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. (Philippians 3:8-9)
The Apostle Paul continues to compare his spiritual pedigree with knowing Christ. And we can see he doesn’t have much positive to say about the things in his Jewish background that would have been considered otherwise noteworthy. In fact, he considers these things “rubbish,” a word that usually is translated pretty mildly as most people typically don’t use (at least in church) the scatological language he is actually using in this passage. If your takeaway now is that you can cuss like a proverbial sailor, then you’ve missed the point. He is using such shocking language strategically to drive home just how unimportant worldly measures of spiritual “success” are compared to having a vital relationship with the Risen Lord!
Now we might not have the same measures of spiritual success today as in Paul’s day. Back then it was obedience to the Jewish Law and literal genealogical heritage that were most important. Even zeal to throw off Roman rule in some circles. Today, we often look to things even less spiritual: slick packaging and artistry in worship, number of attendees for services (or viewers post-pandemic), perceived influence of our pastors among the political or cultural elite, and so on. Not even genuinely Christian measurements like degree of actual commitment or lived-out holiness are considered that important anymore.
The funny thing about measuring one’s spirituality, though, is that the only thing that counts is whether you are connected to Jesus by faith. And not just in a perfunctory, “I tick Christian on the survey box” kind of way. Paul talks about “gaining” Christ, emphasizing how precious it is to know Jesus. He talks about being “found in him,” describing as deep a connection to Jesus as one can imagine. He contrasts the kind of righteousness (approved standing before God) he used to have as a Law-abiding Jewish believer, versus the grace-given righteousness he has simply by putting his whole trust in Jesus Christ.
The difference is obvious when you compare persona A with person B. Person A is trying hard in mere human effort to “be good” only to fail time and again with great frustration. Person B is someone who finds freedom in knowing God loves them know matter what and thus they grow to want to love God back and others around them as a natural outpouring of that love at work in them. It’s the difference between feeling you need to earn or prove something to earn God’s love as opposed to simply receiving his love and allowing his own Spirit make love the motivation for all you do.
In your own life, what kinds of spiritual success do you see people pursuing that fall short of what Paul describes? How have the paltry spiritual goals you’ve encountered influenced you? How does approaching Jesus with faith change your own spiritual goals?
Gracious Father, you sent Jesus that we might trust who he is and what he’s done as more than enough to pave the way between us and you, a way once broken and impassible because of sin, but now repaired and smooth because your great love. Grant your faithful people a proper perspective, to love and trust you in vibrant faith, and keep us by your Spirit in a grateful, love-motivated life instead of pursuing faulty spiritual goals, or pursuing proper goals in mere human ability, which always fails. Let your goodness be ever readily seen so we never stray too far and may our efforts always be done in your love and strength with your benevolent purpose in the forefront of our hearts and minds. This we ask in your Son’s precious name. Amen.