“In Christ Alone”
We are in the book of Philippians, chapter 3. Please turn there in your Bibles. I trust you remembered to bring your copy of God’s holy Word with you today. God has revealed himself and supernaturally preserved these words for thousands of years to inform us and to challenge us as we seek to understand his nature and how to live in response to his nature and work. I hope that you understand how precious this is for us who profess to know him. Many people have given their lives because they recognized its importance - that all should have access to the Scriptures in their own language.
Last Sunday, we examined two of Paul’s faithful partners for the gospel. We noted Timothy’s value to Paul – how he was like a son to his father. Timothy had a genuine concern for the church. He had learned from Paul. He listened to his words and witnessed firsthand how Paul modeled what he had taught Timothy. And then we considered the challenge to have these intentional relationships with one another. We need to learn from others and we also need to teach each other what it means to know Christ and to live to honor him.
And then we looked at Epaphroditus who, by all observations, was merely a humble and willing servant sent to represent the church in ministering to Paul. In Paul’s eyes, however, it was service unto Christ that warranted a hero’s welcome. Epaphroditus had risked his life to press on in his mission despite acquiring a serious illness. He served as an encouragement to Paul and was an example of godly ministry for his Lord. And Paul anticipated sending both of these men to Philippi for mutual encouragement.
We now begin chapter 3 of Philippians. Let me just say at the outset: If you retain nothing else from my ramblings today, I hope that you will see that our salvation, our growing in faith, and our hope for eternity is in Christ alone. I know that as I looked at the text today, I cannot fully nor adequately deal with these glorious truths. Please hear Paul’s heart in his words. Because in these verses today, we can comprehend the gospel. We come to know what it is that drives the apostle Paul. It is Jesus Christ alone that he counts of any value. So if you tune me out or I am inadequate in my dealing with this text, listen to the passionate and intense words of Paul and allow them to penetrate your own heart this morning. It is all about knowing Christ. It is all for Christ, acquiring Christ, and faith in Jesus Christ. Let’s read vv. 1-11 as we get under way. READ.
The first point we will undertake is Spiritual Identification. We find this in the first 6 verses. Paul begins with what is translated in our Bibles as “finally.” On the surface, it would appear as though Paul is drawing things to a close. And then we flip the page and notice that there is yet another chapter. But if we understand that this phrase is often used as a transition and not necessarily a closing word, it helps out a bit. It has the sense of “so then” my brothers…
This is also reinforced by the fact that Paul immediately follows with writing the same things again. Verse 1 is a bit disjointed and seems to tie the sections together. It appears as though the command to rejoice in the Lord is because of the two partners identified previously and their pending visit. And the latter portion of the verse points to what follows in the text. And basically he says that he doesn’t mind repeating himself with these words. They are no trouble to Paul and yet they bear repeating for their own protection. And then he elaborates in the next few verses.
In verse 2, Paul repeats the command to “watch out” three times. He refers to a group of people and identifies them with three different descriptions. He first calls them “dogs,” then “evildoers,” and finally as those who “mutilate the flesh.” And these all refer to a group of people known as the “Judaizers.” We would find a more complete argument to these Judaizers in the book of Galatians. And we will note some of the parallels.
Let’s begin by looking at some of these descriptions that he implements. Paul will incorporate biting irony here for he likens them to “dogs.” This doesn’t have so much a derogatory sense as it does a religious one. You may recall that the Jews would consider the Gentiles to be “dogs.” This is in light of the fact that they were outside the covenant community and considered ritually unclean. When we went through the Gospel of Mark, we recall the Syrophoenician woman who considered herself a dog by these standards. When she begged Jesus to cast a demon out of her daughter, Jesus tested her by indicating that the children be fed first, for it is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” She didn’t flinch, nor did she reject this statement. She merely replied, “Yes, Lord; yet even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” At that point Jesus granted her request and her daughter was free of the demon. Hold this thought for a moment.
