What is a Christian?-Phil 3:8-11

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Key Verse: 3:8

"I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord..."

Based on Paul's testimony in Phil 3:8-11, I pondered the question, "What is a Christian?" But this past week was a very tough week. A former Bible student was arrested and charged with criminal sexual assault. Ever since I heard the news last Sun evening, I have been distressed and distraught all week, conflicted with many thoughts and emotions. I tried to work on my sermon, but was simply distracted and depressed. The text in Philippians is bright and glorious. Paul was declaring joyfully, "Jesus is worth more to me than anything else in the world." The reality I was experiencing is dark and gloomy. A friend I have known for five years is charged with rape and robbery. How do I resolve such conflicts within my own heart? I am not able to. But I do know as a Christian that God is good, and that all things work out for good to those who love God and who have been called by God (Rom 8:28). I pray for him that through this sad, painful and unfortunate event, he may come to find his Joy, his Treasure and his Pleasure in Jesus. I pray that he may come to confess from his heart as Paul did in the text today. Briefly, Paul shows us his core and his center in Phil 3:7-11. He teaches us what it means to be a Christian.

 This week I also came across the encouraging story of Katie Davis. She is a homecoming queen from Tennessee who went to Uganda at age 18 in 2006. As a result, she "quit her life," started a ministry there, and is presently living as a full time mom with 14 abandoned orphans in Uganda. Her story is real. Her Christianity is palpable.

What is a Christian? If I am a Christian, "what kind of Christian" am I? How does Paul, "the Christian," describe his Christian life? Very simply, a Christian is one whose never ceasing desire is to "know Christ" (Phil 3:10). Let's see Paul's description of the Christian life--of one who knows Christ--with 4 words and 4 questions:

  1. Value: What is most valuable to you (Phil 3:8)?
  2. Righteousness: What is your righteousness (Phil 3:9)? What is justification?
  3. Power: What is your power source (Phil 3:10)? What is sanctification?
  4. Hope: What is your ultimate hope (Phil 3:11)? What is glorification?

I. What is Most Valuable to You? (Phil 3:8)

What do you value most? Paul says, "But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ" (Phil 3:7-8). What Paul says may be regarded as a response to Jesus' rhetorical question: "What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?" (Mt 16:26). According to Paul's testimony, a Christian is one who knows the "surpassing greatness" (NIV, '84) of knowing Jesus.

People, including Christians, may feel bad about what Jesus says about the cost of discipleship, because it may sound too extreme. Jesus said, "If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple." "In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples" (Lk 14:26,33). It is said that one can tell what one values by looking at their check book or their bank statements. What does a person spend his or her money on? Where does most of their money go to? Paul considered everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Jesus.

II. What is Your Righteousness? (Phil 3:9) Justification

What makes you feel right about yourself? Making a certain amount of money? Having a certain amount of success? Praying and reading the Bible a certain amount? Serving and sacrificing a certain amount? Paul says, "and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith" (Phil 3:9). The contrast is between a righteousness that comes from the law, or that comes from God by faith. What is righteousness? In his Roman's commentary, John Stott summarizes God's righteousness (Rom 1:17) 3 ways, as:

  1. God's attribute (a quality): who God is.
  2. God's activity (an activity): what God does.
  3. God's achievement (a gift): what God confers upon us.

Why is righteousness important? Without it, we are eternally separated from God. "The great basic problem of life is to find fellowship with God and to be at peace and in friendship with God." (Barclay) The way to having fellowship with God must be through righteousness because God is holy. For Paul, righteousness nearly always has the meaning of a right relationship with God.

The problem is that man is sinful. He is unable to have any relationship with God no matter what he does. Historically, man tries to reach God in various ways. The Jews, including Paul, did so by keeping the law. Paul understood that strict adherence to the Jewish law was worse than useless to be right with God. Though he kept it externally (Phil 3:6) before the eyes of men, he could not keep it in his heart (Rom 7:21-24) to the satisfaction of his own conscience. That's why he considered all things "garbage." The word skubala has 2 meanings: that which is thrown to the dogs, and excrement (dung). Paul understood that keeping the law is like offering excrement to God. Many of Paul's 13 epistles addresses how anyone who adds to the gospel should be cursed (Gal 1:8-9), emasculated (Gal 5:12), is a dog (Phil 3:2), etc.

Man has no righteousness of his own. A Christian is one who knows that. His righteousness comes from being justified freely by God's grace (Rom 3:24). He cannot but be humble, because it is a free gift of grace which he does not deserve. He cannot also but be bold and confident, because this righteousness comes not from himself, but from God. If we do not understand justification, we will be humble but not bold when we fail, and bold but not humble when we succeed. Only the gospel gives us a poise and a balance that combines both humility and confidence at the same time.

