Second Reformed Church

Sunday, October 26, 2014

"Press On" Sermon: Philippians 3:12-16

“Press On”

[Philippians 3:12-16]

October 26, 2014 Second Reformed Church

            Last week, we saw Paul’s argument against and condemnation of the Judaizers – a group that claimed that keeping all of the laws given to national Israel were necessary – especially circumcision – before one could become a Christian.  They argued that Jesus was not enough for salvation; salvation was only for those who had faith in Jesus and kept the Law.

            Paul argued that salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus Alone; our works of obedience to the Law are not meritorious towards salvation – our works do not count towards our salvation.

            Paul gave an overview of his qualifications based on his heritage and works and said that if anyone should receive salvation through his works, it would be Paul, but he did not – and no one can.  Salvation is all of God.  Our righteousness – our holiness and sinlessness – is credited to us by Jesus.  Our righteousness – as Luther called it – is an “alien righteousness” – it does not come from us – it is given to us – credited to us – imputed to us.

            Since that is true, Paul explained that he desired to know Christ and the Power of His Resurrection more fully, that he would be gifted to suffer for the sake of Christ and as Christ did – in complete obedience to the Father for the sake of the Gospel, even as he died, if God would have him die and not live to see Christ’s return.  And whatever the future might hold for him, he looked forward in hope and joy to the physical resurrection which will occur upon Christ’s return.

            As we turn to this morning’s text, we see:

            First, we are not perfect in Christ yet.

            Second, we must forget what lies behind.

            Third, we must strain forward towards the goal.

            And fourth, God will teach us the truth.

            First, we are not perfect in Christ yet.

            “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect,”

            Paul was concerned that the Philippians would read the text we looked at last week and wonder what hope there was for them.  They didn’t have Paul’s heritage, education, or zeal.  How could they compete with someone like Paul who seemed to have reached the goal of perfection in Christ?

            He was also writing against those who said that sinless perfection is possible in this life.

            So Paul told them that he had not made it yet – he was not perfect.  He did not desire Christ perfectly.  He did not think of Christ constantly.  He was not occupied with Christ and the things of Christ all the time.  He was not in perfect fellowship with Jesus.  He had not completed his suffering for the sake of Christ.  He had not had the full taste of Christ’s Resurrection Power – he had not died and physically risen.  He was still a sinner, saved by grace alone through faith alone by Christ Jesus Alone.  He was still running the race that all Christians are running until Christ’s return.

            We have the promise that we are now seen as righteous by God by the work that Jesus did, but we are not perfectly exhibiting what we have been given yet.  We are righteous now, but we will not be righteous until Jesus returns.

            Paul wrote, “and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,” (Ephesians 2:6, ESV).

            We are both sinners still striving forward, working by the Power of the Holy Spirit to become sinless and holy, yet, we are also, in Christ Jesus, because of the work He did and has applied to our account, already seated with Him in the heavenly places.

            We are all still sinners.  Martin Luther famously said we are “at the same time sinner and justified.”  We are sinners and (in God’s eyes) we are sinless and holy.  The Christian life is the process – the race – of becoming what we are in Jesus.  Jesus has completed His work, and we are seen as being in His Likeness now, but we won’t fully see that realized until Jesus returns.  When Jesus returns – we will be made sinless and holy – like Jesus – never to sin again.

            The hope that we have is that fact that salvation is not our own doing.  If we saved ourselves – or if we “helped” in our salvation – there would always be the possibility – the likelihood – that we would mess it up – that we would go backwards and lose our salvation.  But since our salvation is all of God’s Work, based on God the Son – Jesus – and what He accomplished on earth, we cannot but reach our goal.

            Paul explains the work we are called to – knowing that he has already mentioned his confidence in being changed into the Image of Christ:  “but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own.”

            Paul argues that since Christ made him His own, Paul will – at the end of the age – make perfection in Christ his own.

