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12. How to Gain Christ

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Though I myself have reasons for such confidence. If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless. 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—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:4-11)

How can we gain Christ? How can we grow in intimacy with our Lord and Savior? And for those not saved, how can they know Christ in a saving way? In this text Paul shares his testimony with the church of Philippi. False teachers in this church were teaching the need for the Philippians to follow the laws of Judaism, and specifically the rite of circumcision, in order to be saved. However, Paul combats this first by telling the Philippians to beware of these teachers, calling them dogs (Phil 3:2). He then combats it by sharing his testimony about how he also previously sought salvation through the good works in Judaism. Paul said this:

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 (Philippians 3:7-8)

Everything that Paul once considered a profit, he now considered a loss in order to gain Christ. Here Paul speaks in business and accounting terminology.1 The words “profit” and “loss” are banking terms. In his salvation there was a great transaction. Like the merchant in Christ’s parable who found a pearl of great price, Paul sold all he owned in order to purchase the field where the pearl was hidden (Matt 13:44-46). To Paul everything that once was his gain was a loss to gain Christ. 

This text speaks to nonbelievers—those who don’t know Christ. Scripture speaks of salvation as a relationship. It is not simply a belief or creed but a relationship. To those who called Christ “Lord, Lord” but practiced a lifestyle of sin, he said, “I never knew you” (Matt 7:23). This text speaks to those who don’t know Christ, who are on the path of being eternally separated from God, about how to be saved.

But this text also speaks to believers. Paul speaks in the present tense when he says, “I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ” (v. 8). This means he still considered everything rubbish to gain Christ. It was his continual discipline in order to know Christ more. Paul says later in this text, “I want to know Christ, the power of his resurrection, having fellowship with his suffering, being conformed to his death” (v. 10, 11). This text not only speaks about salvation but also sanctification—the believer’s continual experience of seeking to know and be like Christ. For some Christians, salvation is just fire insurance, but true salvation is a continual seeking after Christ.

Here are two illustrations, one of somebody who simply has a profession of salvation and another of one who has truly been saved. A man is in the ocean swimming, and all of a sudden, he begins to drown as a great wave knocks him out. Luckily, a beautiful lifeguard rushes to his rescue and saves him.  After being saved, he simply thanks her and quickly walks away. He meets the female and thanks her but never develops any real relationship with her. That is how many people’s relationship with Christ is. They recognize that he died for them but, they never truly pursue him. They have a surface relationship with him. However, true salvation is like this. This man is saved by this beautiful lifeguard, and then gets down on one knee and says, “I can never truly repay what you did in saving my life. But, I want to show my gratitude by serving you and getting to know you for the rest of my life. Thank you so much.” I won’t fill in the rest of the details to the story, but it ends with a “happily ever after.” That is true salvation, and that is a picture of Paul’s salvation experience. Though he had gained Christ, he still was trying to gain more of him. He was still trying to pursue him. That is a description of true salvation, and this is what we see in Paul’s testimony.

As we consider Paul’s testimony, we see what it means to experience salvation but also what it means to continually seek to know Christ. How do we gain Christ—in being saved? How do we gain Christ, as a lifelong pursuit of intimacy? We will see several principles in this text.

Big Question: What principles can we learn from Paul’s salvation testimony about gaining Christ both in salvation and as a lifelong pursuit in sanctification?

To Gain Christ, We Must Consider Our Achievements as Loss

though I myself have reasons for such confidence. If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless. 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. (Philippians 3:4-8)

Again, Paul is here confronting the Judaizers who taught the need to practice Judaism for salvation—specifically through circumcision and obedience to the law (cf. Phil 3:2). Paul essentially tells the Philippians, “I have tried that route.” He describes the achievements that he thought would make him acceptable to God. He says, “If somebody should be able to boast as a Jew, it is I.” Paul describes his achievements by giving seven descriptors of his Jewishness. Four of them are profits that he inherited from his parents and the other three are attributed to his self-effort. Let’s look at them.

