Lent 5c

Preached: March 21, 2010

In Losing Everything, You've Gained Christ's Righteousness
Philippians 3:8-14

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Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The Word from God which the Holy Spirit gave to the Apostle Paul to write to bring us Christ and his righteousness is Philippians 3.

Therefore moreover I am considering all a loss because of the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. Because of him I was made to lose everything (and I consider those things garbage) in order that I gained Christ and was found in him, not having my own righteousness from law but that which is through faith in Christ -- the righteousness from God based on faith, that is, to know him both the power of his resurrection and the fellowship with his suffering, being conformed to his death, if I will arrive at the resurrection from the dead in some way.

Not that I already took it or already have been made complete, but I press on if I will also take hold, because I've been taken hold of by Christ Jesus. Brothers, I do not reckon that I myself have taken hold, but one thing: forgetting what is behind and stretching forward toward the goal, I press on to the prize which comes from God's calling heavenward in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:8-14

This is the Word of our Lord.

Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints washed clean in the blood of our risen Savior:

A lifetime of work, countless hours of effort, all gone in a flash. I'm not talking of a wall street trader losing his fortune, or a politician's career ruined in scandal, or a sport star's fame tarnished by drugs. I'm talking about Saul, also known as Paul. He was a rising star, born into a good family and trained in the best schools. He had the drive to make things happen and outstanding morals on top of it all. He could have gone far in the Jewish leadership.

But that all changed on his way to Damascus. He lost everything -- not to bandits or some freak accident, but to Jesus. “What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to” (or more precisely “because of”) “the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish that I may gain Christ . . .” (Philippians 3:8 NIV). In losing all that he had thought made him great and good and right in God's sight, he gained Christ and the righteousness that comes from Christ alone.

That's the miracle Jesus worked in Paul, and that, dear friends, is the miracle he has worked in your heart through Baptism and his word. In losing everything, you've gained Christ's righteousness. That's the theme we ask the Holy Spirit to strengthen our hearts with as we inwardly digest this word of God before us in Philippians 3.

A. All other gains are garbage

1. What's life like before Christ's righteousness becomes our own?

What's life like before Jesus, before Christ's righteousness becomes our own? The conscience in all of us drives us on to do what is right and good. Often sinful desires in people win out, so that they do what is bad even though their conscience condemns them for it. But that can give them all the more incentive to do good to make up for the bad and ease their guilt.

Now in his early life, Paul eager sought to do the good that his conscience dictated. He even had God's laws given to Moses at Mt. Sinai to direct his conscience. He was convinced that what he did was good and made him right in God's sight.

That's righteousness that comes from law. It comes from what we do, our obedience to the commandments. It's the righteousness that Paul in his early life strove to gain. Yes, because those Christians were worshiping this Jesus as their God and that obviously broke the commandment to have no other gods -- or so Paul thought at that time -- he hunted down the Christians, thinking that would make him even more right in God's sight.

How that all changed in a flash! When that same Jesus appeared to him in his divine glory near Damascus, all that Paul imagined he had gained for his credit before God vanished as garbage. Yes, even the good things he had done weren't right enough to stand up before the holy God who judges with unadulterated pureness and piercing justice. All was garbage and loss.

For you see, dear friends, if we are holding on to anything hoping it will help make us right before God, then we are not holding on to Christ's righteousness. The only way that we gain Christ's righteousness is to lose everything else as any kind of hope for making us right before God, counting all those things as garbage. Only in losing everything, do we gain Christ's righteousness.

2. How does the devil try to get us to lose Christ's righteousness?

Now having been trained in the Christian faith, we all know that our earthly riches don't save us, whether we have much or give it all away as a lose. We know that our good works don't make us right in God's sight. So rather than a frontal attack, the devil points you and me to the Christian things we do, the things that God commands and wants us to do, like coming to church, saying your prayers, helping those in need, giving generously. And then he whispers, “You know that these things can't save you, but they must count a little bit. Why would God want you to do them? Why would you make such an effort for them if they didn't help out at least a little bit to make you look a little better in God's sight.”

But as soon as we begin to mark down any of those things in the gains column of the ledger to make us more right before God, then we've lost Christ and his righteousness. Only in losing everything else, do we gain Christ. Even the most beautiful good work that God commands and gladly accepts from you as you do it out of thankful faith that clings to Jesus and his righteousness alone -- even that beautiful work becomes garbage if you count it as a gain that makes you more right before God. Even your faith becomes garbage if you think that your effort in believing helps make you right before God. Only in losing everything, do we gain Christ's righteousness.

