By Rob Beames
Not everyone is a big fan of reality shows. I’m certainly not ashamed to say I’ve never seen one. In fact, when the first advertisements aired for the debut of the television series “The Biggest Loser,” I assumed it was another creative idea Hollywood had concocted to provide us with an avenue to look down on others. I envisioned viewers having the ability to vote for someone they felt looked the most like a geek, acted the most like an idiot, or had the most annoying character flaws. I was relieved to find out that the show was actually a weight loss competition. These types of weight loss contests have infiltrated our “real reality” too. We see them posted in the workplace and in social circles. Most of us probably have either participated in one of these contests or know someone who has. Money and competition are powerful motivators and have worked as the impetus to shed some extra pounds, even when nothing else has worked.
The Apostle Paul considered himself “the biggest loser” too, but he had an entirely different kind of motivation, and an altogether opposite kind of “losing” in mind when he addressed the church at Philippi from his prison cell, most likely in Rome. Paul spoke of himself as being the biggest loser, not only for what he had lost physically, in the name of Christ, but much more for what he had lost spiritually, for the sake of Christ. “But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ 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 and is by faith” (Philippians 3:7-9).
Paul could have easily boasted in his religious zeal, pedigree, education, titles or affluent circles of association, (verses 5 and 6) yet he doesn’t. Rather, he acknowledges that everything he had previously done, as well as the reputation he worked hard to build—all in the name of righteousness—he now considers rubbish. This shocking word used only once in his writings indicates a distinct feeling of disgust. It’s the sense one would get if forced to handle dung or manure.
It is noteworthy here that Paul does not consider his own righteousness, which comes from the law, just a little less than the righteousness which comes from God. No, he says it is of absolutely no worth! He regards all of his past efforts and accomplishments as loathsome claims. And he doesn’t stop there. He includes everything he is, has or will ever accomplish as a discredit to him compared to having known Jesus. In contrast to what He has done on our behalf, Paul’s accomplishments are less than worthless. Perhaps, Paul’s words resonate best with those used by the prophet Isaiah many years earlier which called our best efforts “filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6). In today’s vernacular we might say they stink!
Like Paul, any greatness we could hope to achieve hardly compares to having a personal relationship with Christ. Clearly, our works have no value with the wrong motivation. But if our goal is to demonstrate the love of God to others, or to reach for His holiness out of a faith which trusts in the way He is conforming us to the image of Christ, this is an entirely different matter. God will use the times we faithfully respond to His perfect love to work His pleasure within us, and if we allow Him to do so, He can work through us to communicate His love to the world. These things are not worthless, but are of great value. Yet, they still do not count toward our salvation or our acceptance by God. Since we were created to do good works, our endeavors do have value, as long as they are done out of a gratitude for what Christ has already attained for us. Any other motivation behind our works changes our deeds into cow patties.
This is extremely difficult for us to accept, isn’t it? It’s not so hard to comprehend that none of our efforts could have the same worth as anything from God, but for us to view all of our righteous works as the refuse which comes out of a dog’s behind? That’s a tough humility pill to swallow. If we find this difficult to believe, we might as well get our pooper scoopers ready and make a crown for ourselves with the little bits we find on the ground after walking our dogs.
Our righteousness comes directly from God and is by faith alone, or it is actually not righteousness at all, in fact, it’s offensive to God. Christ gives us the righteousness we could not begin to attain, and when we put our faith in Him alone, this brilliant holiness is ours! We no longer need to lean on our imperfect efforts to support us. Without the appropriate faith, they are revolting anyway.
We want to think that the daily sacrifices we make, each sin we resist, and the efforts we put forth mean something to someone, right? How can we consider them as disgusting as manure? Well, it puts our efforts into perspective, doesn’t it? We have the choice every day of standing proud on the tops of our dung heaps, which reek to high heaven, in full view of everyone to see and (figuratively) smell, or we can climb down in humility from our mounds of manure and choose to put our faith in the sufficiency of His work on our behalf. Then and only then will His faultless righteousness will be credited to us and will we be able to stand proud! (I believe He wanted me to remind you of this truth.)