Observation Question: What are the seven descriptors Paul gives of his life before Christ and how do they represent potential false hopes for salvation?

1. Paul was circumcised on the eighth day.

Literally, it says, “with respect to circumcision an eighth-dayer.”2 This means that Paul was not a Gentile convert or a late Jewish convert. No doubt, many Judaizers converted to Judaism. However, Paul says he was not. He was circumcised on the eighth day as God commanded Abraham (Gen 17:12). However, salvation does not come by ritual. It doesn’t come by baptism or the Lord’s Supper. The ritual of circumcision meant nothing as far as salvation.

2. Paul was of the people of Israel.

Again, this meant that he was not a Gentile convert but someone born into the blessings of Israel. He also was not mixed. In the exile, many of the Jews started to marry Gentiles—this is how the Samaritan race formed. However, Paul had Jewish parents who stayed faithful to God’s covenant, and therefore, he had pure blood. The Jews were a special people to God in that he gave them the law, the temple, and the covenants, and they were called to be God’s priests to the world (cf. Rom 9:4, Ex 19:6). Indeed there were privileges to being from the nation of Israel, especially before Israel’s rejection of the messiah at Christ’s first coming. However, his nationality did not bring salvation. Many Jews believed they would be saved just because they were Jewish. John the Baptist rebuked the Pharisees and Sadducees saying that they should not put their hope in being a child of Abraham and that God was able to raise up children of Abraham from the rocks (cf. Matt 3:9). Salvation doesn’t come from somebody’s nationality.

3. Paul was of the tribe of Benjamin.

The tribe of Benjamin was a very privileged tribe that often served in the aristocracy (high social class) and the government. Among Jacob’s sons only Joseph and Benjamin were from the favorite wife Rachel, and Benjamin was the only son born in the promised land (Gen 35:16-18). When the nation of Israel originally divided up the land of Canaan, Jerusalem was actually given to the Benjamites (Judges 1:21). The first king of Israel was a Benjamite named Saul (1 Sam 9:21), which was Paul’s Jewish name. The tribe of Benjamin was one of only two tribes that remained faithful to King David when the kingdom split under Solomon’s son and Judah was the second (1 Kings 12:21). In the exile, Mordechai who helped save all the Israelites along with his niece Esther was a Benjamite (Est 2:6).

This was a very special tribe, and Paul was proud to be part of it. However, salvation does not come by rank or nobility. It doesn’t matter how privileged one is or who his parents are. It doesn’t matter if he is a pastor’s kid, a missionary kid, or from some other privileged spiritual or social background. Salvation doesn’t come from rank. Throughout Scripture God often skipped the highest in rank to bless the lowest. God chose Jacob over his older brother Esau. God chose Ephraim over his older brother Manasseh. God chose David over all his older brothers. Rank has nothing to do with salvation.

4. Paul was a Hebrew of Hebrews.

This meant that Paul had not lost his culture. Because of the exile, many Jews lost their culture and native tongue and instead became Hellenized—speaking Greek as their common language. In fact, in the early church this was an issue as the Grecian Jewish widows were being neglected in lieu of the Hebrew widows (Acts 6:1). The Grecian Jews were often looked down upon because they had lost their Jewishness. But not Paul, he was a Hebrew of Hebrews. Paul was born in Tarsus which was a very wealthy city during those days (cf. Acts 21:39). In fact, Greek scholar Kenneth Wuest said that only wealthy families were allowed to retain their citizenship and live there, meaning that Paul probably came from a wealthy family.3 However, even in the wealth and prosperity of Tarsus, his family still practiced their Jewish culture. In fact, Paul still spoke Hebrew (cf. Acts 21:40). Yet, we must understand that even though this was special to ancient Jews, it meant nothing to God. Salvation does not come by tradition.