            Do you remember Paul’s conversion?  Paul did not reason through Christianity and believe.  Paul did not hear witnessing and become convinced.  No, Jesus threw Paul off his horse and made him believe:

            “But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven shone around him. And falling to the ground he heard a voice saying to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’ And he said, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And he said, ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do’” (Acts 9:1-6, ESV).

            Jesus threw Paul off his horse and compelled him to believe – and thus began the work of Paul that we know from the New Testament.

            While we may not have such a spectacular conversion, Jesus said, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day,” (John 6:44, ESV).

            Do you understand what Jesus said?  It is impossible to come to faith in Christ on our own accord.  God draws people – literally, God drags people – to His Son.  God chooses us and changes our heart that we will receive Jesus Alone by faith alone – that is grace alone!  And if God has caused us to believe, Jesus will bring us to the finish line and grant us physical resurrection and entrance into His Kingdom.

            Second, we must forget what lies behind.

            “But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind”

            And we might well ask Paul what he means here.  He can’t mean to forget everything that ever happened to us in our past – to not remember anything before this moment – because he refers back to his conversion, his heritage, and all that happened to him up to the moment of his writing on several occasions.  Paul remembered and repeated his past as examples.

            So what is Paul talking about?

            Paul is using the imagery of a runner – and if you have never run a race, you probably have at least seen someone else run a race.  Now, if the runner keeps looking back at his opponents – at the ground he has already covered, what is going to happen?  He’s not going to know where he’s going, right?  If he is always looking backward, he will have no idea where he is going or where the finish line is.

            So, what is Paul telling the Philippians – and us – to forget as we run the race of faith?

            Two things:

            First, Paul is telling us to forget those things in our past which may cause us sinful pride.

            For example, several years ago, I was given an award from the Irvington Rotary Club for “Service Above Self” – Joshua jokingly called it my “humility award.”  If I keep looking at that award and patting myself on the back and telling myself how wonderful a person and minister I am, I’ll be stuck in my sinful pride and not make any movement forward.  It was a great honor, but it did not mark the end of the work that God has for me to do.  So, I see it for what it was then and look at what is now.  Does that make sense?

            If we use our past accomplishments as excuses not to move forward, we sin.  When Paul looked back – even on the great things he did – he turned from that to talk about now and how to continue forward – and we must do the same.

            So, if you did something wonderful in the past – if you got some great acknowledgement in the past – that is wonderful, and we should rejoice with each other in those accomplishments – but we dare not be stuck looking back, or we will not know where we are going, and we may miss the finish line.

            Second, Paul is telling us to forget those sins in our past which we have been forgiven for.  If we have been forgiven for a sin, even though it might prove instructive to someone in the future, we are not to dwell on it in self-pity and doubt.

            You may remember the story Dr. R. C. Sproul told of a woman who came to him crying and crying, and when she got herself together, she told Dr. Sproul about her sin and he told her to confess it to God and ask for forgiveness for it.  She said she had done that multiple times, but she still didn’t feel forgiven.  And Dr. Sproul told her to ask forgiveness one more time – this time for the sin of arrogance that caused her not to believe that she had been forgiven through Jesus.

            I have counselled people recently who told me that God can’t use them due to their past.  Some of them could not let go of the sins of their past and were so focused on them that they couldn’t move further.  I have had people tell me that God couldn’t use them because of such-and-such a sin in their past.  Even though they know they were forgiven – they were so obsessed with their sin that they couldn’t let it go.  And the devil is no help here – he is rightly called the “accuser” because he brings our sin up to us:  “Peter you can’t do that – don’t you remember how you did this sin or that sin in the past.  Even if God will forgive you, you are unworthy to do this or that for God.”  Liar!

            We are new creatures in Christ!  Every sin past, present, and future has been forgiven through the work of Jesus.  Jesus chose a hypocritical murderer named Paul to be one of the great missionaries of the early church and to write more than half the books of the New Testament.  If you have asked forgiveness, don’t obsess about your past sins.  Don’t doubt that you are forgiven – clean as white wool.  Look forward to the road God has called you to run.

