Philippians 3:8-9 “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.”
My father is the quintessential “do-it-yourselfer.” I remember going for a walk with him once and meeting one of our neighbors for the first time. As my father tried to describe to him who we were and where in the neighborhood we lived, the man remarked, “I know who you are. You’re that guy who always has the piles of dirt, sand, or gravel in your yard.” He was right. There was always a project going on at our house.
When it comes to home improvement, there is nothing wrong with being a “do-it-yourselfer.” If you are any good at it, you can make sure things get done the right way. The same holds true for many other areas of life. Maybe you can sew your own dresses, or grow your own food, or manage all your own investments, or fix all your own cars, and make sure it gets done the right way.
But there is one area of life for which this never works, and that is in our relationship with God. Here we are all tempted to believe that we have to do it ourselves. But as long as we are trying to do it ourselves, we will never be sure where we stand with God.
The true Christian faith is not a moral philosophy about how we must live. It is “knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” It is not just studying about Jesus like studying about some historic figure in a book. It is actually meeting Jesus in his word, being introduced to him, and living life with him as our Savior, our friend, and our brother.
When we know Jesus, then we truly know God. When you sit down on the hillside and listen to Jesus preach his sermon on the mount, then you see how high God has set his standards for keeping his law, and how far short of his perfection we have fallen. But when you follow him down from the hillside, and you see him actually reach out and touch the unclean leper to heal him, you know the depth of his concern for your suffering, and the extent of his power to fill your needs. When you stand with Jesus at the tomb of Lazarus, and you see the tears burning down his cheeks, and you hear his voice commanding Lazarus back to life, you know the intensity with which he feels your pain, and the authority with which he controls your world. When you kneel at the foot of his cross, and the blood running from his hands and feet carries his life mingled with your sins away past your knees, and his dying breath cries out, “It is finished,” you know that in his unsurpassed love for you he has left nothing more for you to pay or do.
Do you want to be sure, really sure, that God’s love and grace are yours, that your sins are forgiven, that you will live again after you die? Then you need to be found in Jesus, wrapped in the righteousness of his holy life, cleansed in the blood of his innocent death. A righteousness of our own that comes from our own keeping of the law is only a so-called righteousness. We never live our lives completely guilt free, and as long as we are still producing sin, we aren’t righteous at all.
Then God comes and gives us a righteousness of his own making. He gives us an innocence that comes to us from the outside. He takes and he hides our sinful selves in the perfect love of Christ. He so covers over the content of our lives with Jesus’ life and death that he can no longer see us at all. We are all little Christ’s to him. Lutheran Christians celebrate this truth in the Reformation this time of year. A more well-known October celebration will see little children walking door-to-door with hidden identities, hidden behind costumes and masks. By bringing us to faith, the Lord has dressed each one of us up as Jesus, only our new identity is more than a flimsy costume, and we wear it every day for the rest of our believing lives.
This is our great find, not only to find and know Jesus, but to be found in him with the righteousness that comes from God. In Jesus we are the precious, holy, dear, innocent children of God himself.