Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he…
But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to 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 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ come righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.
The apostle Paul’s looking back upon his former life before he knew Jesus, saying that whatever he regarded then as having any credit toward his right standing with God, he now knows was worthless. Not a single thing he thought important in gaining salvation carried any weight whatsoever. Rather, all his well-earned “righteousness” he now views as just plain rubbish when compared to the all transcending and encompassing benefits of knowing Jesus.
Good Bargaining Chips?
Paul makes this same point in many ways in his letters, so it must have been key for him in understanding what it means to trust in Jesus alone for salvation. His point is critical to our understanding of Christian faith. Most people in the world think they can approach God with some pretty good bargaining chips: “I’ve been a rather good person and (for the most part) followed God, keeping (most of) the rules and commandments, so when it comes time to stand before him, I’m sure he’ll be favorably impressed with my overall performance.”
But Paul counters these grand human credentials saying it doesn’t matter in the slightest how consistent or sincere we’ve been in our religious dedication or performance. At a bare minimum, God loves and expects from us good works. Still, none of the rites, ceremonies, observances, sacrificial works, family history, or anything else will add one cent to the credit side of our ledger when it comes to being forgiven and accepted by God. Our highest motives and best efforts won’t get us one step inside his kingdom.
Bad News-Best News
If we’ve spent our time trying to bank away enough righteousness to cash in at the end for a place in the eternal kingdom, this is bad news. But it’s the best of news to those who know that they don’t have enough to offer God to get even a backseat on the ride to heaven. To those who’ve taken an honest look at themselves and realized how far short they’ve come in matching up to God’s standards, it’s the greatest relief. “What I couldn’t ever seem to get right, Jesus did for me,” says the person who looks to God in gratitude for the free gift of salvation.
So when we pray for help or relief, we have confidence that God will answer in time of need, not because we’ve achieved such high grades in keeping the faith, but because he is always faithful and gracious to us. Our grounds for standing before him are the same on the last day of life as they are on the first day of our repentance and profession of faith.
How does all this translate for our lives today?
In Jesus Christ, We Are Forgiven
In case you lost your way due to your desires, or your desires somehow trumped or squeezed out God’s revealed will, this is what you need to hear. Our safety and restored future aren’t in the slightest way controlled by our righteousness, nor are they prevented by our past sins and failures. Rather, God’s goodness toward us—including forgiveness, reinstatement, blessing, healing, and all the rest—comes from his righteous love, stubborn mercy, and unwavering grace. In Jesus Christ, we are forgiven.