Larry Kirkpatrick

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Being Found in Him

Being Found in Him

When you read the Bible from front to back, something should jump right out at you: From Genesis to Revelation, one of the most common spiritual problems, is self-righteousness. And at the last ticking of time, in the last fleeting moments before earth’s midnight arrives, it is no different. Our danger of self-righteousness, may be even greater than other generations, for on us shines the full light of Bible truth. God’s sending us great light is no indication of special favor or goodness in us. We dare not nurture the slightest notion of pride, for pride is deadly.

We also live at the age when the Christian world makes light of God’s law, when obedience itself is viewed as suspect. We live in an age of cheap piety and the casting of charges easily, without a second thought. It is an age of superficial theology, and one judge after another lines us up in their crosshairs and pronounces us guilty of the pet crime of this age: “legalism.”

Yes we live in an age of spiritual softserve. Everyone wants to be in the kind and gentle middle. We are intellectually weak. Were there two groups in the Adventist Church vying for truth, one insisting that 2 + 2 = 4, and the other insisting that 3 + 2 = 6, I think that most Adventists would settle at the middle position and declare that it must be that 2 + 2 = 5. Everyone wants to be in the middle.

Conventional thinking shall not suffice for this age. We are not looking for the middle, brothers and sisters, we are looking for truth. And so, when it comes to the question of self-righteousness, we are not looking for a conventional answer. We are not looking for a strange answer. We are only looking for a sound, inspired answer. Are you with me then? Let’s proceed.

We are not going to worry today about sticks and stones, political correctness, or the rage of the age. Let’s rather study now God’s Word.

Philippians was written from prison. A variety of theories exist about from whence Paul wrote. Be that as it may, he wrote to his friends back at the church of Philippi. And a key point in his letter is found at chapter 3:9-11.

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: That I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being made conformable unto His death; If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead.

We want to be found in Christ, not having our own righteousness from any source other than Jesus, but the only righteousness we seek is that which is through the faith of Christ. As Paul names it, the righteousness which is of God by faith. Any other kind of righteousness will be a form of self-righteousness.

Let’s back up to the beginning of Philippians chapter three and see how Paul is thinking on his way to verse nine.

Paul urges the Philippians to rejoice in the Lord. No matter how badly things appear to be going for the church, with key leaders killed or imprisoned, Paul urges them to rejoice. He pleads with them to pay attention to his exhortations even though he has spoken to them of these things before.

And he warns. He warns against dogs, evil workers, the circumcision. He warns against those who would come tagging along into the church and lead, well-meaning though they might be, and lead God’s people away from the true gospel. In this cased, the concern is that they would be led to reintroduce archaic salvation ideas into their faith.

Remember, shadow had reached substance; Messiah had come to His temple; the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world had come to His destiny at the knife. He had given His life.

In verse three Paul reminds them who the true circumcision are: (1) those who worship God in the spirit, (2) who rejoice in Christ Jesus, and (3) who have no confidence in the flesh. They are the circumcision. So ask yourself, is that you? Do you worship God in the spirit? Do you rejoice in Christ? Do you, in your Christian experience refuse to place confidence in your flesh? If so, then you are the true circumcision.

In verses four through six Paul recounts why as a Jew he might then have special confidence in his flesh. But he does not. He refuses to. His recitation is quite interesting, wouldn’t you say? For in it he combines a racial pride, a pride about his Jewish DNA, with certain zealous activities he has engaged in for God.

With regard to the righteousness whichis “in the law,” Paul says he was “blameless.” What then is the righteousness which is “in the law”?

The law has no life, the law has no blood, the law does not die, cannot sacrifice, does not redeem. The law is a witness to what is right and what is wrong. It reveals. It never saved. The law is a thumbnail sketch of God’s character. Make no mistake, we are here to uphold the law in its fullness. It is not done away, it stands today just as perfect and true as at the beginning.

