Gaining Christ (2): The Magnificent Sebven
Gaining Christ (2): The Magnificent Seven (Phil. 3:4-6) September 16, 2018 Rom 3-4; Col 2; Exod 20 Read Phil 3:3-6 – I loved Monopoly as a child. Long before I knew it was based on real streets in Atlantic City, I was trading Pa Ave for Boardwalk and NC for Park Place – a tycoon in the making! But one thing I didn’t do. I didn’t take the Monopoly money to buy baseball cards. I knew that wouldn’t work! But I’ve known a lot of people trying to buy their way into heaven with Monopoly money – their own goodness. Isa 64:6b: “All our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.” Human goodness has no value in heaven – not our best acts on our best day. Sobering, isn’t it? -- intentionally so. Paul spent the first half of his life doing what most people do – trying to reserve a place in heaven by human effort – except he was way better than most! But one day he discovered it was all Monopoly money – that the real thing resided in Christ. Eternal life depends on us making the same discovery! Paul shares his story with the Philippians bc false teacher arrived, people who commend Paul, but then say, “But he was only half right. It takes faith plus works to be saved.” Paul counters that if anyone could claim salvation by works, it was him. His pile was bigger than anyone else’s; he counted it regularly – until he found out it was Monopoly money. So, here he contrasts his amazing human righteousness with the real thing: “the righteousness from God that depends on faith.” So today we’ll look at Paul’s Righteousness which could not save Him – next week at the Perfect Righteousness that did. I. Paul’s Righteousness If heaven is earned, Paul had it made. 4b: “If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I more.” He wasn’t bragging; it was true. His language invites a shootout at the OK corral. If the Judaizers want to compare human goodness, bring it on. They have no chance. He was born right and he lived better – by human standards. But this Magnificent Seven of human effort couldn’t save – tho most people count on one of more of these things. A. Ritual Cannot Save – Paul was “circumcised on the eighth day” – a ritual that started with Abe. Gen 17:12: “He who is 8 days old among you shall be circumcised. Every male thru out your generations.” This ritual was formalized 500 years later with Moses. Lev 12:3) And on the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised.” Paul’s parents complied; he was a pureblooded Jew – literally he was an 8th-dayer! Paul no doubt lists this first bc it was at the heart of the Judaizers message. You must be circumcised. But Paul now knew better. He knew even the most revered ritual of all could not save him. Rom 3:29) Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, 30) since God is one—who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith.” Ritual does not save – not even the sacred ritual of circumcision! Grace thru faith saves. Paul gives a marvelous example: Rom 4:9) Is this blessing [justification] then only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? For we say that faith was counted to Abraham as righteousness. 10) How then was it counted to him? Was it before or after he had been circumcised? It was not after, but before he was circumcised.” Paul’s point is simple. Abe was justified by faith in Gen 15:6) And he believed [had faith in] the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness [justification]”. Justification by faith – Gen 15. But Abe wasn’t circumcised until 25 years later! (Gen 17:24). Abe was saved by faith, by believing God; 25 years before he was circumcised. God’s making a point. The ritual was only an outward sign of the inward faith. Like all OT rituals, it looked forward to Christ. Col 2:11: “In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands (spiritual), by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ.” So what is Christ’s circumcision, and how is it mine? Circumcision was a bloody cutting off of the life-generating organ. Christ experienced the bloody cutting off of His life on the cross “that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil” (Heb 2:14b) – AND “so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone” (Heb 2:9c). It all pointed to Jesus. Every OT circumcision pointed to the ultimate cutting off of the perfect sacrifice so that new life could be generated through Him. OT circumcision looked forward to Christ’s sacrifice, just like NT baptism looks back at the death and resurrection of Jesus. Do you see how the whole Bible hangs together?! All pointing to Jesus. So, is ritual bad? No – it is good – as it points to Jesus. But no ritual saves, not church attendance, baptism, the Lord’s Supper or whatever. He saves us. B. Relationships Cannot Save – “of the people of