“But 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, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, 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.”
Humans are goal driven, hope driven creatures. Apart from some inherent belief that the future has some meaning, some purpose, our lives reduce to despair. The text today gives us a glimpse of the hope that Paul had for the future.
His hunger and thirst was to be found, in the last day, standing before God not in his own righteousness but only in the righteousness of our Lord Jesus Christ. He counted all his labors rubbish – all the works of righteousness, all the prayers, all the kindnesses – he counted them all rubbish that he might gain Christ and be found in Him. He sold all that he had in order that he might buy the Pearl of Great Price.
Note that Paul’s hunger has both a negative and a positive dimension. On the negative side, when Paul appears before the judgment seat of God, he does not want to arrive there in his own strength or on the basis of his own performance. He does not want to appear before God and have God weigh his good and bad deeds. For were he to be weighed in the balance on the basis of his own deeds of righteousness, he knows that even like Belthashazzar he would be found wanting. He knew that were he to come before the throne of God on his own, he would perish. All our righteous acts are like filthy rags in the presence of the Lord.
But note that Paul did have hope, did have ambition. His hope, his burning desire, was to appear before the judgment seat on the last day, clothed not in his own righteousness but rather clothed in the righteousness of Christ. He wanted to come into the presence of God and say to His Sovereign Lord, “Lord, I know that I have failed to do all that which I ought to have done. I know that I have done that which I ought not. But receive me, O Lord, not for what I have done but for that which Your Son has done for me. I have trusted Him, believed Him, had faith in Him that He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. So receive me for Christ’s sake.”
Paul’s goal throughout his life was to avoid the folly of coming to rely upon his own righteousness, his own deeds. His goal was to rely wholly and completely on the righteousness of Christ. So even when Paul began striving, laboring, pressing ahead for the upward call of God in Christ Jesus; even when he had it as his ambition to glorify God through Jesus Christ, He was doing this in faith – knowing that none of his striving, none of his laboring, none of his pressing ahead or ambition to glorify the Lord could ever earn forgiveness with God. Forgiveness was and ever would be a gift – and Paul’s ambition, Paul’s goal for his life, was never to forget that.
So what of us? Have we remembered that forgiveness is a gift, a free gift of God offered through Christ? Have we lived in the freedom and joy that this produces? There is therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus! Or have we instead begun to act as though our acceptance with God is conditional on our own performance, our own righteousness? Having begun by faith, are we striving, like the Galatians, to be completed by works? Then let us confess our folly to our Lord, asking Him to forgive us for despising the sacrifice of Christ and imagining that we could somehow earn His favor. Let us kneel and confess our sins to the Lord.