Next, Paul says that the Judaizers are evildoers. I don’t think that he is saying that they actively commit evil acts. I believe rather that he refers to their attempts to acquire their righteousness by the law. Galatians 3:10 10 For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” And in this case, he would be referring to circumcision. This is what Paul refers to when he says that it is those who “mutilate the flesh.” Galatians 5.3 “3 I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law.”
So, what Paul is doing here is reversing the identification of dogs. The Judaizers prided themselves on their external adherence to the law. But in the end this turns out to be a sign of their destruction. Paul likens the Judaizers to dogs and the Gentiles as the true believers.
Look at the next verse. “For we are the circumcision.” It is not the ones who mutilate the flesh who are the circumcision. That is merely an attempt to gain righteousness by the law. The true circumcision is the one who has a circumcised heart. Paul uses a similar argument in Romans 2 when he distinguishes between an ethnic Jew and a spiritual Jew. He says in verse 28, “For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter.” The prophet Jeremiah says to “circumcise yourselves to the Lord; remove the foreskin of your hearts…”
And so Paul elaborates on this inward circumcision. In verse 3, “the” circumcision worships by the Spirit of God. It is as the Holy Spirit of God indwells and enables that we are set apart for Him and his purposes. This is consistent with what Paul said in Romans – a matter of the heart, by the Spirit…” Not the law. The coming of Christ has ushered in the new age of salvation where the Holy Spirit is the sign of salvation. He sets us apart for him. And it is only because of the Holy Spirit that we are able to truly worship God. Romans 8:8–9 “8 Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. 9 You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.”
Those who are “the” circumcision glory in Christ Jesus. We’ll deal with this more fully in the following points. But the contrast is glaring here. They glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh. Those belonging to the Spirit are not in the flesh. To operate in the flesh is to strive for righteousness by human effort and achievement. Or as John Calvin succinctly put it, the “flesh is everything that is outside Christ.” And those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
And what better person can such a remark be made? We’re talking about the apostle Paul who has quite the resume! He lists it for us in verses 6 and 7. It wasn’t that he was somehow jealous of the achievements of others and looking to validate himself. If anyone could boast of achievements, it was Paul. I’ll just allude to these briefly. But follow this. Paul was physically circumcised on the eighth day according to the Law. This would set Paul apart from pagans and from groups that may have performed circumcision in an invalid way. Paul was of the people of Israel. He was not a proselyte to Judaism, but born and bred as a Jew. Paul was from the tribe of Benjamin. He can even point to the specific tribe he belonged to – a distinguished one at that. He as a Hebrew of Hebrews – speaking to his deep enculturation and not impacted by the Hellenistic ways surrounding them. As a Pharisee, he was diligent to keep the letter of the Law. Paul was zealous and a persecutor of the church – which he initially viewed as heretical. Acts 22:3 “3 “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus in Cilicia, but brought up in this city, educated at the feet of Gamaliel according to the strict manner of the law of our fathers, being zealous for God as all of you are this day.”
Notice the contrast in Paul’s life and how it informs this discussion around circumcision – true and false. Before being saved by Jesus, Paul found himself confident in the things of the flesh. He could readily produce this impressive resume to indicate his righteousness before God. Then the lights came on. Literally… on the road to Damascus. He came to realize that he was at cross purposes with God. Paul was resting on his credentials and neglecting the righteousness of Christ. True spiritual identity is not found in personal achievement but by the Spirit of God, and to glory in Christ Jesus - putting NO confidence in the flesh. Verse 3.
Let’s continue on with our second point – Spiritual Bankruptcy. At the point when the light came on for Paul, he says in verse 7, but (strong contrast), whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ.
Paul had given his life for these things. Beginning at childhood, he vigorously pursued the ways of Pharisaism. And he came to this point in his life where he suddenly realizes that it all counts for nothing. Everything that he had given his life to, he regarded no more. Think about this. The same is true today. Think of the things that people dedicate their lives to. And if it is not for the sake of Christ, it is all loss. In Paul’s case, he thought he was doing the right things for God. In some religious traditions, children begin a sequence of accomplishments that somehow is to gain favor with God.