5. Paul was a Pharisee.

Today when people hear the term “Pharisee,” it is a negative term—a term of derision. It means a hypocrite or a judgmental person. However, that was not true in ancient times. The Pharisees were a sect of Judaism that rose up during the intertestamental period, between the time of the Old and New Testament. While the Jews were in exile, many Jews became liberal theologically. It was easy to begin to doubt God and cease to believe in the miracles of the Old Testament while the Jews were exiled and under Gentile oppression for hundreds of years. Therefore, the Pharisees arose during this period and became an elite denomination. “Pharisee means ‘separated one.’ The Pharisees distanced themselves from unclean persons and ate only with observant Jews.”4 They also were in disagreement with the Sadducees, the more liberal denomination in Judaism. The Pharisees, in contrast with the Sadducees, believed in every word of the Old Testament. They believed in miracles, angels, the resurrection, and the afterlife which the Sadducees—the liberals—did not. Essentially, the Pharisees were fundamentalists.

The Pharisees went astray by accepting not only the teaching of the law but the oral traditions passed down by rabbis. Jesus said this about them: “’They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.’ You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men” (Mark 7:7-8). These traditions added to the Word of God and practically started to replace the Word of God. The Pharisees also saw their strict outward obedience to the law as a means of salvation. The historian Josephus taught that only about 6,000 people were in this elite sect of Judaism, and they were considered guardians of the law. 5 They were well respected.

We know that Paul was not only a Pharisee but a son of a Pharisee (cf. Acts 23:6). He was raised in the sect. In fact, Paul was trained by a very famous Rabbi named Gamaliel (cf. Acts 26:4-5; Galatians 1:14). If there was someone who could boast in the flesh, his own works, it was Paul. However, salvation does not come by being part of a denomination or a church. This had nothing to do with being acceptable to God, and this is true today.

6. Paul was zealous for God.

Paul was not only religious but zealous. There are two aspects of being zealous for God. There is the aspect of love for God and a desire to know him, but the other aspect of zeal is hating what God hates. With Christ, when he went to the temple and found traders cheating people, he got a whip and began to whip people and turn over tables. He declared, “It is written, ‘My house will be a house of prayer but you have made it a den of thieves’” (Matt 21:13). In his zeal for God, he hated what God hated and responded with great anger towards those who dishonored God.

It was the same with Paul; he was so zealous for God that he persecuted and killed Christians. In Acts 8:1, it says that he consented to the murder of the church’s first martyr, Stephen. They threw Stephen’s clothes at his feet. In Acts 9, he was on his way to Damascus to imprison all Jews that professed Christ as Lord. He was zealous. Certainly, he was more zealous than any of the Judaizers who boasted in their zeal for the law and God. Again, we see Paul’s impressive religious credentials. However, zeal does not make someone acceptable to God. Many are sincere and zealous, but people can be zealous and at the same time very wrong—especially if they believe in some false doctrine. Zeal will not save anyone.

7. Paul was faultless with regards to the law.

The word “faultless” can also be translated “blameless.” This doesn’t mean that Paul was perfect and never sinned according to the law. The law provided a means to atone for sins. In being faultless, it meant that there was no area in accordance with the law that people could accuse Paul. If he committed a sin, he offered the proper sacrifices so he could be right with God. He was meticulous in practicing the regulations of the law in order to be right with God. However, not even Paul’s outward righteousness was enough to make him right before God.

Paul came to a startling conclusion when he met Christ in a vision on his way to Damascus to persecute Christians (Acts 9:3-6). There Paul met Christ in a grand vision and began to count everything he gained, both inherited privileges as a Jewish man and his earned privileges by his self-effort, a loss. He realized they were nothing. He said this: “But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ” (3:7). Jesus similarly said, “What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matthew 16:26).

In order to gain Christ, Paul counted all his privileges and achievements as nothing for the sake of Christ. These were the very things that the Judaizers boasted in. They boasted in their righteousness, their traditions, and their Jewish culture as a means of pleasing God—a means of salvation. And this was not only true of the Judaizers, but it is also true for every religion in the world. Every religion says that in order to be saved by God, we must do certain works. We must do certain good deeds, whether that is baptism, prayer, giving, suffering, etc., in order to be saved. However, this is not true. We can do nothing on our own to be saved. Scripture says that even our good works are as “filthy rags” before God (Isaiah 64:6).

