An Interview with the Apostle Paul on True Righteousness

Thanks for joining me today, as I interview the Apostle Paul again to help us better understand Philippians 3. Let’s get started.Paul, thanks for joining me again. Can you tell me why you wrote Philippians 3:2-17?
To write the same things to the Philippians is no trouble to me and was safe for them.

Okay, well I love a good review, too! Any other reasons you wrote this section you’d like to mention?
[I want them to] look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh.

Paul, you are fired up! Why?
[Because] we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh.

Okay, I see. There is a Jewish group pressuring the Philippians to live a more like Jews than Christians by putting their confidence in human works (like circumcision) rather than in Jesus.
I myself, though, have reason for confidence in the flesh also.

Hmmm. Interesting that you say that. Can you expand on this?
If anyone else thinks he has a reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more.

That sounds pretty bold—almost arrogant. Why would you say something like that?
[I was] circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.”

Okay. I get it. You are saying that you are as Jewish as it gets and that no one can hold a candle to you when it comes to righteousness based on religious accomplishments.
[Yes] but whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ.

Christ is better than the religious pedigree you just mentioned?
Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.

Knowing Jesus is better than religious accomplishments. Fascinating. So, you’ve given it all up for Jesus?
For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as dung.

Dung! All joking aside, you essentially just said that your flesh is “full of it.” In other words, your self-empowered, religious works can’t ultimately help you. And that’s why you lost them, right?
[I lost these things] in order 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 comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith.

So righteousness is the key. Now I get it. If I may, let me paraphrase to help our readers. You are counting your religious accomplishments as dung–basically flushing them down the toilet, as it were–in order that you might have a true righteousness that depends on what Jesus did, not what you do. What’s the purpose of losing all this?
[It’s so] that I may know Jesus and the power of his resurrection.

Now we’re getting somewhere. Okay…because the flesh is like dung, it only produces death, not life. Any other reasons?
And [so that I] may share in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death.

This sounds a lot riskier than taking matters into your own hands. This must produce something extraordinary?
[It’s so] that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

Of course, life again. Jesus-righteousness produces life and eventually resurrection. Self-righteousness produces death. Can you achieve this resurrection now?
I have [not] already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.

So the Jesus-righteousness God gives us through faith that promises us future resurrection doesn’t give us a free pass to be inactive or lazy in the here and now?
[Again] I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward toward what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

What about those who trust in Christ but are not “pressing on,” as you put it?
Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything they think otherwise, God will reveal that also to them. Only let us hold true to what we have attained. [I encourage them to] join in imitating me, and keep their eyes on those who walk according to the example they have in us.

A very gracious way to end, Paul! Again, thanks to the Apostle Paul for joining us in discussing part of his letter to the church in Philippi. Be sure to read all of Philippians 3.

 


Thanks for joining me. Be sure to check out my other interview with the Apostle Paul on faith, works, law, and gospel.

Jesus + Nothing = Everything

A message on Philippians 3:2-11 given to the Brookside Church Senior High Ministry in Omaha, Nebraska. 


Last week we began a series about our identity called, “Who Am I?”  Ryan talked about the importance of knowing that the world is not about us, but that it is about God and his glory.  Tonight, we are going to be in Philippians 3:1-14, so you can flip there in your Bibles and we’ll also have the verses up on the screen.Before we go there, let me ask you a question.  If someone were to randomly come up to you on the street and ask, “Who are you?”, how would you answer?  You might tell them what you like to do or where you work or go to school.  You will basically tell them what you do.  Now think about this: what if they asked, “What do you hope in?”  What we put our hope in–for provision, joy, happiness, eternity–reveals who we are.  A lot of you put your hope grades, friends, sports, sex, partying, or even being a good Christian kid.  Now suppose someone asks, “What is your confidence before God?”  In other words, they say, “If God is perfect and holy, what hope do you have of being in a relationship with him?” How you answer this question is the most important question you will ever answer.

In our passage tonight, the Apostle Paul writes to a group of Christians in a city called Philippi about where true confidence before God, and therefore identity, comes from.  What this passage will teach us is that we naturally seek confidence in ourselves in order to be righteous before God and be accepted by him.  In other words, our identity is fundamentally wrapped up in what we can accomplish on our own.  We think we can be right with God based on what we do.  But Paul will point us to Jesus as the object of our faith and the only one who can justify us before God so that we are accepted based on his record, not our law-keeping record.

Justification
Perhaps this word “justify” is a new word for you.  The reason I just used it is that Paul will use the word “righteousness” later in our passage.  And these two words, in Greek (the language the New Testament was written in) are the same word.

