How Do Christian’s Count?
The Infinite Value of Jesus Christ over and against our self-righteousness
Lord willing, we will be picking up our series on Hosea again on February 21st. Next week we are going to be talking about relationships. Do not forget to have questions prepared for Nikki and me, as we will share our story and then have a time for questions. That will be next week, but this week we are going to teach you how to count. Perhaps you figure that you already know how to count, but we are going to allow God to teach us how to count biblically, by using Philippians 3:2-11.
So before we begin with the text I want us to do a fun little exercise. It might require a little bit of thought, but it will help you understand exactly what Paul is saying here. We are going to use this sheet of paper to see how much righteousness we have. One column is your good deeds the other column will be your bad deeds. I have given you a sheet of paper and I want you to write down on this sheet of paper first of all as many of your good qualities and good deeds that you can think of in 2 minutes. Now I want to give you 2 minutes to think of all of your bad qualities or bad deeds. Perhaps you can use the 10 Commandments as a guide. Now, how are we going to count this up? How will we see how much righteousness you have?
Many use a simple procedure. Many take your good deeds. I came up with 15. Then you subtract your bad deeds from your good deeds. If you have a positive number then that means you are a good person; the higher the positive the better the person. Of course this gets a little more complicated because many people count certain sins as -2 and some good deeds as +2. But for simplicity sake we will only count everything as one. I had 15 good deeds and 9 bad deeds. That means that I am a good person. I have a positive 6. Maybe not as good as Gandhi but I am at least on the positive. According to the world’s counting I am righteous and therefore will probably go to heaven. But let’s take a look at what Paul says:
Read Philippians 3:2-11
Now, it is important that we understand why Paul is writing what he is writing. As he is writing this he is held in prison for being a Christian and preaching the gospel. While he has been in prison a certain group called the Judaizers has been gaining much popularity and they are preaching their gospel all throughout the places that Paul had been preaching. Their gospel is actually no gospel at all. It is not good news. Their gospel is that Jesus is not enough. If you want to be saved then you must have Jesus plus Judaism. You need to have Jesus and you need to be circumcised, you need to become a Jew and you need to start following after the Law. The Judaizers “gospel” is Jesus plus. If we are to use them in our math analogy they certainly would say that having faith in Jesus is indeed a good deed. And it probably even counted as 10 or 20 points. But you still needed to have circumcision, and you still needed to have the Law, and you still need to have your good deeds. And you still added your good and subtracted the bad and that decided whether or not you were righteous enough to go to heaven.
Paul has some very strong words for the Judaizers. He calls them dogs. In that culture being called a dog was not like it is now. Now, you can say “what’s up dog” and it’s perhaps a term of endearment-although a lame and outdated one. In that culture to be called a dog is to be called a scavenger. It would be like calling someone a buzzard or vulture in our culture. So the text that we have here today is in response to the Judaizers. He is defending the biblical gospel and answering those who believe you have to have Jesus plus, in order to be saved. In verse 3 Paul says that we as Christians are the “true circumcision”. Or to put that in other words, we as Christians are the “true Israel”. Or again to even make it more modern, “we are the true church, we are the true followers of Christ, and we are the true worshippers of the Lord”. Then Paul begins to use his life as an example. And it is here that we will learn how to do Christian math, or Christian accounting if you will. We are first of all going to see that Christians count any form of self-righteousness as a loss.
I. Christians count all self-righteousness as a loss
Earlier I had you make a list of all your good qualities and your good deeds. Paul has his own list here in Philippians 3. It might be difficult to pick up Paul’s boasting in our modern context. But we must remember the reason Paul is speaking. The Judaizers have said in order to be saved you must not only have faith in Jesus of Nazareth as the promised Messiah but you must also become a Jew. Which means you must still adhere to the letter of the Law in the Old Testament. In order to become a Jew (and in order to be saved) you must get circumcised. Paul is then putting on paper his resume for being a good Jew, that was their standard and Paul was saying that he not only met their standard but he far exceeded it.
I want to avoid going into a lengthy discussion of each of these points. We could perhaps preach a sermon on each of these boasts that Paul makes. So, please allow me to only summarize them for you. In essence what Paul is doing with his statement, “circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews”, is boasting in his hereditary accomplishments. He is saying, “If the requirement is to be a good Jew then ethnically, culturally, physically, I am a Jew through and through, you do not get more Jewish than me”.
