The Mature Christian Seeks Righteousness by Faith
In part two of this section we are picking up Paul's argument for salvation based on faith in mid-thought. He is challenging those teachers who were promoting salvation by a system of adherence to various rules, the chief of these being the necessity of circumcision in order to become a Christian. These Judaizers took pride in their Jewish heritage and used this as a way to authenticate themselves and give authority to their false teachings.
In response to these teachers, Paul reviews his impeccable credentials as a Jew (superior to the false teachers) and his undeniable sincerity and zeal as a Pharisee who, at one time, had been on a mission to destroy the church by attacking and imprisoning its members. He is comparing his "Jewishness" to that of the false teachers with the goal of demonstrating his superior standing and zeal for the Law.
Paul's Goal (3:7-21)
In the next section he will:
- Proclaim the superiority of God's method of saving people through Christ. He will use himself as an example of one who has a reason to boast in the flesh (true Hebrew, Pharisee, persecutor of Christians) who discarded all of these seeming advantages in order to follow Christ.
- Explain what his and, by extension, every Christian's goal in life should be.
- Use himself as an example of righteous living (for the second time) and warn those who are not following this example.
Paul makes the argument that righteousness comes by faith and produces righteous living which is the true mark of Christian/spiritual maturity, not the observance of rules and laws dictated by the false teachers and confirmed by the requirement to be circumcised.
Let us, therefore, examine more closely the three ideas Paul writes about in verses 7-21 of chapter 3.
The Superiority of the Gospel's Method of Salvation (3:7-11)
We need to remember that Paul was defending the core teaching of the gospel which was the manner a soul was saved and preserved for eternal life with God in heaven. The Judaizers were introducing a system of salvation that simply would not work. Fifteen hundred years of Jewish history demonstrated that using the Law as a tool to create righteousness in man was bound to fail. In other words, using a system where adherence to the rule of law in order to render someone acceptable to God (righteous/perfect) never succeeded for two reasons:
1. Human beings were incapable of keeping the Law perfectly and consistently. Paul summarizes this reality in Romans and Galatians.
for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,
- Romans 3:23
10For as many as are of the works of the Law are under a curse; for it is written, "Cursed is everyone who does not abide by all things written in the book of the law, to perform them." 11Now that no one is justified by the Law before God is evident; for, "The righteous man shall live by faith."
- Galatians 3:10-11
2. The Law was not given to create righteousness in man, it was given to reveal sin and the punishment for sin.
19Now we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law, so that every mouth may be closed and all the world may become accountable to God; 20because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin.
- Romans 3:19-20
In answering the Judaizers, Paul begins with his own experience of one who attempted to achieve righteousness using this system. His check list of religious qualifications as a zealous Pharisee attempting to destroy the church was a badge he wore proudly as one who believed sincerely that he was acceptable/righteous before God because of these things. This checklist was also a way of showing that as far as being righteous through a system of law was concerned, Paul far surpassed any claims that the Judaizers might make in this regard.
Once this thought has been established, Paul then describes the transformation that took place in his life that was brought about by faith in Jesus Christ.
But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ.
- Philippians 3:7
The former status he described (which the Judaizers saw as advantageous in the pursuit of salvation) Paul now completely rejected and considered as loss or damage. What he once thought were advantages in obtaining righteousness were, in truth, disadvantages when considering salvation through Christ. These things (purity of race, zeal for law, violent persecution of the church) did not help him as he once thought. They, in fact, hindered him from obtaining the righteousness he sincerely desired.
8More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ,
Paul amplifies his statement by declaring that when weighed against the knowledge of Christ, not just the knowledge of His ministry and teachings, but the intimate knowledge of the person of Christ Himself, everything he considered as precious or important became useless. Paul had been called directly by Jesus (Acts 9) and encouraged at a low moment in his ministry by the Lord Himself (Acts 18:9-11). He declares that the knowledge of the teachings and person of Christ surpass the total worth of what he considered valuable before (i.e. his advantages as a prominent Jewish Pharisee and the sum of what he thought he knew about God, salvation and righteousness). His knowledge of Christ had reduced the value of these former things to the point of rubbish.
He points out that even the things he lost since becoming a Christian and an Apostle (his health, freedom, safety, financial security, respect of the Jewish community, etc.) were also worthless when compared to the value of having Christ and what He had freely given and continued to give Paul.
