July 19, 2020
One of the things this pandemic has done for us is that it has served to remind us of the things that really matter. What really matters to us is Our Families. When the lockdown ended, the first thing we did was to get together to celebrate Mother’s Day. We couldn’t wait to see our kids and hold our grandson. Our families matter to us. Here’s another: Our Health. When we heard that anyone 65 and over was considered the most vulnerable to this virus, our health took on new significance. So we stayed home, ordered our groceries online, practiced social distancing, used hand sanitizer and more recently started wearing face masks. Our health matters to us. Here’s another: Our Freedom. When we were told that it’s ok to shop at Home Depot but it’s not ok to gather for worship, we begin to realize our freedoms matter. And this one leads me to one more thing that really matters: Our Faith. Not being able to gather to worship or just fellowship together has reminded us of how much we need each other, but more importantly, how much we need Jesus: How much we need Jesus to calm our worries and fears. How much we need Jesus to carry our burdens. And how much we need Jesus to assure us of our life with Him regardless of all the craziness that’s happening in our world today.
That’s why today we’re going to look at what matters most when it comes to our faith – what matters most when it comes to knowing Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. So if you brought your Bible, I would encourage you find Philippians 3:1-11. For it’s from this text that Paul gets to the crux of the problem that’s been plaguing the Church at Philippi. You see, there was a disagreement in the Church as to what was required to gain salvation. There were some in who were demanding that everyone follow the rituals, keep all the rules and do good works. To them, those were the things that mattered most too securing your salvation. Their emphasis was on the importance of what you do, not on what Jesus Christ has done. So Paul goes after this error with both guns blazing. And as he does, he destroys this idea that we have anything to bring to the table when it comes to gaining our salvation.
So if you’ve found Philippians 3:1-11, let’s begin by unpacking verses 1-3, where Paul begins by pointing out the problem. He writes: Further, my brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord! It is no trouble for me to write the same things to you again, and it is a safeguard for you. What he talking about here? What truth does he want to repeat for them? He wants them to understand the Gospel of Jesus Christ. For when we have a clear grasp on the good news of what God has done for us in Jesus Christ, it is easier for us to see when others are making false claims about the gospel. So to teach again about what matters most when it comes to salvation, this instruction will serve as a safeguard for us from falling prey to false teachers – teachers who preach a different gospel than the gospel of grace. And since it was false teachers who had infiltrated the church and had caused this conflict over the gospel, Paul begins with this strong warning about them. He writes:
Watch out for those dogs, those evildoers, those mutilators of the flesh. For it is we who are the circumcision, we who serve God by His Spirit, who boast in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh— Philippians 3:2-3 Here’s the problem: There will always be people who will tell you to put your confidence in what you do rather than put your confidence in what God has done when it comes to salvation. So Paul warns us to be wary of such men who put confidence in human achievement over against what God has done for us. So he wants us to know that these men are evil. So he calls them as he sees them – he calls them “those dogs.” This is not the kind of dog you might see at the dog park, nor is it the kind of dog you might find at the pound. These are wild dogs – homeless scavengers who roamed the streets, recklessly attacking anyone in their paths. This is what Paul calls those who attacks God’s people by imposing human accomplishments on top of what God has already accomplished for us through Jesus.
He then calls them evildoers because they had rejected the heart of the gospel: that God makes us completely righteous when we trust in Jesus. For what God does for you the moment He saves you, is that He unites you in Christ, so that His righteous now becomes yours. But these false teachers rejected this truth and maintained that you still have to live according to the law to establish your own righteousness. So Paul is reminding us again: that adding requirements of righteousness on top of what Jesus has already done, is evil – because when you do that, you are telling God that Jesus’ work on the cross for you was not good enough. It’s not sufficient. You then insult God’s grace. And make your human achievement out as superior to what Christ achieved for you. This teaching is not of God. It’s of the devil, who wants to destroy your confidence in Christ’s finished work. That’s why these men are called evildoers.
And finally he calls them mutilators of the flesh. This third picture is a play on words, a pun. Paul mockingly calls their additional requirement of circumcision – a mutilation – because it ADDS NOTHING for someone who has already received the righteousness of Christ – it was a worthless ritual that once again belittled the finished work of Jesus.
Now to counter this, Paul reminds us that those who believe the gospel of God’s grace have a new life that’s opposite to what the false teachers are pushing. He writes: For it is we who are the circumcision, we who serve God by His Spirit, who boast in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh— So then, How do people who have received the Gospel of God’s grace to us in Jesus live differently?
1) We worship by the Spirit of God not by some external rite or human tradition
2) We make much of Jesus and desire to glorify Jesus, not ourselves.
3) We put no confidence in our works for righteousness because we rest in the righteousness God gave us in Christ.
The difference Paul makes clear here us here is this: Because God did for us what we could not do for ourselves – because God saved us by His grace, not our efforts, we are no longer under the law, but under grace. We’ve been set free from the trying to earn our own salvation, so our confidence is not in what we do, but in what God has done! That’s what makes the Gospel so amazing.
But Paul is not done dismantling this heresy. He’s just getting started, so he writes: If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless. Philippians 3:4-6 Here Paul dismantles all the accomplishments that we think might stand us in good favor with God. All the reasons we might put confidence in what we do to secure our salvation:
“circumcised on the eighth day” Paul went through this famous Jewish ritual, but he considered it of no advantage. Today, people may put their confidence in other spiritual rituals, like being baptized as an infant or attending religious services. These experiences aren’t grounds for spiritual confidence. Salvation is about receiving the gift of God, not about going through a religious ritual.