How does a person gain Christ? How does a person come to true salvation? It is through the same path that Paul walked. We must first come to the conclusion that there are no works that we can do in order to merit Christ—to merit salvation. Christ himself said that he did not come for the righteous but for the sinners (Lk 5:32). This means that he did not come for the self-righteous; he did not come for those who thought they could earn salvation based on good works. If you believe you can be saved from eternity in hell because you are a good person, because you were born into a Christian family, because you were baptized, or because you served on the mission field, then you cannot be saved. If you believe that any of your works will make you acceptable to God, you cannot be saved—you cannot have Christ.

Jesus said that anyone who enters the kingdom of heaven must become like a little child—like an infant or toddler (Matt 18:2). This simply means “dependence.” The little child does not work for his food or provisions because he is unable to work. He doesn’t have the physical capabilities to earn a living, to protect himself, or even to comfort himself. He needs his parents. And this is true for anybody who is truly saved. They have come to the place where they realize that they are incapable of saving themselves. They realize that even their achievements mean nothing to God. They then throw themselves upon God for his mercy in order to be saved.

Jesus also said this: “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 5:3). “The poor in spirit” means the spiritually bankrupt. It means a person realizes that he has nothing in his spiritual bank account that is acceptable to God and because of that he becomes a spiritual beggar. He throws himself at God’s feet in humility because he realizes that he is unacceptable. That is what happened to Paul, and that is what must happen to anyone who will be saved—anyone who will gain Christ. In order to gain Christ, we must recognize our deep need of him and that he is the only way to heaven. If we are trusting in anything else other than Christ, we cannot be saved. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life, nobody comes to the father but by me” (John 14:6).

However, spiritual poverty is not only the door to salvation but also the door to our sanctification. We must grow in our spiritual poverty daily. We must constantly count our achievements as loss to know Christ. A person who is spiritually poor will continually ask for more grace to draw near Christ, through God’s Word and prayer, and also for forgiveness of sin. If we are not spiritually poor, then we are spiritually satisfied, which will hinder our growth and intimacy with Christ. Do you still see your debt? Does it still draw you to the feet of Christ for more intimacy with him?

Have you thrown all your hope on Christ for salvation? That is what Paul did one day on his way to Damascus—he counted all his attainments as nothing for Christ’s sake—to gain Christ.

Application Question: Some have said that all religions in comparison with Christianity can be summed up in the statement “Do versus Done.” Is this a true statement? Why or why not? Please share your conversion experience.

To Gain Christ, We Must Make Christ Our Priority

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 (Philippians 3:8)

Next, Paul says that he not only considers his profits a loss in order to gain Christ but “everything” (v. 7-8). “To gain Christ” is in the present tense which means that not only was this true in order to be saved but also in his sanctification. This was the continual thought process of Paul in his spiritual life. If everything was a loss to gain Christ, this meant that Christ was his priority. Everything else was a loss only because Christ was the focus of his life.

This must be true for us as well, if we are going to continually grow in our relationship with Christ. Jesus said in Matthew 5:8, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” The pure in heart can also be translated the “single in mind.” Those who focus on him above everything else will gain him.

This is the problem with many Christians. The reason we are not growing in intimacy with Christ is that everything else is not “dung to us.” Many times career, family, education, entertainment, etc., are more important than Christ. It is the pure in heart—the single in mind—who see God, who experience him daily. This was Paul’s pursuit and many great saints before him. David said, “One thing I ask of the LORD, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to seek him in his temple” (Psalm 27:4). David’s one thing was dwelling in the house of the Lord, gazing upon God’s beauty, and seeking him in his temple. That was his pursuit in life and everything else counted for nothing.

