Despite the rise of atheism, most Americans still think that there is a God and an afterlife. A recent poll showed that almost 80% of Americans believe that, because we exist, someone must have created us (even 48% of nonreligious Americans believe that).
Of course, that’s a long way from salvation—no one is saved by believing that there is a Creator somewhere. Most of those people would probably say that they could be saved because they’ve been a good person or they’ve followed certain religious rituals.
Even in conservative Baptist circles, there are those who believe that they are saved because of their baptism, or that they went forward during an altar call, or because they prayed the Sinner’s Prayer. Those things, while not wrong in themselves, can and often become a mistaken source of confidence for many people.
What it all comes back to is the issue of taking pride in our own righteousness. A person may claim that they are going to Heaven because, “I prayed the Sinner’s Prayer,” or “I was baptized,” or “I’ve been a decent person.” Those things become like trophies for them.
If anyone in history could have made it to Heaven through his own righteousness and goodness, it would have been the apostle Paul. The apostle Paul didn’t just have one or two trophies, he had…
A TROPHY WALL OF RIGHTEOUSNESS
Philippians 3:4 Though I might also have confidence [πεποίθησιν, NASF, πεποίθησις, persuade, convince] in the flesh. If any other man thinketh that he hath whereof he might trust [πεποιθέναι, VRAN, πείθω, persuade, convince] in the flesh, I more:
The word “confidence” has to do with placing one’s trust or reliance in something. In this case, Paul was talking about placing one’s reliance in one’s “flesh,” or one’s own accomplishments—our trophies.
Paul wasn’t saying that he had confidence in his own flesh to save him. He was saying that one could be saved by their own accomplishments, if there was anyone who could be considered righteous enough to be saved by himself, it would have been him.
Paul goes on here to list several religious trophies that he could boast in (and at one time he did boast in them):
Philippians 3:5 Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee;
Philippians 3:6 Concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless [ἄμεμπτος, JNSM, ἄμεμπτος, faultless].
1. Circumcised As An Infant
“Circumcised the eighth day” refers to what Jews did with their baby boys as a sign of the covenant with God (Genesis 17:12). Paul mentions this to show that he had been a good Jew from the time he was a baby, not a convert to Judaism later in life.
Some people take pride in their baptism as an infant, or that they came from a Christian family that was at church every time the doors were open. That’s a religious trophy they hold up to proclaim their confidence in their salvation.
2. An Israelite
Paul could say that he was from “of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin” He was from God’s chosen people.
He even knew which tribe he was from. Most Jews then, as now, had no idea what tribe they were from. They had all blended together, but Paul knew that he was from the tribe named after one of Jacob’s two favorite sons.
Today, a person might boast about being an American, as if that made them better in the sight of God than someone from a different nationality. That’s a religious trophy for them to place on their mantle.
3. An Hebrew Of The Hebrews
What does Paul mean when he says he is “an Hebrew of the Hebrews”? He means that his parents were godly, zealous Jews. A person might do the same by placing their confidence in their parent’s faith or even the faith of a grandparent.
In the next row of trophies, Paul turns from his upbringing to his own accomplishments.
4. A Good Pharisee
He says, “as touching the law, a Pharisee.” In Galatians, he said that he…
14 …profited in the Jews’ religion above many my equals in mine own nation, being more exceedingly zealous of the traditions of my fathers. (Galatians 1:14)
Here was a man who worked hard, day and night, to become and to be the best law-keeping Pharisee anyone could be. He took pride in his work.
Of course, we are to strive to be obedient and holy. But Paul was striving to be holy, not in God’s eyes, but in men’s eyes. His concern was to be “above” his “equals.”
Many Christians do the same in the church. They strive to be known as a great deacon or Sunday school teacher or singer. Whatever they do, they do it so that others see them as great.
The applause of men is a trophy they can put on their wall.
5. A Church Persecutor
Paul says, in verse 6 now, “Concerning zeal, persecuting the church.” We have record of Paul being at the murder of Stephen and of him being on his way to arrest Christians at Damascus (Acts 8:1; 9:1-2).
If Pharisees sat around bragging about their accomplishments, the top brag would have been that they had persecuted a Christian—arrested him, beat him, thrown him in jail.
For you, does proving your zeal for the Lord involve how much you hate someone else?
It’s a fine line for us, because we are to hate the sin and not the sinner. But Christians can be guilty of treating immoral people with an attitude that borders on persecution. And why? Because we think that it gains points with God.
Paul’s last trophy on his wall is…
6. A Righteousness Which Is In The Law
He says, “touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.”
Paul not only obeyed the commandments of God found in the Old Testament, he also set himself to obey the hundreds of commandments found in the oral law of the Jews.
These were the interpretations collected over the centuries that were, by the Pharisees, considered just as important as God’s law.
However, Paul’s obedience to the law extended only to the letter of the law. Jesus said that it’s not just the letter that’s important, it’s the spirit. A man may not commit physical adultery, but if he lusts for another woman, it’s the same as if he had (Matthew 5:27-28).
So Paul wasn’t saying that he was perfect, but that he lived an fine example of a life according to Pharisees. If anyone, then or today, could have made a claim to be able to enter Heaven based on the quality of their life, the apostle Paul could have.
But when Paul met Christ on the road to Damascus, he realized that none of his trophies of righteousness were worth anything. He realized that he would have to…
THROW THE TROPHIES OUT THE WINDOW
What Paul realized was that to be saved, he needed, not just the best righteousness that he could manage (or what most people could manage), he needed to have a perfect righteousness in order to be saved.
