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The Immeasurable Advantages of Pursuing Christ
I love gaining an advantage–don’t you? I love knowing what will be on the test before I take it. I love having the extra passenger in order to drive in the HOV lane. I loved knowing in advance the girl I was about to ask out would say, “Yes.” I loved knowing I could take down my opponent in boxing in the first round.
I loved knowing I could hit and place a softball anywhere I wanted. I love not being intimidated by anyone in the work of Christ. And I love the advantage of being in Christ, of being chosen before the foundation of the world and held secure for all time by the work of Christ on my behalf, of being forgiven of all my sins–past, present and future. And of the massive blessings of knowing Christ in this life.
Open your Bibles to Philippians 3:9 to 11. Today Paul describes some of the advantages to pursuing Christ. Today is a gift and an encouragement–why? Paul starts chapter 3 describing the requirements of pursuing Christ since the Philippians are being persecuted by the Romans, pressured by the legalist Judaizers and battling a party spirit in their midst. They need to sustain a heart of joy, grow in discernment and maintain a genuine faith.
These Judaizers were teaching the Philippians to pursue self-righteousness in order to earn their salvation before God. Paul tells them in verses 4 to 6, “I was more self-righteous than them, but all it did was make this life miserable and worse–it kept me on a path of thinking I was going to Heaven. But in reality, I was headed to Hell.”
“No,” Paul says in verses 7 to 8, “I considered all my efforts to be good before God as a loss, compared to knowing Jesus Christ personally. And I consider anything and everything in life now even as a Christian, to be excrement in comparison to enjoying personal intimacy with Christ.”
Paul says, “I want Christ, not religion. I want to know Christ, not do Christianity.” 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.”
Now Paul teaches his readers the advantages of turning to Christ alone, by grace alone, through faith alone. What are a few of the massive benefits to having salvation in Christ and pursuing sanctification in Christ?
Look at what Paul says in verses 9 to 11, “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.”
This passage is too much–too much blessing, joy, hope and too much benefit. After intense study, Paul tells you what you have gained in Christ, the blessings you now have and will later receive. Paul tells the Philippians and us the advantages of pursuing Christ. You get three big blessings, three R’s–righteousness, relationship and resurrection. But this is better than three points on an outline or three truths to consider, because the blessings of being in Christ are so awesome.
Paul describes these benefits in detail to make certain you never forget what knowing Christ in genuine salvation does for you that external religion can’t. Write these down in your Bible, friends. Today, why would you want to become a Christian? Today, answer your family and friends, “Why should I become a Christian?” What advantages does becoming a Christian have for each who turn to Christ? Here are the immeasurable advantages to pursuing Christ alone.
#1 Gaining the correct RIGHTEOUSNESS Verse 9
As Paul looks ahead to the final day when he’ll face God, he wants to be, verse 9, “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.” Look carefully at verse 9, “and may be found in Him.”
Paul hopes to be found in Him–Paul says, “I literally want to be in a certain state, discovered in a certain condition, made into a certain kind of person.” The Greek verb found is passive, telling us Paul trusts it’s God Himself who will make Paul to be found as a certain kind of person. What kind? Look at verse 9, it’s someone who is “in Him.” The context of verse 8 demands Paul means in Christ.
Gaining the correct righteousness only comes from the work of God upon you to make you into a person who is in Christ. “And may be found in Him.” If you’re in Christ, then you will have God’s righteousness, not yours. Look carefully at verse 9–the wrong kind of righteousness is from yourself, pursuing the Law. The right kind of righteousness is from God, coming through faith in Christ. Read verse 9 again, “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.”
Righteousness is a right standing with God and acceptance by Him. Paul spent his entire BC (before Christ) life living by God’s Law, combined with living by super strict rules in order to gain righteousness by His religious efforts. Paul wanted to gain God’s acceptance now and enter into Heaven later. Paul wrongly thought that if he followed God’s rules, God would be pleased and accept him.
But that kind of righteousness—the kind which consists of self-effort, external morality, religious ritual, and moral works is produced by the flesh, not the Spirit. They are pursued for self-glory and not the glory of God. Therefore, not only are those good actions not acceptable to God, but God is actually grossed out by them.
Sorry, Mother Teresa–God calls human good works filthy menstrual rags. Isaiah 64:6b, “all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment.” Plus, trying to live good enough for God to accept you, religious enough or nice enough, will actually wear you out. Jesus said of the Pharisees in Matthew 23:4, “They tie up heavy burdens and lay them on men’s shoulders.”
If you attempt to be a good person on your own before a holy God, you will be crushed under the weight of guilt and failure. Religious people may look good on the outside, but they are not cleansed on the inside. Moral people may do good on the outside, but they can’t have right motives on the inside.
