeal—all of it is still one, big, loss.


This is resilience of saving faith. Genuine, God-given, saving faith is not an impulsive, emotionally-induced one-time decision that has no effect on a person’s life after the passion of that moment is over. How many professing believers there are who point to a revival service, or a Billy Graham crusade, or a mountaintop experience while they were on some sort of Christian retreat where they “made a decision for Jesus”—how many people claim such things as the reason why they believe they’re saved! One day, long ago, they had what they would have called a similar experience to the Apostle Paul—an “encounter” with Jesus that caused them to “count all things as loss” for His sake. But you look at their lives 5, 10, 20, 30 years later, and you realize that they’ve not gone on counting all things as loss for Jesus’ sake. They’ve begun again to trust in their own righteousness and to pursue their sin, and so they show that whatever experience or whatever faith they had wasn’t marked by the resilience of genuine saving faith.


II. The Renunciation


Well, the second facet of genuine faith that we see in this passage is the renunciation. Number two: the renunciation that genuine faith makes. And we’ve spoken a lot about this already—how saving faith renounces all of our fleshly religious credentials as grounds for our righteousness before God. But it’s not only his personal heritage and religious achievements that he listed in verses 5 and 6 that Paul counts as loss. He also broadens his scope. Compare verses 7 and 8. Verse 7 says, “But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss.” And now, verse 8 says, “More than that, I count all things to be loss.”


You see, everything that might compete with Christ for Paul’s allegiance—every conceivable rival to his total trust in Christ for his righteousness—he repudiates and renounces as if it was a liability. He doesn’t even put his confidence in anything that he’s attained by the grace of God since becoming a follower of Christ! And he had a lot of things he could begin to trust in! Paul was the Apostle to the Gentiles, the original frontier missionary! He traveled the entire Mediterranean world to take the Gospel of Christ as far as he could possibly take it! This man literally changed the world! He was extraordinarily gifted—an excellent preacher, an excellent teacher, an engaging and motivating leader. And let’s not forget that he wrote half of the entire New Testament! And then, when you add all that he endured and suffered for Christ’s sake, you see pretty quickly that there was plenty for him to be tempted to put his confidence in to earn him favor with God.


But you ask him, and he says, “Nope. Anything I may have inherited by birth, anything I may have achieved in the past, any good thing for Christ that I may have attained to by God’s grace, and anything that I might ever do in the future, even in the name of Christ—I renounce all of that. I don’t for one second count on it for my acceptance with God. As soon as I do that, even those good things become nothing more than heavy cargo that will sink my ship straight to the bottom of the ocean. I count it as loss.”


III. The Reality


And you’d think between verse 7 and the first part of verse 8 Paul would be satisfied he’s made his point. But he’s not! He keeps right on repeating himself—and not just repeating himself but intensifying and escalating! Look again at verse 8: “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.”


And here we behold our third facet: namely, the reality. The reality that faith confronts. So far we’ve been speaking of the disposition of the mind and heart that regards or esteems or counts certain privileges and attainments to be worth less than nothing to us. We’ve been saying that we must count all things to be loss. But Paul tells us here that this hasn’t just been theoretical for him. It certainly has had to do with the resolution of his mind and the disposition of his affections. But here he’s telling us that he has actually suffered the loss of all things.


You say, “What did he lose?” Well, not only did he lose all fleshly grounds of confidence in himself and in his religious credentials to take him to heaven. He also lost everything in life that he would have enjoyed if he continued to trust in those things for righteousness. Don’t forget the exalted position that the Apostle Paul enjoyed in his life in Judaism. He was an educated man. He sat at the feet of the rabbi Gamaliel, who according to Acts 5:34 was highly respected by all in Jerusalem. He was at the top of his class in his religious and educational studies (which overlapped). He says in Galatians 1:14, “I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries among my countrymen.” In fact, we learn in Acts 7:58 that even as young man, Saul of Tarsus was supervising the stoning of Stephen, the first Christian martyr. Later, in Acts 23 verse 6, Paul tells the crowd that he was a Pharisee and a son of Pharisees. And so he and his family were among the religious elite and were therefore likely to have been financially well-off. Paul would have had a respected place in the religious community, a sure income, a comfortable living; he would have had property and inheritance; and he would have had nothing but the best kind of company that was suitable to complement a keen mind like his.