            Remember what Jesus said, “ Jesus said to him, ‘No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God’” (Luke 9:62, ESV).

            Third, we must strain forward towards the goal.

            “and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”

            Paul tells the Philippians – and us – again that the road to sanctification – the race towards the holiness we will have at the end of the age – is a strenuous one.  We don’t become Christians and sit back and wait until Jesus returns.  What if a runner knew he could easily outrun his opponents, but instead of running, having that knowledge, he sat down on the track?  He would lose!

            Paul has already told the Philippians to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling” – to struggle and strive and strain and work hard – not to be saved, but to turn from sin and to become more and more holy – more obedient and faithful to God in all that He has called us to do.

            As Christians, every day we are presented with temptation to sin.  But God promised:  “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:13, ESV).

            As far as sin is concerned – none of us are special – our sins are common.  And the devil tells us – “You saved – it doesn’t matter if you sin.  What’s once more?  It feels so good.  Who’s going to care?  Everybody does it.”  And Jesus suffered eternal Hell on the cross for each time we tell the devil, “ok.”

            The devil did NOT make us do it.  He is an accuser and a tempter.  But he is a defeated foe.  God promises that we never have to sin and God have given us the gift of the indwelling of God the Holy Spirit so we always have to power and we always have the ability to say “no” to temptation.  Brothers and sisters, say “no”!  Strive against those temptations that you find so enticing and consider the sacrifice of God in coming to earth and living and dying for those sins.  Doesn’t it matter to us?  Sin is so easy.  Obedience and faith and holiness are hard – it is a striving, a straining forward in the race.

            On the positive side – we are to press on towards the prize – we are to keep the prize before us and run with all our might – working hard to do and believe all that God has set before us.  Do you know what God has said?  Do you desire to follow after God in all things?  Do you desire with all your heart and all your soul and all your might and all your strength to love God, and your neighbor as much as you love yourself?  That’s what it takes – knowing where we are going – what the prize is – and putting everything we are into running the race straightward and rightly – as God has called us to run.

            Paul explained:  “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified” (1 Corinthians 9:24-27, ESV).

            The goal we are running towards by the Power of the Holy Spirit and with the confidence and hope in the promise and victory achieved by Jesus on our behalf is being conformed and transformed into the Image of Jesus Christ.  God has enabled and guaranteed that we will run the race to the end and be received by Jesus into His Kingdom.  Our response should be to run the race of obedience and faithfulness with everything we are and all the blessings we have been given.  Do you want to please God?  Work hard to run as He has called us to run in His Word.

            God has promised we will get to the finish line, but He calls us to faithful obedience – turning away from sin and following after Him in all He has said to do.  As Paul put it, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified” (Romans 8:28-30, ESV).

            Don’t ask yourself, “What would Jesus do?” – that’s the wrong question.  We are not Jesus and we will never be Jesus.  Ask yourself, “What would Jesus want us to do and be?”  That will keep us on course.

            And fourth, God will teach us the truth.
            “Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. Only let us hold true to what we have attained.”

Paul tells the mature believers that they will agree with him.  Yet, he knew there were some less mature Christians who would not be sure about everything he said and instructed them in.  You may have noticed that Christians disagree on how to interpret some things.

But one day, we will all agree.  And as we run, we have the promise that God will teach us:  Jesus promised, “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (John 14:26, ESV).

What we must do – what we hold as true above all else – is the Gospel.  It is the Gospel which unites us as Christians as we run the race of faith together, empowered by the Holy Spirit.  God came to earth in the Person of Jesus, lived, died, rose, and ascended back to His Throne – accomplishing salvation for all those who will believe – all by Himself, with no help from us, because He is God.

Today is Reformation Sunday – and the heart of the Reformation is that we are saved by grace alone through faith alone through Jesus Alone.  That is what the Scripture teaches – salvation is to the Glory of God Alone.

