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Righteousness: Losing Ours and Finding His
By David A. DePra
For we are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh. Though I might also have confidence in the flesh. If any other man thinks that he hath whereof he might trust in the flesh, I more: Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee; Concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless. But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith: That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death; (Phil 3:3-7)
Jesus told His disciples (see Matt. 16:24-25) that in order to find true life in Him, they must lose their life. He was talking, not merely about salvation – no, He was talking about the meaning of discipleship – about what it means to be, "a taught one," of God. He was talking about all that pertains to life in Christ. We must lose everything about ourselves that we might otherwise present to God – we must lose self-ownership – in order to be free to walk in the life of Jesus Christ that we received at salvation.
The above passage from Philippians 3 is Paul’s personal experience of losing his life for the sake of Jesus Christ. But again – you will note that this is not Paul’s salvation experience. It is his experience of coming into the reality of Christ once he was saved. Paul’s experience is shared as an example for us.
Loss for Christ
Paul states, "But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ." But let’s ask: What things is Paul talking about? His sins? No. Paul is talking about the loss of all the things he had just listed. You won’t find a sin among them. Everything Paul listed, and counted as loss, are those things that he might have used to make himself RIGHTEOUS before the Lord.
Paul is actually telling us that he had to lose all sense of SELF-RIGHTEOUSNESS. But what do we think that required? That Paul merely study the Bible and glean from it a doctrine? No, despite the fact that everything Paul shared was already in the Bible – even in the OT – despite this, Paul is saying that something happened to him – inwardly, and in a way that changed him forever. Something happened to Paul because of Christ. But what? Just this: Paul LOST everything about himself in which he had put his faith. Sure. Faith in self is self-righteousness. In the end that is exactly what it is. And so Paul is saying that he came to see that there was NOTHING about himself on which to park his faith.
We all put our faith in ourselves more than we imagine. Even those of us who are continually condemning ourselves are doing so precisely because we have faith in ourselves – our faith is presently frustrated and disappointed. That is why we condemn ourselves. We had put our faith in ourselves and we failed. Thus, we are doing what God does not do – condemn us.
No. Paul came to the place where he no longer had any faith in himself. But how did he come to that place? Merely through study? No. Through brain power? No. Paul came to the place where he no longer had any faith in himself because once he began to see Jesus he began to see the Truth. And the Truth is, there is NOTHING in us – there is nothing in there upon which we can put our faith. To do so is error. It is futile.
Note that: This isn’t a matter of God forbidding us to put faith in ourselves because He demands it be in Christ. No. This is a matter of the Truth. There is nothing in us. There is everything in Christ. Thus, our faith is nothing more than God showing us the Truth about ourselves in the light of Christ. We put our faith in Christ because He alone is FAITHFUL and TRUE.
Have we come to the place yet where we see that Jesus Christ is TRUE, and that everything about us is FALSE? You see, self-righteousness is exactly that – it is a false righteousness. Or, in other words, self-righteousness is a LIE. Thus, if our faith is in anything about ourselves we are walking in darkness. We are deceived. We are not walking in the light.
So Paul is telling us that God showed Him the Truth – and that when Paul saw the Truth he LET GO of the lie. Paul LOST everything about himself that he might otherwise have based his faith upon -- because He saw that there was nothing in himself that was righteous, but that in Christ was the only righteousness of God.
Many of us don’t’ realize that God never intended for man to have a righteousness in himself. No. God never created man to be righteous apart from God. That is why Adam was, "naked and unashamed," before his sin. He had NOTHING in himself – but everything in God. Thus, it is back into this relationship that God has redeemed us in Christ. We have NO righteousness of our own, and were never intended to have any. But if we are IN CHRIST, then HE IS our righteousness.
Now note: God doesn’t simply declare us righteous – that is included – but there is more to salvation than God simply, "imputing," to us the righteousness of Christ in a legal sense. What God does is actually IMPART to us Christ Himself. Thus, righteousness is not merely a legal classification or a THING God gives us. No. God gives us Christ Himself – whom God has made unto us righteousness. (I Cor. 1:30) Christ IS our righteousness. He is the only one we have.
So when Paul saw this Truth he let go and lost everything about himself that he thought might be righteous. He saw that he had been deceived. And thus, by faith, he began putting his faith in One who is OTHER THAN himself: Jesus Christ.
Have we realized that our faith must be in One who is other than ourselves? That is a simple thought – so simple we tend to miss it. But any faith in ourselves is error. Our faith must be solely in Christ.
Now, when Paul saw that there was nothing about himself that was righteous, and that he need to lose all of himself to Christ, what do we suppose was his reaction? Do we think he mourned for himself, or held a wake? No. I believe that he rejoiced. For the righteousness that is in Christ is an eternal righteousness. Paul was seeing the Truth. And it set Him free.
