“though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for 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; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. 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 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 may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” (Philippians 3:4–11 ESV)
Of all people, Paul had reason to place his confidence (faith, trust, reliance) in his own spiritual accomplishments and heritage, but he exchanges it all for a righteousness that is through faith (v9). Paul’s pedigree was perfect and his ability to execute external religion was pristine. Most of Paul’s resume falls on deaf ears to us. Imagine the person who was born into a family with godly parents, who prayed a prayer to receive Christ as a youngster, attended church every time the doors were open, went to every youth camp and was practically perfect in executing all of the “externals” of Christianity. They tithed, had a quiet time regularly, memorized scripture, went on mission trips, fed the poor and served dutifully. Their identity, like Paul’s, is in where they came from and what they did instead of whose they were. This was Paul, tirelessly attempting to earn a righteousness that was freely offered through faith.
Don’t brush over this. Is this you? Are you trying to do all the right things in lieu of completely relying on the finished work of Christ on your behalf? Do you feel as though you need to obey flawlessly for God to love & approve of you? Do you think that you need to add something to the righteousness that Jesus has given you in order to be pleasing to God? Whenever we offer up our goodness to God as a reason for Him to love and approve of us, it evokes a repulsive action from the Creator of the cosmos (Isaiah 64:6). Relying on our own righteousness is repulsive to a holy God who freely offers a righteousness that is by faith alone
Paul had a shift in what he relied upon to please God. He now considered all of those externally “good things” as rubbish when compared to knowing God. All things – religious performance, family heritage, moral striving, his own goodness – are now considered loss, indeed more than loss they are now rubbish, trash or dung when laid against the requirements of God. This is the only appearance of this Greek word (skubalon) in the New Testament – it is dung or excrement – which is more than just worthless, it is repulsive. Paul had shifted his reliance from himself & his ability to obey to Jesus and His perfectly obedient life & sacrificial death.
Paul says that all of his previous striving and pedigree were now loss. But this is really no loss when compared with the gain that we have in Jesus: right standing before God not based upon our abilities, heritage or performance, but by trusting solely in the finished work of Jesus. The goal of this great exchange is to know God. We get reconciled into a FAMILY relationship with the Creator! Paul wants to follow Christ and taste what He tasted so that he can know the Savior more intimately v10-11. This is the beauty of the Gospel, a good, holy and sovereign God has made a way to redeem His children to Himself – and this not based upon anything that we do, but on the undeserved favor of God. If you’re a Christian, then you are forgiven, adopted and loved – not because of where you come from or what you do, but because of your older brother who has freely provided God’s forgiveness and approval for you.