So let us understand that none of us has been perfectly conformed and transformed into the Image of Jesus yet.  All we Christians are still running the race of faith in this life.  Let us turn from sin with all our might and run towards faithful obedience in holiness by the Power of the Holy Spirit, holding fast the Gospel of our salvation.

Let us pray:

Almighty God, we thank You that salvation is all of You.  We thank You for indwelling us that we can run the race of faith.  Drive us towards You in forsaking our sin and seeking every way to follow You as we come closer to the final day – at the finish line – when Jesus will receive us into the fullness of His Kingdom, having changed us into perfect sons and daughters of God – after His Image.  For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Reformation Pot-luck Lunch -- AKA, do we have to cook again?

Join us this Sunday for worship at 10:30 AM and then plan to stay to enjoy a pot-luck lunch and fellowship with those in attendance.  If you are able to bring something to share, it would be much appreciated -- and if you can help with clean-up afterward -- that would also be much appreciated.  See you them.  Semper Reformata a la Sola Scriptura.

Monday, October 20, 2014

"No Confidence" Sermon: Philippians 3:1-11

“No Confidence”

[Philippians 3:1-11]

October 19, 2014 Second Reformed Church

            What do you need – in addition to Jesus – to be saved?  What do you need – in addition to Jesus – to be made right with God and welcomed into His Kingdom – righteous – forgive of your sins and holy?

            Let us remember that Paul was in prison when he wrote to the church in Philippi – a church of Gentile – no-Jewish – converts to Christianity.  He told them of the joy and thanks he had for them, and his desire that they would continue to grow in the faith.  Please, let us be in prayer for each other!

            Paul explained that what was of greatest importance to him was not his release from prison – or those arrogant “super-apostles” who said they were better Christians than Paul – but that the Gospel would advance.  Whether he lived or died – whatever anyone might say – he desired that the Gospel – above all else – would continue to advance.   That is my desire – as well – and I hope it is yours.

            Paul explained that he – they – and we – need not fear anything any person or government might do to us – but to understand that we have been gifted to believe and to suffer for Christ’s sake.  Did you see in the news that a town in Texas is requiring pastors to submit their sermons for review by the town?  It’s an offense!  It’s a violation of our free-speech rights!  Let us pray that those people who are charged with the reading of those sermons would be convicted by God and brought to faith by the Holy Spirit – and let us pray for all Christian pastors – and all Christians – that we would not be afraid to say with Peter, “We must obey God rather than men. The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him” (Acts 5:29-32, ESV).

            It is the greatness of the Gospel message that must lead us on as Christians with the same humility that Jesus had – even being God the Son Incarnate – Who humbled Himself in obedience to the Father even to death on the cross.  So must we seek that humility, bearing fruit as those God has saved, by attributing all salvation to God, and then – with fear and trembling – bearing the fruit of good works to the Glory of God in response to His salvation of us.

            That brings us up to this morning’s text, where Paul addresses a most insidious false teaching that came into the church by those who were called the Judaizers.

            And so we see, this morning:

            First, the Gospel causes us to rejoice.

            Second, saying that Jesus plus anything else equals our salvation is heresy – a lie!

            Third, Salvation is wholly the Work of God.

            Fourth, no one keeps all of God’s Law perfectly.

            Fifth, the value of the Gospel for salvation exceeds the worth of mere obedience.

            First, the Gospel causes us to rejoice.

            “Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you is no trouble to me and is safe for you.”

            Paul is repeating himself – and he says it is “safe” to do so – because we need to be reminded to continue to look at the wondrous – priceless – Gospel that has been given us!  That Gospel that Jesus said is worth more than all the treasure of the world!  Do we rejoice in the Gospel – in life and death, in sickness and health, in poverty and riches, in bounty of friends and loneliness?  Are we ready to stare down the evil of evils and rejoice because nothing can take away the glorious Gospel given to us?  Can we be filled with all the blessings of the earth and still see the blessing of the Gospel – oh, what love! – that it is far more worthy and joy-filling than everything else?