9and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith,
Here Paul summarizes the reason for his transformation and rejection of what he valued in his former life. God had revealed through Jesus Christ the way righteousness (and the salvation that comes with it) was obtained. He witnessed the resurrected Christ on the road to Damascus. He was told when called and had since suffered as Christ suffered in the carrying out of his ministry. Paul also expected to die as a martyr since he had been assaulted and threatened with death many times. This epistle was written from a Roman prison while awaiting trial and if he lost his case, would be put to death by the Roman government. All of this, however, did not diminish the other promises made to him (and all believers after him) that like the Christ he believed in, he would also experience a glorious resurrection from the dead.
His detractors (the Judaizers) were surely using his imprisonment as a way of undermining his authority as a teacher and perhaps discounting his message of the gospel (i.e. "..if he is an Apostle with a gospel from God, what is he doing in prison?"..). Paul brushed aside any comparisons of his ministry or message by glorying in his sufferings since they were the result of having received the truth concerning the most important issue in religion: how one is saved.
He does not debate the Judaizers, instead he merely states that salvation is obtained through faith in Christ, not through any type of law-keeping system. He does not specifically offer this as proof for his claim, but the fact that he considers his own attempt at gaining righteousness through law-keeping as rubbish, has willingly given up every advantage and comfort in his service to Christ, and is ready to die for the faith providing a powerful witness for his message.
What is not said here but implied is the question, "Have the false teachers experienced the same knowledge of Christ and would they be prepared to lose as much in the service of their message?"
Paul's Encouragement (3:12-16)
Now that he has addressed the issue (false teaching regarding salvation) and indirectly referred to the false teachers (by comparing his credentials to theirs), he will turn his attention back to his readers with exhortations to pursue spiritual maturity.
12Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus.
Here Paul states his case/premise which he will develop in the next few verses. The question that arises now is, "What is the thing or perfection that Paul presses on for?" The answer is in verse 11 and 20.
In the previous section he has explained that everything he has had and lost because of Christ is worth nothing in comparison to what he now possesses as a Christian: the hope of resurrection.
11in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.
In verse 12 he expands the thought by explaining that he has not yet experienced resurrection and the perfection that will accompany it. Christ "laid hold" of Paul on the road to Damascus (when Paul was converted) so that one day he could, himself, "lay hold" of the resurrection and eternal life promised to all faithful Christians. The perfection he speaks of is the full maturity of both knowledge and conduct in Christ one will have when the mortal body is shed and the glorious eternal body is put on at resurrection.
50Now I say this, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 51Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed, 52in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. 53For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality.
- I Corinthians 15:50-53
13Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, 14I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
- Philippians 3:13-14
He has talked about his own past and the transformation he has undergone along with references to the suffering he has and continues to endure, but he does not dwell on these things. His mind is focused not only on the future in general, but a specific event in the future: his own resurrection. It is a goal in the sense that it guides his decisions and actions. It is a prize (not a payment) because it is a gift and not something he can earn.
Paul is an Apostle, but like every other Christian he too pursues the "upward" call of God which is the call to resurrection and eternal life through faith in Jesus Christ.
15Let us therefore, as many as are perfect, have this attitude; and if in anything you have a different attitude, God will reveal that also to you; 16however, let us keep living by that same standard to which we have attained.
The "perfect" in this verse refers to spiritual maturity among those in the church, not the perfect state one will have at the resurrection. Paul addresses those who consider themselves mature in Christ, not new disciples or those with little knowledge of the Scriptures.
He encourages these (who have influence in the church because of their spiritual maturity) to maintain the same attitude or standard, two words referring to the same thing, which is what Paul has just taught them. There may be discouragements about various matters but if they maintain the basic and critical teaching concerning the gospel and faithful Christian living, God Himself will help them with understanding that will lead to unity. In other words, those who are mature need to maintain their belief and practice according to Paul's teaching and example, and if there are differences these will be taken care of, with God's help, if they continue in the way that Paul has shown them.
Paul's Warning (3:17-21)
Paul concludes this section by turning his previous exhortation to follow his example as one whose eyes are fixed on the heavenly goal and live in the way that the "perfect/mature" Christians among them live. Instead of describing their lifestyle, Paul describes the very opposite lifestyle of those who are teaching the works/circumcision method of salvation. He mentions a few of their actions:
- Enemies of the cross: They negate the power and purpose of Jesus' sacrifice by substituting a law/works system of salvation.
