For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ
What is the purpose of your life? Do you know why, after you were saved, you continued to live on this planet instead of going home? One obvious reason is so that you could pass on the message of salvation to others. But the other reason is so that you could “grow up.” We are all just tiny babies, infants when we are born physically, right? So too when we are born “again” we are vulnerable, fragile, ignorant, confused, little babies. Do you think the apostle Paul had to grow up in his journey of faith, progressing from just lying there, to eventually crawling, then walking, and finally to a full-on sprint to the finish line? Of course, he did! And we all know Peter had to grow up! And who was their parent that raised them and who was their teacher that taught them? It was both the Father and the Son who raised and trained. And the training came in the form of instruction and discipline through the Spirit by the scriptures, by Jesus Himself, through trial and error, and through the example of others, over many years.
Below, I have some verses I want us to examine in light of the subject of sanctification. I actually think they give us a glimpse at what we should be shooting for. Though these verses do not give examples of Paul’s walk from infancy to maturity, they do give us an example of how he got to where he got in his walk, and an example of his mindset in the process. But these are just a few of the many verses we could point to on the subject.
First through, Paul encounters the risen Christ on the road to Damascus (Acts 9-15). He gets converted suddenly and miraculously and goes from being a hater of, and persecutor of, Jesus and His disciples, to a radical lover of Jesus and His disciples. Paul spends three years in Damascus, most likely growing in his faith during that time. Though, it does appear he immediately began testifying in synagogues that Jesus was Israel’s long-awaited Messiah. Anyway, after three years he finally goes and meets Peter and James in Jerusalem and learns from them. But all through the book of Acts, Paul is constantly around other believers whether in a synagogue, a home, a church, on a missionary journey, or in a prison. But like all of us, he had a beginning and moved through a process of growth. And I believe he was continually in the Word, prayer, and fellowship, every day.
Now, looking at a couple of passages from Galatians and Philippians we can clearly see Paul’s “laser-pointed” focus and resolve in his walk with Christ. And if there is nothing else you see, I would be okay with that because I believe that just as Paul was laser-focused, so are we to be. And I am convinced maturity only comes this way. For we must be “intentionally” looking at Jesus, because the more we focus on Him the more we will reflect Him, “being transformed from glory to glory as in a mirror” (2 Cor 3:18).
So then, at some point along his journey with the Lord Paul makes this radical statement: “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal 2:20). Paul is confronting those in Galatia who are tempted to go back to the Law and back to putting their trust in “circumcision” so that they might escape persecution from the Judaizers who are saying a “true” Christian must have Jesus + circumcision in order to be “Holy.” But Paul is laying out his example, which is that Paul himself died to everything associated with his old life, to all the status, privileges, and notoriety that came with being an “upper-class” third-generation Pharisee. In fact, he goes on to say: “For his [Jesus’] sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him not having a righteousness of my own that depends on the Law…” [But why is it worth persecution, prison, and death to Paul? Notice what lies deep inside Paul. What, or Who, is ruling on the throne of his heart here? Paul’s deepest longing is for absolute perfect, intimate, fellowship with His risen Savior and Lord. And he expresses it in this way] “… that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead” (Phil 3:8b-11). This intimate fellowship with the Lord that Paul is modeling for the Philippian church here can only be attained through suffering, and finally through death. Fellowship with Christ can “only” come through associating ourselves with ALL that our Lord was. But ONCE we have died, then, and only then, can we experience the power of the resurrection here and now. If this was not so, then Paul would certainly have skipped this process! Plus, he would not have written it, intentionally, as an “example” for the Philippian church to follow. We must first, as Paul explains above, know Christ and the power of His resurrection through salvation. When we get saved, we move into fellowship with the Father and Son through the Holy Spirit (being the same Spirit that raised Christ from the dead). But that knowledge is just the beginning. Remember, we are simply babies, or infants when we get saved. So, Paul is saying that after salvation we must go through the painful process of death. We must grieve our old selves, which can be timely, painful, and requires suffering. Until finally, we are laying them in the tomb to decay. And who in the world would go back to the tomb and pick up a decaying body just to lug around with them! So, it must stay there. This is part of the process of sanctification. However, we do not do this alone, thankfully! We do it through the Spirit of the Lord and through fellowship with each other. We support, strengthen, and encourage each other along the way. And since this is the will of God, we have His full blessing and all the power we need to die to our old selves. In Ephesians chapter four Paul goes into this process of our maturing and how it is attained. And he explains why it is absolutely necessary, being both God’s will and for our own good, that we grow to maturity and do not remain babies. It is because babies do not have their powers of discernment trained to discern between good and evil, truth and error, or even between God and Satan. They are extremely vulnerable to false doctrine and to cults. They are vulnerable to the tossing of the waves of every false idea out there. They are perfect prey for the prowling lions and wolves in the wilderness who are hunting sheep. So, in our sanctification process, after death has occurred, we must be resurrected. Paul recognizes that though he himself has not attained completeness, or the fullness of the resurrected life, in this process of living in “perfect communion” with God, his gaze is “fixed” on that goal. For he goes on to say, “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil 3:12-14). Paul lived every day “intentionally” focused on this one purpose. He saw himself as an athlete in the “spiritual or heavenly” Olympic games competing for first prize. And as he says in many of his letters to churches, or to Timothy, or Titus, that he is writing these things as “examples to follow.” So let us diligently study the life of the apostle Paul through reading all he wrote by the Spirit to the churches and to individuals so that we might follow in his footsteps, because he “followed” Christ!
Lastly, I want you to notice that in both Galatians 2:20 and Philippians 3:12 Paul gives the basis for his strong, determined, fixed, motivation for dying to his old life and of his willingness to go through the pain of suffering the loss of all things in order to gain Christ, and to KNOW in perfect union, his Savior and Lord. He says it is for the sake of LOVE. Paul knew Christ loved “him” and gave Himself for “him.” And Paul knew that he was seeking to make Christ “his” own only because Christ had already made Paul “His” own. This tells me that ONLY when we know the love of God “in Christ” for us, as “individuals,” and of our value to Him “personally,” that we will gain that unquenchable thirst for deep, intimate fellowship with the Father and the Son through the Spirit that cannot be quenched whether it is by the threat of persecution from family or friends, or of the suffering of loss of career and home, or of the threat of prison and death. When we “know Him” through coming to terms with the reality of our identity “in Christ” as a beloved son or daughter, and I mean REALLY grasping it as Paul did, then we are unstoppable!