III. What is Your Power Source? (Phil 3:10) Sanctification

What is a Christian's source of power? Paul says, "I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death" (Phil 3:10). Knowledge is power. True power comes from truly knowing Jesus. Sadly, we Christians often show a lack of power. We lack the power of self-control, we lose our temper, give into lust, greed, jealousy, envy, bitterness. When we have no power over ourselves, our Christian life is no different from that of those who do not know Jesus. Experiencing power in our Christian lives comes from being sanctified. The words "sanctify," "sanctified" and "sanctifying" occurs 16 times in the 2011 NIV. A Christian is one who is being continually and constantly being sanctified by the Holy Spirit (Rom 15:16; 2 Th 2:13; 1 Pet 1:2), who is the very same power that raised Jesus from the dead (Rom 1:4).

Paul says that Christians are those "who serve God by his Spirit" (Phil 3:3). Thus, the power source of a Christian is the Spirit of God, who is the Spirit of "power, love and self-discipline" (2 Tim 1:7). No one does well without power. No Christian lives a victorious life without sanctification. Paul had the Spirit and the power to be full of joy in prison. Paul had the Spirit and the power to endure tremendous suffering. Death, man's last enemy (1 Cor 15:26), has no power over him (1 Cor 15:55-57). Paul truly viewed death as gain (Phil 1:21,23).

Does power and sanctification just descend on you and seep into you by osmosis while you sleep? What does Paul say? "Work out your salvation" (Phil 2:12). "I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me" (Phil 3:12). "I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus" (Phil 3:14). John Piper says, "I don’t coast. I don’t drift. Christ is too precious for that. I press on. I strive. I reach. I long. I ache. I yearn to obtain the fullness and perfection of the presence of Jesus." Why do we have to struggle and strive so much? It's because progress in sanctification never reaches perfection in this life.

IV. What is Your Hope? (Phil 3:11) Glorification

What is the Christian's hope? What is Paul's ultimate goal? Paul says, "and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead" (Phil 3:11). It is to ultimately be with Jesus forever through the resurrection from the dead. It is similar to Moses' heart's desire when he said to the Lord, "Now show me your glory" (Exo 33:18). Paul and Moses' ultimate hope is not for a better life for themselves and their children. It is to be with, to know, to see God Himself in all of His glory.

Is Paul speaking with some uncertainty when he says, "somehow, attaining to the resurrection"? Paul does not doubt the resurrection. But he is well aware of the reality of sin in himself and in the church. His yearning for the resurrection is his yearning for the end of sin in himself. He knows that it will not happen in this life. It will only happen on the day of his glorification.

Briefly, justification is the removal of the penalty of sin, sanctification is the removal of the power of sin, and glorification is the removal of the presence of sin.

"To know Christ means that we share the way he walked, we share the cross he bore, we share the death he died; and finally we share the life he lives forever more. To know Christ is not to be skilled in any theoretical or theological knowledge; it is to know him with such intimacy that in the end we are as united with him as we are with those whom we love on earth, and that just as we share their experiences, so we also share his." (Barclay)

What is a Christian? What does it mean to know Christ. Paul's own testimony teaches us that a Christian values Christ above all things. His righteousness is based on the gospel, not on what he has done. His power is derived from the sanctifying work of the Spirit. His ultimate hope is to be with Jesus forever through his resurrection from the dead. May God bless you to delight more and more in being a Christian all the days of your life.


  1. What is the joy Paul exhorts us to (Phil 3:1)? What kills our joy (Phil 3:2-3)? What confidence did Paul have (Phil 3:4-6)?
  2. How did Paul regard his own credentials and achievements once he came to know Christ (Phil 3:7-8; Lk 14:26-27,33)? How do you compare your knowledge of Christ with all the other things in your life? Contrast Paul with the rich young ruler (Mk 10:17-22; Lk 18:18-23).
  3. What new basis for righteousness did Paul find (Phil 3:9; Rom 1:17)? Think of what it means to be a Christian in light of the 4 words in Phil 3:8-10 (know, gain, found, power). What is the triple gain of Christians in Phil 3:9-11 (Rom 3:24)? In
  4. what ways did Paul want to ‘know’ Christ (Phil 3:10-11; Rom 1:16)? Why was Paul willing to endure suffering? What was Paul's ultimate goal? How would you qualify for Christ to raise you from the dead?


  1. Philippians questions.
  2. What is Sanctification? (The Reformation Study Bible)
  3. The Letters to the Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians. William Barclay.
  4. Treasuring Christ Together Because He is More Valuable than All Else, John Piper, Phil 3:1-16; 10/28/07.
  5. Knowing the Power of Christ's Resurrection, Phil 3:1-11, Ligon Duncan.
  6. The Christian's Triple Gain, Phil 3:1-11, Ligon Duncan.

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