            If we can’t rejoice, let us turn our eyes upon Jesus – consider what God has done in coming to earth to make us right with God to His Glory!  If we can’t, let us consider if we have ever believed.  Do you believe in God Who came to earth, lived, died, and rose, and ascended – victorious and most blessed forever?

            Paul now turns to another problem in the church in Philippi – one that might seem all too familiar to us:  the Judaizers.  The Judaizers were a group that claimed that before you could become a Christian, you had to become a Jew.  They argued that since the Law of God – and especially the command to be circumcised is a sign of belonging to the people of God – all the Laws that were specific to national Israel – was commanded by God, they had to be followed.

            They said that salvation by faith in Jesus was fine, but you also had to be circumcised and participate in the other ceremonies that God gave national Israel.  They said that Jesus Alone, faith alone, was not enough for salvation – you have to have Jesus plus the works of the Law for salvation.  This claim outraged Paul – and it should outrage every Christian. 

            Second, saying that Jesus plus anything else equals our salvation is heresy – a lie!

            As Paul said – speaking of these Judaizers, “Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh.”

            “Look out for the dogs” – Paul is not talking about Annie or Teddy or any other dog that we might have in our life and love – Paul is referring to the wild, street dogs that ate garbage and dead animals, and attacked others for their food.  They were brutal nuisances. 

            The Judaizers were the same – they were not looking to lead people to salvation – they were looking to pat themselves on the back and to tear others down – to prove that others were far less worthy of salvation than they.  They attacked the Gospel and preached a false gospel of salvation by Jesus plus their good works.

            “Look out for the evildoers” – and we might think that is harsh – “weren’t they preaching Christ – what made their preaching evil?”  Paul addressed the Judaizers in more detail in the book of Galatians – exposing them as non-Christians.  You cannot be a Christian and say that salvation is through faith in Jesus plus anything else.  Paul wrote, “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed”
(Galatians 1:6-9, ESV).

            Paul is not shy about this:  the claim that salvation is through faith in Jesus plus – circumcision – obedience to the Law – anything – is not the Gospel.  Such persons are “accursed.”  Such persons are “anathema.”  Such persons who teach this false gospel, Paul literally writes, “let him be damned to Hell.”

            The Roman Catholic Church teaches that salvation is through faith in Jesus plus good works.  Some Pentecostals and Charismatics teach that salvation is through faith in Jesus plus speaking in tongues.   Such teachings and anyone who continues to teach them – let them be damned to Hell.

           “Look out for those who mutilate the flesh.”  Circumcision – as prescribed to Abraham and the nation of Israel was the cutting of the foreskin to symbolize inclusion in the people of God – it did not guarantee salvation.  Paul tells us that making circumcision a requirement for salvation turns the sacrament of circumcision into a mere mutilation of the flesh.  It is a corruption – it is blasphemy.

            Today, those who say that baptism saves a person have turned the sacrament of baptism into a corruption – a blasphemy.

            Anyone who teaches that salvation is by faith in Jesus plus anything else is a wild, savage dog that barks and bites and tears and steals.  Such are evil doers – those who bring down persons who are being drawn to salvation in Jesus, rather than building them up.  They are anathema!  They are mutilators, corrupters, blasphemers of the sacraments – turning a ceremony is a hacking away at the truth.
            Salvation by Jesus plus anything else is a damnable lie – a heresy – and we should not care who says it – how important, decorated a person is – how big their church or ministry is – salvation is faith in Jesus Alone plus nothing!

Third, Salvation is wholly the Work of God.

The Gospel – the truth of the Gospel – is that salvation is all of God by God and for God, by faith alone, by grace alone, by Jesus Alone.  Thanks be to God!

“For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh—though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also.”

The circumcision of the Judaizers was mere mutilation, because they gave it a meaning and an import it did not have.  The circumcision of the true Christian is not of the male flesh, but of every believer’s heart.  Paul wrote, “But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God” (Romans 2:29, ESV).

