“And to 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.” Phil. 3:9
To rejoice in the Lord, to win Christ, is for Paul the all-important, the overwhelming thing. Everything else is and must be considered worthless. Indeed, according to verses 5 and 6, the apostle could boast in the flesh. However, all these things he counts as no gain. To have all things and lack Christ, we have nothing. To have Christ and lack all things, we possess all. O, the riches of him who has lost all but has won Christ.
And be found in Him. This thought is legal, judicial. To be found in Christ, or, literally, to be seen, observed in Christ means that God sees me, regards me in Christ, that I, before the tribunal of God, am observed and regarded as in Christ Jesus. How wonderful is the assurance that God regards me in Christ, regards me not as my own but as legally in Him. And let us understand this thought in connection with the preceding. To win Christ implies everything, includes not only verse 9 but also verses 10 and 11. But, of all that follows in verses 9-11, our text is fundamental. If I be righteous in Christ, be found in Him, all the rest will follow. Then I will surely attain unto the resurrection from the dead, which, in this context, refers to that moment when the child of God shall forever put on heavenly immortality.
This is the truth of the Reformation, namely that we are found, are righteous in Christ, only for Jesus’ sake, out of purely sovereign grace.
Righteous before God—what a magic, tremendous word! Our Heidelberg Catechism, in Question 59 of Lord’s Day 23, points to it as the one cardinal benefit for the child of God. The Church of God has always emphasized, throughout the ages, the importance of our state, our legal relation to the law as determined by the Judge of all the earth. Modernism tells us that what we do is important, that what counts is our action. Important, however, is what we are, our state, our legal relation before God. What we do can never be the ground for our peace and righteousness. Of course, our faith must be accompanied by works; but our works are the fruit of faith, inasmuch as faith is a livingbond. Besides, how can our works ever render us righteous before God? Are not our best works as filthy rags (Is. 64:6)? Indeed, the important question is: what is my state, my legal position before the judgment seat of God? Am I judged guilty or innocent? Thirdly, the apostle in this context considers all things but dung for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ. He will gladly give up all things, the things, mind you, that had meant everything to him—see verses 4 through 6. And, finally, here we have the very heart and core of the Reformation, as far as Martin Luther was concerned. How he had striven to make himself righteous before! But, it was all in vain. Peace came into his soul only when he experienced the truth of the Word of God, that we are just by faith, are righteous only for Jesus’ sake, out of purely sovereign grace.
Righteous before God—what does this mean?
The idea is legal. It must not be confused with sanctification, a work of God’s grace by His Spirit within us, delivering us from the stain and pollution of sin. This righteousness implies that we stand in judgment before the living God. Of course, we are always in judgment before the Lord. The Lord never delays or postpones His judgment upon the children of men. He is always punishing the wicked, is never gracious unto them. God alone is Judge. He alone can judge. He alone reads and knows the hearts of men. To be righteous before God means that God declares, upon the basis of His eternal and unchangeable and perfect justice, that we are free from all guilt and debt, that in nothing the law can condemn us, and that we are heirs of eternal life and therefore have a right to everlasting life and glory in God’s heavenly and everlasting tabernacle.
And what a tremendous truth, benefit this is! It implies an everlasting exemption from divine punishment, and, positively, that we are heirs of, entitled to everlasting life! Tremendous, secondly, is this wonderful truth because of you and me who are declared righteous. Are we not by nature sinners, conceived in sin and daily increasing all our sin and guilt, piling up our debt before the living God? Is it not amazing to be declared righteous before God? And tremendous, thirdly, because of God Who justifies us! God, we read in Scripture, is not a man. He does not lie; His judgment is therefore always true. And He does not change. His judgment is therefore always irrevocable. What an unspeakably glorious righteousness this is! Of it this text speaks. No wonder that the apostle speaks of theexcellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus, his Lord! No wonder that he would consider all things but loss that he may win Christ and be found in Him! Indeed, to be found in Christ, to be righteous in Him before God means that we are righteous forevermore!
Notice the contrast as expressed in this text: “not having mine own righteousness which is of the law.”