Notice the progression of intensity in verses 7 and 8. Paul proceeds from “whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ” to “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” to “For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish in order that I may gain Christ.”
Remember Paul’s accomplishments and titles. All of his striving after the things of “God” count as nothing for Jesus Christ. Let me ask the question now (I’ll likely ask it again): “What are you living for?” Perhaps you’re striving after worldly things and need to stop and assess your pursuits. Does the promise of wealth drive you? or power or notoriety? Perhaps you are even driven by religious things. Are you pursuing and trusting in a moral lifestyle apart from Christ? Are you trusting in the faith of your parents or your outward religious appearance to gain acceptance by God and others? You can have perfect church attendance and not have Christ. You can check the boxes on your daily Bible reading and not have a love for Jesus.
These are serious and eternal questions that you need to ask of yourself. Consider Jesus’ words in the Gospel of Matthew, Matthew 16:25–26 “25 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. 26 For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?”
This next verse (verse 8) is particularly challenging. Paul says, “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” Allow this truth to be your perspective for life. Paul is speaking about a deep-seated resolution and frame of mind here. This is something that we all need to nail down at the outset. When we first trusted in Jesus Christ, did we come to a point where we honestly assert that everything else is loss because I have seen the glory of Christ and now see everything else as loss. Luke 14:33 “33 So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.”
In Paul’s case, perhaps it was a bit more difficult because of the things that he could boast in. But one commentator puts it this way: “In the process of reevaluation [Paul] perceived with horror that the things he had hitherto viewed as benefiting him had in reality been working to destroy him because they were blinding him to his need for the real righteousness which God required.” He had to leave all that behind by renouncing all his achievements and turn completely to Jesus Christ.
I wonder if this internal struggle is what he means by “suffering the loss of all things.” Perhaps this is the universal struggle that we have as humans. There is this common misconception that we strive to earn God’s favor. This can be done blatantly or subtly. It could be a more prominent striving after religious ideals or maybe a mindset that internally applauds our good deeds. But both the blatant and the subtle are enemies of the gospel of the grace of Jesus Christ. Our achievements keep us from understanding grace.
The prophet Isaiah says that all of our “righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.” Our striving after righteousness will always fail. That is the point of the law – to show us our bankruptcy and point us to the One who obeyed it perfectly. We need to understand our Spiritual Bankruptcy before we can understand the gospel.
And to that we turn next with our third point Spiritual Wealth. We have just looked briefly at the negative aspects of Paul’s understanding of acceptance with God. Now we look to the positive. In verses 7 and 8 we saw glimpses of the positive to which we now turn. Paul turns his back on everything for the surpassing worth of knowing Jesus Christ. And he says that this is so he may gain Christ. You must forsake the all in order to gain Jesus. Think of the parables in Matthew 13:44–46 “44 “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. 45 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, 46 who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.” Once we have seen the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, all else fades in comparison.
Verses 9-11 are powerful because they allude to three aspects of our salvation. Verse 9 paints a picture of our justification (or our right standing before God in salvation). Verse 10 illustrates our sanctification (or our ongoing spiritual maturity as we are conformed to Jesus Christ). And verse 11 alludes to our future glorification where we will be eternally raised with Christ with our glorified bodies.
And I think that verse 9 is ultimately an elaboration of what Paul means by “gaining Christ” in verse 8. So when Paul says that he suffers the loss of all things in order that he may gain Christ, verse 9 will help describe what he means by “gaining Christ.” He begins by indicating that gaining Christ is to “be found in him.” To be found in him refers to being spiritually united to Christ and to be found not guilty before God as the divine judge. When we trust in Jesus for salvation, God now looks upon us as if he is looking on his own Son. And Paul begins to expand on this.