But when He beheld the risen Christ on the Damascus road and abandoned all confidence in himself and his own religious performance, he wasn’t only abandoning the religious soteriology of Judaism. He was abandoning all the privileges that he enjoyed as a respected member of Jewish society. We have every reason to believe that Paul was disowned by his family, that he was disinherited, that whatever property he did own was summarily confiscated; rather than a comfortable lifestyle with an upper-class income, he had to labor all of his life, working with his hands as a tentmaker. Imagine, someone with the formidable intellect of the Apostle Paul, and with the breadth and depth of education that he possessed—imagine someone like him doing the kind of blue-collar work that any man of below-average intelligence could do!


I think 1 Corinthians chapter 4 gives us an idea of what Paul lost for his commitment to Christ. Turn to 1 Corinthians chapter 4. In verses 9 and 10 he says that he’s a spectacle to the world, regarded as a fool, weak, and without honor. Then, verse 11: “To this present hour we are both hungry and thirsty, and are poorly clothed, and are roughly treated, and are homeless; and we toil, working with our own hands; when we are reviled, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure; when we are slandered, we try to conciliate; we have become as the scum of the world, the dregs of all things.”


IV. The Revulsion


Paul says, “I lost it all.” And with the false doctrine of the Judaizers in their ears, the Philippians want to know, “Paul, do you have any regrets? Do you wish you could have it all back?” And he says, “Oh my dear Philippians, I count it all as garbage! Not only do I not wish to have it back; I am absolutely repulsed by it all! When I think that a generous income, social respectability, a comfortable life, and even family blessings could have come between me and my dear Lord Jesus, I am absolutely sickened by all those things, and I count them as worth nothing more than refuse in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord!” And this, my friend, is the fourth facet of saving faith that we see in this passage: the revulsion of faith. Saving faith not only renounces all the idols in which we place our trust and seek our satisfaction; it is repulsed by them.


This word, skubalon, that the NAS translates as “rubbish” has always been a difficult word for the translators to agree upon. There are basically two categories of thought on this. There is linguistic evidence that bears witness to the word referring to excrement or manure. The King James Version represents this view and translates the word as dung. But there is also linguistic evidence that testifies that the word referred to kitchen scraps left after a meal, to food that had rotted, to garbage. Most of the modern translations follow this view and render the word rubbish (NASB, ESV, NKJV, NIV), refuse (ASV), or filth (HCSB). I lean toward this latter category of meaning—of garbage or refuse—not because I think excrement is too strong a rendering; I actually don’t think you could render this word too strongly. But I believe the idea is refuse, because the Greek word skubalon likely derives from the phrase to tois kusi ballomenon. And if you listen carefully you can kind of hear the similarity between kusi ballomenon and skubalon. And that phrase meant, “that which is thrown to the dogs” (TDNT).


Now, you’ll remember that when we spoke about dogs in Greco-Roman culture, we said that they were a far cry from being viewed as man’s best friend. In that society, dogs were scavengers who would roam the streets of the ancient world eating anything and everything that they could get their mangy mouths on. They would often be seen eating dead animals, in some cases even dead humans, and—if they could find it—even the rotting garbage that was left over from a recent meal. Skubalon denoted refuse, that which was fit only to be thrown to the dogs.


And this is what Paul thought of what the Judaizers prized so highly. All of Paul’s inherited privileges in Judaism, all of his religious achievements as a Pharisee, and everything he was forced to give up as a result of abandoning the legalism of Judaism—when he compared it with the surpassing value of knowing Christ, he regarded it as abominable trash, fit only to be thrown to the dogs.