Perhaps you have some of these positional or hereditary things on your list as well. “Raised in a Christian home, baptized, prayer captain, FCA member, youth leader, Bible studies leader, etc.”
Paul not only lists his hereditary, positional achievements, he also lists his personal convictions as a reason for boasting. Paul says as far as the Law of Moses is concerned he was a Pharisee. He observed the Law so strictly. He would have been like one of those that Jesus spoke of, that would go through such great lengths not to eat anything that was considered unclean that they would even strain all of their food and drink so as not to accidentally swallow a gnat. Paul was a Pharisee, and as a Pharisee he kept the letter of the Law. Furthermore he was zealous. He was zealous (passionate is another word for this) about being a Jew and about observing the Law. It was no mere head religion to Paul. He put it in practice. He was in fact so passionate about the Law that he sought to drive out these new Jesus followers. In fact we read that Paul was at the stoning of the first recorded Christian martyr; Stephen. He was “breathing out murderous threats” against Christians as the Bible says. Paul was passionate about upholding the Law and he was so zealous that these infidel Christians must be stopped. Paul was no hypocrite either. He was not just meticulous in keeping the letter, nor was he zealous for others to obey yet he himself did not. Paul says that as far as obeying the Law is concerned he was indeed blameless.
Perhaps you have some of these as well that you wrote down. “You believe in God, you try to keep God’s Law, you try to read your Bible, you are a good friend, you try to be nice to others, you try to follow Jesus’ teachings, etc.”
Paul is saying here if anyone can put confidence in the flesh I can. But I want you to notice the word here that Paul uses. “I…” Anytime in your list, on the good deeds side, that it begins with “I” or it could begin with “I” then circle it. For example: I am a youth pastor, I am a good husband, I am kind and loving, I am a Sunday School teacher, I try to help people, I have been baptized, I have prayed a prayer, I tithe to the church, I pray, I believe in God, I try to be a good person and follow Jesus, etc.” This is what we call self-righteousness. Anything that YOU do, try to do, or can do, or anything you are trusting in yourself for is self-righteousness. It is stating, because “I” did this then I am now righteous before God.
Now, I said earlier we are going to learn how to do Christian math or Christian accounting. Here is perhaps where it differs from the world. Remember the world system is to take our good deeds and add them up then subtract them from the bad deeds. But listen to what Paul says in verse 7, “But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ”.
I want you to notice that it is not merely that he counts them as 0. It is not as if you can say, “well in the grand scheme of things my righteous deeds actually do not count as anything”, therefore all of my bad deeds are then subtracted from 0 and every time I am going to come up with 0”. Actually our guilt runs even deeper than that. Paul says that he counts all of those things that once were in the gain column as a loss. That means they are instead of positive, negative. So rather than counting each of your good deeds as a positive and then subtracting your bad deeds from that number, you are actually going to add up all of your good deeds and then add them to your bad deeds and then put a big fat negative in front of that. What this means then is that right now I have a negative 15.
Before we move to the next point I want to ask this question. Why does Paul count those things as “loss” which he once counted as gain? Or to put it another way, why does “self-righteousness count as a loss”?
Those things that Paul listed are not bad in themselves. It is not damning to be a Jew. Certainly it is a good thing to be blameless in following the Law. It is a good thing to want to follow after God and please Him. It is a good thing to be zealous for truth. All of these things are in themselves good things. Many of the things listed here by Paul, he lists elsewhere as blessings. But whenever they are used improperly they turn into negatives or curses if you will. Whenever you consider anything that you do to be your ticket into heaven they instead of becoming stepping stones become stumbling blocks. The Law was intended to point us to Christ. Whenever we make following the 10 Commandments the end, we miss it. We stumble over that which was to lead us to Christ.
But the real reason why these are loss is because they stand in our way of Christ. Listen to what Paul says in Galatians, when he addressed these same Judaizers. “Behold, I Paul, say to you that if you receive circumcision, Christ will be of no benefit to you…You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by the law; you have fallen from grace.” And again he says that “if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly”. The real reason these are negatives is because you either trust in God or you do not. You cannot trust in Christ and trust in your self-righteousness as well. So Paul says I count these as loss so that I might gain Christ.
