Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you is no trouble to me and is safe for you.
2 Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh. 3 For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh— 4 though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5 circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee;6 as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. 7 But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ.8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 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— 10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. – Philippians 3:1-11
Have you ever shared the gospel with someone and they responded with something like, “That’s too good to be true.” Or, “That can’t be right because it’s too easy. I have to do something to earn my place in heaven.” There are a couple of reasons for that kind of response.
- We humans seem to be hardwired to understand there is no free lunch, so we have to pay the price somehow. When I get to the pearly gates, I will have to give Saint Peter my resume that warrants my entry to heaven.
- A second reason is that the person doesn’t understand the gospel, or maybe we didn’t make it clear. If a person understands who it was who died on that cross and the horror and beauty of the transaction that took place there, they will realize it isn’t a free lunch. The ultimate price has been paid for my salvation. This is why only faith alone can obtain salvation. As soon as I do anything to earn my salvation, I have detracted from the work of Christ and fallen from grace into a religion of works and human effort. I have nullified the work of Christ. This is why Paul says, “Whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ.” The only thing that will allow me through those pearly gates is a righteousness that comes through faith, any effort on my part tarnishes the trophy of Christ’s victory over sin and death.
Is Paul saying that our conduct doesn’t count? Yes and no. He clearly doesn’t want to be found “having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law,” so in that sense he is saying that our conduct doesn’t count toward getting us into heaven. In fact, it will get in the way. It is known as self-righteousness, what Paul refers to as rubbish. But Paul’s objective is to “know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.”
“Know him” refers to a personal relationship with God. This is not a religious effort taken to obtain favor from God.
“The power of his resurrection” refers to victory over sin and death through the power of the Holy Spirit who raised Christ from the dead. The power is a person, the third person of the Trinity.
“Becoming like him in his death” refers to our conduct after having experienced the power of his resurrection. Jesus died because of sin. The penalty of sin is death. We all owe that debt. Jesus paid it on our behalf and died for us. The proof that his sacrifice was sufficient was his real-time physical resurrection from the dead. One beautiful aspect of the gospel is that when we trust the work of Christ, we are united to him in that work. So, when he died, we died, when he was raised from the dead, we were raised with him. This reality has powerful implications for our lives, how we live. Since we died with him and were raised with him, sin no longer has dominion over us. This is where our conduct does count. It doesn’t earn us a place in heaven, but it is a proof of that righteousness that we have received by faith and will ultimately determine rewards in heaven.
The dogs, the evildoers, those who mutilate the flesh refers to those folks who were requiring that Jesus-followers behave as Jews and be circumcised. Paul’s rant in this paragraph is against the teaching that says my salvation depends on my obedience to the law. It does not. What does count is whether or not I know Jesus Christ.