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Religious or Righteouss? Philippians 3a

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Philippians 3:1-11

Stephen Caswell © 2004

John Wesley’s Salvation

On May 24, 1738, a discouraged missionary went very unwillingly to a religious meeting in London. There a miracle took place. About a quarter before nine, he wrote in his journal, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death. That missionary was John Wesley. The message he heard that evening was the preface to Martin Luther’s commentary on Romans. Just a few months before, John Wesley had written in his journal: I went to America to convert the Indians; but Oh! who shall convert me? That evening in Aldersgate Street, his question was answered. And the result was the great Wesleyan Revival that swept England and transformed the nation.

In chapter 1 Paul spoke of having the single mind. To live for Christ. Chapter 2 dealt with the submissive mind. To put the needs of others first and be their servant. In chapter 3 Paul speaks of the spiritual mind. To boast only in Jesus Christ and His finished work, putting yourself last. Paul encourages believers to balance their books and find out where there confidence lies. Some folk review their achievements in life and place their confidence in good works. In today's passage Paul the accountant examines his books to show where his spiritual wealth was. We will look at three points today: Rejoicing In God's Righteousness, Reflecting On Self Righteousness, Resting In Christ's Righteousness.

Firstly  Rejoicing In God's Righteousness - Worship

Philippians 3:1 Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord. For me to write the same things to you is not tedious, but for you it is safe.

The Judaizers had come to Philippi. They taught Christians they had to keep the law to be accepted by God. They said that faith in Christ wasn't enough, you needed the law too. They tried to mix law and grace. Even today, many people have a wrong perspective on works. A lot of people believe that if your good works outweigh your sins then God will receive you into heaven. Paul warns believers not to be deceived by this heresy. Although he had told them these things before it was wise to remind them again. Paul gives Christians two sets commands in the opening verses.

a. Beware Of The Judaizers

Philippians 3:2 Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of the mutilation!


Paul commanded believers to beware of the Judaizers. He gave them a threefold warning.

Dogs. Beware of dogs. He calls them dogs because dogs were considered unclean. They fed on the scraps and garbage thrown out by the community. They carried disease from place to place and barked at innocent people. This was a fitting description for the Judaizers who followed Paul from place to place yapping at his heels like a bunch of wild dogs. They were the ones who were really unfit to worship God. They trusted in good works which are like filthy rags in God’s sight.

Evil Workers. Judaizers taught that people were saved by faith plus good works, especially the works of the law. But Paul calls their good works - evil works because they were performed in the flesh. They boasted in the way that they observed the Jewish law with its rituals. Matthew 7:22-23: Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.

Concision. Paul's third description highlighted their emphasis on the ritual of circumcision. But Paul called it mutilation. Circumcision speaks of death to the flesh. It was a false circumcision since it wasn't accompanied by faith. They were trusting in the ritual rather than God who commanded it in the first place. In fact the Judaizers sought righteousness through outward rituals instead of inward faith. Circumcision and baptism were given by God as signs of an inward faith. Baptism or confirmation can’t save us. Baptism is a sign that we have believed in Christ and are following Him. In baptism we are identified with Christ’s death and resurrection.

b. Boast In Christ Jesus


Philippians 3:1a, 3 Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord. For we are the circumcision, who worship God in the Spirit, rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh,

Paul's second command is to rejoice in the Lord. The Judaizers rejoiced in their good works, their law keeping and circumcision. Yet Paul commands believers to rejoice in the Lord. Why? Because we are saved by God’s grace. Paul describes God's servants like this.

The Circumcision. Why does Paul call believers the circumcision? Because Christians are Abraham's seed through faith. Faith is what counts. Romans 2:28-29: For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh; but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not from men but from God. The Philippians were circumcised inwardly through their faith in Christ.

Worship In Spirit. True believers worship God in the power of the Holy Spirit. The Judaizers placed great emphasis on the temple, its sacrifices and religious feasts. Yet God is more concerned with the heart of the worshippers then the place they meet for worship. The Samaritan woman at the well made this same mistake until Jesus corrected her. John 4:23-24: But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.  God requires us to worship Him in Spirit and in truth.


Rejoice In Christ Jesus. Christians mustn't rejoice in the law or circumcision. The word rejoice καυχάομαι in verse 3 is different from the word rejoice χαίρω in verse 1. It means to boast, glory or joy in. Paul told the Philippians to boast in Jesus Christ and His finished work of salvation, not their own works. Galatians 6:14: But God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. Why did Paul boast in the cross of Christ? Because Jesus Christ finished our salvation at Calvary, we place no confidence in the flesh. On the cross Jesus cried out in victory it is finished.

Psalm 118:9 says: It is better to trust in the LORD than to put confidence in princes. Christians trust totally in Jesus Christ and His finished work. 1 Corinthians 1:31 says: That, according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.

