As we’ve noted in our last two studies in Philippians chapter 3, because joy manifests through a working of God’s Spirit in your heart yielded by the grace afforded to you in Jesus, it’s then only logical that the greatest deterrent to joy would be anything that either directly or indirectly undercuts the power of grace or your dependency on the Holy Spirit. As famed evangelist Billy Sunday once said, “If you have no joy there’s a leak in your Christianity!”
This is why after the opening admonition to “rejoice in the Lord” Paul immediately warns the believers to “beware of” Christian legalism as well as those that preach such things. Friend, always know if you hear “Grace, and do these things” or “Grace, but don’t do these things” you’re being sold a substitute Gospel completely contrary to the Good News of “Grace.”
As we seek to get a running start into this mornings text, let’s begin with verse 7, “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 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; that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.”
If there could have ever been a man who’d dare stand before God on the basis of his own righteousness, in his former life under the law, the Apostle Paul would have been the prime candidate. And yet, in this appeal to reject legalism, Paul is letting us know that he had come to see this former identity based in his goodness, works, merit - ability to obey the law as not only being worthless, but total “rubbish” in comparison to the position he found in Jesus.
Paul is clear he’d counted all of these things loss the moment he met Jesus (verse 7 is in the past tense - “these I have counted loss”), but that this accounting was something Paul was continually doing. In verse 8 he adds, “Yet indeed I also count all things loss…”
From Paul’s perspective he simply couldn’t understand the appeal of legalism in light of Grace. I mean who cares what I do in context to what He’s done? Who cares about the sacrifices I make when the shadow of His sacrifice is so encompassing? Who cares about my ability when you take the time to consider His sufficiency? Why should we care at all about self when the only important thing in this life is knowing Jesus?
Now I don’t want to go off on a tangent, but (and I know that means a tangent is coming) the idea Paul is discussing is of such importance it does necessitate I expound upon the idea of “knowing Jesus” and the critical nature of our “faith in Him” for just a few minutes.
The Bible says faith (or what we’ll define as one’s total confidence) in the power of God’s grace as demonstrated through Jesus’ death on the cross (and not works based in the law) is the only mechanism by which a person is justified before God.
This is what Paul means when he says to these Philippians, “That I may gain Christ 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.”
And while many of us might understand this truth on at least a conceptual level, most struggle with the practicalities of how this exactly works… Which is important for understanding the practicalities of how grace justifies you before God is paramount if you’re to understand the practicalities of how grace transforms your life from sin into Godliness.
Sadly (and I think this lends to a lot of confusion), Christians have developed this notion that salvation is a work Jesus did apart from your involvement (which is true) and that the only role you play is acceptance by faith (which is false)! Let me explain…
Most mainstream views of salvation end up being relegated to something like this… “I prayed the prayer of salvation accepting the fact that Jesus died on the cross to atone for my sin so that I can receive His imparted righteousness and be declared justified before God.”
And while that sounds nice, it’s no wonder people then have a hard time determining what follows this prayer! Since salvation is seen as something you have (given and received) most wonder what to do next… Which easily leads to a “Grace, And” or “Grace, But” distortion.
Understand, there is a fundamental reality that makes these legalistic distortions baseless… Every aspect of salvation (forgiveness, atonement, justification, and righteousness) occurs via a relational association with Jesus and is not a golden ticket you simply receive!
Salvation demands an intertwining and fusing together of your life and Jesus’ through faith! It’s what Paul’s getting at in this passage. Salvation is not some mysterious thing you have or possess rather it’s something you experience. For example…
Why does God accept Jesus’ atonement for your sin? Answer: Because you died with Jesus on the cross! Paul made this point abundantly clear in Galatians 2:20 writing, “I have been crucified with Christ!” To this point Paul adds in Romans 6:5-6, “If we have been united together in the likeness of His death… knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin.”
