About a year ago when Will and I were still driving the 75 miles back to our church in Hutchinson, I would often spend a good part of the drive reading Scripture aloud. Will would listen, and then we would talk about it. That was my favorite part of Sunday in those days–the early morning drives through beautiful Kansas country. Occasionally our reading and talking was interrupted with “Hey, look at that bird!” or “There goes a coyote!”
One morning I read Philippians 3. I remember how Will and I were touched when we went over the passage. These verses in particular captured our attention:
But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ
Philippians 3:7-8 (ESV)
What did Paul lose? He lists his credentials in Philippians 3:4-6 as:
- being circumcised,
- of the people of Israel,
- of the tribe of Benjamin,
- a Hebrew of Hebrews,
- a Pharisee,
- a zealous (persecutor) member of the church,
- righteous under the law, blameless.
Paul lost his identity. He lost the good parts of his life. He lost his religious tradition. He lost what he worked so hard to make of himself.
Often we think that following Christ is about losing the bad parts of us. And that is true, but it’s not exclusively true. Sometimes we lose what is precious to us, too.
Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of a law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith.
Romans 3:27 (ESV)
Our boasting is excluded in God’s kingdom–all we have to gain is Christ. This word usage of “gaining Christ” has long puzzled me because it seems like Christ should be an adjective instead of a noun. As in: we gain Christ’s favor, or gain Christ’s approval, or gain Christ’s reward. But instead, the Bible says we gain Christ.
The wording is similar in Philippians 1:21.
For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.
Philippians 1:21 (ESV)
How could living be Christ? How could Christ be gain? I asked Will about this yesterday, and he referred to God’s words to Abraham in Genesis 15.
…the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision: “Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield, your very great reward.”
Genesis 15:1 (NIV)
Some other translations make it less clear exactly what was Abram’s promised reward. This one strongly implies that God is the reward.
“Christ” as an adjective says that God is not the reward but the one who gives the reward. “Christ” as a noun states that HE is the reward.
Here are a few more verses in Philippians, in which Paul talks about where his identity really is found:
and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith–that I may know Him and the power of his resurrection, and I may share his sufferings, becoming like Him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
Philippians 3:9-11 (ESV)
That is also what Job discovered. Everything good that Job knew was stripped away, and the only way his pain could be redeemed was by getting to know God. (I wrote more about this in my life story here.)
When we follow Christ, we put our identity on the line. So many times we suffer painful losses. Some of those losses look small but feel huge because they strike at the deepest places of who God made us. We stand to lose much of what is precious and good–our relationships, our denominational loyalty, our traditions, our dreams, our hobbies, our ability to fit in, our family.
And yet, living for Christ is not a losing battle. When we are squeezed through the funnel of loss, we discover to our delight that God is waiting with open arms. Our loss becomes gain because He is our reward.