Paul is telling us that true believers – true Jews – are those people who believe in Jesus Alone for their salvation.  So, modern day Judaism is a false religion – along with any religion that preaches salvation as Jesus plus anything else.

And, he tells us that salvation is God’s Work.  God changes the heart by giving the indwelling of God the Spirit.  What part do we play in our salvation?  Nothing!  We are to respond to our salvation by doing all the good works that God has given us to do, but not one of them adds to our salvation.

The true circumcision – the true believers – those who believe in salvation through Jesus Alone –

“Are people who worship by the Spirit of God.”

We can’t worship God rightly until God comes into us and changes us and causes us to believe in Jesus Alone for our salvation.  The Scripture tells us again and again that no one seeks to do good for all the right reasons and we are born spiritually dead.  So, if we are dead and seeking to do things for the wrong reasons – some of which are outright evil – we will never worship God by the Spirit of God until the Spirit of God comes into us to changes us and teach us and lead us in worshipping by the Spirit of God.

  As Jesus said, “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (John 14:26, ESV).

“And glory in Jesus Christ.”

We can’t glory in Jesus Christ – we can’t proclaim Him to be Who He really is – the Son of God Incarnate – the Promised Savior – until we have received salvation from Him.  We cannot love Jesus and follow Him in faith and obedience until after God has changed our hearts and caused us to love and obey Him

Until God made us to believe in Jesus as our Savior, we were enemies of God – we were at war with God – we hated God.  We didn’t want to show others how wonderful Jesus is – we didn’t want to love Him with every part of our being more and more fully as were matured in the faith – not until God did His Work in us.

So, this change of heart – this coming to love Jesus and proclaim Him to be Who He truly is – is completely a spiritual matter – it is completely a work of God.  It is nothing we did or desired or worked our way towards.  It is God’s Work – which makes it all the more glorious and us all the more desirous to glorify Him.

“And put no confidence in the flesh.”

All we who have come to believe in Jesus as Savior by the miraculous Work of God in us now put no confidence in our heritage and our family and our good works – insofar as our salvation is concerned.  We understand that nothing we were born, nothing we are, and nothing we do is of any confidence insofar as salvation is concerned.

Paul uses himself as an example – a prime example – of a person who would have been saved by the flesh – by his works, if such a thing was possible.   Yet, we see in this example:

Fourth, no one keeps all of God’s Law perfectly.

“If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day,”

Paul was raised in a family that kept God’s Law.

“of the people of Israel,”

Paul was a member of the biological people of Israel – not a convert to Judaism.

“of the tribe of Benjamin,”

Paul was a direct descent of Jacob, who is also called Israel, the father of the twelve tribes – of which Paul was a direct descendant of Israel’s first king, Saul.

“a Hebrew of Hebrews;”

Paul had no mixed blood in his heritage – he was the son of two Hebrews – who spoke Hebrew – he was not raised to speak Greek, as the captives were.

“as to the law, a Pharisee;”

Paul was a member of the religious group that adhered to the Law with great strictness and separated themselves even from the common Israelites – not to mention the Gentiles – in order to seek after holiness through the works of the flesh.

“as to zeal, a persecutor of the church;”

Paul was so zealous for the Law – for the honor and fame of God’s Name – that when he saw the Church arise and thought it was against God and His Law – he persecuted it with all his might.

“as to righteousness under the law, blameless.”

And as far as anyone could judge to look at Paul, to hear him speak, and see him act – he did keep the Law in all its fullness.  If it were possible to be saved through keeping the Law – through heritage and life – Paul certainly looked to be the person – if anyone could – who would.

However, Paul wrote, “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost” (1 Timothy 1:15, ESV).

Paul understood that despite all the pluses – all the checkmarks in his favor – he considered himself – looking through the eyes of Christ – that he was the chief of sinners – the greatest of sinners – the foremost of sinners – because none of his works lead him to salvation and the Savior.

