Second Reformed Church

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.

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