The Power of Jesus Christ

Norbert Lieth

The message Paul sends to the Philippians is this: “And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith” (3:9).

Nowadays there is much talk of “exiting”:  exiting from nuclear energy, exiting from the euro, exiting from political structures or from society (the so-called dropouts). The apostle Paul also made an exit: he left behind his own righteousness in order to be found only “in Him.”

There are two forms of righteousness spoken about in our text: our own and God’s; the one according to the law, and the other based on faith. And Paul, of all people, the man of the law, chooses the righteousness of faith! For all who depend on their own righteousness, believing that it will please God, this must be a bitter disappointment. One is at pains to keep the law; one works hard and exerts the utmost effort to be a good person… And then one ought to accept the fact that none of this can bring one closer to God?

There is indeed a righteousness which cannot bring us into contact with God, namely one’s own righteousness that is based on the law. Paul’s own righteousness rested on the following (Phil 3:4-6): He had been circumcised according to the law on the 8th day; he was a true Israelite from the tribe of Benjamin and a pure Hebrew by race; he was beyond reproach in zealously keeping the law and vehemently rejecting everything else. The only things that mattered to him were what family he was born to and what he had absorbed through education and training.

But then the bitter realization came to him that all of those things didn’t bring him even a little bit closer to God. The only way was to “be found in Him,” “to win Christ” until he would obtain the righteousness “which is through the faith of Christ.” He had to be found in Him in order to find God. He had to connect with Christ to connect with God. That meant for Paul to reject in one moment all of his own righteousness, all of his own merit and to enter into the perfect righteousness of God.

In and of itself the law is not bad; it is holy, just and good (Romans 7:12). But it is wrong to believe that through the law one can be accepted by God. There is only one righteousness that counts before God: the righteousness of Jesus Christ. Only when we are found in Him will God declare us righteous. This righteousness based on “the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith” (Phil 3:9), cannot be acquired through works but only by faith. By comparison, everything else is like filthy rags. “I do count it but rubbish, that I may win Christ and be found in Him” (Phil 3:8-9).

German singer Reinhard Mey says this in his famous song: “Above the clouds must be endless freedom; all fears, all worries remain hidden beneath. And then everything that seemed so big and important will suddenly shrink to minute proportion.” This is how Paul must have felt when he emerged from under the clouds of the law into the light and magnificence of Jesus. Everything else became small and of no account (Phil 3:7-8).

Jean Koechlin writes on this subject in his Bible commentary: “Paul records all his favorable assets as on a large balance sheet, does the addition and writes the word ‘losses’ under the bottom line. Just as the rising sun extinguishes the light of the stars, so a single name, that of the glorified Christ, eclipsed all those former vanities in his heart. He now saw them not only as worthless but also corrupt. It does not require great sacrifice to let go of such trash.”

In verse 10, Paul continues: “That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made comformable unto his death.” Turning from one’s own strength to the power of Jesus. Paul lists the three issues that became of utmost importance:

1. To know Him

2. The power of His resurrection

3. The fellowship of His sufferings

These things were now more precious to him than anything he had possessed before, better than the law and better than all religious piety.

1. To know Him: getting to know Jesus more profoundly means more than theological knowledge. Gaining a deeper understanding of the person Jesus is far more important than being acquainted with all the biographies of Christian personalities throughout time. To behold this towering truth makes everything else fade into nothingness.

Someone described the concept of “knowing” as follows: Experiencing God and experiencing Christ, to come into contact with the source of life through salvation. Paul no longer wanted to struggle within the law, but rather to get to “know Him.” He who strives to explore this inexhaustible mystery will be living a far more holy life than any teacher of the law (1 John 2:3-5).

2. The power of His resurrection: Many liberal theologians deny the resurrection. It would be wrong, however, to think that therefore its power is diminished. The opinion and disbelief of some theologians cannot weaken the power of Jesus’ resurrection. However, within the sphere of their influence the life of the gospel will not flourish, because it is not understood and proclaimed in faith.

In Acts 2:24 and 32 we read, “Whom God hath raised up, having loosed the pains of death: because it was not possible that he should be holden of it… This Jesus hath God raised up, whereof we all are witnesses” (see also Acts 3:15). The power of Jesus’ resurrection is not merely a teaching about Christ, a theological doctrine or theoretical knowledge of the Bible. No, it is an existing power available to be experienced at all times. This power was not only effective for the Lord’s resurrection, but also it remains constantly effectual for everyone who believes in Him. For that reason, Paul wanted to gain an ever deeper understanding of the Lord and His resurrection. Encountering the risen Jesus completely overpowered Paul, the hard-nosed scholar of the law. Paul the Apostle’s foremost concern henceforth would be to preach and proclaim the resurrected Jesus.