And I wonder if this repetition of the word “dogs” brings your mind back to verse 2, where Paul warned the Philippians to beware of the dogs. Commentator J. B. Lightfoot writes, “The Judaizers spoke of themselves as banqueters seated at the Father’s table and Gentile Christians as dogs greedily snatching up the refuse meat which fell therefrom. Paul has reversed the image. The Judaizers he calls dogs in verse 2; the meats served to the sons of God are spiritual meats; circumcision and all the trappings of the Jewish system which they valued so highly are the mere refuse of the feast” (147). Paul says, “Apart from Jesus Christ, I count every rival source of righteousness and ever rival source of pleasure as refuse. And if the Judaizers who are troubling you highly regard such things, they only prove themselves to be the dogs that they themselves so despise.” This is masterful on the part of the Apostle Paul. This is biting sarcasm.


V. The Reason


Well, we come, finally, then, to the fifth facet of genuine saving faith that Paul speaks of in this passage. And that is the reason.


How can Paul speak so strongly and resolutely about such things? Why does he count all things as loss? What is the cause for such a definitive negative evaluation of everything he might put his confidence in? What can cause someone to behold all the earthly glory of self-righteousness, possessions, money, property, reputation, status, comfort, ease, and ten thousand other things—and regard it as trash? There can only be one answer: Knowing Jesus Christ. He makes all the difference. Look with me again at verse 8: “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.”


This “knowledge” of Christ that Paul speaks about having here is overwhelmingly personal and relational. It is so far beyond merely knowing certain truths about Jesus—it is that! But Paul is speaking of so much more. Listen to the way the commentators speak about this kind of knowledge: This kind of knowledge signifies “living in a close relationship with…somebody, such a relationship as to cause what may be called communion” (Bruce, 88); “…personal acquaintance…” (BDAG, 203) ; “…to know experientially by personal involvement” (MacArthur, 235); “…personal relational knowledge…” (MacArthur, 235); “…personal experience and intimate relationship” (Fee, 318). Are you getting the picture?


This concept of knowledge as intimate, personal relationship builds on the rich understanding of the Old Testament. It speaks of God’s electing love that He set upon Israel, so that in Amos 3:2 God can say, “You only have I known among all the families of the earth.” Of course God’s not saying that Israel is the only nation He knew about; He’s speaking of the intimate relationship He had with Israel through setting His love upon them. The term to know is even used as a metaphor for sexual union within marriage, as when it says in Genesis 4:1 that “Adam knew his wife Eve, and she conceived and bore Cain.” That’s an illustration of how intimate this personal, relational knowledge of Christ is. And of course, in Ephesians 5, Paul teaches that the union that exists between Christ and His Church is pictured by the intimacy of the union of husband and wife. And Jesus Himself speaks of this tender, personal relationship in John 10:14 when He says, “I am the good shepherd, and I know My own and My own know Me, even as the Father knows Me and I know the Father.” You say, “By what kind of knowledge does the believer know Christ?” Answer: by the same kind of personal, intimate, relational knowledge that God the Father knows Jesus and Jesus knows God the Father!


This is the experiential knowledge of relationship. This is that conscious communion that we have with Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit and through the means of the Word of God that makes us aware of the fact that we worship a real Person, and not just an invisible idea; a communion that makes us feel (because it’s true!) that Jesus is our Friend, and our Comforter, and our Brother, and our Intercessor, and our Advocate; a communion that convinces us that we more greatly love and admire and imitate the Person of Jesus Christ. This so much more than knowing the facts of Jesus’ person—that He was God and man and virgin-born and sinless and died on the cross to pay for sins and rose again. Can I put it simply? You recognize that there are a lot of people you know about that you don’t know personally. And Paul says the true believer knows Jesus personally.


And he says that that personal, experiential knowledge of Christ—that is what makes him count all things as loss. He says knowing Jesus is of surpassing value, of incomparable worth, of matchless worth.  If you were to put the value of knowing Christ on a balance scale, and put everything else that Paul has spoken about in this text on the other side—the self-righteousness, the religious prestige, the financial security, the comfortable life, the highly-regarded profession—all of that, in the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ (2 Cor 4:6)—all of it is just garbage. And so Paul says he regards all the pleasures of the world as refuse so that—in order that, with the purpose that—I may gain Christ.


