There is much to be said about self denial and the scripture repeats this theme over and over.
Jesus is clear. The Apostles and their letters are clear.
Do I get it? Commitment to the Messiah means taking up my cross daily, giving up my hopes, dreams, possessions, even my very life if need be for the cause of the Messiah. Only if I willingly take up my cross may I be called His disciple. The reward is worth the price.
Jesus followed His call of death to self (“Take up your cross and follow Me”) with the gift of life in the Messiah: “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it” (Matthew 16:25-26).
But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of the Messiah. | Philippians 3:7
To begin with, Paul lost whatever was gain to him personally apart from God. Certainly Paul had a great reputation as a scholar and a religious leader. He was proud of his Jewish heritage and his religious achievements. Paul was a part of the religious elite. He loved that life.
All of these things were valuable to him; he could profit from them. He certainly had many friends who admired his zeal. But he measured these “treasures” against what Jesus the Messiah had to offer, and he realized that all he held dear was really nothing but “refuse” compared to what he had in the Messiah.
His own “treasures” brought glory to him personally, but they did not bring glory to God. They were “gain” to him only, and as such, were selfish.
This does not mean that Paul repudiated his rich heritage as an orthodox Jew. As you read his letters and follow his ministry in the Book of Acts, you see how he valued both his Jewish blood and his Roman citizenship. Becoming a disciple did not make him less a Jew. In fact, it made him a completed Jew, a true child of Abraham both spiritually and physically. Nor did he lower his standards of morality because he saw the shallowness of pharisaical religion. He accepted the higher standard of living —conformity to Jesus the Messiah.
When a person becomes a disciple, God takes away the bad, but He also takes the good and makes it better.
Again we are reminded of Jim Elliot’s words: “He is no fool to give what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” This is what Paul experienced: he lost his religion and his reputation, but he gained far more than he lost.
What does it mean to know the Messiah?
This means much more than knowledge about the Messiah, because Paul had that kind of historical information before he was saved. To “know the Messiah” means to have a personal relationship with Him through faith.
You and I know about many people, even people who lived centuries ago, but we know personally very few. Discipleship is the Messiah. Salvation is knowing Him in a personal way.
What is the righteousness of the Messiah?
Righteousness was the great goal of Paul’s life when he was a Pharisee, but it was a self-righteousness, a works righteousness, that he never really could attain. But when Paul trusted Jesus, he lost his own self-righteousness and gained the righteousness of the Messiah.
The technical word for this transaction is imputation. It means “to put to one’s account.” Paul looked at his own record and discovered that he was spiritually bankrupt. He looked at the Messiah’s record and saw that He was perfect. When Paul trusted Jesus, he saw God put the Messiah’s righteousness to his own account!
More than that, Paul discovered that his sins had been put on the Messiah’s account on the cross. And God promised Paul that He would never write his sins against him anymore. What a fantastic experience of God’s grace!