Christ is My Trophy

Philippians 3:7-11

A man named Michael owned a gas station and car wash. Through this business, after paying all necessary expenses and taxes, he was able to earn around $150,000 a year. Sadly, he passed away, inheriting the business to John and Sonya, his son and daughter-in-law. At first, John and Sonya viewed their newfound ownership of this business as a financial benefit. An additional $150,000 per year be a significant financial help!

However, they soon learned that land on which the gas station and carwash was located had tripled in value since the time that Michael had purchased it. This, too, sounded like positive news – until they realized that they had to pay a property estate tax on this increased amount. Sadly, the amount of estate taxes they owed exceeded their ability to pay, forcing them to sell the entire business instead.

From this story, we see how something which may seem to be quite positive and beneficial may actually be quite negative and detrimental instead. To use the words that Paul is about to us in his letter to the church at Philippi, we see how something which may seem to be a source of gain may actually be a source of great loss instead. We see how something which may seem to be very helpful may turn out to be very harmful instead.

As we make our way through life on this Earth, it’s very important that we are relying upon and pursuing after that which truly matters. We must pursue that which will bring true joy to our hearts on a daily basis – no matter how difficult our circumstances may be. We must rely upon that which will guarantee God’s approval and a close relationship with him in the new world he will make for eternity.

A joyful life requires an internal audit.
But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ.

People who work in the financial sector know what an audit is. It is an official examination of the financial accounts, assets, procedures, and records of a person, company, or institution to verify that the records and procedures are accurate, legal, and reliable. People perform audits to protect themselves from devastating and unexpected surprises.

When audits do not occur, people can mistakenly mismanage or misunderstand their resources. When this happens, a person who thinks she is earning a lot of money may end up losing it all instead. A person who believes he is a highly successful businessman or investor may end up in debt or even in prison instead.
While performing audits is an important practice in the financial realm, performing an internal audit is even more important in the personal, spiritual realm. We can call this a personal heart evaluation. That’s what Paul is doing here in Phil 3:1-11.
Last week, we heard how Paul enjoyed what seemed to be many personal advantages from a social and spiritual standpoint. He enjoyed what many considered to be a superior cultural, ethnic, family heritage and upbringing. He also enjoyed what many considered to be a superior resume of academic, professional, and religious accomplishments. By almost any external measurement, Paul appeared to be – more than anyone else – a good person, someone who was a good example to follow and someone who had a close relationship with God.
But there came a time in Paul’s life when he realized that his admirable behavior and reputation was not as valuable as he had been taught to believe. There came a day when he underwent an official, internal audit of his life, evaluating what was truly important and worthwhile in the sight of God and what was not.
First, we see how Paul changed his mind about his inherited identity and admirable religious behavior. Though he had once considered those things to be beneficial in his relationship to God, as though they somehow earned God’s admiration and favor, he learned that these things were actually a loss instead. So, he no longer viewed these things as valuable assets which improved his status before God. He no viewed them as detrimental assets which damaged his status before God instead.
Second, we see how Paul changed his mind about everything and anything else. He says, “Yet indeed, I also count all things loss.” This means he had learned to view not only the things which he listed in the previous verses as detrimental to his relationship with God, but he had learned to view everything else as detrimental, as well. He viewed everything as a liability in his relationship with God.
Paul emphasizes this point further in several ways. First, he says that he has “suffered the loss of all things,” which means that he had willingly chosen to let go of, relinquish, discard – even throw away – everything which might somehow get him closer to God.
Paul then describes these things in what many Bible commentaries and Greek scholars consider to be a vulgar term, the word (“rubbish”) transliterated skybalan. This word can mean anything from table scraps to garbage, from human excrement to a rotting corpse. Multiple commentators even suggest that Paul is envisioning the decomposing waste resulting from the circumcision procedures required by legalistic teachers.
The point here is that Paul is not simply “marking down” or “depreciating” the value of his special reputation, religious behavior, and any other good qualities, and he is not just crossing them off as being of zero value, either, in his pursuit of a relationship with God. He is going even further to identify them as damaging and harmful in his pursuit of a relationship with God. To Paul, these things are not helpful at all – they are repulsive.
So, if Paul has moved everything which he had formerly considered to be helpful, impressive, and valuable in his relationship towards God not only to the loss column but to the dumpster, then what could he place into the gain column? What could give him a close and confident relationship with God if none of those things could?
Paul answers this question clearly. First, notice how he says, “for Christ.” Then he says, “for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord.” Then he says, “that I may gain Christ.” You see, Paul had discovered that the only way to live a life of value in the sight of God is to depend upon and seek after Christ.
In the center of these words (Phil 3:7-8), we see that Paul refers to the “excellence” (which means “surpassing excellence” of Christ, meaning that Christ is not only superior to everything else in life, but there is no competition or close second. Nothing else in life comes even remotely close to being as reliable and valuable as Christ in providing a close and lasting relationship with God. In fact, Christ is so superior to everything else that everything else is of no value at all by comparison.
Notice also how Paul says for the “knowledge” of Christ. This word for knowledge does not describe mere “head knowledge,” such as the kind of academic, intellectual knowledge which hears, reads, memorizes, and understand the facts about someone – such as we might know someone like Napoleon Bonaparte, Simon Bolivar, or Abraham Lincoln. Even if you become a world-renowned historian who has earned a Ph.D. and written a biography about one of these men, you still do not have a personal relationship with them.
Sadly, this is the extent of many people’s awareness of Christ. To many, he is just a historical figure, someone who lived a good life, taught good things, and died – maybe even returned to life somehow. But this kind of knowledge will not give you a real and lasting relationship with God.
To have a close and lasting relationship with God, you must have a close, personal relationship with Christ. You must view him as not only ‘a’ Lord or ‘the’ Lord, but ‘my’ Lord. Notice how Paul calls Christ “my Lord.” You see, Paul had chosen to submit to Christ alone as his complete and exclusive Master.
By saying this, Paul echoes the words of one of Christ’s first twelve disciples, named Thomas. After Christ died and rose again, he appeared to the twelve disciples and Thomas, after seeing Christ, fell down at his feet and said, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28). Have you done the same? Have you accepted and submitted to Christ alone as your God and Master?
In the next three verses (Phil 3:9-11), we can see the three ways that Paul was relying on Christ for a confident and real relationship with God. As we look at these three ways, we must perform our own internal audit by asking ourselves three questions.

