Whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. (Philippians 3:7–8)
For us to sing “all I have is Christ,” with full hearts, we have to believe Christ is better than all we have ever had or known besides him. “All I have” means everything else has fallen away, at least by comparison. Nothing else can stand in the light of the joy he brings. Even the very best gifts God has given us are but suggestions of all that he is for us — beautiful, merciful, enjoyable suggestions, but suggestions nonetheless.
In the secret of your heart, how does Jesus stand up to your other loves? Does every other good, every other talent, every other relationship bow before him? Or does he often get lost in the weeds of other pleasures? Would you be happy to have Christ if you could have nothing but him? Can you say with the psalm,
Whom have I in heaven but you?
And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
The apostle Paul knew what it was like to have everything here on earth — success, power, wealth, esteem. And he knew what it was like to have everything ripped away — cast out of cities, estranged from those he loved, thrown into prison, beaten and stoned almost to death — and yet gain everything. He would have loved to sing,
Hallelujah! All I have is Christ
Hallelujah! Jesus is my life
Despite all he used to have, and all he now had lost while following Jesus, Paul could say, “Whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Philippians 3:7–8). Knowing Christ could not be measured or eclipsed. Many of the things he enjoyed before Jesus were still good, but the joy of knowing Jesus could not be measured of eclipsed (Philippians 3:8).
And yet there was a day, for each and every one of us, when knowing him did not seem supremely valuable, or even necessary. We lived in the dark, and we loved the darkness (John 3:19).
Why were the poor and despised in Jesus’s day the most likely to receive him? Jesus himself explained why: “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mark 2:17).
How many of us, deep down, thought ourselves well — secure, loved, happy, good — and therefore had no need for Jesus? We may have gone through the motions of Christianity, but the cross was really just our insurance policy against hell, not the new anchor and fountain of our life. Christ was our forgiveness, but not our life, because we still loved the darkness.
We were lost in darkest night. When it came to the most essential dimensions of life, we couldn’t see the hand we held in front of our face. And yet we thought we knew the way. Even while we were blind and deaf to reality — to how sinful we really were, to how satisfying Jesus really is, to how desperately we needed grace and mercy — we trusted our senses anyway. We kept running, in every direction but God’s.
And we thought ourselves rich. We probably never thought in these terms, but sin promised us joy and life. And we believed. The devil “is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44), twisting iniquity into beauty, slavery into freedom, the smoke of hell into a harmless fog. Satan preys on the dullness of our hearts and the vibrancy of our imaginations to make life in the dark seem lovely.
If God had left us to ourselves, we would still and always refuse him. But God reached into death, and ripped away all our refusals of him. We looked at all we thought we had, and knew we needed so much more.
Jesus tells the story, our story: “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field” (Matthew 13:44). We had run and run from the only field that could satisfy us, and then the field ran to find us. Now all we know is grace.
Now, because Jesus is our life, our life is for Jesus. We want this ransomed life to be a fruitful life, bringing others into all we have in Christ. We want someone else to finally leave the darkness because they saw the light in us. Again, Jesus says, “Whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God” (John 3:21). We want others to see that the strength, and wisdom, and joy that we need to obey God could never come from inside of us.
We all must be carried by God to God, day by day, until death finally brings us to Life.
.Marshall Segal (@marshallsegal) is a writer and managing editor at desiringGod.org. He’s the author of Not Yet Married: The Pursuit of Joy in Singleness & Dating. He graduated from Bethlehem College & Seminary. He and his wife, Faye, have a son and live in Minneapolis.