Paul had found the treasure hidden in a field, didn’t he? He found the pearl of great price. Turn quickly to Matthew chapter 13. In Matthew chapter 13 verses 44 to 46, the Lord Jesus Himself tells two parables that teach what conversion is. And for the sake of time, we’ll look just at the first one. Jesus says, verse 44, “The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in the field, which a man found and hid again; and from joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” The man whose heart has been awakened by the miracle of regeneration is like a man who stumbles upon a priceless buried treasure. And because of the surpassing value of the treasure that is Jesus Christ Himself, the man goes and sells everything he has so he can buy that field. He counts everything he owns as refuse in comparison to the surpassing value of gaining this treasure!


Oh friends, was that Jesus to you at your conversion? Were you so thrilled by the surpassing greatness of His value that from the joy of discovering such a treasure, you gladly forsook all other pleasures in the world, counted them but dung, laid down your life, and laid hold of Jesus? And not only, “Was that Jesus to you at your conversion,” but: Is that Jesus to you now? Paul says, “I presently, at this very hour, go on counting all things that would keep me from single-minded devotion to the Lord Jesus Christ!” Do you count the pleasures and luxuries of this fallen world as nothing but refuse so that on that last day, you will have prove to truly been His disciple, and therefore gain Him?


That is the nature of true and genuine saving faith, my friends. It is faith that receives Christ alone for righteousness, and it is a faith that receives Christ alone for satisfaction and for worship!




And so, we have sought to unfold these five lines of thought in Paul’s display of what it means to trust in Jesus by counting all other things as loss in comparison to knowing Him. What is the specific application we can make of this text to our own lives?


Well, as we’ve said, this is Paul’s spiritual autobiography. As you look throughout this passage, it’s unmistakable. “Whatever things were gain to me those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 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…” But as we’ve said, dear friends, this is not just Paul’s biography; it is the biography of every true believer in the Lord Jesus Christ. And so I ask you: Can we exclaim these things along with the Apostle Paul? Could we honestly pen these words? Are they an accurate transcript of your spiritual condition?


Have you experienced the resilience of faith? Can you insist that your conversion—your initial commitment to Jesus—was not just an impulsive, in-the-heat-of-the-moment, whimsical emotional decision that has no present effect on your heart or the way you navigate your daily life? Can you exclaim with Paul that you not only have counted all things as loss, but do now, at this present hour, count all things as loss for the sake of knowing Christ?


Have you experienced the proper renunciation that faith makes? Do you, with Paul, renounce even the good works wrought in you by the grace of God since your conversion as a ground of your righteousness before a holy God? It is a good and necessary thing to read your Bible and pray every day. It is a good necessary thing for you to be a godly husband or wife or father or mother. It is a good and necessary thing for you to devote yourself to the duty of evangelism. It is a good thing for you to be a skilled teacher of the Word of God, or a leader in the church, or a Bible study shepherd. It is a good thing for you to lovingly open your home to show hospitality to the people of God. Dear friends, all of these are good things! But the one thing apart from Christ alone upon which you set your confidence for your acceptance with God is the one piece of cargo that will sink the ship of your soul into hell itself! “Behold I, Paul, say to you that if you receive circumcision, Christ will profit you nothing!” (Gal 5:2). Not: “He will profit you some, just not as much as otherwise.” As we’ve said, Christ will do everything or He will do nothing! Why? Because if salvation “is by grace,” Paul says in Romans 11, “it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace!” (Rom 11:6). And in order to magnify the supremacy of God Himself and the sufficiency of Christ alone, salvation is by God’s grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone!