Fifth, the value of the Gospel for salvation exceeds the worth of mere obedience.

“But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.”

Paul tells us that his heritage, his good works, his diligence in keeping the Law were all worthless – even a loss – because he did not know Jesus.  And, when he came to faith in Jesus – he recognized the greatness of the value and the glory of Jesus and His salvation.  In God circumcising Paul’s heart and bringing him to faith, he understood that all of his works and heritage were impotent as far as achieving salvation was concerned.  God was not impressed that someone who rejected His salvation was trying to do all the right things.

The author of Hebrews wrote, “And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him” (Hebrews 11:6, ESV).  We could put it this way:  whatever does not come as a fruit form saving faith is sin.  Whatever is done outside of saving faith is sin.

So all those good things that Paul did – all those good things we did before God saved us – all those things anyone does – wonderful things that the world praises people for doing – if they are done by someone who does not believe savingly in Jesus – in God’s eyes – those things are sin.

Paul uses strong language:  “For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish,”

And our translators use a polite word – literally Paul says that he counts all those benefits he had before faith in Christ as dung.  Before Christ, all the best of who we ever were is no better than the waste that comes out of our bodies.  That’s how offensively useless it is to say that we must add something to Jesus and His Work to gain salvation.

But that’s what the Judaizers were teaching – that’s what the Roman Catholic Church teaches today – and some other denominations:  “Jesus’ Work is great, but I have to add my bodily waste to it to make it really worthy in God’s eyes.”  What insanity!  What an offense!

Paul said “no” – everything before Christ was like waste – dung – in comparison to His Worth and the worth of His Gospel.

“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—“

Our righteousness cannot come from ourselves – it must be credited to us by Jesus.  We cannot come to God as holy and sinless people on our own – we must have Jesus’ Righteousness – His Holiness and His Sinlessness imputed to us – so God will see us as holy and sinless and receive us into His Kingdom for the Sake of His Son.   And to befoul Christ’s Work with our work does not improve us in God’s eyes.

The Philippians needed to understand that the Judaizers were wrong to say that any work or belief had to be added to Christ to make His Work acceptable and effective – we must understand as the hymn writer puts it, “nothing in my hands I bring, only to Thy cross I cling.  We must reject anyone and any religion or denomination or church that says our works – in any way – merit salvation.

Salvation is by Christ Alone, by faith alone, by grace alone. 

“that I may know him and the power of his resurrection,”

If we believe that salvation is all of God, we will come to know Christ intimately – personally – as we continue to grow in love and faith and obedience to Him.  Isn’t that what we desire?  To know Him?  To begin to plumb “the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!” – even with our finite and still sinful selves? (Romans 11:33a, ESV).

“and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death,”

Strange as it may sound – isn’t our goal to suffer like Christ – to not suffer for our sin – but to suffer for righteousness – for the proclamation of the Gospel – for glorying in Jesus Christ before the world which hates us? 

And should we not want to die the death of Christ – a death of perfect obedience to the Father for His Sake and His Glory?

“that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.”

Paul didn’t know if he would be let free from prison at that point.  He didn’t know when or how he would die – or if he might live until Christ returns and never have to die in the body.  But whatever he would have to endure for the sake of Christ, he held fast to his goal of the resurrection from the dead – like Christ – to be with Him forever in His Kingdom in Glory.

A recent book was titled, “Jesus + Nothing = Everything.”

What do we need to be saved?

Jesus!  Jesus!  Jesus!

And God damn anyone who teaches anything else to Hell.

Let us pray:

Almighty God, Yours is the Salvation.  We get confused about the place of being obedient to You, and some teach that Jesus is not enough – that our works also add to our salvation.  God, please rid that lie from our minds and hearts.  Help us to understand that salvation is all of You – Jesus Alone.  We respond to that most glorious salvation that You give us through obedience, but our obedience does not make Your salvation of us any more effective.  Lord, mature us, and help us to stand boldly and hopefully for Your Gospel.  For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.