I want you to also consider… How does God declare you righteous and justified before Him? Answer: Because you died with Christ, you’re now dead and Christ lives in you! Since atonement occurred when you died with Jesus, a new life was yielded in His resurrection. You were resurrected to life in Jesus’ resurrection - meaning when God looks at you He no longer sees you but instead sees Jesus and His righteousness in you!
This is the amazing point Paul is articulating when he writes in verses 10-11, “That I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.”
When God evaluates your life and mine the Bible says He sees me just-as-if-I’d never sinned for one reason and one reason alone… God sees Jesus living in me! Paul continues this point in Galatians 2:20, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in Jesus, who loved me and gave Himself for me.”
Now admittedly the idea of Jesus living in me seems weird… For a bit of clarity let me read Romans 8:9-11, “You are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His. And if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.” The indwelling of the person of Jesus occurs through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
Here’s my point… The essential reality is that every single aspect and process involved in your saving and sanctifying demands a relational association with Jesus. This is why the Bible uses a similar set of phrases to describe the Christian… You are “in Him” or “in Christ Jesus”. Positionally, you identify with Jesus. Practically, His Spirit is inside of you.
Aside from the fact you’ll find this phraseology used four times in Philippians chapter three alone, for a perfect example of this look no further than Romans 6:23, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Friend, salvation is not a voucher program provided by Jesus you receive in faith, but is instead a new reality brought forth through a relational association initiated by Jesus that you continue in by faith! Your salvation (forgiveness, atonement, justification, and declared righteousness) only occurs if you’re found by God living “in Christ Jesus!”
Let me attempt to illustrate this idea… What if I went to the hottest club in Atlanta on the most happening night of the year and tried to get in when the weekend before I’d partied with a group of friends, got hammered, tried to fight a security guard, and threw up all over the DJ’s turntables. Seriously, there’s no chance they’re going to let me in! I’ve blown it!
Unless… Let’s say a stretch limo pulls up to the front door and I get out with my close pal Christopher Bridges AKA Ludacris who also just so happens to own the club. As you can imagine since I’m with Luda not only am I able to avoid the line, but security lets me in without asking any questions, escorts me to the VIP, and gives me an unlimited tab.
Here’s the difference… Since I’m rolling with Ludacris not only are my past transgressions immediately forgiven and my slate wiped clean, but his reputation and privilege are afforded to me as well. If I’m found to be with Luda everything else takes care of itself!
Now keep in mind this unmerited favor I’m enjoying has absolutely nothing to do with who I am nor was there anything I did to earn it (in fact I clearly don’t deserve it). Instead, the favor I’m enjoying has everything to do with who I have a relational association with!
Think about it (and this is what many don’t understand about salvation)… Having Uber drop me off by the front door of the club - approaching security and telling them they have to let me in because I’m with Ludacris when I’m not with Luda isn’t going to gain me access!
Furthermore, explaining that Luda and I are tight because I hang around a lot of people who know him, give money and am a member of the fan club Ludanation, faithfully attend his concerts every Sunday and Wednesday, and know all the words to Ludaverse will also prove pointless as none of these things are evidence of a personal relationship. I can even demand security call Luda, but all he’s going to say upon hearing my name is “I don’t know him!”
This is why the Gospel of “Grace.” is amazing. It declares all you need to be forgiven, your sins atoned for, justified before God, and declared righteous is an active relationship with Jesus. Because salvation is not something you have but instead Someone you know, the very thought of “what do I do now” reveals a fundamental misunderstanding of salvation.
Sure salvation is something you’ve been given by Jesus that must be received in faith, but what have you actually been given? Answer… A Savior! You're saved through God’s grace in that you’ve been given a relationship with Jesus to be enjoyed and continue in!
“What do I do now” which is the fundamental lie of legalism is replaced with a Savior I now get to know! It’s with this understand of the importance of our relationship with Jesus we come to see why Paul is so adamant we “beware of” the intrusions of legalistic thinking.
Philippians 3:12, “Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me.”