And are we—dear brothers and sisters—are we prepared, in our heart of hearts, to face the reality that faith confronts? Are we prepared to suffer the loss of all things and count them but refuse for the sake of gaining Christ? Are we prepared to show the world that Christ is more satisfying than all that life can offer, and all that death can take? Are we prepared to sell everything we have to purchase this priceless treasure, this pearl of great price, the Lord Jesus Christ Himself? Are we, like Paul, prepared to count money as loss, to count possessions as loss, to count reputation as loss, to count comfort as loss, to count an easy, conflict-free life as loss, to count even family as loss—“He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me” (Matt 10:37)—for the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus our Lord? Are we willing to suffer the loss of all things so that we may gain Christ? For this is what it means to be a true Christian! This is what saving faith is, as well! Listen: true, saving faith receives Christ not only as righteousness; saving faith also receives Christ as treasure! He is the treasure hidden in the field! He is the pearl of great price! And if there is something in your heart that you refuse to “sell” in order to gain Christ, then you can guarantee that, just like the rich young ruler, you will go away sad and destitute of a saving relationship with Christ!


And fourth, dear friends: do you know something of the proper revulsion that faith engenders toward all idols of the heart? Do you regard (a) all of the self-righteousness that you can achieve, as well as (b) all of the treasures this life can offer you—do you regard them all as refuse, as absolute filth, in comparison to the surpassing value of knowing Christ? When you compare the pleasures of this world to knowing Christ, is there a natural revulsion that arises in your heart? Do you regard these worldly pleasures as something fit only for the ravenous wild dogs to come and pick at? Or do you continue to erect and worship and serve those idols in your heart? Do you continue in your spiritual blindness that finds sin to be more pleasant, more glorious, more desirable, than the Lord of all glory Himself?


And, finally, the one question that sums them all up: Do you know Him? Not just truths about Him. Not just Bible teaching about Him. Not just the theology of His incarnation or of His salvation or of His resurrection and ascension. Do you know Him? Do you know Him like you know your spouse? Or your parents? Or your children? Is He yours? Do you have the deep, intimate, personal communion with Him day by day? Do you cultivate your relationship with Him through the reading of His Word and through prayer, through fellowship with His people, and through abiding in His commandments?


Some of you, if you answer honestly, have to answer, “No,” to those questions. Whatever may have been your past confession and your past experience, your faith has not had the resilience that continues to count all grounds of self-confidence as loss. You have not experienced the revulsion—both of your own sin and of your own righteousness—which characterizes saving faith. You don’t count all worldly pleasures and comforts to be loss in view of the surpassing value of Christ. Christ doesn’t look valuable at all to you. He looks like a burdensome task-master who spoils all your fun. Oh, my friend, all I can do is plead with you to see the foolishness of your own heart, and—by the power of the Holy Spirit through the means of the Word of God—to see and savor the glory and beauty and worth and righteousness of Jesus. Who would stumble upon a priceless treasure chest and do nothing to lay hold of it? Oh dear friend, lay hold of Christ this morning! Abandon any hope of achieving righteousness by your own merit, and cast all your hope on the righteousness of the One who lived, died, and rose again on your behalf!


But others of you, you answer, “Yes. I do know Him. I do go on counting all things as loss for the sake of knowing Him. I do treasure Him more than all that life can offer and all that death can take. I don’t do it perfectly. I’m ashamed at how imperfectly I do it given all the truth from His Word that I know. And like Paul I say, “Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect. Oh, but I press on.” And by the grace of God, yes, He is all my hope for righteousness, and yes, He is my delight and my reward.”


For those of you, my brothers and sisters, who can answer that way, I just entreat you to feast the appetites of your soul on this glorious Savior! Rearrange everything in your life so that you might ever be deepening your personal, intimate knowledge of this dear Jesus. Read His Word. Pray to Him. Gather with His church. Fellowship with His people. Preach His Gospel. Endure suffering with Him. And let all the righteousness, and the grace, and the holiness, and the glory, and the pleasure, and the beauty, and the delight—let all that He is keep you from ever seeking your righteousness or your treasure anywhere else.