But there is no righteousness in it. The law is righteous, but it has no righteousness in it. The law is like a mirror, and it reflects God’s character. Yet, it is only a reflection. To say the law is righteous is to say that God’s character is righteous. But the law, standing alone is merely an unliving recording. 2 Corinthians 2:7 reminds us that these stones are a ministry of death. The law condemns but does not save. And yet it is glorious.

Paul related the righteousness which is in the law to his own behavior. For he said that in relation to it, he, Paul, was blameless. He was here then, referring to his own outward acts. Seeing as men see, the motives that actuate the deed veiled from observation, he looked impressive.

Look what he told us in Romans 7:9: “I was alive without the law once: but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died.” But we have to let him be understood against the backdrop he means. The law was there before Paul and still there during Paul. He is telling us then, when he says “I was alive without the law once,” that his conception of the law at one stage of his experience was so shallow that it was as if there was no law. Notice, for he proceeds to say, “but when the commandment came.” Well, the commandment was already there. It was not the commandment that came, but it was Paul’s mind that came. The Holy Spirit was working and at one point the deep darkness was split by a bright crack of light. His heart, his mind, were flooded with glory. The commandment came. that is, Paul began to see himself very differently in relation to the character of God.

When “the commandment came, sin revived, and I died.” Here then is a a radical new view of self. Now Paul sees himself standing in the streaming glory of the cross and he is undone. Sin revived he says. Again, if the law was always there, then personal sin was always there from the moment he first willfully chose to transgress. But Paul had been a celebrity, the bright light, the great Jewish hope, the upcoming young defender of the faith. How many times had he, we may suppose, been told how wonderful he was to the cause of a pure faith. How many times must he have heard quiet talk in the background extolling his merits. He was the darling of a certain circle of the powerful in Jerusalem. Great days were ahead as he would root out all these heretical Christians.

It was against the feeling of power and arrival and importance that Paul suddenly saw himself in a totally different light. He saw that he was not what he had been said to be, that he was wrapped up in himself and made a very small package indeed. He saw that he was wrong, that the spiritual view of the law was quite deeper than what he had been imagining. When this happened, he says sin revived, and he died.

He now saw himself as a sinner, a condemned man, a man who had been operating in opposition to the God he had thought he had been serving. And he knew that had the hound of heaven not chased him and chased him and chased him down, had not God pursued until the opening came and the light was loosed in him, he knew he would have walked out to the end of his days zealously doing evil and finally experiencing destruction for it. God’s mercy humbled the man. His love kindled love in Paul’s heart. The proud Pharisee was broken and a baby Christian was born.

Come back now to Philippians 3:7, 8: “But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ.”

The city darling gave up all the accolades and the rising star atmosphere. But he did not merely lose this.. He traded it for the scorn, the hatred, the contempt of his countrymen. He would now be viewed in a very different light, as an even worst pest than the Christians, for he had turned, in their eyes, from the truth. Paul gave all that away, and counted it as nothingness. The value of being found in Christ outweighed any and all other consideration.

It is here that we arrive at the ninth verse.

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.

Before we are found in Christ, we must be emptied of self. Paul was finally there. But let’s not make a mistake here. The only way to be emptied of self is to maintain a continuous drainage. I so appreciate these lines written a century ago by Ellen G. White, in The Southern Watchman, January 29, 1903:

Those who work for God are daily to empty the heart of self, that they may be cleansed of their hereditary and cultivated tendencies to wrong. They are to depend wholly upon Him who taught as never man taught. Unless the soul-temple is daily emptied of self, and prepared for the reception of the Holy Spirit, self will rule the entire being. The words and acts will be tarnished with selfishness. Christ will not appear in the life; but there will be seen a self-confidence that is wholly different from His character.

How frequent, this emptying of self? Daily. and the result is cleansing of both hereditary and cultivated tendencies to wrong. The emptying of self is here connected with the filling of the Holy Spirit. If we are not emptied of self—daily—then “self will” what? Then “self will rule the entire being. In short, it seems to me that the equation is entire emptying of self and entire filling with the Holy Spirit, or partial emptying of self, which almost immediately becomes self ruling the entire being, and no Holy Spirit at all, no character of Christ at all, but an embarrassing exhibition of self-confidence that is wholly different from His character. Those seem to be the two, stark, indisputable choices.

