What does it mean to count everything as loss for the sake of Christ? What does it mean to renounce all that we have for Christ’s sake?
Paul said he does this. “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Philippians 3:8). And a few verses later he said, “Brothers, join in imitating me” (3:17).
So this is commanded of all believers.
This Is Basic Christianity
This is what it means to be a Christian. It is not advanced discipleship; it is basic Christianity. This is confirmed in Jesus’s words, “Any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:33). Renouncing all we have is the same as “counting everything as loss.” This is what happens in conversion. You can’t be a disciple without it. Jesus said this.
He describes this conversion in a parable: “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). Selling all you have with joy, in order to have the treasure of the kingdom, is a parable-way of saying: count everything as loss in order to gain Christ.
So, to become a Christian is to awaken from the blindness of spiritual death and find Jesus so all-sufficient and all-satisfying that 1) we count everything as loss, 2) we renounce all our possessions, and, in parable-language, 3) we sell all we have to possess the treasure of Christ.
How to Count Everything As Loss
In everyday practical terms, what does it mean to do this? It means at least these four things:
1. Renouncing all (counting all as loss) means that, if we must choose between Christ and anything else, we will choose Christ.
That is, even though God does not bring us to the crisis of either-or at every point, nevertheless, we are ready, and have resolved in our hearts that, if the choice must be made, we will chose Christ.
2. Renouncing all (counting all as loss) means that we will deal with everything in ways that draw us nearer to Christ, so that we gain more of Christ, and enjoy more of him, by the way we relate to everything.
That is, we will embrace everything pleasant, by being thankful to Christ; and we will endure everything hurtful, by being patient through Christ.
3. Renouncing all (counting all as loss) means that we will seek to deal with the things of this world in ways that show that they are not our treasure, but rather that Christ is our treasure.
That is, we will hold things loosely, share things generously, and ascribe value to things in relation to Christ. We will seek to live the paradox of 1 Corinthians 7:30–31, “Let [Christians] buy as though they had no goods, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it.”
4. Renouncing all (counting all as loss) means that if we lose any or all the things this world can offer, we will not lose our joy, or our treasure, or our life — because Christ is our joy and our treasure and our life.
That is, in smaller losses we will not grumble (Philippians 2:14), and in greater losses we will grieve, but not as those who have not hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13).
A Settled, Joyful, Defining Resolve
This is what I believe it means to find Jesus so all-sufficient and all-satisfying that 1) we count everything as loss (Philippians 3:8), 2) renounce all our possessions (Luke 14:33), and, 3) “sell” all we have to possess the treasure of Christ (Matthew 13:44).
None of us loves Christ this perfectly, or lives so consistently. But to be a follower of Jesus, to be a true Christian, means that these four ways of dealing with “everything” will be the settled, joyful, defining resolve of our lives.
This is what we will mean when we say with Paul, “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.”