We must do the same. We ought to be glad to be rid of all of our fake self-righteousness. We ought to rejoice that Christ is our righteousness.
Ask: Can you ADD to the righteousness that is in Christ by any means? No. Can you SUBTRACT from the righteousness that is in Christ by any means? No. Not by works, or by any thing about yourself, can you ADD to, or SUBTRACT from, the righteousness that is found in Christ. But Christ IS our righteousness. Thus, you cannot add or subtract from the fact that Jesus is your righteousness. This is eternal. It is the finality of the Redemption.
You need not read far in the Bible before you realize that this need for us to be righteous is of utmost importance. Why? Is it because God is really angry over sin and it has to be addressed? No. Perhaps the need here is to actually understand the meaning of righteousness.
When you and I think of righteousness, we tend to think of things we do. But the Greek word itself is not about doing – the Greek word means, "to BE right or just." So it is more a state of being. But in order to capture the real meaning of this word, we could simply say that God wants us, "to be RIGHT beings." In short, God wants us to be restored back to the original design – the RIGHT and CORRECT design – that He intended. Why? So that we can fellowship with Him forever.
The problem with man is not found, at the root, in what he DOES. No. It is found in what he IS – in what he IS towards God. Because of the sin of Adam, man BECAME something other than God originally intended. Man was created to be, "naked but not ashamed" – "naked," in that he had nothing of value in himself, but, "not ashamed," because he was completed by God Himself. Man was made to be one with God – God was to be all to him.
Now, that original thought of God for man -- this was the RIGHT man. It was the TRUE man. Only then could man fellowship with a RIGHT and TRUE God. This is what it means to be RIGHTEOUS before God. It means to BE RIGHT and BE TRUE so that you can be one with God Himself.
But we know what happened: Adam sinned. And thus, this first man, who had been, "naked and not ashamed," was now, "naked and ashamed." What changed? Not the nakedness. God never gave man the capacity to be righteous in himself – Adam remained naked after his sin. But now Adam was NOT completed by God – Adam was no longer one with God. Thus, he was ashamed.
What did Adam do at that point? He tried to cover his nakedness with fig leaves. In other words, we try to fix the fact that there is NOTHING in ourselves with some man-made device that will make us LOOK right. This is self-righteousness. It is man trying to make right what is not right. It is man trying to make true what is inherently a lie.
The road back from such a condition begins with the Truth. God has to show us that we have all covered our true condition of nakedness with some form of fig leave – perhaps works of the law, or a nice temperament – ANYTHING that is of ourselves. God has to show us that this is SIN – and it is ERROR. All forms of self-righteousness – all that we might use to try to fix ourselves – is a LIE. God has to show us it is a lie. He usually does this by letting us fail. Only then do most of us see the Truth.
So God exposes our self-righteousness as a LIE. He shows us that we are NOT RIGHT and NOT TRUE – of ourselves. But this is not an exposure unto itself. No. Right along with this terrible exposure God brings Christ. Thus, as we see Christ – and thus see we are naked – we see that we can put all of our faith IN HIM.
In Christ, God makes us RIGHT. Yes, He makes us right with Himself, but that is because in Christ we are new creatures who ARE RIGHT – we have been made RIGHT because HE is right, and HE is in us.
What we see in all of this is that RIGHTEOUSNESS is essential – yes, because the justice of God must be met. But righteousness is also a matter of you and I being made RIGHT CREATURES and TRUE CREATURES so that we can commune and fellowship with God forever.
Christ brings the rightness and trueness to us when we receive Him. But that means that all of the unrighteousness and falsehood that characterizes us must be exposed and discarded. This is what happened to Paul. When he began to see the Truth in Christ, he saw that there was NO righteousness in himself, and that, in fact, he was an untrue creature who could never be right in himself. He accepted this Truth and it resulted in a faith that was then put fully in Christ.
Found in Him
Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, and be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith:
How important is this matter of righteousness in Christ? It is everything. That is why the Bible spends so much time on it. That is why it is a foundational Truth of the gospel – foundational Truths are those that define Christianity itself. Remove them and nothing else can be established in the Truth.
If we read the above verse we discover just how vital Paul considered this matter of Christ as our only righteousness. Note what Paul said about this – first, he said that losing his own righteousness resulted in, "the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus."
I don’t think most of us believe that – I don’t think most of us even know what Paul is talking about. How many times have you even heard, "the knowledge of Christ Jesus," discussed in church or on Christian television? We think that is referring to the right interpretations of Bible verses, or of Christian doctrine. No. Those things DO matter, but Paul is not talking about those things.
