Philippians 2:13 [I]t is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.
The desire to do God’s will does not come from ourselves, but from God. We choose to respond, not because we are noble, but because God is working in us. This is a precious gift that should never be taken for granted.
Israel would not submit to me. So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts to follow their own devices (Psalm 81:11-12), wrote the Psalmist. The punishment for rejecting God’s will is that he will let us go our own way. And a child who runs away from his father’s voice will soon be out of earshot.
Philippians 3:7 But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.
Before his conversion, Paul kept a plus and minus column in his head. On the plus side was everything religiously good; on the minus side was everything religiously bad. Since he had more good than bad, Paul thought he was right with God.
But this idea has more in common with Islam than with Christianity. Those whose good deeds weigh heavy in the scales shall triumph, but those whose deeds are light shall forfeit their souls and abide in Hell forever (Koran, sura twenty-three), wrote Muhammad.
According to Islam, the last judgment is determined by a scale. If our good deeds outweigh our bad deeds we go up; if not, we go down. But Jesus taught the opposite: only bad people go to heaven.
A Pharisee and a tax collector went to the temple to pray. The Pharisee was thankful he was so good, and the tax collector was ashamed he was so bad. He would not even raise his eyes, but beat his breast saying, God, have mercy on me, a sinner. Jesus said, this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God (Luke 18:9-14).
The reason good people do not go to heaven is because there are no good people. Some people think they are good compared to other sinners, but sinners are not the standard of goodness—God is. Christianity is not about the scales, but about the mercy of God through faith in Jesus Christ.
Philippians 3:8 What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things.
Paul renounced all confidence in himself, so that he could trust in Christ alone. This is not hard for ordinary sinners, but it can be difficult for those who have spent a lifetime trying to earn their way to heaven. Paul came to see that even his best deeds were nothing more than garbage (Philippians 3:8b), because they came from sinful hands. [A]ll our righteous acts are like filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6), wrote Isaiah. Trusting in our good deeds to get us to heaven is nothing more than trusting in our sins to get us to heaven, since all our good deeds are tainted by sin.
Philippians 3:9 . . . 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 on the basis of faith.
Even though Paul was better than other sinners, he knew he was not good enough for God. So he traded his imperfect righteousness for the righteousness of Christ, which God freely gives to those who believe. Jesus obeyed his heavenly Father in word, thought and deed every day of his life. I always do what pleases him (John 8:29), he said. We have never had a sinless moment, but Christ never had a moment of sin.
Nevertheless, when Jesus was hanging on a cross, God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21), wrote Paul.
If you were a million dollars in debt, and your debt was suddenly canceled, you might be happy, but you would still be broke. But if you were a million dollars in debt, and then you married a billionaire, all your debt would go away, and you would be rich. That is what it’s like to belong to Jesus Christ. He takes away our debt of sin, and gives us the riches of his righteousness.
When my daughter was in fourth grade she was paired with another girl for an assignment. My daughter did all the work, and her partner did absolutely nothing—but they both got an A. That is how it is with Christ. He did all the work for our salvation, and we get the same grade, just by putting our trust in him.
Philippians 3:10 I want to know Christ.
One of the reasons for Paul’s effectiveness in ministry is that he did not rely on past experience, but wanted to know Christ better every day. He was able to do this though prayer, obedience, service, Bible study and many other ways. The more and better he knew Christ, the more and better he loved Christ, and the more effective he was in ministry.
My wife and I graduated from seminary many years ago, but can still recall the school’s motto: To know Christ and to make him known. Some people want to know Christ, without making him known. Others want to make him known, without knowing him deeply. Paul’s practice was to know Christ deeply, so that he could make him known to others. This should be the goal of every Christian.
Philippians 3:10b . . . to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings.
Whoever follows Christ will know some of his power and some of his suffering. We prefer the power of his resurrection to participation in his sufferings, but Paul saw the value of both. For when I am weak, then I am strong (2 Corinthians 12:10), he wrote.
Adoniram Judson was a missionary to Burma, in the nineteenth century, when there was not a single Christian there. He labored six years with no results, and was thrown into prison, where he was shackled with thirty-two pounds of chain. Unable to swat the mosquitoes, they nearly ate him alive.
When he was finally released, his wife and daughter died. He was so depressed that he dug a grave for himself as well. But he continued to labor for decades, and today there are over a million Christians there who trace their spiritual lineage to Adoniram Judson. There can be no resurrection power without a little dying.
Reflection and Review
Why don’t good people go to heaven?
Why didn’t Paul trust his good deeds to save him?
Why did Paul want to share in Christ’s suffering?