Secondly Reflecting On Self Righteousness - Works


Philippians 3:4 though I also might have confidence in the flesh. If anyone else thinks he may have confidence in the flesh, I more so:

The Judaizers questioned Paul's religious heritage and authority. So Paul defends himself before the Philippians. Before Jesus Christ confronted Paul on the Damascus Road he thought in a similar way to them. If anyone could place their confidence in religious accomplishments it was Paul. He reflects on what he had before he met Christ. Paul opens the account books before the Judaizers and boasts about his former achievements. He challenges them with his own heritage!!

a. Racial Heritage


Philippians 3:5a circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews


1. Stock of Israel. Pure blood Jew. He was not a proselyte or half cast, like the Samaritans.

2. Circumcised the eighth day. He was circumcised on the eighth day according to the law.

3. Tribe of Benjamin. Noble tribe. Saul, Israel's first king was from Benjamin. Remained true.

4. Hebrew of the Hebrews. Paul knew both the Hebrew tongue and Hebrew customs.


The Judaizers couldn't boast such a background as Paul's. He had a racial heritage that was the envy of many Jews. But there is still more yet.


b. Religious Heritage  Philippians 3:5b concerning the law, a Pharisee;


Paul was a Pharisee. The Pharisees were known for orthodox beliefs, unlike the Saducees. They were very strict and revered the Law. Paul had been taught by Gamaliel, the greatest rabbi of that time. Paul had been well instructed in the law and in fact excelled many of his contemporaries. As far as Judaism was concerned great things lay ahead for young Saul of Tarsus.

c. Religious Holiness


Philippians 3:6 concerning zeal, persecuting the church; concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.

Saul had a great racial and religious heritage. But it didn't stop there. He was very zealous for his religious beliefs. He believed that the Church was a threat to Judaism, the true faith of Israel. To Saul, Jesus Christ was an impostor. He could not accept a crucified Messiah. This was unthinkable. So Saul persecuted the Church. Saul was committed to the Jewish faith. He didn't sit by and watch others do the work. As far as the Pharisees were concerned Saul was righteous.

Galatians 1:13-14: For you have heard of my former conduct in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it. And I advanced in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries in my own nation, being more exceedingly zealous for the traditions of my fathers. He obeyed the Law completely. He believed he'd attained God's favor. If anyone could boast in their religious accomplishments it was Saul.


How could he be so wrong? Saul was wrong because he used the wrong measuring stick. But we would never make that mistake, would we? Fancy trusting in your family tree or circumcision. Do we think that God will accept us because we have Christian parents? Do you think that God looks on you with favor because you were sprinkled, baptized or confirmed? Do you believe that God declares you righteous because you know the Bible well or because you tithe? Will Church membership or attendance gain a right standing with God? What about service and witnessing? No! None of these things can make us right with God. Our best works are but filthy rags to God.

Thirdly Resting In Christ's Righteousness - Wealth

a. Counts All Things Lost For Christ


3:7-8 But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ.


Stop Trying To Save Selves

I remember a lady in the north of England who became quite angry when I made this statement: None in this congregation will be saved until they stop trying to save themselves. Down she came from the gallery, and said to me, You have made me perfectly miserable. Indeed, I said, how is that? Why, I always thought that if I kept on trying, God would save me at some time; and now you tell me to stop trying. What then am I to do? Why, let the Lord save you. D. L. Moody

How could he be so wrong? Paul was wrong because he used the wrong measuring stick. He measured himself against other men instead of Jesus Christ. It was only after the Lord met him on the Damascus Road did he realize that his righteousness was like filthy rags. It was only then did he realize that his zeal and good works were an offense to Christ whom he was persecuting. Paul said that he counted these things loss for Christ. The word count γέομαι means to consider, think or esteem. Paul weighed up his life before Jesus Christ and knew he wasn’t righteous. When he examined the books he found that these deeds were a loss to him. The word loss ζημία means damage, detriment. Paul's religious zeal was harmful to Christ and worked against him. He realized that his righteousness was worthless. Paul found that he owed God a great debt. Therefore Paul threw out his treasured heritage like rubbish. Instead, Paul placed His confidence in Christ instead.


Romans 4:3-5 For what does the Scripture say? Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness. Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt. But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness, If you are trying to earn God's favor by good things, stop.


Transfer of Accounts - David Stuart Briscoe

Years ago when I was a young banker, we used big leather ledgers where all accounts were entered by hand. I remember daydreaming about those ledgers and God's ledgers in heaven. We are told those books will be opened. I imagined my name, David Stuart Briscoe, and God adding up the sum total of my indebtedness against him. I could never cancel the overwhelming indebtedness. In my mind's eye, I saw God take his pen and transfer the sum total of my indebtedness to the account of the Lord Jesus Christ. On the account of the Lord Jesus, he wrote, Transferred from the account of David Stuart Briscoe.  I thought God was finished. But then I saw him do something incredible. He added up the total righteousness of Christ and against it wrote these words, Transferred to the account of David Stuart Briscoe.


b. Counts All Things Gain In Christ

Philippians 3:8 Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ. After seeing that he was bankrupt before God, Paul looked again at the books to see how much he gained in Christ. He was amazed to see the wealth of God's grace.

