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Not Having a Righteousness of My Own, Blog 4 of 4

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In this fourth and final blog entry on Paul's letter to the Philippians, I'd like to draw your attention to verses 10 and 11 of chapter 3:

Phil 3:10-11 I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.
When was the last time any of us prayed to "share in the sufferings of Christ"? Paul is ready to be identified with Christ, so much so that he even considers it an honor to suffer for his sake. In fact, this is actually a common theme in the New Testament (Matt 5:10-12, Rom. 8:17, Phil 1:29, 1 Pet 2:20, 3:14, 4:16), a theme that is not particularly in sync with the 21st century message of having "your best life now."
Phil. 3:12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.
Not that I have already obtained all this. This is a wonderful verse that shows that we are declared to be righteous (positionally) while still being unrighteous (inherently). This is at the heart of what Luther was getting at when he described the Christian as "simul iustus et piccator" (simultaneously both saint and sinner).

Again, Catholic theology had taught (and still does) that a person who makes use of the gracious gifts that God offers through the church actually becomes inherently righteous. That person remains righteous until he or she commits a venial sin, and that allows the grace to leak out of one's life. Mortal sins, on the other hand, immediately drain away all of your grace. In either case, a person can fix the leak by means of penance, confession, etc., and then replenish his or her supply of grace by attending mass, receiving absolution, obtaining indulgences, performing good works, etc. Since no one can know whether he or she will die in a state of grace, one cannot have assurance of salvation; in fact, that very idea is called the sin of presumption.

In contrast, the Protestant Reformers argued that justification, at its most basic level, was a legal declaration (such as a "not guilty" verdict). From the perspective of God's infinite holiness, "there is no one who does good" (Rom 3:12), all of us by nature deserve a guilty verdict, and only those in Christ are granted a full pardon, based completely upon God in his infinite mercy. With Isaiah, we confess that Christ makes "many to be accounted righteous, and bears their iniquities." This is also the testimony of the author to the Hebrews, who in chapter 10 writes, "by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy."

So if we're already perfect, why do we need to be made holy? The answer is that both justification and sanctification are in view in this passage. We are first declared to be positionally righteous, perfect and acceptable before God because of the work of Christ. In reality, we are still sinners struggling here on earth. Like Peter before us, we all have denied Christ, sometimes in subtle ways, other times more explicitly. But Jesus is conforming sinners into his own image; he is sanctifying us and transforming us day by day. We're still imperfect, but we're slowly being conformed to the image of Christ.

That is what Paul is saying here. Paul has not already been made perfect, but he presses on because he's treated as if he was. He's awaiting an inheritance that he didn't earn.

Phil 3:13-16 Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. All of us who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. Only let us live up to what we have already attained.
Pressing towards the goal. Paul here is thinking of the Christian life, along with all of his personal difficulties associated with preaching the gospel, as a long distance race. Though he feels nothing but pain in the here and now, his thoughts are in heaven with Christ and the joy of victory.

In verse 15, Paul does something very strange and counter-cultural (at least as far we're concerned). He seems to value maturity. Today, not merely in the culture at large but also in the church, we seem to value immaturity and juvenile ways of thinking. We believe that worship should be like a rock concert with lighting effects and fog machines. We believe sermons should be funny, attention-grabbing stage performances. We freak out when our "best life now" doesn't materialize.

According to Paul, maturity changes the way we view things. God, he says, will be at work in you to help you to mature and to see things more clearly.

Phil. 3:17 Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.
Grace and Redemption are at the heart of Christianity, but that's not all there is. Yes, Christ alone is our righteousness. This is our promised inheritance that will be fully realized and experienced one day in the not-too-distant future.

But this inheritance also implies an adoption. If we have been adopted, we need to live in a manner consistent with our new family identity. Of course, this new life does not win our inheritance, since we've already been adopted. Therefore the new life is simply the grateful response of a heart set free. This is why Paul teaches Gentile believers in particular to follow the pattern of life he set before them. Though it's not part of our justification, it is an important aspect of our discipleship!

It's important to remember that sometimes even elders and pastors do not live in ways that are consistent with their profession. Paul writes of such an instance in Galatians 2:14 when he observed that even Peter had stopped eating with Gentiles, fearing the circumcision party. "But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, "If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?" Thus, for Christians, even our sanctification is not primarily rooted in law, but is rooted in learning to recognize the truth of the gospel and those parts of our conduct that are out of step with our new identity.

Phil 3:18-19 For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things.
There are some striking parallels here to what we find in Matt 16. Jesus asks the disciples, "Who do men say that I am?" Peter responds by saying, "You are the Christ, the son of the living God." Then, after Jesus spoke a few words about his coming death in Jerusalem, Peter rebuked him, saying, "This will never happen to you!" How did Jesus respond? "Get behind me Satan! You don't have in mind the things of God, but the things of men." Peter was rebuked harshly, as if he was Satan himself, because he was speaking as an enemy of the cross, and his mind was on earthy things.

Let's face it. We often live as enemies of the cross of Christ with our minds set upon earthly things. We sometimes identify God with our appetites, our feelings, or our opinions, even as Christians. Sometimes, like Peter, we have an immature, man-centered—or perhaps even Satanic—view of things.