This is the power that defeated the one who had control over death, namely Satan (Hebrews 2:14). It is the power that conquered death (1 Cor 15:55). It is the power that secured our justification (Romans 4:25). It is the power that keeps awake our living hope, that opens the door to heaven, that convicts and leads us to a new birth, that quickens our life and renders the gospel powerful.

It is the power we need in spiritual battles, for our own strength is not up to the fight. But armed with resurrection power, we can advance against the enemy troops (Psalm 18:29). This is the power which eclipses every extra-biblical religion and ideology. For neither Karl Marx, nor Lenin, Mao, Buddha or Mohammed rose from the dead—only Jesus did.

3. The fellowship of His sufferings. That I may be made conformable unto His death: Paul wants to delve ever deeper into the fellowship of His sufferings. That did not mean he had to experience Christ’s suffering himself, the same death on the cross, carrying the stigmata on his hands and feet. This would be impossible, alone for the reason that Jesus suffered as a sinless substitute for the salvation of our souls. “The fellowship of His sufferings” rather means that we should take on His nature, His spirit, His attitude. We are joining the fellowship of His suffering, not the suffering itself. This implies that we assume the same mindset, the same acceptance of suffering that He exemplified.

Jesus went the way of suffering to subordinate His will to that of the Father (Luke 22:42). Jesus went the way of suffering to glorify the Father (John 12:28). Jesus went the way of suffering to reach humanity with the gospel of salvation (Matt 20:28).

Discipleship is not merely about our spiritual welfare; it is as much about our willingness and commitment. It’s not about showing off, like in this world, but making our life worthwhile by voluntarily giving it up to God.

A brother in our congregation had to have knee surgery. It was a simple procedure, but once he was home, a serious infection developed and he had to return to the hospital. He might have asked: “Why, Lord?” The patient in the next bed had had an operation for a fractured leg, and as they talked to each other, the conversation turned to the gospel. During the night he could hear his neighbor praying to Jesus. A few days later, this man died of a pulmonary embolism. Suffering always has a purpose in God’s plan, even if we cannot discern it at the time.

“If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead” (Phil 3:11). Here the phrase refers to the Rapture and its attending resurrection of the dead. Unbelievers remain in death until Jesus’ return in glory (Rev. 20:5) and the final judgment (Rev. 20:11-15). But the Body of Christ, His Church, will be resurrected beforehand at the time of the Rapture. Paul had no doubt whatsoever about being part of this resurrection. He had no thought of needing to earn it through special devotion. And there are other statements which clearly indicate his unwavering expectation of this resurrection. He emphasizes that the resurrection from the dead is always before his eyes, that it is a clearer reality than this passing earthly life. The physical quality of this life, or the manner in which it may end, means less to the Apostle Paul than the wonderful goal of resurrection.

The Elberfelder Bible expresses this particularly well: “Whether I might somehow obtain the resurrection from the dead” (Phil 3:11). And William MacDonald has a helpful comment on this point: “Paul speaks of a bodily resurrection, but doesn’t mean to express any doubt about his own resurrection. He is saying that he doesn’t care about the sufferings he may have to encounter along the way. He was prepared to go through temptations and severe persecutions that might await him on the road between the present life and his future resurrection. The word ‘somehow’ does not imply an uncertainty (see Acts 27:12; Romans 1:10; 11:14). It denotes a great longing or anticipation, a posture of not counting the cost to attain the prize.”

To illustrate this point, I want to relate the following woman’s story: “Recently, I visited a friend who has a greenhouse. As she showed me her flowers, we came to the most beautiful one of all, a golden chrysanthemum full of blossoms. But to my utter amazement, it grew in an old, rusty and dented bucket. I thought that if it were my plant, I would have searched for the most magnificent container possible. But I changed my mind when my friend explained: she didn’t have enough planters left, and knowing how gorgeous this plant would turn out to be, she figured it would not matter to start it out in this old bucket. It would only be for a short while, and then she could transfer it to the garden outside.”

At present, you find yourself in a yet imperfect condition. Perhaps God has you as a beautiful plant in a weak and blemished body, but one day you will be placed in God’s paradise.

• Have we completely abandoned self-justification, or are we still counting on our own righteousness?

• Are we striving to grow in the knowledge of Jesus?

• Is the power of Jesus mere theory to us, or are we basing our whole life upon it?

• Are we willing to meet our sufferings with a Christ-like attitude?

• Finally: Do we have the immensity and significance of the end-goal, the resurrection from the dead, more clearly before our eyes than the life here on earth?

Midnight Call - 06/2018

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