Everything For Nothing

An aged saint, on being asked to describe salvation, aptly replied, Something for nothing. Another aged saint, who had weathered the storms for many a long year and was nearing the Heavenly harbor, on hearing this story related, exclaimed, Yes, it’s even better than that. It’s everything for nothing.

1. The Knowledge Of Christ

Previously Paul studied the law and endeavored to keep it. He had hoped that it would make him right with God. He wanted God to accept him. But his religious training didn’t help him to know God. After Paul met Jesus Christ on the Damascus Road he really knew God; not just about God. He had a personal relationship with Him. Paul said that this knowledge of God was surpassing or excellent. Paul's personal knowledge of Jesus Christ was far superior to his knowledge of the Law and Judaism. This is what makes Christianity superior to the many religions around. We enter into a personal relationship with God. Our salvation involves both our head and our heart.

2. The Righteousness Of Christ


Philippians 3:9 and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith;


How should a man be just with God? was a vital question, because the answer determined eternal consequences. The just shall live by his faith is God’s answer; and it was this truth that liberated Martin Luther from religious bondage and fear. Through Jesus Christ Paul received the very thing that he had struggled to gain; a right standing with God. The Bible calls this righteousness. Paul’s debt of sins were placed on Christ’s account. He was no longer bankrupt. How did Paul obtain it? He received it by faith and faith alone. In fact Paul said that he received it apart from the Law. How could he have missed it for so long? Galatians 2:16: knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified.


Only Two Religions

While presenting the Gospel on the street of a California city, we were often interrupted about as follows: Look here, sir! There are hundreds of religions in this country, and the followers of each sect think theirs the only right one. How can poor, plain men like us find out what really is the truth? We generally replied something like this: Hundreds of religions, you say? That’s strange; I’ve heard of only two. Oh, but you surely know there are more than that?

Not at all, sir, I find, I admit, many shades of difference in the opinions of those comprising the two great schools; but after all there are but two. The one covers all who expect salvation by doing; the other, all who have been saved by something done. So you see the whole question is very simple. Can you save yourself, or must you be saved by another? If you can be your own savior, you do not need my message. If you cannot, you may well listen to it. Doctor Ironside.


3. The Fellowship Of Christ

Philippians 3:10-11: that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.

Paul also enjoyed sweet fellowship with Christ. This is the third time we have seen this word  in Philippians. Paul enjoyed the fellowship of His sufferings. What did he mean by that? Fellowship with Christ comes through identification with His life, sufferings, death, and resurrection. By faith we rest completely in Christ's work of redemption. We identify with our Lord each day. Firstly it is a personal experience as we walk with the Lord and get to know Him in our daily lives. Secondly it is a painful experience as we identify with the Lord and suffer on His behalf.

We will suffer ridicule and persecution for our faith. Thirdly it is a practical experience as we die to self denying our own desires and goals. Paul wanted to follow Christ even to the place of death as a martyr. Fourthly it is a very powerful experience as we live in the resurrection power of Jesus Christ. The power that raised Christ from the dead can empower us to live fruitful lives. Remember fellowship means to have in common with. Christians should live totally for Christ.

He lives with us and in us. Galatians 2:20 I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. That's the fellowship of His sufferings.

Christ As Live-In

When Queen Victoria reigned in England, she occasionally would visit some of the humble cottages of her subjects. One time she entered the home of a widow and stayed to enjoy a brief period of Christian fellowship. Later on, the poor woman was taunted by her worldly neighbors. Granny, they said, who’s the most honored guest you’ve ever entertained in your home? They expected her to say it was Jesus, for despite their constant ridicule of her Christian witness, they recognized her deep spirituality. But to their surprise she answered, The most honored guest I’ve entertained is Her Majesty the Queen. Did you say the Queen? Ah, we caught you this time! How about this Jesus you’re always talking about? Isn’t He your most honored guest? Her answer was definite and scriptural, No, indeed! He’s not a guest. He Lives Here! She put them to silence.


Where does your confidence lie?

Religious Heritage -> Jesus Christ; The Law -> God’s Grace; Good Works -> Free Gift Religious Ritual -> Relationship; The Flesh -> The Spirit ; Know about God -> Know Christ

Are you rich in God's sight because you have trusted in Jesus Christ? Do you know Christ? Are you standing in His righteousness? Are you experiencing the fellowship of His sufferings? Or are you trying to earn your way into God's good books? If you are can I beseech you to receive Jesus Christ and His righteousness by faith! God has accepted Him. He is the only way to heaven!


Today we have seen how God will balance the books. He looks for faith in our hearts. We saw the command to Rejoice In God's Righteousness, Then we, Reflected On Self Righteousness, Finally we saw the need to, Rest In Christ's Righteousness.



Jude 24-25: Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy, to the only wise God our Savior, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever. Amen.


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