So it is Christ’s righteousness shining through, or self-righteousness radioactively contaminating, leaving a slime-trail of self-confidence and selfishness. Those are my options.

I want to be, as the Scripture says, “found in him.” When I am found in Him, it will be as “not having my own righteousness which is of the law.” I will not be satisfied with a religion that has only to do with the outward life. I will not trust in my own righteousness. Possibly seven of the most insightful lines available on this are the following:

While speaking to God of poverty of spirit, the heart may be swelling with the conceit of its own superior humility and exalted righteousness. In one way only can a true knowledge of self be obtained. We must behold Christ. It is ignorance of Him that makes men so uplifted in their own righteousness. When we contemplate His purity and excellence, we shall see our own weakness and poverty and defects as they really are. We shall see ourselves lost and hopeless, clad in garments of self-righteousness, like every other sinner. We shall see that if we are ever saved, it will not be through our own goodness, but through God's infinite grace (Ellen G. White, Christ’s Object Lessons, p. 159).

And I am sure of the truth of this .We can be actually talking to God, actually in prayer, while swelling with conceit, while quite fully satisfied with the excellence of our humility, and sure of our own righteousness. But a close, extended look at Christ will solve just such a delusion. Looking at Christ, our own weakness, poverty, and defects stand out. Rather than seeing ourselves as special cases of piety and example, we see ourselves as tending to dress in fig-leaves of our own plucking, trying to make ourselves look better than we truly are. We see ourselves as sinners. We realize that for long years, the truth is that we have indulged ourselves, joining ourselves to the sinfulness of our nature.

We realize that if we are ever saved it will not be on the basis of our own goodness, but through the righteousness of God by faith. It is by faith—faith that renounces all self-trust—that we as fallen people in need are to lay hold upon infinite power. In our conscious dependence we reach forth to lay hold on God’s almighty help.

We are so spiritually bankrupt. Nothing we do on our own apart from God can take the place of simple faith and the endure surrender of self we have already spoken of. But none of us can empty ourselves of self. The only way we can experience this is to ask Christ to do it for us, in us. We must consent. Because of the tangled-up disorder of our fallen nature, we must come to Him in humility and not only consent for Him to do this work in us, but plead for Him to. I cannot give my heart. I cannot keep my heart. But Jesus can. He can save me in spite of my unchristlike self if that self is surrendered, if that self is cut free morning by morning.

But the wonder is that the gospel does not stop here. There is much more. Hear Paul in Philippians 3:10, 11:

That I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being made conformable unto His death; If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead.

Being found in Him means knowing Him. And knowing Him will mean experiencing in ourselves “the power of His resurrection.” Jesus is risen from the dead. He conquered death in our humanity and rose again. He defeated sin in the flesh, took on the dragon in the stinking lair. He overcame the pulling and clamoring of a nature that was bent toward evil. His humanity was like our own.

By the time Jesus came, the race had been diminishing for thousands of years. In physical strength, in mental power, and in moral worth, what a man was had become less and less. That was when Christ came. That was the humanity He took: a shriveled, marginally alive, deeply disordered humanity. His human organism was that of fallen man. But He never chose to sin, no, not even one day, one hour, one moment of His life. Then when we think means to know Him and the power of His resurrection, we understand that being found in Him will mean laying aside our proclivities and living life by the power of the Holy Spirit. Every day.

All our good works are dependent on a power outside of ourselves. So I must continually reach out after God, earnestly and continuously make heartbreaking confession of sin to Him, humble my soul before Him. That is what I need to do. If we are careful to maintain this attitude, we won’t be feeling much like exalting ourselves. The picture we have of the relation between us and God will be consistently realistic. We will avoid the self-righteousness that not only misrepresents God, but that would make us cold-hearted and critical of our brothers and sisters. We will be for God specimens of His righteousness. The gospel has its witness in Christ and it will have its witness, His witness, also in us.

This is what the universe is waiting for.