This means that even if one must suffer or go through hard times and difficulties to know Christ more, it should be counted as a loss for the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ (v. 8). For Paul, he lost his family—the family that raised him in his Jewishness and sent him to the top schools to learn from the best rabbis. He lost his career—the one he had pursued with great zeal as a Pharisee. Basically, he lost his future—the bright one he established with his religious credentials. But, he lost more than that. He lost his comfort as he now was persecuted everywhere he went. At the moment of writing this letter, he was in prison awaiting a possible death sentence, and he even considered that small in comparison to the greatness of knowing Christ. Paul was the “single-minded” person who continually gained intimacy with Christ.

Many Christians are stagnant in their spiritual life and not growing because Christ has never become their “one thing,” where everything else is a loss in comparison. Therefore, they are not growing. Not so for Paul, nothing else mattered to him. And this must also be true of good things such as ministry. Ministry can keep us from intimacy with Christ. Wasn’t this Martha’s problem? She was busy serving everybody else instead of sitting at the feet of Christ. Jesus said, “Martha, Martha, you are busy about many things but Mary has chosen the ‘one thing’ that will not be taken from her” (Lk 10:41-42). For many, ministry is their “one thing.”

How do we gain Christ? We gain him by having a single mind, where we give up everything to pursue intimacy with him. Remember what God said through Jeremiah: “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13).

Application Question: What are common distractions that keep you from prioritizing Christ? How is God calling you to “count them as loss” in order to gain intimacy with Christ?

To Gain Christ, We Must Have Faith in 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—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith (Philippians 3:9)

Paul, again in referring to his salvation experience, said that his purpose was to be found in Christ with a righteousness that comes from God. Paul knew that the works of the law could not save him and that he needed God’s righteousness which came by faith. Romans 3:20-22 says this:

Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin. But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference,

In salvation, a great exchange occurs. On the cross Christ became sin for us. God placed our sins upon him as he bore the wrath of God for us. And, when a person believes in the life, death, burial, and resurrection of Christ (1 Cor 15:2-4) and accepts him as Lord and Savior (Rom 10:9-10), God gives him Christ’s righteousness. Second Corinthians 5:21 says, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

It has been said that Christ’s death was not enough to save believers; he also needed to live a perfect life. If his death was all that was needed, Christ could have died as a baby. He didn’t need to live a sinless life. We see Christ approach John the Baptist and ask to be baptized, and John responds, “I can’t baptize you. I need to be baptized by you.” However, Christ replies, “I must fulfill all righteousness” (Matt 3:15). Why did Christ need to fulfill all righteousness? It is because he needed to be the blameless perfect lamb to die for our sins. He perfectly kept the law that we could never keep so we could have his righteousness.

If Christ had only died for our sins, then we would still be in the state of the first Adam. Adam was sinless; however, he still needed to live a life of righteousness by never eating of the Tree of the Knowledge in order to be saved. He still had to secure perfect righteousness to never die. But in Christ, we not only have payment for our sins, we also have the perfect righteousness that he secured while living on the earth.

When a person recognizes their sinfulness and their need for righteousness to be right before God, when they come to the place of spiritual bankruptcy, it is only then that they can be saved. Therefore, they cry out for mercy in faith, and Christ saves them. He completes a holy transaction (Rom 10:13). He takes their sin and gives them his righteousness. Now, when we go before God, he sees the perfect righteous life of his Son. He sees the righteousness of the one who only spoke the words of his Father (John 12:49), the one who never sought his glory but only the glory of the Father (John 7:18), the one who only did what he saw the Father doing (John 5:19). He was perfect, and his perfection is applied to the account of those who have faith in him. Again, Paul said he wanted to “be found in him, 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 and is by faith” (Philippians 3:9).

Interpretation Question: What does Paul mean when he says this righteousness comes by faith?

What is saving faith?

