Among other things, salvation gives us a radical transformation and shift in values and priorities. This is, of course, because regeneration gives us a new nature with new desires, longings, perspective, and worldview. As such, we value and prioritize differently than a lost person, because we “recognize no one according to the flesh” (2 Cor. 5:16). In Philippians 3, Paul is our illustration of this reality, as he describes how his conversion made him the kind of person who treasures Jesus over all. This saving treasuring of Christ brings with it any blessings, four of which Paul describes in this passage.
A. The Knowledge of Christ (v. 8)
Having just concluded his discussion of the false righteousness in which he placed his confidence prior ton conversion, Paul now explicates the blessings of total abandonment to Christ. The “all things” of this verse is the same as that in verse 7—anything he would place confidence for salvation in other than the person and work of Christ. He has counted these things as loss—registered them in the “loss and liability” column of his ledger—in light of the surpassing value of knowing Jesus.
Verse 7 and verse 8 have an interesting verbal parallel: v. 7 is lit. “I have counted” (perfect tense—a completed action with ongoing results—obviously referring to his conversion), while v. 8 is “I am counting” (present tense—he is presently, continually doing this reckoning). Paul reckons them dung (NAS translates it “rubbish”) in order to gain Christ. Here is an interesting note on present vs. final salvation: He already has Christ, doesn’t he? But Paul is speaking of a continuing trust in Christ, dependence on Him, not self or self-righteousness, so that in the last day He might have Christ savingly and forever. Final salvation from hell necessitates an ongoing trust in Christ alone!
Paul speaks of the surpassing value of lit. “the knowledge of Christ”—Christ Himself, not merely about Him! Throughout the NT Christians are described as those who “know Him” (e.g., John 10:14, 17:3; Eph. 1:17-18; 1 Jn. 5:19-20). The Greek word for “knowledge” in this passage and in many others is gnosis, which speaks of a deep, experiential, and personal knowledge. In the LXX, this word often translates the Hebrew yada, used for the intimacies of marriage and God’s personal knowledge of His chosen people.
Having counted all self-righteousness as rubbish, he “gains” Christ; the word means to win and make one’s own. On the last day Paul will be welcomed into the eternal kingdom with Christ as his beloved personal possession, and him as Christ’s. Not because of anything Paul has done, but because God has granted him faith and repentance, and caused him to bear much fruit as the evidence of his personal, vital union with the Lord.
B. The Righteousness of Christ (v. 9)
Here Paul continues with the final salvation theme he began in verse 8. He counts everything as rubbish so on the last day he might gain Christ “and be found in Him…” Paul will need to be united with Christ to be acquitted at the judgment and not face condemnation but only heavenly welcome as a forgiven son. We need righteousness to stand before a perfectly thrice-holy God. Our righteousness apart from Christ is as filthy, menstrous rags (Isa. 64:6), and the righteousness we do as believers, though Spirit-empowered and acceptable to God, is imperfect and must itself be cleansed by the blood of Jesus. In other words, nothing in ourselves or coming from us can be in any way the ground of our acceptance by God. On the last day, Paul wants to be “found in Him”—united to Christ, not having his own righteousness (here meaning a self-righteous moralism, not the Spirit-wrought obedience which is His fruit and the evidence of justification), but the righteousness which comes from God through faith. Elsewhere, this righteousness is called that of Christ Himself (e.g., 2 Cor. 5:21).
The righteousness we need to stand before God is granted by faith. Moreover, we must not make too sharp a distinction between imputed righteousness (which is a free gift of standing granted at the instant of justification) and imparted righteousness (which is a holy transformed character and expressed in daily obedience to the Lord). They are distinct, but cannot be ultimately separated. All to whom God gives the free gift of righteousness, He gives imparted righteousness. Both are necessary to be acquitted at the judgment, though obviously they work in different ways.
I bring this up because throughout the Scripture, both kinds of righteousness operate by faith. In justification, we place our trust in Jesus alone as Savior and Lord, and we receive His righteousness. In sanctification, we trust the Lord’s promises, warnings, and revelation in general and find the power to obey Him (it is important to note I am not articulating the passive form of “sanctification by faith alone” that has become popular in many Reformed circles today). We are justified by faith and we live by faith. In both cases, we are depending entirely on Him and His power to give us all we need to be acceptable to Him. And God honors this faith because it is rooted in the explicit promises of His Word.
