3 Supreme Ambitions
Topic: Expository Passage: Philippians 3:9-11
Read vv. 1–11
Every Christian enjoys a great story about a radical conversion to Christ. Last Sunday, we studied vv. 4–8, and we saw Paul’s conversion on the Road to Damascus was pretty incredible. God revolutionized Paul’s life.
Specifically, when Paul left Jerusalem for Damascus, he thought Jesus was the enemy, and he thought that he had achieved righteousness through the law. He believed he had earned the right to have a relationship with God. So, I imagine that if we met Paul that day, he would have been oozing with self-confidence and pride.
But as Paul was walking along with the goal of destroying Christianity, Christ suddenly appeared to Paul and everything changed. Specifically, everything Paul once considered to be gain—all of his Jewish privilege and all of his efforts to achieve righteousness—he suddenly realized to be a loss, because they kept him from the true gospel.
As a result, notice again Paul’s testimony in v. 8. After the vision, Paul had a radically different ambition. All of life was now about knowing Christ and gaining Christ. Today we are going to study vv. 9–11, where Paul details 3 radically new ambitions that Christ planted in his heart that day, which are at the heart of genuine godliness. The first ambition is…
I. I want to stand in Christ (v. 9).
This verse looks forward to the final judgment. Someday, every person will stand before the Lord, and he will determine their eternal destiny.
Remember that prior to his conversion, Paul was very confident that he was ready for that day. He had every Jewish privilege, and he believed that he had achieved righteousness before God through the Law.
BTW, Satan uses this same lie over and over to deceive people. Maybe there is someone here who is being deceived. You know that you aren’t perfect, but you think that you are righteous. You just assume that I couldn’t possibly be bad enough to deserve hell, so God will surely allow me into heaven.
But the fundamental problem with this assumption is that it doesn’t account for the perfect righteousness of God and the perfect righteousness that he demands to enter heaven. But when Paul saw Christ in his true glory and holiness, his own privilege and righteousness suddenly didn’t look quite as impressive.
He realized that his righteousness could never stand up to the righteousness of Jesus. He was a sinner in need of grace. And this reality revolutionized Paul’s ambition. This is because not only did Paul see his own sin, he also understood 3 truths about the hope that is available in Christ. First…
You can stand in Christ. Notice in vv. 8–9, that Paul’s new ambition was to “gain Christ and be found in Him.” Again, Paul is looking forward to the final judgment. When Paul stands before the Lord, he didn’t want to stand in his righteousness; instead, he wanted to be in Christ and in his righteousness.
As such, v. 9 provides a wonderful picture of the heart of the gospel. I am not a Christianity fundamentally because of what I do or don’t do. No, a Christian is fundamentally someone who is in Christ, and he is our life source.
For example, think of how an astronaut depends on his ship. If you put a human being out in space without protection, he cannot survive. For one the air pressure in our bodies would cause them to explode in a vacuum. But beyond that, we need air, water, food, and warmth to live and thrive, and none of those things are available in space. So, death reigns in space; unless the astronaut stays inside his ship. It serves as a lifeboat, providing protection, nourishment, and warmth in the midst of a deadly environment.
And similarly, Paul knew that he was a dead man at the judgment unless he was in Christ. Therefore, his ambition is to “found in Him” at the judgment, shielded from the holiness of God. He knew that he would be safe there, because of a 2nd truth about the hope available in Christ.
You can stand in perfect righteousness. Notice how Paul explains the significance of being in Christ at the judgment. He could be found in Christ, “not having my own righteousness, which is from the law…”
The contrast here is very important in light of the context. Again, when Paul left Jerusalem, he believed he had achieved righteousness through the law. But when he saw Christ, he realized that he was not righteous. But he also understood that through his perfect life, death, and resurrection, Christ had provided perfect righteousness that could be credited to Paul.
Theologians often speak of this as “alien righteousness.” The point is not that it comes from Mars but that it is not my own. It’s not based in my family heritage, my obedience, my good deeds, or anything else in me. Instead, it is “the righteousness of God,” which is credited or imputed to my account.
Folks, this is the great hope of the gospel. To be found in Christ means that I will stand at the judgment in his righteousness, not my own. Therefore, God will not judge me based on my sin but Christ’s righteousness. Of course, there is no safer place to be, and you can know that you will be welcomed into God’s presence forever. What a gift! But remarkably, that’s not all. The 3rd truth about our hope in Christ is that…
You can receive perfect righteousness by faith. Paul emphasizes this remarkable fact 2 times (read). In other words, I am not responsible to earn my way into Christ; instead, the redemption that Jesus provided through his life, death, and resurrection is applied to me by faith.
Other passages tell us that this faith is simply a transfer of trust. Like Paul before his conversion, most people think they are good people. They trust in themselves to earn favor with God. But saving faith begins with humility before God. I recognize that I am a sinner who has violated God’s law; therefore, I cannot trust in myself to make it to God. As a result, a stop trusting myself, and I place my trust wholly in Christ.