1. Saving faith means to believe in Christ and the sufficiency of his saving work.

Consider Paul’s reply to the jailor in Philippi who wanted to be saved: “He then brought them out and asked, ‘Sirs, what must I do to be saved?’ They replied, ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household’” (Acts 16:30).

Similarly, Paul said this in Romans 10:9-10:

That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.

2. Saving faith means to commit to following Christ as Lord of our lives.

Jesus said, “And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:27). Christ must be Lord of our lives in order to be Savior of our lives.

Have you ever come to Christ in faith in order to be saved—trusting in his life, death, burial, and resurrection as sufficient for salvation? Those who put their faith in Christ as their Lord and Savior shall be saved. God will apply his righteousness to their account, and they will have eternal life.

3. Saving faith means a continual trusting in Christ for our salvation.

Saving faith is not a moment of belief; it is a continual trusting in Christ as sufficient for our ultimate salvation. Those who do not continually follow Christ prove that they never had true saving faith. Paul said this about saving faith in Colossians 1:22-23:

But now he has reconciled you by Christ's physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation— if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel.

Christ has reconciled you (saved you), if you continue in your faith. When Paul said he was seeking a righteousness that comes through faith, he was not just looking backwards to the moment he accepted Christ on that Damascus road. He was speaking of his continual experience. He was still trusting in Christ through faith. This is true for every real believer.

Are you still putting your full trust in Christ for salvation? Are you still recognizing your utter sinfulness and need for a savior? Paul sought to gain Christ—to know him—by continuing to have faith in Christ.

Application Question: In this section we talked about saving faith including not only belief but Lordship and continuing in the faith. Some people believe that saving faith needs to only be intellectual, not necessarily including Lordship or perseverance. Some believe people can even lose their salvation. What do you believe about these issues? How would you support your belief with Scripture (cf. Matthew 16:25-26, Luke 14:26-33, John 6:38-40, 10:27-30)?

To Gain Christ, We Must Continually Cultivate Our Desire for Him

I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:10)

Paul next said, “I ‘want’ to know Christ.” In order to gain Christ, we must continually cultivate our desire for him. The real reason many are not growing in intimacy with Christ—growing in relationship with him—is because of a lack of desire. We don’t really desire him. Look at how David described his desire to know God: “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?” (Psalm 42:1-2).

David described his desire to know God as similar to a deer panting for streams of water. He was desperate to know God. Moses, even though God already spoke to him face to face, said this, “Show me your glory” (Ex 33:18). He was desperate to know God. This type of desire is uncommon among Christians. We are often desperate for many things in life other than God. This is the type of desire each of us must cultivate. Jesus said this in the Beatitudes: “Blessed is the man who hungers and thirsts for righteousness for he shall be satisfied” (Matt 5:6). The most righteous thing you can desire in life is to know God more, and he promises that if this is your desire, he will fill it. He will bless this craving. He doesn’t promise to always give you physical healing or wealth, but he does promise righteousness—more of him.

Interpretation Question: How do we cultivate a desire to know Christ?

1. We cultivate our desire for Christ by being with Christ.

The more you are with Christ—in his presence through the Word of God, prayer, and fellowship with saints—the more you will desire him. However, the more you neglect him, the less you will desire him. Mark 4:25 says, “Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him.” The person enjoying the revelation of Christ will be given more, but the person who is not, even what he has will be taken away—he will lose his desire for Christ. Being with Christ is a practical way to cultivate one’s desire.

2. We cultivate our desire for Christ by being around believers who desire God.

Proverbs 13:20 says, “He who walks with the wise grows wise, but a companion of fools suffers harm.”

The wisest thing a person can do is desire to know God (cf. Psalm 14:1). Therefore, by being around people who are wisely seeking God, you will become wiser as well—your desire for God will increase. “As iron sharpens iron so one man sharpens another man’s countenance” (Prov 27:17). We cultivate this desire by being around those who similarly are cultivating it.

