This week Drew Steadman continued our To The Philippians series with a message on living by grace.
How to Apply This Week’s Message:
- This week take time to renew your mind and ask God about the identity He has spoken over you. Use this card as a guide.
SCRIPTURE FOCUS: Living by Grace // Philippians 3:1-14
Philippians 3:1 appears as an abrupt transition. Paul brilliantly called us to Christ-like living, yet felt his exhortation was incomplete without a reminder of the grace that makes it all possible. His words in verse 1 ring true for us, even thousands of years later. We need to be reminded of the foundation of our faith. It’s a safeguard for us to keep this truth central, so let’s respond by rejoicing in the Lord and seeking God for a fresh revelation of His grace.
The Flesh Counts for Nothing (3:2-7)
Paul began this section with strong and provocative language, meant to shock the listener into grasping an important point: None of our earthly credentials, experiences or backgrounds matter compared to knowing Jesus.
Verse 2 is a thesis of sorts denouncing the Judiazers, a group of Jewish Christians who taught that all Greek believers had to embrace the Mosiac Law. Their efforts prominently focused on the rite of circumcision. Their influence was a frequent concern for Paul (see Galatians) and, to combat the emerging threat, he responded by turning the argument on its head. The Judiazers central point was that the Law was necessary for holiness, so Paul countered by saying that they, the legalistic, are in fact the impure.
His retort is striking, calling his opponents “those dogs,” “those evil-doers” and “those mutilators of the flesh (false circumcision).” These were more than insults, but rather a sharp contrast of identity. The word dog was used by devout Jews to describe the non-believing Gentiles (see Matthew 15:21-28), but now, it is the legalists themselves that are the dogs. Furthermore, they are evil-doers. Far from making the new believers more holy by mandating living by the Law, their legalism is actually leading to evil. Lastly, circumcision in this environment is not a sign of the covenant, but rather a mutilation of the flesh, analogous to a pagan ritual.
Instead, as verse 3 states, it is, “we who are the circumcision,” “who serve God by His Spirit” and “who boast in Christ.” We are not circumcised by human hands but rather, as Colossians 2:11 declares:
In him you were also circumcised with a circumcision not performed by human hands. Your whole self ruled by the flesh was put off when you were circumcised by Christ
Rather than the physical token of removing skin externally, Jesus removed our sinful nature entirely! He then filled us with His Spirit and gave us a mission. We aren’t evil-doers, but rather servants of God. None of this stems from our external efforts of religious conformity – instead, it’s the result of a complete heart transformation.
The next several verses systematically outline the things that Paul might have boasted in, yet counted for nothing:
- Circumcised on the eighth day // To use a modern analogy, Paul grew up in the church. He was set apart for God as a baby and raised in a home of religious Jews.
- Of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews // To continue our analogy, he didn’t just grow up in church, but his family was the church. He was an insider, a Hebrew’s Hebrew. The type of person who just belonged.
- In regard to the Law, a Pharisee // Paul was born into a religious home and as he matured, he chose this belief for himself. The Pharisees were the most conservative religious group in Israel, and it was with them that Paul studied the Law.
- As for zeal, persecuting the church // His knowledge of the Scripture was matched by his religious zeal, which in a tragic, and yet ironic way extended to persecuting Christians. Paul upheld the Judiazers own arguments to such an extent that he traveled the region attempting to stop the teachings of Christ.
- As for righteousness based on law, faultless // And lastly, he actually lived according to the Law without fault. He was a true believer, an archetype religious zealot.
Paul’s religious resume was impressive: he grew up in the right home, was of the right ethnicity, had the right religious background, believed the right things about the Scriptures and lived the right way with an unmatched zeal.
And it mattered nothing. How easily we fall victim to either pride or inadequacy! When our credentials rival Paul’s, we attach a sense of self-worth to our achievements. When we fall short, we easily succumb to crippling spiritual insecurity. Both miss what matters most, and it has nothing to do with anything we have (or haven’t) done.
Knowing Jesus Surpasses Everything (3:8-11)
All our earthly boasting is nothing compared to the worth of knowing Jesus. The language is an economic analogy: your earthly credentials may be worth a few cents, but they are nothing to compared to the vast riches of knowing Jesus. For a similar parable of Jesus, see Matthew 13:44-46: We exchange something cheap and gain something priceless. If we still find our identity in our flesh, it’s a powerful indication that we do not yet understand the value of our new identity in Christ.
Paul declared that what was a gain to him – an asset – is in fact excrement or rubbish (verse 8). His blunt rhetoric hammers the point that human righteousness counts for nothing, and in fact, often prevents us from fully embracing our need for Jesus. The next few verses highlight the vast riches of our new identity in Christ:
- I may gain Christ and be found in Him // We lay down our earthly life – our “credentials” and our sin alike – and in its place gain Christ. We are found in Him; no longer do we live on our own, but He lives through us (Romans 6:1-6, Romans 8:1-17, Ephesians 2:1-6). We are restored back to the intimacy of relationship in the Garden, lost when sin entered the world. This treasure is far greater than anything we could envision in our own power. We need to remember that it’s all about relationship.
- Not having a righteousness of my own…but that which is through faith in Christ // This truth represents the core doctrine of Justification. We cannot overcome our sin or pay its penalty, so instead Jesus stood in our place and offered Himself as a sacrifice on our behalf to pay once and for all our debt of sin. We cannot earn this righteousness, but instead receive it through faith. See John 3:14-19; Romans 1:16-17, 3:21-26, 4:13, 5:1-2; Ephesians 2:8-9; Hebrews 10:11-18, etc.
- The power of His Resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in His sufferings // By faith, we are found in Christ and our sins are forgiven, but that is the beginning, not the end, of our spiritual journey. Our ultimate goal is to know Christ. We have a lifetime ahead of learning to live in our new relationship, being transformed by His Spirit and learning to endure even in trial.
- Becoming like Him in His death…to attain to the resurrection from the dead // We live in the “now but not yet.” We are in Christ now. We walk in the Spirit now. But this is just the deposit (Ephesians 1:13-14); we do not yet live in the fullness of our salvation. There will always be a waiting and a groaning in this life until the day Christ returns (Romans 8:18-25, 1 Corinthians 15:12-22). This is our great hope!
These four points describe the essence of core theology; they are the whole point of everything. While it’s something many of us have already learned, we must avoid the temptation to think we fully understand it. We can spend a lifetime mediating on this and still not fully realize what Jesus has done for us. Let’s resolve to be anchored in these truths, and in doing so provide a stable foundation for everything else God seeks to do in and through us.
By Drew Steadman – Adult Pastor