And God promises that when I do so, I am placed in Christ, I stand in his righteousness, and I am forever secure in his perfect hand. As such, if you have never received Christ as Savior, I pray that you will humble yourself today before the Lord.
Recognize that you cannot save yourself, but there is salvation in Christ. Put your faith in him. If you do God promises that you will be forever secure in Christ, and you can face the judgment with confidence that you are secure. We’d love to talk with you today about how you can have this assurance and hope. In sum, Paul’s first ambition was, “I want to stand in Christ.” His second ambition is…
II. I want to know Christ (v. 10).
I want to begin by noting that there is a fairly sharp distinction between the ambition of v. 9 and v. 10. Verse 9 describes how God instantaneously credits the believer with Christ’s righteousness.
But v. 10 is talking about something very different. It speaks of an ever-growing experience of Christ that happens through the process of spiritual growth. It doesn’t earn us a place in heaven, rather, it is part of God’s process of creating practical righteousness in our hearts. That being said, notice in v. 10 3 promises that God gives to ever person who is in Christ regarding our lives today.
You can know Christ. This is the primary blessing of v. 10. The other two simply expand on how we come to know Christ. Remember that Paul has already mentioned this very important theme in v. 8. Paul said, “I also count all things loss…”
Folks, this is a remarkable gift of his grace. As v. 8 says, it is of “surpassing worth.” This is because the knowledge Paul describes is clearly more than intellectual knowledge. It’s not just that you know the facts about Christ’s nature and his life on earth.
Afterall, many unbelieving scholars know a lot about Jesus, but they have never experienced “the power of His resurrection” or “the fellowship of His suffering.” They have incredible head knowledge, but it hasn’t worked down into their hearts. They don’t know Christ.
Rather, Paul’s ambition is for a relational, experiential knowledge. In other words, Paul wants to know Christ like you can know a friend, a spouse, or a parent. For example, when I say, “I know Heidi,” you assume that I know more than some basic facts like her name, birthday, and hair color. Rather, I should have an ever-growing, deep understanding of my wife’s personality, her strengths, her passions, her cares, etc.
And Paul is saying that he wants to know Christ in a similar fashion. Paul expands on this idea in the prayer of Ephesians 3:17–19. What’s fascinating about this passage is that Paul assumes that there is such depth to Christ’s love that we always have more to learn. We can spend a lifetime working to comprehend, “the width and length and depth and height.” And that’s just his love. Christ has such depth that we will spend eternity growing in the knowledge of Christ.
And remarkably we can experience a piece of that knowledge today. As we study God’s Word, pray, worship, and struggle for holiness the Spirit is constantly opening our eyes more and more to who Christ is, and he is creating faith that connects what we read to our own lives.
Like Mary in Luke 10, I have the privilege through the Spirit and the disciplines of grace to “sit at Jesus’ feet” and “hear his Word” (Luke 10:39). How did Jesus respond to Mary’s pattern? He said, “One thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part” (v. 42). Folks, there is no greater privilege than to know Christ, and we should have no higher priority than to sit at his feet and “hear his Word.”
This is a good reminder during a very busy time of year. Don’t spend the next 10 days like Martha, distracted and anxious, and fail to sit at the feet of Jesus. And the same goes for the entire year. Don’t spend your life chasing success, financial security, hobbies, or status at the expense of knowing Christ. No, “one thing is necessary.” There is no greater privilege than to know Christ, so make it your highest priority. Then Paul adds a second promise, which really explains one way we come to know Christ.
I can experience Christ’s power. Paul says I want to “know Him” by means of “the power of His resurrection.” The “power of His resurrection” is the mighty power of God that raised Jesus from the dead and in the process conquered sin and death.
And remarkably, the Bible teaches that when we are united to Christ, we are also united to this power. Galatians 2:20 states, “Ihave been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” We have been joined to Christ’s death and resurrection, and the practical impact is that “it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me.”
In other words, the same power that raised Jesus from the dead is at work in me, strengthening me to fight sin and to grow in godliness. Therefore, Romans 6:11 commands us to “Reckon (i.e., consider) yourselves to be dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.”
Therefore, I like what Gordon Fee says regarding our text. “Paul knows nothing of the rather gloomy stoicism that is so often exhibited in historic Christianity, where the lot of the believer is basically that of ‘slugging it out in the trenches,’ with little or no sense of Christ’s presence and power. On the contrary, the power of Christ’s resurrection was the greater reality for him.”
Folks, if you are in Christ, you have resurrection power at your fingertips as you fight sin and pursue godliness. What a gift, and what an important perspective to remember as you fight for godliness!
But not only that, our text states that as we walk in this power, we come to know Christ in a deeper, more powerful way. For one, when we battle for holiness in the strength of Christ, we really do experience him. Of course, we don’t hear any voices or transform into the Hulk.