The argument of Romans chapters 1 to 3 is so clear. God’s holy character demands His wrath be poured out on all ungodliness and all unrighteousness–outwardly and inwardly. Romans 1 tells us the person who lives by their own rules is darkened in mind and given over to impurity and a depraved mind.
Romans 2:1 to 16 tells us about the moral person who thinks they’re better than the murderer. They don’t need to trust Christ or turn from sin, because they live good. The only problem is, they are not good enough and fall short of God’s perfect character. Like Matthew 5:48 requires, “you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
Romans 2:17 to 29 describes the religious person who admits they don’t keep all of God’s rules, but they put their trust in being baptized, taking communion, attending church, giving and serving. They believe this will gain God’s acceptance. The problem is, regardless of how religiously good you are, you still miss the target of Gods perfect character. You just can’t be righteous enough. Romans 3:23, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
Paul did his best to live righteous before God, but he didn’t make God’s standard of perfection. You can’t live good enough to be right with God. You can’t be religious enough to please God. You can’t keep God’s law and be saved. Galatians 2:16, “a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus.”
You can clearly see the righteousness of God in the person of Christ. In John 8:46, “Jesus said to his enemies, ‘Can any of you prove me guilty of sin?’”, and they remained silent. No one could accuse Jesus of sinning because He never did. A few verses earlier in verse 29, “Jesus said of God his Father, ‘I always do what pleases him.’” Only Christ could say that, because only Christ is God and only God can always do those things which please God.
Which points to the huge gap between the righteousness of God and the righteousness of man. The difference between them is infinite. Most people believe all righteousness may be placed on a scale.
1 On the bottom are those whose righteousness is on a very low level—murderers, thieves, and perverts.
2 There are others whose righteousness is a bit higher–the average citizen.
3 There are a few whose righteousness is very high indeed–the super-religious, pastors, priests and USC grads.
4 Then there’s God, whose righteousness is the highest of all.
That is all faulty thinking. There are only two kinds of righteousness–human and divine. Human righteousness is dark, flawed and dirty. God’s righteousness is light, perfect and pure. The nicest, most religious do-gooder on Earth is still filled with selfish, sinful thoughts, arrogant pride and impure motives that stain any appearance of righteousness in their life. No matter how good you look on the outside, on the inside your motives and thoughts make you disgusting and dirty before a righteous God.
JM Boice says, “Trusting in human righteousness is a bit like playing Monopoly. The game has colorful money and is enjoyable to play, but only a fool would take Monopoly money and go to the store to buy groceries. A different kind of currency is used in the real world.”
“It is the same with God. There are people who think they are collecting assets before God when they are only collecting human righteousness. God tells them that they must dump the play currency, to deal with his perfection, goodness and righteousness. Why? Because our goodness and righteousness has no value in heaven at all.”
When Paul met Christ in all his righteousness, the light of Christ’s holiness shot through him like an X-ray exposing all his cancerous sin. Super-religious Paul saw himself as a wretched sinner, worthy of condemnation and headed for eternal death. Paul thought the law of Judaism gave him life, but the law of God actually killed him.
When he saw himself accurately before a righteous God, he renounced all his works of righteousness, all the good works and accepted the free gift of God’s righteousness by grace through faith. Verse 9 shouts a strong contrast, “but”. Paul exchanged the burden of legalistic self-righteousness for the righteousness that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith.
Faith is the confident, continuous confession of total dependence on and trust in Jesus Christ for the necessary requirements to enter God’s kingdom. It involves more than mere intellectual assent to the truth of the Gospel. Saving faith includes trust in the Lord Jesus Christ and surrender to His lordship. It is on the basis of faith alone that righteousness can come from God to repentant sinners. Righteousness is a right standing with God and acceptance by Him.
So what do you have when you are in Christ? Not your righteousness, but the righteousness of God imputed to you. When you’re in Christ, God has given you a new heart which repents of sin and depends completely and fully on Christ alone by grace through faith, then your sin is imputed to Christ and His righteousness is imputed to you.
Second Corinthians 5:21, Paul celebrates that “God made Him [Christ] who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” God’s righteousness is like wearing the right clothes.
I was a leader in my high school and was invited to a pregame banquet. I was not told how to dress, so I came dressed the way I would go to the game, in my rowdiest, holiest, most awful clothes. When I arrived, I was shocked how nice all my buddies were dressed. I immediately knew I didn’t fit. I didn’t belong. I stood out in a horrible way. I found out later, they wanted to kick me out.
Anyone dressed in human righteousness will be kicked out of Heaven. That is why Paul gladly shed the trashy robe of his own righteousness and stretched out his empty hands to receive the glorious royal robe of God’s righteousness in Christ. Why pursue Christ? When you are found in Him, you receive God’s righteousness. You’re given the right clothes for Heaven–the only outfit which will allow you into Heaven.