II. Christian’s count the value of knowing Christ as infinite
In verse 8 Paul more emphatically states this fact that no self-righteousness will count as anything before Jesus Christ. But this time Paul goes even further. He says, “I consider all things, which I might place my fleshly confidence in to be positively harmful.” People trust in all sorts of things besides their religiosity. People in Paul’s day trusted in their Roman citizenship. Today some might trust in their American citizenship or Baptist membership to assure them a place in heaven. What Paul is saying to us is this: If it’s not from Jesus Christ then it is dung, it is garbage. Everything on your “bad list” and everything on your “good list” should be in the loss column. If your sentence does not start with “because Jesus” then it’s not His righteousness it’s yours and it counts as dung. And I will show you why that is.
Notice why in verse 8, Paul says that counts all things as loss. He counts them loss “in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord”. Everything of our own self-righteousness is a “loss” compared to the infinite worth and beauty of Jesus Christ. I want to ask you a math question. What is infinity plus one? It is still infinity, because you can not add to infinity. What is infinity minus one? It is still infinity. I understand that does not make much since, but when did math ever make sense? You can not add anything to infinity nor can you subtract from it.
Jesus Christ is infinite in His being and in His person. He is infinite in His beauty and He is infinite in His splendor. That is why everything is a loss compared to the surpassing value of knowing Christ. You can not add to the righteousness of Christ with your own, nor can you subtract from the righteousness of Christ by your lack of it. Either you have one column of losses, or you possess the infinite gain, which is Jesus Christ.
To further help us see the infinite beauty of Jesus and why it is that everything is loss comparatively we are going to look now at two things. 1) What does it mean to know Jesus Christ? 2) What are the effects of knowing Jesus Christ?
1) What does it mean to know Jesus Christ?
Again we are going to look at the example of Paul. What would cause a man who was a Jew through and through to forsake all of his human accomplishments and further more to count them even as dung? What would cause a man to “suffer all things”, and “count everything in life as dung if it be not Jesus”. There is only one thing that can change you in such a manner. And that is seeing and valuing Jesus Christ. It is not merely knowing about Jesus, it is knowing Him. If I wanted to get into the White House to see President Bush, my reciting facts about him would mean little. You can find out about George Bush, you can find out about Jesus Christ, by doing a Google search. Certainly you will come up with many different opinions, but I very seriously doubt that raw facts are going to cause you to treasure Jesus, in such a manner that you would give up everything for Him.
Knowing Jesus is not merely, knowing about Him. It is, knowing Him intimately. It is having a living, breathing, real relationship with Him. It is to have the “light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ”. It is indescribable, and that is why I am having a difficulty in presenting this to you. All I can say to you is that the word for “know” means to know through experience. I cannot describe it to those of you who have never seen the beauty of Christ, all I can really do is tell you about its effects; just like I cannot describe the wind to you, but only its effects.
2) What are the effects of knowing Jesus Christ?
In our text Paul mentions what it is positively and what it brings about negatively. What I mean by that is this: You can see the power of knowing Jesus Christ in what Paul now desires, and what Paul now gives up to attain this desire. In your own life you can see how much you know Jesus Christ by what you will give up to have Him, and by what you positively do to attain Him.
I set for myself a goal of reading 5 books per month. One of my books this month is Jonathan Edwards’, “Freedom of the Will”. It is a wonderful book and of his statements struck me to the core. Edwards said, “The choice of the mind n ever departs from that which, at that time, and with respect to the direct and immediate objects of that decision of the mind, appears most agreeable and pleasing, all things considered”. That is a Puritan’s way of saying this, “You always choose what you treasure most”. And as I thought about that statement I prayed, “Oh, God change my desires and my passions in such a way that I always treasure you most”. If I always treasured Christ then I would stop sinning. Christ is indeed the greatest treasure; it is just getting my sinful flesh to realize this truth that is the problem. All of this means that you can know how much you treasure Christ by your actions.
Another fitting example is found on the lips of Jesus. In Matthew 13:44-46 he teaches two parables. “The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and hid again; and from joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking fine pearls, and upon finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.”
Knowing Jesus Christ is so valuable that a man will do whatever it takes to possess it. Furthermore it is so valuable and so precious that a merchant (whose business is buying and selling, he is one of course who would know the value of things) goes and sells all that he has to attain it. You know the value of Christ if you can be like Paul and “suffer all things for the sake of knowing Christ”.
