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  • Writer's pictureJonathan Parnell

To Be Found in Christ (Philippians 3:9)

and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith —Philippians 3:9

Paul declares, in Philippians 3:7–8, his all-surpassing desire to know Jesus. The glories of Christ out-weigh all the things that Paul formerly valued. Jesus is better, period. In verse 9, he continues with a word that grounds his affections. He has said he loves Jesus and now he shows one reality that makes Jesus so lovable.

Let’s the look at this verse in two parts: first, what it means to be found in Christ; and second, how this is related to righteousness.

Found in Him

Not only does Paul consider Jesus better than everything else, but he wants to be "found in him." To be found in Christ introduces the central metaphor in Paul’s theology: union with Christ. It is, as Sinclair Ferguson says, the grammar of the gospel by which Paul speaks. Being found in Jesus is cosmic in its scope. The world, as Romans 5:12–21 tells us, is divided into two humanities, Adam or Jesus. There is the old age (in Adam) and the new creation (in Christ).

Paul is not speaking sentimentally here. He is reconstituting his entire personhood. To be found in Christ is to come to the end of self, the end of Adam and the old age. Paul is saying that he wants to be defined altogether differently: not dead in sin, but alive to God in Christ (Romans 6:11). He is a new man within a new humanity that’s part of a new world (Ephesians 2:14–18).

Having His Righteousness

Here the theme of union with Christ converges with another vital metaphor in Paul’s theology: the righteousness of God. For to be found in Christ—to be a new creature (2 Corinthians 5:17)—is to be absolutely acquitted in the divine court. Paul's desiring to be found in Christ abandons all attempts to forge a righteousness of his own. His law-keeping is rubbish. Whatever he has, it isn’t good enough. And faith in Jesus, the desire to be found in Jesus, says that and more.

The righteousness that Paul needs, and the righteousness that Paul has in Christ, is the righteousness that comes through faith in Christ. We see here that "being found in Christ" and "faith in Christ" are two ways of speaking about the same reality. To be in Christ is to cling to him by faith. We are united to Christ by faith, and faith in Christ is the spirit of our union. His righteousness becomes ours. “Righteous” is the sovereign decree that transforms the standing of a guilty sinner into a justified saint, it is the free gift to those who believe (Romans 4:5).

This passage is the tip of the spear. Union with Christ and his righteousness. Yes. Yes, Father. We want that. We want to be found in Christ, not having a righteousness of our own, but the righteousness that comes only through faith in Christ, Your righteousness that depends on faith. Amen.


For Reflection

1. What does Paul mean by “found in him?”

2. What is the relationship between being found in Christ and having His righteousness?

3. How does this verse relate to Philippians 3:7–8? In particular, how does union with Christ support Paul’s declaration about the surpassing worth of Christ?


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