These three questions feature three important theological words that are important to understand because these are spiritual concepts which describe our relationship with God: (1) justification, (2) sanctification, (3) glorification.

These three questions and concepts may also be visualized on a timeline, with (1) justification occurring instantaneously first at some point in your life here on earth, (2) sanctification occurring progressively after justification throughout life until you die, and (3) glorification occurring after you die as the culmination of your personal, spiritual change before God.

Let’s consider these three concepts individually as Paul presents them to us.

Are you relying on Christ alone for justification?
And be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith…

Justification is a legal, judicial term. It describes what happens after a criminal court case when the
judge hammers a gavel down and declares, “Innocent!” If you were the person on trial, what relief that moment would bring, esp. if the words “guilty!” would have brought the death penalty.

If you were to stand before God today in the court of heaven – something you will one day do – will he declare you innocent or guilty of sin? If guilty, then you will be sentenced to an eternity in a place called “the Lake of Fire.”

The cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.” (Rev 21:8)

This is an awful place which we all deserve because of the awfulness of our sin. If you feel that the Lake of Fire is an unjust and excessively cruel punishment, then you simply do not understand how terribly bad your sin truly is.

The only way to be “justified” by God, to hear God declare you “innocent” from sin is to turn completely to Christ and to trust in him entirely as your God and Savior. Nothing good about who you are and what you have done will be of any use to you. That’s why Paul says that “his own righteousness, which is from the law” would be of no use to him. In other words, he knew that none of his good behavior, even doing things that the Old Testament law told him to do, would give him a right relationship with God.

The only way to be innocent before God and to have a right relationship with him is “through faith in Christ,” as Paul himself had learned. When we turn to Christ and trust in him as our God and Savior, he applies the record of his own sinless and perfectly obedient life to our account. Through Christ, we receive God’s perfect righteousness from him, and we receive this not by ‘doing’ anything at all. We receive this by faith alone in Christ alone.

Faith here means to depend upon and to rely upon something or someone completely to have a right and real relationship with God, and it also means at the same time to stop depending upon and relying upon anything else at all. It means to move everything else to the loss column and to replace those things with Christ. The moment you place your faith in Jesus Christ as your God and Savior, your relationship with God through Christ begins and lasts forever. You become innocent and right in the sight of God for one reason and one reason only – because of Christ alone.
Without this personal faith in Christ alone, you cannot be made innocent from sin. Consider what Jesus said about this in his own teaching ministry:

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ (Matt 7:21-23, NIV)

You see, it is not good enough to call Jesus, ‘Lord’, and to say and do good and even amazing things for him. You must believe on him in a personal and total way. You must have a personal relationship with God that comes through total dependence upon Christ – who he is and what he has done – nothing or no one else will do.