The word “justifies” essentially means, “to make right” (aka RIGHT-NESS).  (Use the paragraph example.) Another way to say it is that to be justified means “to be acceptable.”  To understand the word “justifies” I want you to think of a courtroom.  Imagine a man or woman who is guilty of some terrible crime.  The jury delivers the verdict.  “GUILTY!”  But the judge looks at the man with compassion and he says, “You are innocent and acceptable before me. You will not experience punishment because I will take it for you.  I will actually go do time for you.”  This is what God does to us when he justifies us by faith.  Justification is free, but it is not cheap. It cost Jesus his life. A judge cannot say, “I let you off the hook.” He would be a bad judge. Someone has to take the penalty, and Jesus took it for us.  God says, “Because you have faith in my Son, that he lived the life you should have lived and he died the death you deserve to do, you are righteous in my eyes.  You are justified. You are acceptable to me.  I welcome you based on Christ’s performance and record, not your performance or record.”  The Christian faith–the gospel–stand or falls on this belief!

So in review: justification is not something that God does to us, but something God declares about us.  Justification does not make anyone actually a good person.  Justification says that you are acceptable even though you are in fact a very, very bad person.

What we will see in our passage is that Human nature is bent on self-justification. Divine nature provides justification by self-substitution.

So let me tip my hand here as we get ready to look at Philippians 3.  You might be asking, “How does this relate to my identity?”  The answer is that: You will never be secure in your identity, and consequently in your relationship with God, if your righteousness before God is based on your goodness.  You will be a nervous wreck and completely paranoid throughout your whole life if your confidence is squarely on your shoulders. You will always wonder if you have done enough or when God will get you back for not measuring up.

Identity in Religious Accomplishments
Let’s look at how Paul introduces seeking identity in religious accomplishments.

1 Finally, my brothers, 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. 2 Watch out for those dogs, those men who do evil, those mutilators of the flesh. 3 For it is we who are the circumcision, we who worship by the Spirit of God, who glory in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh—

The issue was circumcision.  These people were called Judaizers and Paul likened them to dogs.  These people were putting their identity in a physical, ethnic, and religious characteristic.

4 though I myself have reasons for such confidence. If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5 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; 6 as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness [lit. as to righteousness in the Law], faultless.

Paul boasted–to make a point–that he probably has more religious credentials than any other Jew.  He gave his “pedigree” of qualifications for why he should have reason to put his confidence “in the flesh,” that is, in the physical aspects of our life.

MORALISTS: There are some of you who are really good at being moral and that is what your identity is in.  You think that reading your Bible, coming to Oasis, not drinking, not cussing, and not having sex makes you right with God.

RELATIVISTS: On the other hand, there are some of you in here who do not try to be good according to God’s law.  You do whatever you want.  This is called being a relativist.  If that is your thing, then you will ultimately top out at your human potential and your identity will continually shift to the next best thing.

So both kinds of people find their identity in their goodness, just different kinds of goodness.  For the moral person, you are banking your life on goodness compared to God’s law.  For the relativist, you are banking your life on goodness compared to your own law. Both ways will either end in pride or despair.  You will end up thinking you are better than your friends.  Or you will think you are the worst person on the earth.

Thankfully, there is another way to live.

Identity in Christ’s Accomplishment
Now Paul tells us where true identity is found.

7 But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 8 What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ 9 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 and is by faith.

But Paul said that whatever he had he counted as loss: for Christ’s sake, to know Christ, and to gain Christ.  Paul says that even the best things are but “rubbish” (literally “dung”) compared to Jesus.  When he finally put aside all of his religious accomplishments, he finally found everything he was looking for.  Namely, Jesus.  So, to put this into an equation: Jesus + Something = Nothing, but Jesus + Nothing = Everything.

Galatians 2:16 says, “Yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ.”

What is your Jesus + ?   What are you tacking on top of what Jesus has already accomplished for us?

What Does This Lead To?
What does this kind of identity lead to?  Paul writes:

10 I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.

When our righteousness is in Christ, not ourselves, we will truly know Jesus and the same power that raised him from the dead.  We will share in Christ’s sufferings, not for suffering’s sake, but for our sake so that we might be like Jesus.  When we are found righteous in Christ, these things will be characteristic of our life and that is why Paul says, “so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.”  What Paul means is that right now, his life is not perfect and he knows that the perfect is coming, when Jesus returns.  God will raise from the dead all those who trusted in Jesus for their righteousness.  Paul says “somehow” because he is not sure how this will exactly happen.

Righteous in Christ, So Press On
There will be days when your actually life does not match up to the identity you have in Christ.  What do you do on those days?

12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13 Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

Paul admits that he hasn’t obtained this perfect state of resurrection life.  But he says he will press on.  He will not give up, even when he has a bad day and does not feel like he is living out his true identity in Christ.  So he forgets the past.  He forgets those days when he lived out of confidence in himself and he presses on for the prize that is waiting for him: perfection.