“of the people of Israel” Paul was a physical descendant of Abraham. He was no Gentile convert to Judaism, but the real thing. Yet, this special privilege didn’t give him reason for assurance of salvation. He had to look to the offspring of Abraham, namely, Christ. Some people put their confidence in their heritage today. Some think that if you’re an American, then you must be a Christian. But here Paul dismantles any confidence in your ethnicity for salvation.
“of the tribe of Benjamin” Paul didn’t come from a disrespected Israelite tribe, but from this distinguished tribe. When the promised land was divided among the 12 tribes, Jerusalem, the holy city, was in Benjamin’s territory. When the kingdom split, Judah and Benjamin remained loyal to the Davidic dynasty. Yet Paul says, as cool as it was to be from that tribe, his rank had no value for toward salvation. Salvation is not found in your superior ranking. It’s found in trusting in the Son of David, Jesus Christ.
“a Hebrew of Hebrews” Paul was a son of Hebrew parents who had retained their Hebrew language and traditions. Traditions can be fine as far as they go, but you should place no confidence in them when it comes to salvation. Just because your family always took you to church when you were a child doesn’t make you a Christian. Coming from a Lutheran, Baptist, Catholic, Presbyterian or Charismatic tradition does not save you – only Jesus saves you.
“in regard to the law, a Pharisee” Paul says regarding the law he was a “Pharisee.” Pharisees loved their rules. They even added to the commands of the OT – so much so, that it was hard to know what the actual biblical commands were. That’s who Paul was. He belonged to a morally superior group of Jews. We meet people today who think salvation comes by being a moral person. But once again, Paul reminds us that rule keeping doesn’t earn salvation. God’s Word is clear on this: For it is by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. Ephesians 2:8-9
“as for zeal, persecuting the church” We certainly hear this claim today: “It doesn’t matter what you believe, as long as you are sincere and really believe it.” Well, could there be any one more “sincere” than Paul? In his zeal he persecuted the church. But once again, salvation doesn’t come by passion. Salvation comes by knowing the real man of zeal, Jesus Christ. People can be sincere but sincerely wrong.
“as for righteousness based on the law, faultless” While Paul isn’t claiming sinless perfection, he was a model when it came to obeying the Old Testament law. He was a self-righteous person, who boasted in his ability to keep God’s law. But God’s Words says, “There is no one righteous, not even one” Romans 3:10 That’s why we need Jesus, for when we put our faith in Jesus God gives His righteousness.
So there you have it. If anyone could put their confidence in their human achievement for salvation, it was Paul. But what does Paul say about all he achieved? But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. Philippians 3:7-10
What Paul once saw as profit to gain salvation he now sees as loss… What Paul once valued as of utmost importance to gain salvation he now sees as garbage, dung – as worthless excrement – of absolutely no value whatsoever for salvation. Instead, in these verses he declares what matters most about salvation by saying, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. Philippians 3:8
That’s what matters most – knowing Jesus Christ. Salvation is found in knowing Jesus Christ as your Lord and being found in Him, in His righteousness, not your own. Salvation is not found in your works; it’s found in Jesus. For Jesus himself said, Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. John 17:3 Eternal life is found in knowing Christ. It’s entering into a relationship of faith with the One who loved you and died for you to bring you to God and make you right with Him. Salvation is found when you believe in Christ. For God’s Word declares: Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved. Acts 4:12 Salvation does not come to us on the bases of what we accomplish, but in what Jesus has already accomplished through His death on the cross. And the moment you trust in Jesus – God imparts His righteousness to you.
That’s why Paul says, I consider my accomplishments, my works, as worthless for salvation, I consider all my rituals, rule keeping, zeal and religion is of absolutely no value for salvation, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith inChrist—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. What Paul is saying, is that salvation comes when we come to the end of ourselves – when we realize that none of our religious traditions or moral living has any value to save us – it’s when we see that our works are powerless to save us – that’s when we can finally see what matters most.
And what matters most is believing in Jesus! Trusting in the GIFT of God’s Son so that you can know Jesus and receive the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. Our confidence is found in Jesus, not in ourselves. What matters most is Jesus. So let me ask you: where’s your confidence? Who are you trusting? Are you trusting in yourself or are you trusting in Jesus?
Here’s the good news today: you can know Jesus just like Paul knows Jesus. All you have to do is turn from trusting in yourself, to trust in Jesus. And you can do that right here. For God’s Word says: “The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,” that is, the message concerning faith that we proclaim: If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. Romans 10:8-10
And if you’ve never turned from trusting in yourself to trusting in Jesus, you can do that today. God is here by His Spirit. And if you hear His voice, know that He is the One who is drawing you to faith in Jesus. He is the One who is showing you that your works have no value for salvation. And He is the One who loved you so much that He gave you His One and Only Son, that if you believe in Him, you will not perish but have eternal life with Him. For you see, knowing Jesus is really the only thing that matters.
So if that’s you, if you are ready to turn from trusting in yourself to trusting in Jesus, then you can tell God with me in prayer. You can pray this prayer with me:
Dear God, I confess to you that I am a sinner in need of a Savior. I confess that all my righteous acts are of no value to save me and that I need the righteousness Jesus wants to give me. So I turn at this moment from trusting in myself to trusting in Jesus. I believe lived Jesus did live a righteous life. I believe Jesus gave His life for me on the cross. And I believe you raised him from the dead. Thank you for your gift of eternal life found in Jesus. Thank you for the righteousness of Christ that now dwells in me. Help me now to know Jesus not just as my Savior but also as Lord. I ask this in the powerful saving name of Jesus. Amen