On the cross, God judged Jesus as if He had personally committed every sin ever committed by every person who ever truly believed. When a sinner embraces Jesus as Lord and trusts only in His sacrifice for sin, God treats that sinner as if he lived Christ’s sinless life. First Peter 2:24, “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed.” Not only are you given the right robe of Christ’s righteousness, but you also will be . . .
#2 Enjoying the deepest RELATIONSHIP Verse 10
As I read verse 10, look carefully at the pronouns–look for “Him” and “His”. Verse 10, “that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death.” This is a verse about intimacy with Him. It is describing an incredible relationship–an unfathomable relationship between Paul and his God–an immense relationship between a Christian and their Savior.
That phrase in verse 10, “that I may know Him,” is literally to be knowing Him. One of the great advantages of pursuing Christ is enjoying the deepest relationship a human being can enjoy–a relationship you were created for–a relationship with Christ. Paul just mentioned the deep, intimate, experiential knowledge of Jesus Christ that comes at salvation in verse 8. But the cry of his heart still was, “that I may know Him”, telling us the initial saving knowledge of Christ is merely the launching pad of Paul’s lifelong pursuit of an ever-deeper knowledge of His Savior.
Think about it–it has been 30 years since his encounter with Christ on the Damascus road, yet Paul says, “I want to know Him more.” Paul already knows Christ, but wants to know Him more deeply. To know Christ was the long-term, overarching ambition of Paul’s life. Paul’s inner drive was pursuing an ever-deepening, ever-widening, personal knowledge of God the Son.
The passion to know Christ is what energized Paul’s “rabid devotion” to Christ and knowing Christ drove his epic quest to take the Gospel to the ends of the earth. In my marriage, I know Jean, but I have an intense, curious desire to know Jean more. I get excited when I learn something new. I am convinced there is more to know and it makes me want to find out more. My love for her drives that pursuit. And for the Christian, it is love for Christ which drives your pursuit for greater knowledge and intimacy with Christ.
What’s the temperature of your pursuit of Christ right now? Cold, lukewarm or hot? Is Christ your first love, your second love, or when-convenient love? Is Christ the person you can’t wait to learn about and worship, or is Christ the one you really only think about when at church? An immeasurable advantage in pursuing Christ is getting to know Him. You ask, “What will I learn?”
Verse 10b, “and the power of His resurrection.” Picture what happened 2,000 years ago on a Sunday. Christ’s body lay cold and unmoving on chilled stone in the arms of genuine death. Since Friday at 3 pm, Christ’s heart didn’t beat in the icy grip of the grave. Whatever blood that remained was congealed in his veins, his eyes were fixed, dilated, unmoving and his body was bound tightly with spices and grave clothes.
Then before dawn on Sunday, his vacant eyes blinked open and coursed with light, focused and glittering with life. And with the ease of omnipotence, Christ’s body left the grave wrappings like an empty cocoon. Christ’s resurrection is the greatest display of Christ’s power. Rising from the dead revealed His absolute, omnipotent power over both the physical world and spiritual realm. Paul experienced Christ’s resurrection power in two ways.
FIRST, it was resurrection power that saved Paul. Conversion is described in the New Testament as a resurrection–you were dead, but now made alive. When you were saved, you were resurrected. Romans 6:4 to 5, “We have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.”
Paul experienced this resurrection power when he was transformed from his self-righteous way of life to become a humble follower of Christ. And in your salvation, you’re identified with Christ in His death and in His resurrection. But more than that . . .
SECOND, Christ’s resurrection power sanctifies. It is resurrection power which enables Paul and you to defeat temptation, lead a holy life, and boldly proclaim the Gospel. Paul gladly exchanged his life of self-effort, religious impotence for Christ’s resurrection power. So in knowing Christ, Paul desires to experience his resurrection power. The initial telltale sign of knowing Christ is the power of the resurrection in you and through you.
Do you know Christ’s resurrection power? Were you dead, then dramatically made alive in the resurrection of salvation? I was in bondage to sin one day, then freed from its penalty and power the next. One day I only served myself, then the next I immediately began to serve Christ. One day I spent money only on myself, the next I gave a generous portion to Christ.
Were you under bondage to sin, then delivered by resurrection power? Have you seen God transform lives as you disciple, teach, shepherd and care for others? Does God the Spirit manifest His resurrection power through you to others. Corporately, have you all seen God take weak, insipid efforts done in dependent faith and empower them to do great things for His glory? We have!
Do you long to know Christ and the power of his resurrection? God desires it for you and He also wants you to know the fellowship of His sufferings. Then added to that is being conformed to His death. This doesn’t sound as fun as resurrection power, until you understand what Paul is saying. Paul says “fellowship of His sufferings”. Fellowship is the Greek word koinonia. But it’s not churchy-talk–“Let’s have some fellowship,” or “That was good fellowship.”