One pastor put it like this: “The Christian life is a continually becoming of what you already are in Christ.”

Why Does This Matter?
When your identity is in Christ, you will be free to pursue holy endeavors that make your life count for eternity. This could be any number of things: anything from sitting next to the unpopular kid at lunch, writing poetry, serving at the Open Door Mission, baby sitting for a couple that needs a date night, giving generously of your time and money, or doing anything you do or like in order to show how great God is, not how great you are.

Finally, this gives you continual hope that you are perfectly accepted and supremely loved even when your thoughts, words, and actions do not match up to what God requires of you–because you have a substitute.  You have an external righteousness that belongs to another.  Remember, unless your righteousness is in Christ, you will always doubt your identity.  You will wander through life always asking, “Who am I really?”  You will always doubt whether or not God accepts you because you will always ask yourself if you have done enough.

The beauty of the gospel is that everything we need in order to be right with God has been done for us.  We cannot add to it.  We simply believe.

What does it mean to believe?  Not simply believe in “God.”  Not simply that Christ existed.  Not simply that he died.  Believe that Christ stood condemned in your place as your substitute Savior and your only hope for righteousness is the perfect life he lived for us.  Jesus forgave our sins, but not only that: he also died to forgive us from trying to be right with God by doing good things.  If you believe this, when God looks at you, he does not see you or your  incomplete, imperfect identity.  He sees His Son and that is what makes you a child of God.

Think of your life like a spiritual bank account. It’s bankrupt.  You don’t have the spiritual currency to pay the debt you owe God because your good works are worth nothing.  But God credits Christ’s rich life to our account so we will never lack any funds.  When God looks into our account, he sees Jesus record, not our bankruptcy.  Colossians 3:3 says, “For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God.”  Hidden.  Like a costume that is suddenly no longer simply a mask and a outfit, but something that you really are in God’s eyes.  I can’t think of a better identity to have.

Growing in grace and knowledge is easier said than done.

Early this morning, a friend texted me and asked a question about 2 Peter 3:18: “But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.”  His question boiled down to: “How do you grow in grace?”

I gave him an answer you’ll read below, and then he asked, “How do you keep from getting puffed up with knowledge.”  My answer?  I haven’t figured that out yet, other than begging God for mercy. It is so easy for me to think theoretically and conceptually about the Bible. It is much harder for me to think practically — that actually requires effort and action.

What does it mean to grow in grace? From the immediate context of 2 Peter 2:14-18, it means taking caution, by God’s grace, to not be carried away with doctrinal error and losing your spiritual stability by believing man-made philosophy. It means studying, knowing, and loving what the Scriptures say, particularly the hard parts of Scripture (like what Paul writes, says Peter). It means not distorting those hard parts of Scripture, but instead, with the power of the Spirit, staying faithful to what the text says. It means means being found by Christ “without spot, or blemish, and at peace” (v. 14).

We know from Philippians 2:12-15 that being blameless before God is ultimately rooted in God’s work in us for his good pleasure. So to grow in grace also means that we come to a deeper love that God is in control of our lives and our sanctification. We are not the ultimate cause of anything good that happens in and through us. God is.

How does this, in fact, play out practically? It means begging God for mercy to constantly have this on our minds. It means laboring over Scripture (especially the hard parts) and memorizing it so that God’s words — not ours — consume our thoughts when we are tempted to doubt our sanctification or take credit for it. So often the epistles begin with “grace to you” and end with “grace be with you.”  We must be in God’s word if we want grace!  Finally, it means confessing sin and looking at the person and work of Jesus, because he is the only one who can present us blameless, without spot or blemish, to God so that we might have peace with him.

Father, help your people grow in grace, and we need grace even to do that. Make us people who love your word, take it seriously, trust in your sovereignty, and look to your Son as our perfect righteousness.

Christ-centered, Others-oriented

Next Wednesday, I’m teaching our high school students at our church on being others-centered. As I am starting to prepare for this message, I can’t help restructure my thinking to look like this:

We must be Christ-centered, not others-centered. We must be others-oriented, not self-oriented.

The problem with being others-centered is that this can lead to idolatry of people. If we center our thoughts, actions, and words around a person, we will inevitably do things simply to please them or to earn their praise. The world does this every minute of the day. If we become people-centered people, we will seek to (even unknowingly) glorify them.

On the other hand, if we are Christ-centered, we will do everything for his glory — and not to please people or be praised by them. When Christ is the blazing center of our lives we will be able to orient our efforts, resources, attitudes, actions, and thoughts toward others because we will want them to know him.

If Christ is our center and foundation, we will be able to do what the Apostle Paul called us to do: “In humility count others more significant than yourselves.” And the ultimate goal of this humility is God’s glory: “Therefore God has highly exalted [Christ] and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Phil. 2:3, 9-11).