Paul came to understand what Jesus had taught in the Sermon on the Mount. In Matthew 5:20, Jesus said:
20 For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:20)
Jesus went on to explain that it wasn’t enough, for example, just not to murder someone. Instead, there had to be no anger or hate in your heart. He closed the section with these stunning words, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).
It’s no wonder that Paul looked at his trophies of righteousness and said,
Philippians 3:7 But what things were gain to me, those I counted [ἥγημαι, VPUI1S, ἡγέομαι, have come to regard as] loss for Christ.
Philippians 3:8 Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency [ὑπερέχον, VPAP-SAN, ὑπερέχω, surpassing greatness] of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung [σκύβαλα, NAPN, σκύβαλον, rubbish, garbage], that I may win [κερδήσω, VAAS1S, κερδαίνω, gain] Christ,
In fact, Paul says, everything in this life is a “loss” when it is compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Jesus Christ!
His phrase, “I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus” helps us understand what it means to really believe in Jesus.
These days, the phrase, “Believe in Jesus,” is pretty much an empty phrase. Everyone with the least bit of religious inclination will say it. The person who hasn’t attended church or read the Bible in years will say, “Sure, I believe in Jesus,” right before they get offended at you for “judging” them.
You see, to them, believing in Jesus just means to believe that he exists. It means to acknowledge him like you do a person that you drive past on the street. Nothing more.
When Paul says, “I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord,” he is telling us what it means to believe in Jesus.
It’s not just a mere acknowledgment of the existence of Jesus, it’s taking every other means of salvation that you might pursue and throwing it out the window.
It’s treating knowing Jesus as something that is excellent and superior, not a fire insurance policy from Hell that you keep tucked away in a safe somewhere.
Believing in Jesus is really thinking that he is the best thing to ever happen to you and having that show in your life, your words, and your relationships.
Paul says that those other things in his life that he took pride in—his trophies—I…“do count them but dung [garbage], that I may win Christ.”
If we can’t be saved by trying to be as good and righteous as we possibly can be, how can we be saved? We can be saved when we…
RELY ONLY ON CHRIST’S RIGHTEOUSNESS
Philippians 3:9 And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness [δικαιοσύνην, NASF, δικαιοσύνη] which is of God by faith:
First, the righteousness that can save us, well…
1. It Is Christ’s Righteousness
Why was Jesus conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of a virgin? Because being born of a virgin broke the cycle of the sinful nature being passed from generation to generation.
The apostle Peter tells us that Jesus “…did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth” (1 Peter 2:22). Imagine that, never a sinful action, word, or even a sinful thought did Jesus have.
Why did Jesus have to live a sinless human life? So that his perfect righteousness could be passed on to those who have faith.
21 For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him. (2 Corinthians 5:21)
This is how we can stand before God. Not by our own puny righteousness (even Paul’s trophy righteousness was puny), but by having Christ’s righteousness. When we have Christ’s righteousness, God looks at us as though we were Christ and not us. He doesn’t see, in legal terms anyway, the hating, the lying, the lusting us. But he sees Christ.
It’s similar to what happens to people when they get married. When Tami and I stood before the pastor and he said, “I now pronounce you husband and wife,” our status instantly changed in the eyes of the state and of God. We were the same people—I am still Levi, she is still Tami—but legally, we’re one flesh…we’re married.
When you become a Christian, you will still be you—old sinful you. But legally, in the eyes of God, you aren’t a sinner any longer, you are righteous.
How does Christ’s righteousness get given to you?
2. It Is By Faith
The word “faith” appears twice in this verse.
The phrase “through the faith of Christ” could be translated two ways according to the rules of Greek grammar. One way (objective genitive) is to translate it to say, “through faith in Christ,” which, of course, speaks of what a person needs to do to have Christ’s righteousness given to him.
But the way (subjective genitive) the KJV translators chose is “through the faith [i.e., faithfulness] of Christ,” which speaks of how Christ was faithful to obey his Father and go all the way to the Cross and die for our sins.
All through his life, Christ was tempted to turn back from going to the Cross. For example, Peter encouraged him not to think of dying and was rebuked with the words, “Get thee behind me, Satan” (Matthew 16:21-23). Through it all, Christ remained and will remain faithful to the mission.
That means that we can a greater assurance of salvation, because we know that Jesus was, is, and will always be faithful to the mission of our salvation.
Our need to have faith is expressed in the next phrase, “the righteousness which is of God by faith.” What does it mean to have faith? If we look back at this passage we can see the definition. A faith that saves has,
1) No “confidence in the flesh” to save you. You “count” everything about your life—your status, your inherited characteristics, your achievements—as “loss.”
A faith that saves also has…
2) Every confidence in Christ to save. He’s not just an add-on to your life. He isn’t a trophy that you add to your wall of trophies of righteousness. He’s it…period. Nothing else saves you but him.
When we have faith in Christ, his righteousness is transferred to us, so that God sees us as righteous and we can enter into Heaven. A righteousness that saves us is not a righteousness achieved by us, it’s a righteousness received by us.
Have you received Christ’s righteousness by faith? When God looks at you, does he see your righteousness? Does he see the trophies you have on your wall? If he sees yours, then you aren’t saved. But if he sees Christ’s righteousness, then you can certain of eternal life.