“Not having a righteousness of my own” reveals Paul’s conviction that righteousness cannot be attained by human striving. Righteousness cannot come from the law. The law shows us our bankruptcy. Rather, Paul indicates that it is a righteousness that comes through faith in Christ, that comes from God. God’s righteousness is the only righteousness that is valid. And Paul indicates twice that it can only be accessed by faith – not striving.
Here’s how it works. Jesus came to earth as a man to actively and passively obey the Father. His active obedience was his sinless life while on earth. As a man, Jesus faced the same temptations from the world, the flesh and the devil that we do. And yet he did not give in to temptation like we do. So, when he went to the cross, he went as a sinless sacrifice on our behalf. This was his passive obedience.
The righteousness that comes from Jesus Christ is considered ours through faith. This is what is known as “imputed righteousness.” I realize that we’re talking about million dollar words here. But this is important. This is what is miraculously known as the “Great Exchange.” 2 Corinthians 5 summarizes it nicely when Paul says that “for our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” So there’s a double imputation. Jesus went to the cross our sin was imputed to him. And when we place our faith in him, Jesus’ perfect righteousness is accredited to us. This is the only provision for salvation. We need Jesus’ righteousness. And God looks on us as clothed in his righteousness. I know this is tough going. But this is amazing! Our standing before God is based only on our faith or lack of faith in Jesus Christ. This determines whether we stand condemned or justified in his sight. Galatians 2:16 “16 yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified. If you remember, this is what Martin Luther fought so vigorously for. Justification by faith alone for salvation. It is not faith + anything. Faith + something = nothing. It ceases to be the gospel.
In verse 10, we have the second purpose of counting all things as rubbish. The first was “in order that” I may gain Christ. Verse 10 is “so that” I may know him and the power of resurrection and share in suffering. To “know Christ” is about spiritual transformation into the image of Christ. This is closely associated with the power of his resurrection. I love this verse. 2 Corinthians 3:18 “18 And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” This is what it means to “know him.”
This is why it is crucial that we diligently strive to know more of our Lord Jesus. As we gaze at his glory revealed in Scripture, we are changed. We become so overwhelmed as we better understand him and the Spirit grants us understanding to who Jesus is.
We also recognize that suffering will accompany faithful witness in a fallen world. 1 Peter 4:13 13 But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.” 2 Corinthians 5 tells us that as we share in Christ’s sufferings, we will also be comforted in them.
And when Paul alludes to becoming like him in death, it’s possible that he refers to both the death of Christ on the cross and the moment of our salvation. Jesus died on the cross for the sins of his people. And by association, so did we. And as our baptism is a visible symbol of our salvation, we read in Romans 6 that “we were buried therefore with him by baptism into death.”
And yet, this is our lot for this life. 2 Corinthians 4:10–12 puts it like this, “10 always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. 11 For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. 12 So death is at work in us, but life in you.”
And yet our suffering is great news. Listen to the words of Dr. Silva, “The stinging reality of Christian suffering is our reminder that we have been united with Christ. More than that, it is the very means God uses to transform us into the image of his Son.” In other words, though suffering will characterize our life on earth, it is also our confirmation that we are Christians.
Even greater than this, as verse 11 indicates, we anticipate a resurrection from the dead that will last for eternity. It has been said that those who are born once will die twice. And those who are born twice (or born again) will die once.
As I proposed earlier, I hope that you will take an honest assessment of your life and determine what it is that you consider valuable. What is it that you are living for? Have you come to a point where you can say with the Apostle Paul that you have counted everything as loss for the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus as Lord? Or do you find yourself striving for the things of the world? Or do you still feel as though you are a good person who can attain your own righteousness before God. I hope that this text will cause your brain and your heart to stutter a bit and reconsider your standing before God.
Do you stand as one who is clothed with the righteousness of Jesus Christ? Or do you remain alienated from God because of your sin? Scripture says that you need to call on Jesus as Lord and repent of your sins and you will be saved. Please do so this day. There are no guarantees on your life.
Praise God that Jesus has taken our sin upon himself and given us a righteousness we could never attain! Let’s pray.