The first usage of fellowship in Philippians was 1:5, “your partnership [fellowship] in the gospel” sounds okay. The second occurrence in 1:7, “partakers [fellowshipers] with me of grace” sounds better, as does 2:1, “any participation [fellowship] in the Spirit.” But “the fellowship of his sufferings”–who wants to join that fellowship? “Let’s join that church–they have good suffering.”
Actually, the Apostle Paul would join, because suffering is essential in order to know Christ fully. My friends, you can’t have Easter Sunday without Good Friday. And you can’t know the power of Christ’s resurrection without participation in His suffering. You already know this–your spiritual growth takes off when you go through hurtful trials and difficulties.
Your deepest moments of spiritual fellowship with your Lord come during the most intense suffering. You know, it’s suffering itself which drives you to Christ. In a dark time, at the bottom of life’s barrel, you find Christ to be a merciful High Priest, an all-powerful, faithful friend who feels your pain, and a sympathetic companion who has faced all the trials and temptations you have faced or could ever face.
Christ is uniquely qualified to help you in your weaknesses and infirmities, which led Paul to declare in 2 Corinthians 12:10, “I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.” Secretly, you and I want Easter Sunday without Good Friday. We want the power of the resurrection without the suffering of the cross.
But God knows better and His plan is sweeter. Paul already told the Philippians in Philippians 1:29, “For to you it has been granted [literally graced] for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake.” Suffering for Christ is a divine gift. It is a sign of intimacy with Christ. The suffering Christians experience is not a sign of God’s neglect, but rather proof that grace is at work in your life.
But the desire to fellowship in Christ’s sufferings is coupled with the desire to know the power of the resurrection. You did notice that the power of his resurrection precedes the fellowship of his sufferings. The power of Christ’s resurrection first provides the strength and motivation for the coming suffering.
No man or woman can embrace the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings who does not first know the power of Christ’s resurrection. If you have come to Christ and know the power of his resurrection, if you’ve been raised from the dead, if you are experiencing the ongoing resurrection of new life in Christ, you can then endure suffering and as a result grow to know Christ deeply.
You grow so close, Paul says at the end of verse 10, “being conformed to His death.” To say this, Paul coined a compound word–it is the only place in the New Testament it’s found. Because it is a present passive participle, Paul is telling us here he’s being conformed to Christ’s death by the transforming activity of God and that it’s an ongoing process.
As Paul experiences the power of the resurrection and is strengthened to participate in Christ’s sufferings, he is being conformed to His death. Paul’s language indicates a process in which personal crosses produce a series of mini-resurrections that take Paul ever deeper in his personal knowledge of Christ. You can’t have Easter Sunday without Good Friday. But the suffering of Good Friday will lead to an incredible coming day. A third advantage of pursuing Christ is . . .
#3 Anticipating the eternal RESURRECTION Verse 11
Verse 11, “in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.” A final advantage Paul obtained when he met Christ was the guarantee of his future resurrection, when he would share in Christ’s glory. The Greek phrase “in order” actually reads “if somehow.” That doesn’t mean Paul was doubting, but rather expressing humility.
Paul’s sense of unworthiness for being in Christ never left him. He saw himself as the least of the apostles and the chief of sinners. But he knew, because of Christ, he’d attain to the resurrection from the dead. “Resurrection from the dead” is also a unique phrase. It literally reads “the out resurrection from among the corpses.” Or “out from among the dead”, which paints a picture of what is coming for you, Christian.
You believers attain the resurrection at the Rapture, when 1 Corinthians 15:51 to 53 says, “We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality.”
Believers will be taken out from among the rest of the dead corpses, who will not be raised until the end of the millennial kingdom, and each of us will be transformed into the image of Christ. Paul hated the weakness of his flesh and longed to be rid of it. Paul saw himself as a wretched man when he wrote Romans 8:23, “We ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body.”
You know Christ in salvation, then grow to know Christ more intimately through the power of the resurrection and by suffering in this life. But someday, all suffering will come to an end. Your ongoing Good Friday will be replaced by your own final Easter Sunday, when you receive your glorified, perfect body which will allow you to learn more and more about Christ forever.
Christ made you like Himself, righteous in salvation. Christ is making you like Himself in sanctification through the power of the resurrection and the fellowship of suffering. And finally, you will ultimately be like Christ, have Christ, be one with Christ in glorification at the final bodily resurrection from the dead.
The prize Paul wanted more than anything was not Heaven–not a resurrected body and not some spiritual benefit. No–Paul never got over seeing Christ on the Damascus road. Paul never could get his trip where God dwells in the third Heaven out of his head and heart. Paul was super crazy in service to Christ in order to see His resurrection power and enjoy the intimacy of Christ in his suffering. Why? What Paul wanted more than anything was to be forever in the presence of Christ. How about you? The surpassing advantages of knowing Christ.