Are you relying on Christ alone for sanctification?
That I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death…

Those who have believed on Christ alone for justification (to be declared innocent and righteous in God’s sight through Christ) will receive a permanent and lasting relationship with God. Knowing this brings true joy, peace, and confidence in life! It also brings a new purpose for life, as well. We call this ‘sanctification,’ which means to get to know Christ in an increasingly personal and real way and to become increasingly like him, too, in your thoughts, feelings, and actions.

Here, Paul describes this process of knowing Christ more closely and becoming more like him as “that I may know him.” Because he was now in close relationship with Christ, he wanted the remainder of his life resemble and even share in the same kind of power and suffering that Christ himself experienced and represents.

In other words, Paul wanted to face the challenges and difficulties of life by relying on the same divine power that resurrected Christ from the dead. This is a very different approach than merely attempting to follow Christ through personal determination, willpower, and physical stamina. Paul wanted to experience a life that required divine power to succeed, not an easy life, one which might be easily navigated without God’s help. He didn’t just want to know about the power that resurrected Christ from the dead, but he wanted to rely on that same power to sustain and empower him in the course of his daily life.

We see also that Paul also wanted to know what it was like for Christ to suffer. He did not want to merely “know about” Christ’s suffering, he wanted to fellowship (or “share”) in that suffering as well. What does this mean? When a nation goes to war and wins, the entire nation enjoys the freedom and joy that comes from victory. But those who fought in the war share a special bond that the rest of their fellow citizens will not understand. Only those who suffered on the battlefield know the true cost and the true joy of victory, though all enjoy the freedom that was won.

In the same way, all who believe on Christ receive forgiveness from sins and a permanent relationship with God forever. But only those who willingly pursue a close and intimate relationship with Christ on a regular basis will most fully appreciate and enjoy what it means to be a Christian. This deeper, more intimate relationship with Christ comes as we make Christ’s priorities our priorities, depend upon the very power that resurrected Christ from the dead to empower us in daily living, and accept whatever suffering comes our way as a result – even if that suffering results in death.

“The passage speaks of Paul’s deep desire to identify with Christ in his death, living out the pattern of the cross laid out in 2:6–8—selflessness, service, sacrifice, suffering, humility, death, and, ultimately, resurrection to eternal life.” (Keown, 165)

Because of our union w/ Christ, when we suffer as followers of Christ we are suffering for Christ and enduring his own suffering through us. Our suffering is Christ’s suffering.

As Paul was in prison writing this letter, we know that he was in prison because of his teaching ministry. We also know that being sentenced to death by execution was a very real possibility for him in the near future. Paul did not view any of these things as failures but as precious opportunities to draw closer to Christ, to rely on his resurrection power more confidently, and to understand Christ’s sufferings for him more personally – even if his suffering resulted in death.

Are you relying on Christ alone for glorification?
If, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.

Finally, Paul gives his third purpose for relying upon Christ. He relied upon Christ alone not only for justification (being forgiven from sin) and for sanctification (becoming more like Christ), but also for glorification. Glorification is the term we use to describe that day when we are finally and fully transformed to be like Christ, free from the presence of sin within us in every way and forever. In another letter, Paul said this:

Whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified. (Rom 8:30)

Glorification will occur when our bodies have – like Christ’s own body – been resurrected. When that happens, our salvation will be complete. Our souls and bodies will be reunited forever and will be free from the influence and presence of sin. No more harmful desires, no more urges to sin, no more sickness and disease, no more injuries, no more death. What’s more, our bodies and entire being will reflect and reveal the full goodness of Christ in a way not possible yet today.

This is what Paul refers to here when he says, “That I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.” “To attain” means “to arrive at” or “to come to.” So, he is relying upon Christ – not his own good works and personal merit – to persevere to the end. He is relying upon Christ and Christ alone to demonstrate to the end of his life that his faith in Christ was not fake or pretend. That he had really and truly turned to Christ and trusted in him alone as God and Savior.

Not all who claim to have believed on Christ have actually done so, as 1 John 2:19 says:

They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us; but they went out that they might be made manifest, that none of them were of us.

That’s why Hebrews 10:36 says this:

For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised.

To be sure, once you have genuinely believed on Christ, you will always and forever be a child of Christ – you will persevere to the end, even to your moment of glorification. But this is a mark of a true believer, that such a person, like Paul, depends upon Christ for everything – from justification to glorification. He takes nothing for granted. He depends upon Christ for everything. Does that describe you today?

