Categories
Theology

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.

Categories
Life Theology

What does it mean to be a true Jew? (Part 1)

For circumcision indeed is of value if you obey the law, but if you break the law, your circumcision becomes uncircumcision. So, if a man who is uncircumcised keeps the precepts of the law, will not his uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision? (Romans 2:25-26)

In this section, Paul gets to the epicenter of Jewish law-keeping.  He begins with “For,” showing that what he is going to say is connected to what he has just said in the preceding verses.  Paul just finished writing that the Jews’ lack of honoring God in obeying the law they claim leads to justification causes the Gentiles to blaspheme the name of God.  Now he says, “For circumcision indeed is of value if you obey the law, but if you break the law, your circumcision becomes uncircumcision.”  In Galatians 5:3, Paul writes, “I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law.”  A Jew who boasts in the fact that he is circumcised and hence a part of God’s covenant people because of that circumcision, must keep the entire law, without sin, in order to be justified before God.  Paul tells the reader, “Circumcision is the thing for you, if you can be a perfect law-keeper.  But once you make one mistake, circumcision might as well be uncircumcision.”

In light of 3:1-2, where Paul says that being circumcised has some benefit, Paul must be saying here that circumcision alone is not enough to shield anyone from God’s wrath.  In other words, circumcision is not enough to give someone a right relationship with God.

If a Jew reads this passage, they will be utterly disgusted because the word “uncircumcised” means “having the foreskin” or in a broader sense, simply “Gentile.”  Paul practically calls Jews who do not keep the entire law “Gentiles” and that obviously would greatly offend any first century Jew who did not follow Christ.

Paul’s logic goes like this in verse 26: “So, if a man who is uncircumcised [that is, a Gentile] keeps the precepts of the law [is obedient to God’s commandments], will not his uncircumcision [his status as a non-covenant Gentile] be regarded as circumcision [a covenant-member of God’s people]?”  Doug Moo, in his commentary on Romans, argues (as he did in 2:6-11) that Paul is setting forth the requirements of salvation apart from the gospel, that is, perfect obedience and total disobedience.  Moo (p. 171) writes, “We…conclude that Paul is again here citing God’s standard of judgment apart from the gospel as a means of erasing the distinction at this point between Jew and Gentile. Paul is not pointing the way to salvation but is showing Jews that their position, despite their covenant privileges, is essentially no different from that of Gentiles: disobedience brings condemnation; obedience brings salvation.”

Moo’s argument is compelling and he may be right.  But it is hard for me to get over the fact that Paul does not seem to be speaking in hypothetical terms or in alternate universe scenarios (that is, a universe apart from the gospel).  Paul is laying the groundwork, as it appears to me, for what it means to be a true Jew and what it means to be a true Gentile.  As we shall see in verses 28-29, a true Jew (namely, a born-again person) is one who has had his heart transformed by the Spirit; a true Gentile is one who is left untransformed.