Paul said to the Galatians, "It pleased God to reveal His Son IN ME." He also wrote to them, "I travail until Christ be formed in you." He told the Ephesians, "I pray that God would give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him." What do we think he was talking about? Paul was telling every one of us that God was to give us an inward, spiritual revelation of Jesus Christ. This is what it means to KNOW HIM.
People often ask as to HOW to know Christ in that way. Paul is telling us right here. In this passage, he doesn’t speak of his many physical trials, or of losing material possessions. No. Unbelievers undergo those things and they cannot accomplish what Paul is talking about. Rather, Paul is saying, "I suffered the loss of all things – the loss of all my possible self-righteousness – in order to know Christ Jesus."
I submit that the loss of self-righteousness is a vital key to knowing Jesus Christ in a personal, inward way. Or, to turn it around, to know Christ AS my only righteousness, is the foundation to knowing Him, period.
The reason for this is that we are talking about a foundational point of Truth. If I am still walking around in self-righteousness, it is only because I have yet to see and experience Christ as my righteousness. Well, if I don’t see this Truth I’m not going to have much as a basis for any relationship with God.
God has put all of the righteousness of man under the CROSS. So if I am still motivated by my own righteousness, I am not seeing the Truth of the Cross. I still haven’t repented of my sin of unbelief. All of this is possible even as a saved person – read Galatians.
This business of putting my faith in Christ alone – based upon His finished work – IS THE GOSPEL. If I continue in self-righteousness, I will not get far. I am walking outside of the gospel. As Paul told the Galatians, "you are under ANOTHER GOSPEL."
So we MUST allow God to expose the Truth about our religious and lying self-righteousness. Only then can we see Christ as our righteousness, which is fundamental to knowing Him, period.
You will note that after Paul says that he has suffered the loss of himself for the sake of Christ – you will notice that he says, "that I may win Christ and be found in Him." Again we see that the loss of ourselves equal the finding of Christ. Can we see the essential here of losing our self-righteousness? Until we do lose it we aren’t going to find HIM as our righteousness. We are not going to win Christ or be found in Him.
Now that is an alarming statement. But it is what Paul is saying. We know this from the next verse. After Paul says that he lost all of his own righteousness for the sake of knowing Christ, he goes onto say that this led to something more. It led to WINNING CHRIST and BEING FOUND IN HIM. But how? "Not having my own righteousness, but having HIS by faith."
Can we see that the entire passage is governed by this very contrast between OUR righteousness and Christ as our righteousness? You lose your righteousness and you come KNOW HIM. You WIN Him and are FOUND IN HIM – you are found in Him NOT having your own righteousness, but because He is your righteousness.
You cannot be found in Him any other way. Read those words of Paul again. Paul directly states that he was found in Christ – but that he was found in Him, "not having my own righteousness – which is by law keeping – but having the righteousness of Christ which is by faith."
What does it mean to have the righteousness of Christ BY FAITH? Ultimately, it means that you, and your merits, and your righteousness, are completely out of the picture. They are under the Cross. You bypass yourself and put your faith solely in Christ and Him crucified.
And yet most of us KNOW THIS. But I think what we do is try to practice it almost like a religious exercise. It is almost like we are giving assent to a doctrine. No. All that Paul is describing is supposed to be the result of a person seeing the Truth in Christ. In other words, God brings LIGHT. I embrace it because it is the Truth. That is faith.
Faith comes by hearing the Word of God. (Rom. 10:17) In other words, faith is the outcome of seeing the Truth that God reveals in Christ. You see the Truth. You know it is the Truth. So you are then able to believe and embrace it.
One With Christ
Christianity is CHRIST IN US – or us in Christ – and what that means is that we are joined to the Lord in spirit. (I Cor. 6:17) Thus, if Christ is righteousness, when He becomes one with us, He IS our righteousness. He is the only righteousness we have. Our faith doesn’t make Christ righteous. No. He already is. Rather, our faith is us seeing that it is the Truth, and our faith is our embracing of Him as our only righteousness. By default, we are renouncing ourselves as righteous. Thus, can we see how self-righteousness puts us completely outside of the Truth and into darkness?
If you read this passage in Philippians 3, you cannot escape the fact that everything Paul experienced in Christ had at it’s foundation this one necessity – that of seeing that Jesus Christ is our only righteousness. This alone MAKES US TO BE RIGHT. It alone makes us to BE TRUE. Then we can be found in Him.
Faith in Christ as our righteousness is supposed to be a life-long, continual Truth. It is the basis for fellowship with God. We are made right in Christ so that we can live with an eternally righteous God forever.
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