GAINING CHRIST (Article) by Abidan Shah, Ph.D
(Published in the newspaper Daily Dispatch, Henderson on October 20, 2023)
In this season of my life, God has been teaching me a very important but difficult lesson: “It’s easy to give up the evil for Jesus, but it’s much harder to give up the good.” In other words, it is easy to give up sins, bad habits, addictions, etc., but it is hard to give up the good (family, friends, success, health, etc.,) for God. Don’t misunderstand. It’s not wrong to love the good, but if we find our meaning and satisfaction in the good, God will not hold back from using his sword of separation. He wants us to love those good things with the proper priority but keep our heart for Jesus who alone is worthy of our deepest love.
Paul explained this truth in Philippians 3. He reminded the believers that there was no place in the Christian life for taking confidence in one’s pedigree or natural achievements. He admits that he had plenty of reasons to brag on his self but concludes in verse 7 “But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ.” In other words, all the past that appeared to be so beneficial to him was actually a loss to him without Christ. But then, he adds in verse 8, “Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord.” There is a vast difference between verses 7 and 8. Verse 7 is in the past tense, but verse 8 is in the present tense. It’s not just that Paul’s Jewish heritage with its emphasis on circumcision or his pre-conversion accomplishments were a loss to him but everything good that he had right up to the present was also a loss. This means that his post-conversion life with family and friends and even his achievements in building churches, starting ministries, and influencing people were all a loss to him compared to gaining Christ. He even uses the word “skubala,” which means refuse, waste, and dung to describe them.
Paul’s message was not a new concept. Jesus had declared the same principle earlier in Matthew 10, when he warned the crowd of the cost of discipleship. The first warning was the hate they may have to endure from their own family for following him, verses 34-36: “Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law’; and a man’s enemies will be those of his own household.” Then came the second warning in verses 37-39: “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it.” The second half was the warning that if they were going to follow him, then they will have to love him more than they loved their loved ones. In other words, whenever anything or anyone is sitting in the place that only belongs to God in our lives or begins to take the place that rightfully belongs to God in our lives, he must bring it down. Failure to do so will only compromise his standard and cost us pain.
As we begin to grow in the Christian life, the Holy Spirit, through the Word of God, begins to cleanse us of old habits, old lusts, and old desires and helps us to obey Christ. Although this work is tough at times, it is nothing compared to the deeper work where God begins to loosen even the hold of the good things over us. This work involves discouragements and disappointments, hurts and betrayals, dashed hopes and dreams. It usually involves friends and family, role models, or even our health. God does not turn down the heat until those bonds begin to dissolve and what’s left is nothing but a heart that is truly given up to the who alone deserves it – Jesus Christ. We are quick to think that it is Satan attacking our family, our relationships, or our health. Could it be that God is allowing this for a reason? Could it be that God is calling you to give up the good so you will find the best? It’s not that you are abandoning the good. We must learn to love the good in moderation but reserve our prime love for Christ.