Israel” --God’s chosen people. Many Jews thought that was enough. Some of the rabbis taught that Abe sat at the gate of hell to prevent any Jewish person from ever entering. But relationships cannot save. It’s more Monopoly money. John the Baptist says, Luke 3:8: “Bear fruits in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham.” His point? “You think you’re special because you are children of Abe? Don’t flatter yourselves. God could create Jews out of these stones. Repentance makes you special.” Your race cannot save you. There are no coattail Xns. Yet many think being born into a Xn family – having a Xn husband or wife – being an American will suffice. Some think it’s a matter of race – the human race. Being a member means salvation. God would not destroy any of His creation. Such a nice thought. Comforting. But not in the Bible. It’s not a matter of human relationships. Being a Jew guaranteed nothing. It was an advantageous bc they had God’s revelation. But it was no insurance policy. You can’t be saved for someone else; and they can’t be saved for you. Tom Landry, the great Cowboys coach, was raised in a fine Xn family – always went to church -- taught Xn values. He says, “But I don't think I really became a true Christian until much later in my life, after I had joined the New York Giants. I just went to church because my parents always did and took us with them." He knew what Paul did; relationships cannot save. C. Rank Cannot Save – A little history. After Solomon’s death in 928 BC, civil war broke out and Israel divided into two parts – Israel in the north and Judah in the South. The tribe of Benjamin was the only one that joined Judah. Descendants of David ruled in Judah -- a mix of good and bad kings. Israel had only bad ones and went into captivity to Assyria in 722 BC. Intermarriage with their captors resulted in a mixed race among these 10 tribes where few pure Jews remained. Judah and Benjamin were different. They could trace their ancestry. They were pure. Further, Benjamin was the last son born of Jacob’s favorite wife, Rachel. Israel’s first king, Saul, was a Benjaminite. Paul, originally Saul, was named for him. The fact that Paul could name his tribe gave him a special rank even among Jewish people. But what Paul found out was – rank cannot save. You can be great here – president of this, chairman of that, leader in church or community – looked up to. But rank cannot save. Who you are here will mean nothing there. It is who you are in Christ that counts. I saw a cartoon once that showed a man and woman sitting on the beach in their swimsuits. The balding, paunchy man nevertheless looks very authoritative and grumpy as he says, “I hate the beach. No one salutes me.” Lost his rank when he lost his uniform -- way we’ll all leave here. Rank drops away. The question there will not be, “Who are you?” but “Are you in Christ?” Rank is Monopoly money. D. Rearing Cannot Save – Paul was “a Hebrew of the Hebrews.” Many Jewish people had adopted Greek customs – especially those who lived away from Jerusalem – like Paul in Tarsus. They’d been Hellenized. Not Paul. He was orthodox. While Aramaic was the language of speech, Paul also read and spoke Hebrew (Acts 21:40). He comments in Acts 22:3) “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.” He was consumed with his Jewish heritage – having been given the best of the best. But his rearing did not save him, and neither will ours. Raised in a Xn home? Great. Huge advantage. Won’t save you! The decision for Christ is personal. Your upbringing can lead you to the truth, but it cannot make you accept it. Years ago I went to a luncheon where John Valentine, at that time a player for the Angels, read a paper that perfectly explained the plan of salvation and how to receive Christ as Savior. He then explained that it was paper he himself had written at age 14, but he went on to explain that it was only years later that he truly repented of his sins and gave his life to Christ. Reared right. Yes. But rearing cannot save. Not Paul. Not John Valentine. Not you or me. E. Religion and Rectitude Cannot Save – Paul says he was “as to the law, a Pharisee.” This was his “do good” religion. The 7th item goes right with this one: “6b: “as to righteousness under the law, blameless.” The Pharisees made a religion of keeping the law – but keeping the law as defined by their traditions! And outwardly! They said Moses’ Law was their authority, but they felt it needed added definition. By Jesus’ time they had added 613 commandments to define God’s 10. A Pharisee would have shared his 613 spiritual laws with you! For example, keeping the Sabbath meant not wearing pins in your coat or harvesting grain or healing. Everything was defined to a gnat’s eyelash. Their traditions meant much more to them than the