No, the apostle does not mean that our righteousness before God ignores the law and that it is therefore arbitrary. God in Christ surely did not ignore His law but He fulfilled it. The apostle, however, refers tomine.own righteousness, to which I would attain by my fulfilling of God’s law.
How man loves to secure his own righteousness! How the Jew prided himself in the fact that he so carefully, painstakingly fulfilled the law, not only fulfilling the law but even exceeding its requirements—see verses 4-6. Instead of fasting only once a year he would fast twice a week.
And how the Jew of Paul’s day zealously defended his position! How they opposed the apostle because he would speak of a righteousness of God and by faith! They attacked him in his claim to be an apostle; they followed him from city to city; they took hold of him, beat him with stones, left him as one dead. They would cling tenaciously to their endeavor to obtain divine approval and sanction in the way of their own works.
And this is repeated countless times throughout the ages. This was the issue of the. Reformation. The Church did not oppose Luther because he would destroy that church. Luther was truly a reformer. They opposed him because he renounced a salvation and justification by works. They anathematized anyone who denied the meritorious value of good works. And this is the issue throughout the ages. Man always loves to take pride in himself.
However, Paul counts all things but loss in order that he may possess, not the righteousness through his works of the law, but only through faith in Christ. How utterly worthless are our works of the law! They do not bring us one step nearer to God; they never render us righteous before God. How could I ever become righteous before God out of the law? I cannot pay the penalty. I cannot make amends. Indeed, the source of my justification is never in me. All I can do is increase my guilt before the Lord. I can only work my way into greater condemnation.
Indeed, this righteousness is a righteousness of God. It is obvious what this expression means in this text. It is contrasted here with the expression, “mine own righteousness.” My own righteousness is the righteousness to which I attain, which I acquire and merit. Hence, the righteousness of God means my justification which is of God.
This is God’s righteousness. It is His, first of all, because He conceived of it. He willed it eternally, from before the foundations of the world. He conceived eternally of the relationship between Christ and His own, that He is the Head and therefore responsible for the body, the elect given Him of the Father, that our sin and guilt should be upon Him and blotted out by His perfect righteousness upon the cross of Calvary. Besides, it is God’s righteousness also because He alone realizes it, through Christ Jesus, our Lord, centrally upon the cross and spiritually by His grace and Spirit in our hearts. And presently He will manifest this righteousness in that wondrous day when Christ will return upon the clouds of heaven. Then it will be revealed that we are clothed with the perfect righteousness of Christ, and all this only because He loved us, always first, in Jesus Christ, my Lord.
We read of this righteousness that it is the righteousness which is through the faith of Christ. Christ is the object of this faith. Christ is our Lord Jesus Christ as the anointed Servant of Jehovah, Who did what we could never do, our only Hope. And the faith of Christ is this faith as it is the spiritual bond uniting us with Christ; through faith we are one with Him, live out of Him, receive our all from Him Who suffered and died and is risen from the dead.
This righteousness, we read, is through the faith of Christ. Here the apostle directs us to how this righteousness is given unto us. All our righteousness is in Christ Jesus. This righteousness, now, actually becomes ours through faith, God’s gift to His own, the bond uniting us with Christ Jesus. Based upon the atoning sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ upon the cross of Calvary, we are united with Him, live out of Him, so that we are now actually righteous before God, now in principle and presently in perfection; God sees us as we are now in Christ Jesus, beholds no iniquity in us and no perverseness.
And the apostle concludes with the words: “the righteousness which is of God by faith.” Literally we read: “the righteousness which is of God upon faith.” In these words the apostle declares how I receive and experience this righteousness, receive it in my consciousness. No, the apostle does not mean that we in any way merit it, that it, therefore, rests upon faith. Fact is, it is God’s righteousness and therefore we are never righteous because of our faith. Upon my faith. This is how I receive and experience it. To believe in Jesus—how humiliating! It means that I am hopelessly and helplessly lost in sin, that I can never save myself, that all my salvation is possible only through the crucified Lamb of God and of Calvary. Righteousness is exclusively the gift of God and it is only as such that I can receive and experience it.
I am nothing.
Christ has become my all.
Always through faith I approach God through Jesus Christ, my Lord.
Unto the praise of God, the God of my salvation.