How then can you tell if you do not treasure Christ? If you are still clinging to your own righteousness then you do not treasure Christ. In verse 9 Paul states his goal, “and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own…but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith”. A Christian counts the righteousness of Christ as infinitely valuable, and therefore counts his own righteousness and lack of righteousness as totally opposed to Christ’s righteousness.
What is meant by Christ’s righteousness? On the Cross two things took place. Christ took my sin (my lack of righteousness) and my punishment for it. But, he not only did that but He positively gave me His righteousness. So that I stand before God, as Paul says here, “not having a righteousness of my own” but instead one that “comes through faith in Christ”. It is a righteousness that has been given to me by God on the basis of faith, faith being the instrument that links me to the righteousness of Christ.
Furthermore, you can tell that you do not treasure Christ by the way you live your life. A man cannot serve both God and money, Jesus said. You can substitute the word, self, world, etc. in the place of money. You cannot serve two masters is what Jesus taught. You will hate the one and love the other. You cannot say that you treasure Christ if your life is patterned by constant disobedience of Him. You cannot say that you treasure Christ while you are madly in love with the world.
Kevin asks us a question last Sunday that I think is fitting again here. What is it that you cannot give up? Is it things of this world or is it Jesus Christ? Where you treasure is there your heart will be also. If you treasure Christ then you would not give Him up if the whole world were offered you. If you treasure the world and cannot give it up, then you do not treasure Christ.
Now, in closing I want to note that treasuring Christ is not only a matter of being a “good Christian or a mediocre Christian”. It is, I believe, a matter of heaven or hell. Paul seems to be saying here that if you are still counting on your own righteousness, if you are not treasuring Christ, in such a way that you count all things as loss but to gain Christ then you do not know Him. Jesus himself said, “For whoever wishes to come after me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and yet forfeit his soul?”
Knowing Jesus is like that merchant who sold everything to have Him. Knowing Jesus is like the man who bought the entire field just to have the treasure buried in it. Knowing Jesus is saying that everything that does not come from Christ is but dung. Knowing Jesus counts all of our self-righteousness as a loss. Knowing Jesus counts Jesus as infinitely valuable, and therefore is treasured. If you do not treasure Jesus then you do not know Him.
In closing, let us look one last time at our accounts. Look at your list of bad, and your list of good. We have seen that both are to be counted as negative before a holy God. We have nothing to offer. No amount of self-righteousness will count, because self-righteousness opposes God. It slaps the Jesus in the face and says, I don’t need you. If all you have is your own self-righteousness then you stand in the negative and there is nothing you can do to get out. Righteous deeds, they count as negatives. Bad deeds, certainly they too count as negatives. Neither good nor bad that you do will give you a positive number, nothing that you do will give you righteousness. Instead you must have a righteousness that is not your own.
How is this righteousness attained? John Piper gives a wonderful illustration of what faith is (how it is both the easiest and hardest thing to do). Piper says, “It’s like the monkey with his hand caught in a jar. It would be easy for him to slip his hand out of the opening except he has his fist around a nut. If he loves the nut more than he loves freedom from the jar, then getting his hand out of the jar will be hard, even impossible. But what could be easier than dropping a nut? The battle that Paul and Jesus are talking about is the battle to love the freedom of faith more than the nut of sin.”
The only way that you will drop the nut of sin is if Christ appears most precious to you. And that is my prayer for you. Perhaps God has already done a work on your heart and Christ does appear precious to you. Repent (drop the nut of sin) and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ (pull your hand out of the jar and embrace Christ). Trust in Christ and not your own self-reliance. And always remember that faith in Christ is not a one time event but a lifetime of knowing and experience Him. Never settle, never think you have attained. But always press on to lay hold of the goal—to know Jesus Christ. Do what you can to know Him.
If you treasure the nut of sin too much then you are getting ripped off. Not only will you never be satisfied, (Note that if you hand is stuck in the cookie jar you aren’t going to be eating the cookie) but furthermore you are missing out on the greatest pleasure. Jesus Christ. Paul does not count everything as dung because he is an unhappy little man. He counts it as dung because Jesus is so unbelievably awesome. There are many things that are sweet and precious in this life. But compared to the surpassing greatness and infinite worth of Jesus Christ they are like dung. Think how awesome Jesus Christ is. Yet, you would rather have your own self-reliance? Yet, you would rather remain in your sin? Yet, you would rather have the world? Oh, how infinitely precious Jesus Christ is. I urge you drop the nut!