Philippians 3:4-14 contrasts the Law of Moses (especially its strict observances) with God’s grace. It tells us what we need to do, such as putting old lives behind us and concentrating on our new lives with Christ. Grace and a right relationship with God are more important than strict observance of the Law. God often calls us to give up something that is important to us so we can grow closer to Him in faith. What we give up pales in comparison to what we gain-eternal life.
The Jews in Philippi claimed that certain rites of Judaism were necessary for salvation. Paul used his own accomplishments as a Jew to argue that these claims were false. His union with Christ, like our union with Christ, was possible only because God gave Christ’s righteousness to Paul and to us so that it was reckoned by God as His own. Faith is the dependence on and trust in Jesus Christ for the necessary requirement to enter God’s kingdom. That requirement is the righteousness of Christ, which God gives to every believer.
Those who have confidence in the flesh in any fashion-but especially people who are bound by legalistic beliefs-are unable to rejoice in the Lord. Legalism drains the believer of the joy of the Lord, and with that joy, the power for vital worship and vibrant service is depleted.
If Paul had failed to achieve acceptance with God through all his inherited and earned virtues, then he reasoned that no one could climb up to God on his own merits. In fact, all that Paul had accomplished proved to be stumbling blocks to his acceptance by God. This is often true for those who are bound up in legalism.
The freedom to make choices brings responsibility. All of us have made poor choices at times, and we have had to suffer the consequences of these choices. The good news is that no matter what poor choices we may have made in the past, there is always hope for a better future. God knew that we would make some bad choices, but he loves us so much that He sent Jesus to pay the price for our sins and to provide a way for our relationship with him to be restored.
If we want to become citizens of another country, we must go through a process of naturalization. There are several requirements, including taking an oath of allegiance to our new country. We become citizens of Heaven the moment we are saved. There is no test or process involved, because Jesus already did everything that is necessary. All we have to do is claim His offer in faith. That is not the end of our salvation, but merely the beginning. If we become a citizen of another country but do not vote, pay taxes, work or do anything to make the country better we are poor citizens indeed. A Christian who does nothing for the kingdom of God is a poor citizen of heaven.
Too many of us as Christians have not appropriated this freedom-bringing truth. We keep one foot in the law where “doing” prevails, hoping that our doing will lead to our being righteous. We forget that we do not strive to live in the Spirit to be in the Spirit. It is the reverse. Because we are in the Spirit we live by the Spirit. Because we have received the righteousness of God, we do deeds of righteousness. We do these deeds not to get in right relationship with God, but because we have already been justified by faith. (Pause)
The Christian life is a journey. It is a process of growth in which we “lay hold” of the fullness of that which had been given us. We are Christians; we must now become what we are. We have been saved; now we must work out our salvation with fear and trembling.
Paul understood that he had a lot of room for growth. And if he did, so do we. Too many of us have the attitude that we have finished growing in faith. We should have the same attitude as the great cellist Pablo Casals. A young reporter asked him one day, “You’re 95. The world considers you to be its greatest cellist; and still, at 95, you practice six hours a day. Why?” Pablo Casals replied, “Because I think I’m making progress.”
If we have grown stagnant in our spiritual lives, we need to ask “why?” Are our spiritual lives stunted? Why are we not growing? Why are we stymied in our spiritual progress? What are our barriers to growth? If we are willing to admit that we need to grow, then identify the barriers that are keeping a lid on our spiritual lives, and finally, by God’s grace, deal with those barriers and remove them, we will begin to press on and grow.
Paul uses the terms “count” and “counted” three times in verses 7-9. In this context, it means “to evaluate or consider.” Paul reminds the Philippians that the decision he made 30 years before writing the Letter to the Philippians still has a hold on him-he still considers his previous assets as liabilities. The righteousness of Christ is now the only asset on his balance sheet. It changed him in a way that his own righteousness could never do. Everything that Paul considered so important before his conversion-his ancestry and Judaistic zeal-is now rubbish in comparison to what he possesses in Christ.
The sufferings Paul speaks of are those experiences of the believer who is truly committed to Christ: suffering for the sake of righteousness. Adversity often draws us closer to God in faith. God doesn’t glory in pain or sorrow, but He uses them to teach us about His love and faithfulness. When adversity comes our vulnerability increases and we wonder where God is. We realize that we need God, especially His fellowship and His presence, or we will collapse. God always has something in mind when He allows us to face difficulty. In times of difficulty, God is our immoveable strength. When adversity strikes, the first thing we should do is turn to God. The second step is to offer our commitment to Him that we will remain focused on Him and not on our circumstances.