- They serve their own desires (appetite): Not necessarily food or drink. What they do is guided by what they desire (money, power, etc.) and not the will of God.
- What they see as success (glory) is in reality shameful before God: The Judaizers boasted in their followers who had exchanged their freedom in Christ for the futile effort to become righteous through adherence to the Law. This exchange was seen as a victory by these teachers but a terrible loss to the individuals and a dishonor to God who sacrificed His Son on their behalf.
- They are devoid of the Spirit: Their teaching, motivation and thinking were not guided by the Spirit of God. The rewards they sought after were worldly (power, money, glory of man).
In verse 19, Paul mentions the end result of their lives and work: destruction. Paul uses the word perdition which refers not only to their lives here but to everlasting ruin in the future.
In the last two verses in this section/chapter, Paul immediately compares the goal and result of the Judaizers (earthly things and destruction) to what awaits the faithful.
20For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; 21who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself.
Note the way Paul provides more detail to what he only referred to as the "prize" in verse 14.
- Where (verse 20): Christians are citizens of heaven, not earth. We are only pilgrims here, our true home is heaven.
- Who (verse 20): Jesus Christ is the one we eagerly await to bring us there.
- What (verse 21): He removes the physical body through death and equips us with a new glorious body that will enable us to exist with God in the spiritual dimension called heaven. Our new glorious body will be like His glorious body (think transfiguration - Matthew 17:1-18, think angels - Matthew 22:30).
- How (verse 21): Jesus is God and as God has divine power to create or to transform. Paul refers to the extent of Jesus' power to subject all things to Himself. In other words, the one who rules the physical and spiritual worlds has the power to both resurrect us from the dead and fit us with glorious, eternal, spiritual bodies.
And so, Paul encourages the Philippians to avoid being influenced by the Judaizers and their false as well as destructive teachings, which he warns will bring to utter ruin these teachers and their followers. Instead, he instructs them to follow his lead in staying focused on the prize awaiting every faithful Christian: resurrection and eternal life with God in heaven.
1. Forget Yesterday
When we think of the past we usually focus on our failures. Why? What could I have done differently? God will never forgive me for that. If I only knew then what I know now, etc. Continually dwelling on past failures or successes has a way of immobilizing us in the present. It is what people do when they do not want to move forward with their lives.
It is wise to consider the past when making decisions about the future, but we have to resist the temptation to live in the past because in doing so we often fall victim to doubt, depression and despair.
2. Live for Today
Jesus tells His disciples that the Christian's daily task is to seek the kingdom in all that we do whether it is in the way we do our jobs, the manner we deal with people, the strategies we use to solve problems or serve those around us. He promises that He will work things out in such a way that while we are focused on that daily task (seeking His will and purpose), He will make sure that our daily needs are met.
Living for today has a way of checking that impulse that draws our attention to the past. If we invest today's allotment of spiritual and emotional energy given to us by God to deal with today's issues and demands, and invest them in a futile effort to remake or mourn over things that happened in the past, we then have nothing left to deal with life as it is today.
This is one of the reasons why people who obsess about the past are always tired and have no enthusiasm or energy. They have used up today's resources on a useless effort to relive or fix yesterday's problems.
3. Focus on the Goal
No one gets to heaven by mistake or without their knowledge and consent. Paul the Apostle who performed miracles, converted many people, planted many churches and wrote at least 14 of the 27 New Testament epistles, made sure that he stayed focused not simply on the "future" in general, but on the one goal he had which was in the future.
That goal had three stages:
- Conscious resurrection from the dead. Paul would still be conscious of who he was after resurrection (Matthew 17:2 - Moses and Elijah appear as themselves at the transfiguration).
- He would be equipped with a glorified body similar to that of angels (Mark 12:25).
- Those resurrected will be exalted to the right hand of God and participate in an eternal existence within the Godhead. (Ephesians 2:6; II Timothy 2:12; Revelation 2:26-27).
Remaining fixed on this goal provides the motivation to forget the past and persevere through present difficulties. God never said that getting to heaven would be easy, but He assures us that it will be worth the effort.