So along with the Apostle Paul, dear friends, consider everything but Christ to be rubbish and garbage when it comes to being counted as righteous in God's sight. Sing with Isaac Watts, “When I survey the wondrous cross On which Prince of glory died, My richest gain I count but loss And pour contempt on all my pride” (Christian Worship: A Lutheran Hymnal, “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross,” 125:1).

B. Your faith knows the power of Christ's resurrection

1. What verdicts does Christ's resurrection declare?

And believe, dear friends, believe with all your heart that the power of Christ's resurrection will not fail. For Christ's resurrection promises you his righteousness, that's the promise your faith knows and trusts.

When Jesus appeared to Paul on the road to Damascus, not only did Paul see all his own efforts to be right before God as garbage, but he also saw the risen Jesus and his righteousness standing before God perfectly acceptable to the Father. Paul rejoices in this righteousness of Christ that alone stands before God as perfect and complete. He writes, “not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ -- the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith . . . to know Christ and the power of his resurrection” (Philippians 3:9, 10 NIV).

Christ's resurrection is God's powerful verdict. Easter declares that Jesus' righteousness is full, complete, perfect. Nothing is lacking. God's verdict is clear: The One condemned and crucified is acquitted. Jesus is righteous.

And Christ's resurrection also declares: “God freely gives you this righteousness that belongs to Jesus Christ. His verdict of acquittal is yours.” This is the righteousness that comes from God, not from the law which only pronounces those who obey it perfectly to be righteous. This is the righteousness that is based on faith, not on our own doings. For you see, it comes through God's gracious, unearned, unmerited, undeserved, promise. Only faith and faith alone can receive this promise. And only this unconditional promise can ignite saving faith. For that promise “is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16 NIV). That promise freely gives the righteousness “which is through faith in Christ -- the righteousness that comes from God is by faith” (Philippians 3:9 NIV).

Such faith knows the power of Christ's resurrection, the promise of full acquittal and complete righteousness. For through the water and word of Baptism you were baptized into Christ. You died with him and were raised with him. His resurrection is yours. His righteousness is yours. His acquittal is yours.

That faith gladly calls Jesus, my Lord. He is the Lord, the God of unchanging grace who freely makes his promises and faithfully keeps them. He is my Lord. For he has purchased and redeemed me with his holy, precious blood. He has clothed me with his righteousness, which alone stands before God and receives the verdict of acquittal in his courtroom. So “I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Philippians 3:8 NIV). That is what my faith believes and confesses. That is what your faith also knows, believes, and confesses. In losing everything, you've gained Christ's righteousness. And his righteousness will not fail you, for Jesus has risen from the dead.

C. You strain forward toward your resurrection sharing in Christ's suffering

1. Why do we press on?

That's why we strain forward and press on. For Jesus has taken hold of you. He has given you in his righteousness. He has conquered death for you. We, too, will rise from the dead and be glorified. But we're not there yet. We haven't died yet. Until then, press on and strain forward toward your resurrection.

Paul knew that the resurrection from the dead lay ahead of him. He would arrive their by God's grace through faith in Christ's righteousness. But he didn't know in what way he would arrive. Would it be by dying from natural causes, or by a martyr's death, or by Christ's returning in glory? In whatever way it might be, somehow he would arrive at the heavenly glory.

Until then, he strained forward sharing in Christ's suffering. Just as the world hated Jesus, so it hates those who follow him. Jesus made that clear. So also Paul knew that he would suffer as a follower of Jesus. He writes about “the fellowship of sharing in his [Christ's] sufferings becoming like him in his death” (Philippians 3:10 NIV). Not that his own suffering pays for sin like Christ's did. To think like that would be counting our garbage as gain and letting go of Christ's righteousness. But as we follow Jesus in this world, that means suffering the world's ridicule, hatred, and even persecution for the sake of Jesus' name. As we follow Jesus, who suffered, so also we will suffer. But don't let that surprise you or discourage you. Rather strain forward, for just as Jesus suffered and then rose from the dead, so also we will be raised.

But that resurrection is still ahead for you and me. That's the prize Jesus has won for you. That is the goal for which he has taken hold of you. That's the trophy his righteousness gives you. Don't throw it away by refusing to suffer for Jesus' sake and so give up on him and return to all those things that are garbage that cannot make you right in God's sight.

Rather press on. Strain forward. Forget about all that which we used to think could make us right with God. In losing all those things, you've gained Christ's righteousness. So strain forward toward your resurrection day, saying with the Apostle Paul: “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:12-14 NIV).

The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Pastor Gregg Bitter

St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
859 5th Street
Hancock, MN 56244
(320) 392-5313