Justification by faith
4th August 2017
Everything that Paul thought was good about himself, every attribute he had, and everything he had achieved - everything he was tempted to boast about, or to console himself with, he considers loss. Paul chooses to give all that up for Christ. He refuses to boast - to others or to himself - about his background, his family, his nation, his religious zeal, or even his righteousness. He's given it all up. He's no longer trying to impress anybody. He's no longer trying to shore up his own self-esteem by telling himself what a great guy he is, how much he's done, how little sin he commits, or anything else.
Paul is now only interested in God, and in God's work. Paul travelled the Middle East and Eastern Europe telling people about Jesus, because he loved God and because he loved people in Jesus's name. He wasn't interested in looking good, or in living well. He wasn't interested in his reputation, except in as much as churches that thought well of him were more likely to listen to his teaching.
Earlier in this letter, he wrote that he was in prison, but he didn't mind, because the jailers were hearing the gospel, and other Christians were emboldened to speak out for Christ. He wrote that some people were preaching Christ in the hope of harming Paul, presumably mixing the gospel with criticism of the apostle, but he didn't mind because at least they were preaching Christ, even though their motives were bad. He wrote that he was in danger of being executed, but he didn't mind because heaven would be an improvement on earth. He even wrote that although an early death would be better for him, he didn't mind staying on earth in order to help the churches.
Paul accepted whatever God allowed to happen to him, and he rejoiced. Later in this letter, written from prison, he wrote "Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say rejoice".
Nothing matters compared to knowing Jesus. Everything else is rubbish. Literally, everything else is dung.
Everything good we think about ourselves is dung. "I have a Ph. D.", "I made a lot of money", "I have a nice house", "I was an officer in the navy", "I drive a nice car", "I can afford three holidays a year", "I'm a minister", "I'm a good parent", "I've been faithful to my wife for 47 years", "I tithe", or even "I'm nice", or even "I'm humble". It's all dung. I've even heard a Christian telling another Christian "I'm more humble than you are!". It's all dung.
What really matters is our relationship with Christ.
Of course, being nice is good, and being humble is good, and preaching the gospel is good, and lots of our accomplishments are good - of themselves. But they don't justify us. They don't put us right with God, and they don't even make us feel good about ourselves. Every Christian knows he's a sinner. Every Christian knows that all his works, including his work for Jesus, will never make him good.
Paul considers all his past life, all his reputation, even all his ministry, to be unimportant compared to knowing Christ. There's no point in living at all without a relationship with Christ.
Paul is not interested is his own righteousness. The great apostle of justification is not interested in justifying himself - either to others or to himself. He never went to bed thinking, "I'm not a bad chap really". He thought of himself as the worst of sinners (1 Timothy 1:15). He constantly saw himself as totally undeserving, saved through the mercy of God, justified by the blood of Christ alone. He knew he could never justify himself, and he didn't try.
Self-justification is slavery. Justification by faith is freedom. Self-justification never really works, it just continues to enslave us until we eventually give up trying. Justification through faith in the redeeming blood of Jesus - if we truly accept it - frees us from all guilt, all inadequacy, and all need to prove ourselves, and gives us real peace with God, and with ourselves, and with others, because once we realise how much God loves and accepts us, we don't need to impress anybody.
Paul knew that he wasn't justified by being an apostle - he was an apostle because he was justified.
He didn't try to impress others, and he didn't try to comfort himself with any kind of self-righteousness, only the righteousness that is the free gift of the crucified Jesus Christ.
He wrote to the Corinthians:
1 Corinthians 4v3-4
He was saying that he didn't care what other people thought about him. He didn't even care what other Christians thought about him. He didn't even care what he thought about himself. He was only interested in what God thinks about him. And he knew that God sees him as totally forgiven, and accepted, and adopted as a child of God, though the blood of Christ.
Paul knew he could never justify himself, so he didn't try. Paul knew that justification is a free, unmerited gift from God, and he accepted and trusted in it completely.
Compared to knowing Christ, and being justified, accepted and loved by God, everything else - everything else - is dung.