Friday, February 11, 2011

Gain, Find, Know, Attain - Part 4

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 these four magnificent verses, we have seen the Apostle Paul's unequivocal declaration of the Christ-centered priorities in his life. His clear statement that knowing and achieving all other things, in comparison to the excellence of the knowledge of Christ, is rubbish. He has shown us that by knowing Christ, not just knowing of Him, we receive riches and righteousness beyond mere mortal comprehension. We are given profound understanding of the very nature of the God who created us, saved us, loves us and longs for us to be forever His children. And lastly, Paul writes of the ultimate purpose of these things. It is this: if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.

Death is an enemy. It is explicitly described in Scripture not as cessation, but separation. Physical death is the separation of the soul and spirit - the consciousness - from the physical body. It is temporary until the Resurrection occurs, when the person is reunited with an indestructible, immortal body. Spiritual death, referred to as the Second Death, is the eternal separation of a sentient being from God. Again, the Bible knows nothing of annihilation. You will live forever. 

“For as the Father has life in Himself, so He has granted the Son to have life in Himself, “and has given Him authority to execute judgment also, because He is the Son of Man. “Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth--those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation. (John 5:26-29, NKJV).
The question is where will you spend eternity? The phrase Paul uses, if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead, assumes we know what true, eternal death is: separation of a sentient being from God, forever. Since apart from God there is nothing of joy, love, peace, light or purpose, existence unrelated to Him is, by definition, agonizing. It is being forever entrapped in outer darkness, in unquenchable fire, continuously consumed by inconsolable regret and grief, where there is, only and always, weeping and gnashing of teeth. We often use Hell in this life to describe that which is merely inconvenient, but in reality, true Hell is indescribable. It is the greatest loss conceivable. Nothing compares to its emptiness and agony. If we were given just the merest taste of what that means, our sanity would dissolve and we would fall on our faces in unutterable despair. But understand this, for it is the most important thing you will ever need to know, once having crossed the borders into Hell, there is no escape. No second chances. No relief. No hope. You can't die or faint or go insane. You can only suffer, and that all the more, precisely because there is no end in sight. Nor will there ever be.

It should be clear then why the apostle says what he says: if, by any means. Without Christ, there is no escape. But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 2:4-7, NKJV). [For] God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8, NKJV).
The Father spared no expense, stopped short of no extreme, to save us. He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? (Romans 8:32, NKJV). Our worth to God is immeasurable. This should surprise us when we consider who and what we really are, deep inside where we really live. On the other hand, it should not surprise us at all, given what the Bible reveals to us about the Father's heart, and about the richness and grace of His Son.

So if God used all means to save us, does it makes sense for us to do any less in order to receive that salvation? Should we not, like Paul, desire to do and be whatever it takes? To exercise whatever means to achieve the desired end; resurrection from the dead into eternal life? That is what he is saying. Paul would have gone anywhere, done anything, to receive the prize. In truth, he surrendered all that he had done and become, to know His Lord and Savior, so that the final tragic and unthinkable separation from ALL that is good, would not take place. But the astonishing truth is this: we are not asked to do anything. Our part is to believe in Jesus Christ so that we may be saved.

In the apostle's mind, there was nothing that was not worth losing in the face of what he would gain in return. Keeping hold of anything that would prevent that saving relationship with Jesus, that special knowing the excellence of Christ, was unthinkable. Pride, self-reliance, prestige, personal achievement, power, even ownership of the whole world, was dung in comparison. That is the mindset he is conveying and exhorting each one of us to have. It only makes sense. It is, in fact, the only sane thing to pursue. Christ. His fullness. His joy. His life. What could possibly compare?

Through faith in Christ alone, we Christians are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. Death has been vanquished by Jesus on the Cross. It cannot touch us, but for that temporary separation that occurs when our physical body dies. And when that happens, we are home, and free at last, to await that glorious body not made with hands, not of this creation.

Pursue, by any means, Jesus Christ. Seek Him and He will be found. Ask and you will receive. He stands at the door and knocks. He desires you, as a loving Father desires the embrace of a precious child. Why would you hold onto anything of this world, including your own self-will, when by simply trusting in Him, you live forever in all fullness of joy?