But if Peter can be saved, we can be saved. At the end of the day, we are not saved by our own righteousness but by Christ's. When confronted with a sin of this type, we should take the posture of David in Ps. 51, who not only confessed his sin, but also asked God to "create in him a clean heart, and to renew a right spirit within him." As Jesus taught, his disciples are declared "clean" not on the basis of any work they have performed, but because of the words that he spoke to them (Jn 15:3). After all, if the job of spiritual renovation and cleansing were up to us, at the end of the day who would be able to say, "I have made my heart pure, I am clean from sin"? (Prov 20:9).

Phil 3:20-21 But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.
The residents of Philippi had been granted Roman citizenship, along with all the rights and privileges thereunto. Here Paul makes use of this concept to speak of something much more important. If we believe in Christ, flee from our own righteousness, and refuse to add anything to his finished work on our behalf, then we are then declared to be citizens of heaven. One day in the not-too-distant future, he will grant us all the privileges associated with this new citizenship, and we will all be transformed to become like he is.

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  • Guest - JC

    I still don't understand. One minute you say we are saved by grace alone then you quote a verse that says the complete opposite.

    "Phil 3:18-19 For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things."

    You say many of us walk as enemies of Christ but will be saved but Philippians clearly says that isn't true that the end of those who live earthly will be destruction.

    Can someone please explain this contradiction? I am seeking so hard to understand how to be saved by grace.

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  • Guest - Dave C.

    JC, I may not be the best equipped to help you resolve your quandary, but I will give it a shot.

    The warning in Philippians 3:18-19 is to those who deny Christ and His saving work. They have chosen to worship this world and themselves. They deny Christ and as a result cannot know God, for the only way we can possibly comprehend any portion of God is through our knowledge of Christ. They shield themselves from God's word and sacrament and glory in their worldliness, whereas those in Christ are naturally ashamed of their sin and find the things of this world increasingly revolting.

    Yes, by the fallen nature that we all inherited from Adam, we are all enemies of Christ. But our Creator has arranged for our rescue. He has provided for us to be saved by His grace alone, through faith alone, because of Christ alone.

    These are all gifts that take root in those who hear the Word of God through which the Holy Spirit works in us and regenerates our hearts. Like sunshine and rain are to a garden, Word and Sacrament are to us. It comes from outside of us and then works within us. We need to do nothing but soak it up and allow the Holy Spirit to do its work. There is no "how to" to it.

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  • Guest - JC

    Thank you for the answer. I'm not sure if you will see this but how do you know that it's people who deny Christ's salvation? To me it looks like it's talking about saved people who got caught up in the cares of this world.

    Is there a bible study that goes more into depth about how and why these people are not Christians that are being spoken of in this passage?

    I hope someone will speak up even if it's not Dave.

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  • Guest - Dave C.

    JC, Those who have heard and received the Gospel and in whom the Holy Spirit is at work are, as Luther said, "simul justus et peccator" - simultaneously justified/righteous and sinful. (You can listen to an excellent lecture on this subject given by Dr. R.C. Sproul at http://www.ligonier.org/blog/simul-justus-et-peccator/">http://www.ligonier.org/blog/simul-justus-et-peccator/)

    We who have heard and received the Gospel and have surrendered to Christ still stumble and fall in this world. But the Holy Spirit continually draws us back to Christ in whom we actively seek mercy and forgiveness. We are simultaneously Justified (clothed in Christ's righteous through the gift of faith) and sinners.

    Those for whom Paul weeps in Philippians are those who have heard the Gospel but have refused to receive it, choosing instead to worship themselves and the things of this world.

    You can find additional materials at http://www.ligonier.org to help you with this study. Just enter Philippians in the search field and you'll be directed to several resources. Or, just use this link: http://www.ligonier.org/search/?q=philippians

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  • Guest - Frank

    @JC. Remember Jesus said; not everyone who say to me lord lord will enter into the kingdom of heaven, but only those who does the will of the Father which is in heaven... And when the poeple ask him what is the work of the Father that we may do it. He said; the will of the father is that you should believe who he has sent(John6v29).Just like the pharisee, there are many who do not believe in the finish work of Christ. They reject the sacrifice offer by God through Christ Jesus and try to make themselves holy. Many today do not believe that God has made them holy; but this is the truth. Many churches preach holiness as if it is a command or law. The poeple who keep commandment of the law are the enemies of Christ. The bible say, Christ is the end of the law (Romans10v4). You can read all the verses in Romans chapter 10 it will help you understand. Thanks..

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  • Guest - Dave C.

    @ Frank. Thank you for your contribution to helping JC reach an understanding about the passages in Philippians. When you say that the people who keep the commandments of the law are enemies of Christ, I am assuming you mean that those who place their hope for salvation in their keeping of the law rather than placing their hope for salvation in Christ's atoning sacrifice are enemies of Christ. Is that correct? I want to be sure that JC isn't confused.

    Our faith increases our desire to keep God's law out of our love for Him and for the mercy and grace He has given us through Christ Jesus, but we understand that as fallen children of Adam we're incapable of keeping the God's law. Nevertheless, when we place our faith in Christ, Christ's righteousness covers our own unrighteousness and makes us acceptable in God's sight. That is the good news!

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  • Guest - Frank

    Very well. As Christians we are suppose to please God in His goodness and not in our goodness. The moment we try to please God in our own goodness we violate His grace.

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  • Guest - JC

    Thank you Dave and Frank! May God bless both of you. I am still learning and think I understand it a little better now thanks to everyone for this!

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