Whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ … For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him. Philippians 3:7-9
Life is so often about what we must do in order to gain entry or acceptance. “What do I have to do to get into that school? To gain acceptance by that social circle? To reach executive status?” By nature, humans therefore wonder the same thing about spiritual realities: “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Luke 18:18, emphasis added).
We often rely on our activities—attendance at church, prayer, Bible reading. We feel confident when we do them and condemned when we don’t. We see God’s law as a ladder up which we climb to His acceptance of us.
In the passage leading up to this verse, Paul has just rehearsed all the earthly “gain” in his life, both inherited and achieved, from his privileged birth to his elite education. The purity of his pedigree was never in question from the day of his birth. Paul essentially says, If these factors achieve acceptance with God, you can see I had them all. Did I dot all the spiritual i’s and cross all the religious t’s? Absolutely.
Paul had once thought he was a spiritual millionaire. He had thought he was advancing in holiness. Then one day it all changed. In one journey from Jerusalem to Damascus, Paul came to realize he was spiritually bankrupt—that he wasn’t even on the path of holiness.
What gave Paul hope? On that same journey, he met the risen, crucified Jesus (Acts 9:1-19), and he grasped the doctrine of justification: that God declares the sinner to be righteous on the basis of His Son’s finished work.
Far from being a ladder, God’s law is more like a mirror that shows us we’re in the wrong and we can’t put ourselves in the right. Like Paul, every advantage we previously considered a gain is now seen to be a loss, a failure.
How can you know that Christ accepts you? Not because you come to Him with a righteousness of your own; rather, because your sin has been transferred to the account of Christ, who knew no sin but became sin for you so that you might receive His perfect righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21). You cannot add anything to being justified with God. You cannot subtract anything from being justified with God. Justification is full because God gives believers Christ’s righteousness, and it is final because it depends solely on God’s gift of His Son.
Once you know you cannot lose your entry into eternal life, you are ready to give up everything else for the sake of the one who has gained you entry: reputation, wealth, prominence, status, possessions. Whatever you once thought gain, you can joyfully now count loss. You are willing to lose your life for Christ for you know that through Christ you have gained true life. What do you struggle to give up for Jesus? Let your justification be the engine of your wholehearted obedience.