3. We cultivate our desire for Christ by persevering through trials.

Romans 3:4-5 says, “Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” Paul says trials lead to perseverance, perseverance leads to character, and character leads to hope. What does it mean to hope? It means to hope in God. The more we persevere through suffering and pain on this earth, the more it helps us cultivate a hope in God—a desire for him.

We see this often in Christians with a terminal illness. They have been in pain for months or years, and now they no longer are “hoping” to stay but hoping to go home to God. It is amazing to see so much peace in darkness. Their hope—their desire for God has increased through persevering. This is one of the reasons God graces us with pain. He allows us to go through pain to wean us off the temporary joys of this life and to create a genuine hope, a genuine desire for him. In fact, it is for this reason Scripture calls us to rejoice in trials and tribulation (cf. Rom 3:4-5, James 1:3). Our desire for him and holiness is more important than our comfort.

In order to gain intimacy with Christ, Paul cultivated his desire. He wanted to know Christ. In the same way, in order for us to gain Christ, we must desire him as well. Are you cultivating your desire?

Application Question: In what ways have you experienced pain or trials that have increased your desire for God? How are you cultivating your desire for God?

To Gain Christ, We Must Continually Experience Christ

I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:10)

The word “know” is more than intellectual knowledge—it means an experiential knowledge. In the Septuagint, the ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament, the word ginosko was used to refer to the intimacy of sex. Genesis 4:1 says, “Adam knew his wife and she conceived.” Paul used this word which described experiential knowledge to share how deeply he wanted to grow in intimacy with Christ. One of the ways Paul wanted to know Christ was through experiencing the very things Christ experienced. He implied that he would know Christ more deeply through the experience of his power, his sufferings, his death, and his resurrection.

Interpretation Question: What does Paul mean by the power of the resurrection, fellowship with his sufferings, being conformed to Christ’s death, and being resurrected like Christ? How do we get to know Christ more through these experiences?

1. Paul desired to know Christ through the power of the resurrection.

For Paul it was not enough to follow Christ, he wanted Christ’s power in his life—the power of the resurrection. He wanted to have power to serve God, to pray for people, to persevere through trials, etc. To follow Christ and not have power seemed like a paradox to Paul, and it should be to us as well. We follow a God that healed the sick, raised the dead, and multiplied food and drink. How can a Christian not have power in his life?

Consider what Paul prayed for the Ephesian church in Ephesians 1:18-20:

I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms,

Paul prayed for them to know (experientially) the incomparable power that is in the life of a believer. It is the same power that raised Christ from dead. We must know this power as well. We must know it to break habitual sins in our life. We must know it to be a healing agent in the lives of others. We must know it to persevere in the midst of trials. It is available and working in all who are truly born again.

It is paradoxical that Paul implied he would know Christ more by experiencing this power in his life because the very way for us to experience this power is to know Christ more. Christ said this: “Abide in me and you will produce much fruit, apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). Power to live the spiritual life, to develop the fruits of the Spirit, to serve others all comes through intimacy with Christ.

This must be our desire as well. We must desire to leave powerless Christianity behind by knowing Christ and therefore daily experiencing his power.  However, Paul hoped for even more than this.

2. Paul desired to know Christ through sharing in his sufferings.

It is one thing to want Christ’s power. Who doesn’t want that? But, Paul also wanted to have fellowship with Christ’s sufferings. He didn’t want the crown without the suffering. This is one of the problems with prosperity gospel teaching. They want the power and the reward, but they don’t want the cross. To follow Christ in this world means to suffer just like him (cf. Lk 14:27). For many followers of Christ, it meant imprisonment, having their wealth confiscated, and physical suffering. Jacob limped for the rest of his life. Timothy was constantly sick. Epaphroditus had a sickness that almost killed him. Many in the church have been martyred. Paul followed Christ knowing and welcoming both the crown and the cross—the power and the suffering.