Philippians 3:11 is the only place in the New Testament to use the form of the Greek word for “resurrection.” It means “out from the dead ones.” Paul is speaking of the moment when he will stand before the Lord; he does not want to be empty-handed.
Christians who long to finish well will cultivate three things:
- The discipline of focus-striving for the single goal (the one thing) until its completion, undeterred by obstacles or the taunts of the crowd.
- The discipline of forgetting-refusing to be paralyzed or rendered complacent by the past.
- The discipline of following-intensely pursuing the calling of the Christian life until victory has been won.
Paul was not satisfied to rest on his laurels. He had to move forward toward God’s plan, purpose and prize. To apprehend means “to lay hold of, pull down.” In contemporary terms, it refers to a football player who runs someone down from behind and tackles him. This is how Christians should pursue righteousness.
We can’t dwell on past accomplishments. There is always more to learn and do when it comes to our life in Christ. Privileges of birth and achievement mean nothing, as Paul found out. Each of his privileges became a bundle of loss because they were useless.
Knowing Christ means when we repent and accept Christ as our Saviour, we are united with Christ. He does something which we accept by faith. It means knowing Christ’s death and resurrection as present and active forces in our lives. Knowing Christ means knowing the fellowship of His suffering. We are raised to new life in Christ just like He was raised up on the cross. We celebrate the liberating power of His resurrection through praise and thanksgiving. Knowing Christ means being conformed to His death. Christians must die to sin. We must pass through death to life and must yield our lives to a process of letting the old person die so the new person can be born.
We must never forget that salvation, which includes resurrection from the dead, is a gift of God and we dare not presume on divine mercy. What really matters is the prize of the high calling of God. The price of a vital faith is a continuous struggle. We were created by God to grow; we were recreated by Christ to grow and become our whole selves-the new creation we are in Jesus.
When we turn to God, we must set goals that agree with God’s plan for our lives, and that will also enable us to experience God in greater depth. How can we set these goals and move forward with decisiveness? Paul suggests the following steps:
- Believe and meditate on the promises of God.
- Have a consuming desire to achieve a precise goal.
- Have the courage to try, even at the risk of failure.
- Choose determination.
- Be persistent.
- Humble ourselves.Let go of the past.
- In the Christian life, it can be a loss to start with or keep the faith when things are going well. Hanging in through good times and tough times, and to be there for the long haul, takes a genuine commitment that is based on a deep belief that Jesus is King of kings and Lord of lords, and that our lives are in His hands.
What are we unwilling to leave behind for the sake of Christ? Is there anything keeping us from complete obedience? What is keeping us from humbling ourselves in repentance and receiving His forgiveness and the gift of eternal life? Deep down, it might not be wealth, but we know what our idol is. We know it because we are holding onto it so tightly that it can’t escape our grip unless we willingly surrender it to Christ.
As we live and focus on Christ, our eyes should always be gazing ahead to what God has for us next. It’s great to remember how God worked through us in the past, but it’s more important to realize how God wants to work through us today. When we do, we will receive the crown of righteousness on that day when we are gathered before God’s throne.
- Jeremiah, David: The Jeremiah Study Bible, New King James Version (Brentwood, TN: Worthy Publishing; 2013, p. 1660-1661)
- Dunnam, M.D. & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 31: Galatians/Ephesians/Philippians/Colossians/Philemon (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1982; pp. 286-298)
- MacArthur, J.F. Jr.: The MacArthur Study Bible, New American Standard Bible (Nashville, TN: Nelson Bibles; 2005)
- Stanley, C.F.: The Charles F. Stanley Life Principles Bible, New King James Version (Nashville, TN: Nelson Bibles; 2005)
- Richard Inness, “The Race.” Retrieved from www.actsweb.org
- Bayless Conley, “Not There Yet.” Retrieved from www.answersrbc.org
- Michael Youssef, Ph.D., “Arms Wide Open.” Retrieved from firstname.lastname@example.org
- Pastor Jack Graham, “Keeping Your Eyes Forward in the New Year.” Retrieved from www.jackgraham.org
- Bayless Conley, “The Prize.” Retrieved from www.answersrbc.org
- Bayless Conley, “Not There Yet.” Retrieved from www.answersrbc.org
- Bayless Conley, “Intimacy with God.” Retrieved from www.answersrbc.org
- Pastor Jack Graham, “How to Keep Your Past from Dragging You Down.” Retrieved from www.jackgraham.org
- Paul Chappell, “Being Good Citizens.” Retrieved from email@example.com