Let’s unpack what Paul is saying working backwards. First, what does Paul mean when he mentions “that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me”? Initially, it’s interesting that Paul affirms it was Jesus who had initially “laid hold” of him.
In the Greek the word we translate as “lay hold of” is rather strong. The idea is “to seize” or “take possession of”. In a modern context Paul would be referring to what happens when a defensive end breaks through the offensive line and tackles a quarterback.
Understand, Paul is telling us that on the Road to Damascus Jesus personally stepped out of heaven and tackled him! Jesus was not sitting back passively waiting for Paul to come and “lay hold of” Him. Instead, Jesus was the pursuer. He was the initiator.
So… Why would Jesus tackle Paul? I think there’s two reasons that relate to everyone Jesus “lays hold of” - (1) He’s that crazy about us! And (2) He has a plan for our lives.
What makes this reality all the more incredible, as it pertains to using Paul as an example, is that it highlights God’s grace. Jesus was still crazy about Paul even when he was His enemy. Jesus had a plan for his life even though Paul was moving the opposite direction.
How amazing that Jesus literally knows everything about you and is still crazy about you - even when you want nothing to do with Him or the life He wants to provide!
Don’t miss this point… While Jesus was undoubtedly the initiator of Paul’s relationship with Christ, in this verse Paul also affirms one other key component. Though Jesus initially tackled Paul, Paul still had to make the decision to stop fighting and fully surrender.
While there is absolutely no question Jesus initiated the “laying hold of” because He loved Paul and had a plan for his life, it was still necessary Paul reciprocate the same action by choosing to “laying hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of him.”
This leads to another question… What was Jesus’ plan for Paul’s life or “that for which Christ laid hold of him”? Following his conversion, Luke records in Acts 9:15-16 that “the Lord said” of Paul, “He is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel.” From a practical sense, we do understand Jesus “laid hold of” Paul because He wanted to use him to be a “vessel to bear” witness of “His name.”
And yet… Relegating Jesus’ plan for Paul’s life to a list of things he would do misses the point entirely. Jesus’ grabbed hold of Saul of Tarsus, not because He needed the right man to take the Gospel to the Gentiles (as if God’s work is dependent upon any man). Jesus grabbed hold of Saul because He wanted to transform him into Paul. The work Paul would end up doing was absolutely secondary to the man Jesus wanted to make him into!
Please know (and once again this is what legalism convolutes) Jesus hasn’t “laid hold of” you so that He can now use you to accomplish His plan on this earth. Instead, Jesus “lays hold of” you because He loves you and wants to transform who you are!
Jesus doesn’t save because He has work to be done. Jesus saves because He wants to see broken lives made whole, dead men brought to life, the lame walk and the blind see, those who were lost - found! You see God’s plan for your life is not things for you to accomplish. His plan is to transform you more into the image and likeness of His Son Jesus.
Friend, while God does have ways He wants to use your life, His ultimate plan is to use this life to make you more like Jesus! Never forget this point, to God your internal transformation supersedes any and all physical accomplishments!
And it’s to this point Paul is honest with these Philippians that he had “not attained” or was “already perfected.” As it pertained to the core reason Jesus “laid hold of him” Paul admits he still had a long way to go. While righteous before God and justified on the account of Jesus’ work, Paul is affirming, from a practical senes, he was personally far from Christ-like.
Paul could admit there were still many areas in his life that needed to become more like Jesus - which explains why he was “pressing on” by “laying hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of him.” Paul was not pursuing his perfection through his works, but was instead grabbing hold of the Savior who was changing him. Paul continues by now explaining the particulars of how he was “pressing on…”
Philippians 3:13-14, “Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”
In order to avoid any confusion, what was Paul “pressing towards”? Well, in context, it was the very thing Jesus had “laid hold of him!” Paul says his ultimate “goal” was this “prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” You see the whole point to Paul’s life was pursuing the very purpose for which Jesus had originally “laid hold of him.”