C. Fellowship with Christ (v. 10)
After showing us how it impacts the future, Paul connects the imputed righteousness of Christ with something present: knowing Christ. He has told us he counts all things as dung and rubbish to know Him, and now he expands on that: Knowing Christ means first knowing His resurrection power. There is a wealth of richness here (O that I did not have a word limit!), but the primary thing to note is that Paul is speaking of both the omnipotent power of God expressed in raising Jesus from the dead (which he eloquently sets forth in Ephesians 1:18-23) and the power Jesus personally has as a result of the intense glorification and exaltation that took place in the resurrection-ascension.
As with “gaining Christ” Paul wanting to know His resurrection power might seem odd. Hasn’t he been raised spiritually from the dead? But Paul means he wishes to know more of that power’s work in his life—more of its enablement, more of its expression, more of its breaking into his circumstances and reversing and restoring and healing and saving and sanctifying. The power that raised his soul from spiritual death—the power that will raise his body from death to know the full rest of God in a resurrected earth (Psa. 116:7-8, 132:14)—this is the power he wants to have more of in his life!
Of course, what is the main way this power is manifested today? Romans 6 along with other passages tells us Christ uses this glorified sovereign power to sanctify His people. If our flesh is the remnant of our spiritually dead humanness as corrupted by sin, then sanctification involves the overcoming of that flesh with newness of life, that the new nature might be expressed instead. And only divine sovereignty can overcome that winsome enemy!
Paul also says he wants to know the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings, being conformed to His death. Here is the paradox: Glorious future resurrection power drawn into the present, alongside the vestiges of a fallen world—death and suffering! Jesus suffered to atone for sinners; Paul does not suffer to atone, but he suffers in death to self for the advancement of God’s kingdom program (which includes of course his own sanctification); this is what Colossians 1:24 says (it does not mean that those who killed Christ hated Him so much that now they took out the rest of their rage on Paul). Extending the rule of the sovereign king into the world entails suffering because there is still a world of sinners resisting His reign.
Ironically, expression of the sovereign power of God in holiness often leads to suffering, or else is preceded by suffering—but God often sweeps in with a fresh display of sustaining and overcoming power during that suffering! Such is the confluence of life and death, power and weakness, sorrow and glory in this Time between the Times.
D. Glorification from Christ (v. 11)
Knowing Christ, His power, and being conformed to His death are for one purpose in Paul’s mind—they are that he might attain the resurrection from the dead. He uses a unique grammatical construction only used three other times in the Greek NT (Acts 4:2, 26:23; Romans 1:4). In all of them the Greek is something like “the resurrection out from among the dead ones.” This implies (1) that other people are still dead when this resurrection happens (it is not, therefore, a “general” resurrection) and (2) in several passages Jesus is said to be the first person of this resurrection. It is not hard to see that these facts indicate the resurrection of which Paul speaks is “the first resurrection” which believers will enjoy—that resurrection of which Jesus is the firstfruits or most important as well as a harbinger of the full harvest to come (1 Cor. 15:23). Of course, most specifically Paul is speaking of the pretribulational rapture which will be enjoyed by church saints; but the rapture is only the first installment of the “first resurrection”—a resurrection enjoyed only by believers and which leaves the rest of the dead in the ground until the end of the millennial kingdom (Rev. 20:5)—exactly as a “resurrection out from among the dead ones” would imply.
Paul counts all things as loss to have a persevering faith in Christ. And full union with Him on the last day. He wishes to know Him intimately so he might experience both the power of His resurrection and being conformed to His death that advances the rule of God. He does all of this so that he might prove to be one who will be caught up in the great resurrection unto glorification to be had by all of God’s people—that, like David, he might return to God’s rest because “[God has] rescued my soul from death…I shall walk before the LORD in the land of the living” (Psalm 116:8-9). He will be satisfied with Christ’s likeness when he awakes from death (Psa. 17:15), knowing the pleasures at God’s right hand forevermore (Psa. 16:11). Christian, this is your birthright. God has given you all you need to persevere, to know and enjoy Him fully, and be richly welcomed by Him into His Kingdom. Press on to all He has for you for the glory of our great God!