Are you relying on Christ alone for justification? Have you depended upon him completely as your God and Savior? Have you turned to him completely to forgive your sins and make you innocent in God’s sight? If you are trusting in anything else to have a close relationship with God, then will you turn from those things today to trust in Christ? Will you move everything else into the “loss column” today and consider those things as garbage and replace them with Christ alone?

Are you relying on Christ alone for sanctification? Do you view your Christian life as series of commands and tasks, a gauntlet of trials and tests, a list of dos and don’ts that God has assigned to you as his child, by which you earn God’s blessings, answers to prayer, and so on? Do you view your Christian life as an opportunity to live as comfortably and successfully as possible, avoiding difficulties at all cost, and relying upon your strength, intelligence, skill, and determination to succeed? Or, do you view your Christian life as an opportunity to know Christ in a closer and more intimate way, relying on God’s divine power which resurrected Christ from the dead to sustain and empower you and embracing difficulties as a means to draw closer to Christ, to more fully appreciate and understand his sufferings for you?

Are you relying on Christ alone for glorification? Do you have great confidence and hope that you will be with Christ forever and that your eternal destiny is secure because of Christ? Are you confident that you will be resurrected and given a body free from sin that will reveal the goodness of Christ for eternity?

A man, named George Jones, lived in a small, rural community next door to a pastor and his family. This pastor enjoyed spending time with George and frequently talked to him about Christ. But George insisted that he was okay. That he didn’t need to turn to Christ for salvation.

You see, George was a man who had lived a good, long life and had entered into his senior years. He had a loving wife and four loving adult children with families of their own. He owned a large piece of property, had a nice home, owned several cars, and had accumulated a lot of things which he thought were valuable, all stored up in a barn near his house – collectibles and such of many kinds.

George was also a nearly full-blooded Cherokee Indian. He took his heritage very seriously. Sometimes when the pastor would talk to him about Christ, he would say, “I don’t need to worry about that. I have my mother’s apron in a bag down in the barn. Her spirit is watching over me.” But the spirit of George’s deceased mother, even if she was somehow hovering over him through her apron according to tribal tradition, could not give him a close relationship with God.

Other times, he would say, “I don’t need to trust in Christ – aren’t I already a good neighbor?” And he was. He was there anytime the pastor or his family needed him. Sometimes they would go down to his house to get some ingredients out of the kitchen that they were missing for a meal.

Other times they would go use one of his vehicles without asking. Other times they would pick vegetables out of his garden or join him on the back porch for a watermelon party, eating watermelons from his watermelon patch until they could eat no more. George was a good neighbor! But being such a good neighbor could not give him a close relationship with God.

Still other times, George would say, “I don’t need to trust in Christ – I already did that when I was a young boy.” By this, George meant that he had prayed or said something to Christ when he was a child and that doing so guaranteed that he was okay before God. But speaking words to God, no matter how accurate they may be, does not give anyone a close relationship with God. Only genuine faith within your heart, sometimes expressed as a prayer, can bring us into a right relationship with God.

After more than ten years of conversations like this, George developed physical complications which placed him in the hospital. The doctors told him that he had a very short time to live. One day, the pastor who had lived near him for so long visited him in the hospital. Like he had done so many times before, the pastor asked George if he would like to trust in Christ as his God and Savior to be forgiven from sins and to have a relationship with God forever. And like he had done so many times before, George said ‘no.’ “When I get out of here, I’ll think about it,” he grunted from his hospital bed.

As the pastor and his wife visited with George for what would likely be their last time together, snow began to fall outside the hospital window. Since the pastor would drive about an hour to get home, he told George that he needed to say good-bye because the weather would be getting worse. Then, one last time, he asked, “George, would you like to turn to Christ as your God and Savior?”

Expecting George to say no, he was caught by surprise when George said, “Uh huh.” “What did you say?” the pastor replied in amazement! “Uh huh,” said George. So, right there in the hospital room, George spoke out loud, “God, I know that I’m a sinner and that I need Jesus Christ to save me from my sin.”

Upon admitting that he was a sinner, George wept uncontrollably for minutes, for it was that point which had prevented him from trusting in Christ for so long. He had finally agreed to move all those things which he believed were so valuable to the loss column. Having his mother’s spirit in an apron, saying a prayer when he was a kid, and being such a good neighbor. He stopped relying on all of those worthless things and trusted in Christ alone as his God and Savior. BTW, George was my childhood neighbor, and that pastor was my father.

Will you do today what George did there in the hospital room – put your trust in Christ alone for salvation?

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