But we do experience the conviction of his Spirit and the grace of his forgiveness. He changes our affections and gives the strength to overcome temptation. In that battle for holiness we experience Christ in a very unique way, and it creates a deep bond between you and your Lord.
I want to emphasize that this struggle is essential to spiritual intimacy. So many Christians want to feel Jesus or hear his voice, but they aren’t all that interested in pursuing godliness. As a result, they are missing one of the fundamental ways we come to know the Lord. The only way you can truly know Christ is to walk in his resurrection power as you fight for holiness.
But praise God that when you live this way, you get to see Christ at work in wonderful ways. You come to know him! So Christian, pursue holiness in his resurrection power. Live every day in conscious awareness of your dependence on him, crying out for mercy when you fail and strength for every battle. Live a life disciplined by grace, and anticipate how that struggle will lead to intimacy with your Savior. The 3rd promise in v. 10 is…
I can share in Christ’s character. We’ve talked a lot about “fellowship” throughout this series, and we’ve seen that biblical fellowship is a deep partnership. Therefore, Paul is saying that we come to know Christ by participating in his sufferings and thereby being “conformed to His death.”
This is heavy language in light of what we studied several weeks ago in 2:5–8. We saw that Jesus set the ultimate example of humble service in that he didn’t selfishly grasp to the privileges of deity. Instead, he let go of those privileges and served us to the point of dying an agonizing, humiliating death on the cross.
And when you became a Christian, you were joined in very practical ways to this death. Colossians 3:3 says it bluntly. When you got saved, “You died (to your former life), and your (new) life is hidden with Christ in God.”
As a result, we are outsiders in this world, and 2 Timothy 3:12 states, “All who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.” That’s tough, but incredibly our text states that through the rejection of the world, we come to know Christ in a way that is otherwise impossible.
This is because when you go through war with someone, it creates a bond like no other. It’s why Army buddies are often so tight. They have leaned on each other through the hardest of times, and they’ve put their lives in each other’s hands. Persecution does the same for a Christian. When you suffer for Christ and lean on him for help, it creates a deep bond between you and your Savior.
Not only that, you are “conformed to his death.” In other words, you take on the humility and love that led Jesus to the cross. Your heart is shaped after his. And again, you come to know him in a profound and deep way.
Yes, the road of v. 10 is incredibly difficult. It requires war against the world, the flesh, and the devil. And it’s no easy thing to be conformed to the death of Christ. But the prize is, the “surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” In comparison, everything else in life is a pile of rubbish.
So Christian, make sure that the greatest ambition of your life is to know Christ. There is nothing else you can achieve or gain that can compare. And then give your life to growing in that knowledge. Live in the Word, prayer, meditation, worship, and fellowship with brothers. Lean on God’s grace, and come to know the greatest treasure man will ever know—the knowledge of Christ. Finally, notice in v. 11 the 3rd
III. I want to live with Christ (v. 11).
The “resurrection of the dead” is simply referring to the fact that when Christ raptures the church, he will also bring with him all who are asleep in Christ. 1 Corinthians 15:52 states, “In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead (in Christ) will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.” And we will be forever with the Lord in his glorious presence. This is the great hope of every Christian.
Of course, the confusing aspect of v. 11 is that it sounds like Paul is saying that his participation in this resurrection is somehow in doubt. So, is he denying the doctrine of eternal security—that once we are saved, we are always saved? Even worse, is he saying that we have to earn a place in this resurrection?
In response v. 9 is clear that salvation is not by works; rather, it is based on being in Christ, so we know that he cannot mean we have to earn the resurrection. However, vv. 12–14 teach that true believers must live out their faith and demonstrate through their lives that Christ really does live inside us (read).
We’ll develop this more when we come back to Philippians in January, but the basic point is clear. Just because I am in Christ, doesn’t mean I can cash in my chips and take it easy. No, I must live out my faith and demonstrate that it is real so that one day I can “lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me.”
But again, I don’t do it so that I can pat myself on the back like Paul did before his conversion. Instead, “I press toward the goal,” because I love Christ, I want to know Christ, and I desperately want to spend eternity with Christ. He is my passion.
In conclusion, Paul’s testimony in vv. 1–11 calls for a massive rewiring of our value system. It’s especially dramatic for anyone who believes that he or she can earn righteousness through their family heritage or good works. If that’s you, then I would urge you today to count all of it as loss and put your faith wholly in Christ, so that someday at the final judgment you will be “found in Him.”
But even if you are saved, Paul’s testimony demands that we evaluate our hearts. First and foremost, we need to see the “excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord.” The greatest joy of eternity will be to know him and dwell with him, and it will make every treasure of this world look very small. So Christian, see the surpassing worth of Christ. And as a result, make it your greatest ambition to know Christ. Don’t let anything get in the way of spending time at the feet of Jesus through Bible study, prayer, worship, and fellowship with other believers. And then pursue holiness in his resurrection power so that you can experience the brotherhood that only comes from conflict. The greatest gift in the world is to know Christ. Let’s make it the greatest ambition of our hearts.