Scripture. They had long ago lost the spirit of the law in favor of the letter of the law. So their traditions were their religion in the worst sense of that word. All religions have one thing in common. They are all define a way to climb your way to God – to gain acceptance with Him. But the Law was never intended to do that. It was intended to show we can’t do that. No one could ever be good enough to match His perfection. So the Law condemns even the best of us. Thankfully, the gospel teaches since we couldn’t reach up to God, He has reached down to us. That was the point of the sacrificial system that came with the Law. But the Pharisees even made a religion of that – seeing the sacrifices as one more obligation rather than the means of grace God intended. Thus, instead of the relationship of faith God coveted, the Pharisees had made up a religion of works that was anathema to God. It was all outward show! But the Pharisees missed the Big Pix! Turn to Exod 20:2-3: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. 3) “You shall have no other gods before me.” Those words are the preamble to the Ten Commandments which follow. It’s an extraordinary first line and it shows is that deliverance – salvation – precedes morality, not the other way around. God did not give the Law then say, “Do that and you will be delivered!” He did the exact opposite. He first delivered them from Egypt by grace thru faith alone – nothing of their doing. Then He gave the Law to show them how to delivered people live. Reverse those and you have religion. And religion cannot save. It’s deliverance first, then morality. Good works follow, not precede saving faith. Religion is Monopoly money. F. Relentlessness Cannot Save – Ask Paul. No one was more sincere than Paul. No one committed to what he believed more tenaciously than Paul. He’d kill for what he thought was right. He held the coats while others stoned Stephen, the first church martyr (Acts 7:58). Soon he was executing them himself. Acts 22:4: “I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and delivering to prison both men and women.” He believed this commended him to God! Gal 1: 13) For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it. 14) And I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers.” He was so feared that 3 years after his conversion, Acts 9:26) when he had come to Jerusalem, he attempted to join the disciples. And they were all afraid of him, for they did not believe that he was a disciple.” Paul was at the front of the sincerity line – relentless in his faith – only to find relentlessness cannot save. Relentless pursuit of untruth doesn’t make it true. Sincere belief in error doesn’t make right! When I was a boy I had a bicycle paper route in Hutchinson, KS. On that paper route was a railroad track crossing. One day I arrived at that crossing to find a mass of humanity with flashing lights, police, ambulances, etc. A teen age driver had tried to beat the train to the crossing. He sincerely believed he could make it. He relentlessly pursued that idea. But he died in the relentless pursuit of error. Sincere, but sincerely wrong! Conc – Paul had it all – ritual, relationships, rank, rearing, religion and relentless belief. So privileged. He didn’t just have one thing or two – he had the whole package. From a human standpoint, he was bullet-proof. But he was caught short by what Jesus said a couple of years earlier in Mt 5:48. If you want to go the moral route: “You must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Paul was good; but he wasn’t perfect. His righteousness only led him away from the real thing. And so will yours! What was the real thing? Phil 3:9: “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.” Paul found out he needed Christ, not Paul. When he came in faith, God assigned his sins to the credit of Jesus, and assigned the perfect life of Jesus to Paul. What he could not earn, he got for free. And so can you. It’s not about religion, ritual, upbringing or sincerity. It’s about placing one’s faith in Jesus Christ who died and rose again to make the impossible, possible. In Pilgrim’s Progress, Hopeful is told by Faithful that he must come to Jesus for salvation, but the invitation is always open. Hopeful feels it would be presumptuous to ask for something he can’t earn and doesn’t deserve, and he doesn’t know what to say. Faithful tells him, “Go and you will find Him upon the mercy-seat, where He sits all year long to give pardon and forgiveness to them that come. Just say, ‘God be merciful to me a sinner, and make me to know and believe in Jesus Christ; for I see, that if his righteousness had not been, or I have not faith in that righteousness, I am utterly cast away.” Hopeful went and found the righteousness of God by faith. Have you found it? Let’s pray.