Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Gain, Find, Know, Attain - Part 1

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. (Philippians 3:08-11, NKJV).
In a previous post, entitled Dung and Excellence, Paul's Christ-centered priorities and perspectives were outlined, as well as his view of the things of the world versus the things of Christ. This naturally leads to the next several verses in this Chapter of Philippians that speaks of the apostle's desire, after gaining Christ, to be found in Him, to  know Him, and through these, to attain to the resurrection of the dead.
Being found in Christ might seem ambiguous or unclear unless we consider the all-important context of Paul's divinely-inspired thought. When we do, we discover that Paul is speaking of righteousness. This is a common theme in many of his epistles, especially the Book of Romans, where he discusses a similar train of thought regarding Abraham's righteousness in Romans 4. The core of this truth is this: human beings are not righteous, cannot become righteous, and are completely unrighteous, in and of ourselves, in the sight of a Holy God. This is in complete accord with the teaching of the entire New Testament.

Since righteousness is the determinative factor of where each one of us will spend eternity after death, this means we are forever prohibited from entrance into Heaven. There is no amount of good we can perform that will mitigate our inherent unrighteousness. No charity, no sacrifice, no ritual, no ceremony, no conceivable possible action or words, will enable us to enter into God's Presence. In fact, it forebodes far more than that, since being unable to enter into His Presence, means that our eternal habitation must be as far from God as it is possible to be. This is a place described variously as outer darkness, the Lake of Fire, Hell, a place where the Worm does not die and the fire is never quenched. It is a place of agonizing torment in the excruciating consciousness bestowed upon us at death, when we are either resurrected for condemnation (the default condition), or resurrected for eternal life. Please understand, for this is very important, the Bible knows nothing of the annihilation of consciousness at death. Once made, we cannot be unmade.

Obviously, that is all bad news. If passing the test of righteousness is the only entrance into Heaven, and if we are incapable of righteousness, then we are damned. Yet, God has not abandoned us to that inevitable fate, not because of us, but because of His goodness, kinds, and love. He has provided a way to escape the inescapable, and while He offers it as a gift, it was not free. The price: the death of God's holy and righteous Son, Jesus Christ, on the Cross in our place. His willingness to lay down His life in our place, paid the price of our inherent unrighteousness. He who knew no sin became sin for us, that we might become His righteousness in Him. That is why the Gospel of Jesus Christ is called the good news; what we could not ever accomplish on our own, Jesus did for us.

For us to become beneficiaries of that gift we must - we must - cease to entertain any illusion that we are righteous. We must - we must - accept that we are completely incapable of self-righteousness. If we do not surrender any and every trace of such delusional conceit, then we are saying to the Father He needn't have sent His Son to die in our place. Can you see the utter blasphemy of such a statement? It is equivalent, but opposite, of declaring that His death was insufficient to propitiate God's wrath against sin. Either position is untenable in the extreme, and of that, Scripture says this: Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose, will he be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace? (Hebrews 10:29, NKJV).
By now, I hope it is clear why Paul desires to be found in Christ, not having [his] own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith. It makes perfect sense. It is only Christ's righteousness that is acceptable before God the Father. It is only seeing Him in us, that we become fit for Heaven. If we attempt to arrive any other way, we will be thrown into outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth, forever. Unless we are clothed in the righteousness of Jesus, we have come to the throne in defiled garments, rejecting not only the condition of the King's invitation, but his infinitely costly supply of proper attire. That is what the parable of the wedding feast in Matthew signifies.

The Law kills. Grace makes alive. The apostle is proclaiming here that by losing the world and gaining Christ, God provides him a cure for his incurably fatal affliction - for free. By faith in Christ, we are thus found in Him, and the hopeless attempt to attain to our own righteousness is rendered unnecessary. And that is a very good thing, since attaining our own righteousness is impossible.

By setting aside any hope or trust in ourselves, we acknowledge the incomparably gracious gift of God's Son, and in giving up that which we cannot hope to accomplish on our own, we attain that which is the hope of every sane human heart since time began: resurrection into eternal life.

Therefore, with all my heart, my prayer is that I lose myself, and am found in Him.