Saturday, February 05, 2011

Loss: The Ultimate Profit

though I also might have confidence in the flesh. If anyone else thinks he may have confidence in the flesh, I more so: circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; concerning the law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the church; concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless. But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. (Philippians 3:04-07, NKJV).
The problem, of course, is that we love, love, love our flesh (our body, mind and will, without God). This is true even when it betrays us by getting sick, or weak, or old, or when assessing our cornucopia of imperfections. 

The Bible agrees, saying that no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church. And when you hear someone complain about hating himself or his body, don't believe him. If he truly hated himself, he would be glad about whatever it is he finds so distressing.

And in naturally loving our flesh, we take great pains to find something positive about it that we can take out in the street and parade around so we feel in control, or empowered, or "affirmed" in some shallow fashion. It's a trap though, and a good one. The trap part is because it is so wonderfully alluring to feel good about yourself, and so utterly misery-inducing when otherwise. It's a good trap because once snared, it takes death to escape.

That is why Christians are said to have died with Christ, or to have died to self, or to have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. But if that were the entire bargain, it would be a poor exchange, indeed. What good is getting un-ensnared if it gets you dead? 

The truth is that only when we die with Christ, are we then raised up with Him, and become possessors of His eternal life. Our old life is barely alive at all, though we don't know it until we have the new life with which to compare it. Then, although it has been put to death, the old nature can take a long time to cease its death throes, scratching and kicking every step of the way to its final burial. In the meantime, there's war between old and new, spirit and flesh. The goal is to surrender self in order to be more than conquerors through Him who loved us. By losing, we win.

All this only makes sense after conversion, because it can only be "spiritually discerned". The unregenerate self is as blind as a bat when it comes to God's Word. Yet, once our eyes are opened, there is still that alluring temptation to trust in our flesh; our abilities, talents, accomplishments, or background. It can be very soothing, especially if we happen to have good digestion, or have gotten a good night's sleep, or have just done something deemed noteworthy. The problem is that our standards are remarkably lax, inconsistent and self-serving. What is merely whimsical variety when we discern it in ourselves, can be seen as blatant hypocrisy in someone else, or so we think. And it goes on and on in a downward spiral of fleshly self-confidence. It's all rubbish.

That is Paul's point. He will say it more forcefully in a verse or two, but he begins the argument here by first outlining his exemplary qualifications for human righteousness, and then declaring that "what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ". Look, he had it all: the right pedigree (circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews); the right training (concerning the law, a Pharisee); the right attitude (concerning zeal, persecuting the church); and the right activities (concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless). I have no doubt that all those boasts from a human perspective were absolutely true. The apostle strikes me as a vigilant, dedicated and devoted man who did nothing halfway. If he said he was blameless in following the Mosaic Law, there is nothing to indicate otherwise, which, by the way, is saying something. But Paul declares, unequivocally, that such fleshly activities are saying exactly the wrong thing.

If, in order to escape Hell, a worm needs to become an angel, it doesn't matter if you are the most extraordinarily high-quality worm in Creation. You are still a worm, and will burn just as readily as all the other worms who haven't attained to your illustrious level of excellence. So, if you don't surrender your old wormy-self to accept God's offer to recreate you as something completely new, you will not escape the flames, and all your achievements will do you no good.

But if you discard all that fleshly and worthless stuff that you are counting on, all that vapor and smoke of your life, in exchange for Christ, then in giving up what you cannot hold onto, you have gained something you cannot lose. And the odd and miraculous thing that follows is that you become very different. Old things have passed away. You are a new creation. It doesn't matter what you were, or did. It's all been washed away at the Cross of Christ.

And then - and then - the stuff you do or say that is good in Him - your achievements, your kindness, your love, your faithfulness, and your righteousness - is really good, inside and out, because it's not you, it's Christ in you, the hope of glory. That's the ultimate profit: being conformed into the very image of God's Son.

Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, dies no more. Death no longer has dominion over Him. (Romans 6:8, 9, NKJV).


If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory. Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. Because of these things the wrath of God is coming upon the sons of disobedience, in which you yourselves once walked when you lived in them. (Colossians 3:1-7, NKJV).