In fact, it must be known that many times God brings great power through suffering. We see this with Paul and his struggle with a thorn in his flesh. God said to him, ‘“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor 12:9). And certainly, we see this throughout the rest of the Scriptures. Christ after fasting for forty days and being tempted by Satan in the wilderness left full of power in the Holy Spirit (Luke 4:14). Many of those God used greatly were first allowed to go through suffering and pain. This suffering and pain drew them closer to God in order that he might more powerfully work through their lives. Joseph spent around fifteen years as a slave and in prison. Moses went into the wilderness for forty years before God could mightily work in his life.

Paul was willing to take on the sufferings of Christ, and Christ calls us to do the same as well. He calls us to take up the very cross he bore, which is a great privilege. Paul said this to the Philippians: “For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him (Phil 1:29). “Granted” comes from the word “grace.” Paul taught that suffering for Christ is a tremendous grace that each true believer has received in some measure or another. Paul wanted not only the power but the suffering, and through these, he would know Christ more.

3. Paul desired to know Christ through dying like him.

He said that he wanted to become like Christ in his death. Literally, he wanted to “conform” to his death. He wanted to die in the same way Christ died in order to know him more. This sounds masochistic; however, it is really not. Paul earlier said, “To live is Christ and to die is gain” (Phil 1:21). Death was the door way to know Christ even more intimately. Death meant unhindered fellowship with Christ.

4. Paul desired to know Christ through experiencing the resurrection.

Finally, Paul desired to experience the resurrection of the dead as well. When Paul says “and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead” (v. 11), it is not an expression of doubt but of his humility. 6  His humility never left him. He considered himself least of the apostles (1 Cor 15:9), least of all God’s people (Eph 3:8), and the chief of sinners (1 Tim 1:15). Paul had no doubt that he would be resurrected.

“The phrase the resurrection from the dead is unique in Scripture. It literally reads ‘the out resurrection from among the corpses.’”7 The implication is that believers will one day be resurrected while other corpses are still in the grave. This certainly is in line with the rest of Scripture. It teaches that believers will be resurrected from amongst the dead at the rapture and that dead unbelievers will not be resurrected until the end of the millennium to be judged by Christ (cf. 1 Thess 4:15-17, 1 Cor 15:51-53, Rev 20:13).

Why was it important to experience the resurrection of the dead to know Christ more? If death brought Paul into the very presence of Christ, why was the resurrection so important in order to know Christ? It was probably because after the resurrection of saints, the church will then be fully united to Christ in marriage. It seems that the marriage of the bride and Christ waits for the time of the resurrection (Rev. 19:7-8). It is then that we will know Christ in an even more intimate way that will continue throughout eternity. Revelation 19:7-8 says this:

Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready. Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear.” (Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of the saints.

Application Question: What are your thoughts about Paul’s earnest desire to know Christ through the power of the resurrection, suffering, death, and the resurrection of his body? In what ways did this challenge you? How can you apply these truths to your life?


How do we gain Christ? How does a nonbeliever become saved, and how does a believer grow in intimacy with Christ? Through Paul’s testimony we learn a great deal about how to gain Christ—both in salvation and sanctification.

  1. To Gain Christ, We Must Consider Our Achievements as Loss
  2. To Gain Christ, We Must Make Christ Our Priority
  3. To Gain Christ, We Must Have Faith in Christ
  4. To Gain Christ, We Must Continually Cultivate Our Desire for Him
  5. To Gain Christ, We Must Continually Experience Christ

1 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2001). Philippians (p. 226). Chicago: Moody Press.

2 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2001). Philippians (p. 228). Chicago: Moody Press.

3 Teacher's Outline and Study Bible - Commentary - Teacher's Outline and Study Bible – Philippians: The Teacher's Outline and Study Bible.

4 Hughes, R. K. (2007). Philippians: the fellowship of the gospel (p. 131). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

5 Hughes, R. K. (2007). Philippians: the fellowship of the gospel (p. 131). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

6 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2001). Philippians (p. 240). Chicago: Moody Press.

7 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2001). Philippians (p. 240). Chicago: Moody Press.

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