And note, as we just discussed, this was not things for Paul to do for Jesus, religious works to be done, sacrifices to be made, or accomplishments to be totaled. Instead, the “goal” was an internal transformation yielded through the “prize” - a relational association. The “call of God” Paul had received wasn’t through his works, but “in” a relationship with “Christ Jesus.”
Notice the key to Paul’s pressing onward and towards Jesus… He writes, “Forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead.” The tense used indicates this was a constant and continually “forgetting” and “reaching forward.”
One of the interesting aspects of this famous verse is how incomplete our application of it ends up being. Most refer to “forgetting those things which are behind” as the exhortation to let go of the former life of sin and all the condemnation that’s often stirred by their memory.
And trust me I get it… It’s hard to walk in victory if you’re still living in defeat, to run with endurance when your feet remain in shackles. No doubt it was only in this process of “forgetting” and “reaching forward” that Paul was able to write… Romans 8:1, “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.” 2 Corinthians 5:17, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.”
And yet, while this is true, I’m not sure a former life of sin is what Paul’s referring to! Don’t forget this exhortation to “forget those things which are behind” comes in the context of a greater discussion concerning legalism and how it undermines our joy.
I’m convinced there is a greater deterrent to your pursuit of Christ and the transformation that results than mere guilt over the sin of your past… From personal experience and massive failures I have discovered anytime you take pride in the spiritual victories of the past or for that matter how far you’ve presently come (how much you’ve grown or the person you’ve become), you’ve in turn set yourself up for a fall.
While it’s true you’re not who you once were (and that’s absolutely a good thing), it’s paramount you’re continually “pressing on” and “reaching forward” never allowing yourself to grow content with who you presently are! If you aren’t like Jesus you haven’t arrived.
This is what makes legalism so dangerous… It fosters pride in what you’ve accomplished and places an undo emphasis on what you’re presently doing! “Grace, And” and “Grace, But” Gospel distortions enable a person to have a sense of pride in their accomplishments.
By looking back at former victories or around at what you’re presently doing for God, legalism presents a moral structure whereby it’s easy to be lulled into a false belief you’re doing well. And yet, if like Paul, your focus is only “forward” looking to Jesus with the “goal” being Christ-likeness, how could you ever possibly conclude you’re doing well?
In light of the fact Paul knew he had “not already attained” or was “already perfected”… Because he knew there were so many areas in his life that still needed to be transformed by Jesus, Paul is about as honest as he can be with these Philippians…
“Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended” (literally there is a lot about all of this I’m still learning myself), “but one thing I do” know in my pursuit of “laying hold of” the very life Jesus “laid hold of” me (becoming this person Jesus wants to make me)…
I have to make a daily choice to “forget those things which are behind” me (whether they be my past sins or for that matter my former victories) and instead place my sole focus not in things to do or forgo doing for God - which will never yield the life Jesus wants for me, but into the simple act of “reaching forward” and “pressing towards the goal” - this internal transformation which I know can only be yielded through the “prize” of this heavenly “call of God” - my relational association with Jesus.
In closing… “Grace, and do these things” or “Grace, but don’t do these things” approaches to spiritual development (legalism) not only fail and are viewed by God as “rubbish”, but they’re dangerous because they rob a person of joy by adding unnecessary expectations and conditions to a relationship with Jesus made possible by grace and one that is intentionally dependent on only one work - the work Jesus accomplished on the cross.
This morning whether you’re a believer or not the fact remains the same, Jesus is grabbing hold of you because He loves you and wants to transform your life! Like Paul, Jesus doesn’t care what you’ve done or where you’re going. He doesn’t even care if you’re pursuing Him or not. Jesus is the initiator! So… The question begs - will you grab hold of him?
May you “rejoice” or for that matter discover “joy” in the knowledge that your standing before God as well as the process by which you grow in Godliness is found in a relationship you have with Jesus and not your performance! How amazing you don’t have to earn God’s favor nor are you required to maintain some standard in order to keep it… In grace and through Jesus you’ve been set free to simply enjoy the favor of God and be changed by it!
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