Preached at Cornerstone Church in Cascade, IA on March 22, 2015.
Turn with me to Philippians 3:1-11. Today we are unpacking what might be the most important sermon that some of you have ever heard. I say this not because I believe my sermon is great, but because what Paul is talking is great. We have a fair amount to get through, so let us read our text, pray that the Holy Spirit would fill our hearts, and then hear the words of our Lord.
As we begin today I think it is important to remind ourselves that the author of this letter is the Apostle Paul. He wrote 13 books of the New Testament and he was God’s instrument for the gospel to the gentiles. I think it is also important to remember that Paul is writing to a group of people. In this case he is writing to the Church in Philippi. This Church would be full of young and old, blue collar and white collar, Jews and gentiles.
The fellowship of these people would also have in its midst both the saved and the unsaved. By this I mean that the visible church, the ones who are physically present and gather in a singular location day after day are not necessarily the same as the true Church, those who are born again, or true followers of Jesus. This is the reality for every physical gathering of the visible church. In fact it is true for us today. In this room, there is most likely someone who is going through the religious motions, but who is actually not a converted Christian.
With this in mind, Paul says some very startling words in verse 2 of our text today, “Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh.” As you can see, Paul did not mince words. He must have missed the memo that said Pastors need to be “seeker sensitive.” So who was Paul talking about?
Paul was primarily talking about the judiazers. The judiazers were a group of people who claimed to be Christians, but they also took the position that every Christian was required to follow the laws of Moses to ensure their salvation. So for example, they would come to Church and they would praise the name of Jesus, and they would intellectually agree that Christ is the Messiah, and that he was without sin, and that he died on the cross for our sins, and that he rose from the tomb, and that he sits at the right hand of God. However, they would have also said that all Christians had to be circumcised. This is why Paul calls them, “mutilators of the flesh.” And it wasn’t just circumcision; it would have also included things like the dietary laws and Jewish festivals.
The judiazers did not believe in the sufficiency of Jesus’ work on the cross. They proclaimed that you had to add to Jesus’ sacrifice. They taught that Jesus’ blood was not powerful enough to save you, but that you had to help him. They taught that faith in Christ was not enough. And it was these people that Paul calls dogs and evil doers, and these are the people who Paul warned the Church to watch out for.
This issue of false teaching and false living was prevalent in the early church. How do we know this? Because Paul addresses it over and over and over again in his letters. In fact, the entire book of Galatians is about this specific issue. Listen to what he says in Galatians 1:6.
No Confidence I the Flesh
The question we have today, is does this warning of BEWARE still apply? Are there still false teachers out there proclaiming Jesus plus works equal salvation? You bet there is! We are surrounded by them. These are the people that seem religious, but they deny the true power of the Gospel. They are those who preach Jesus, but then teach that in order to be saved you must be baptized. They are those who preach Jesus, but then teach that in order to be saved you must be confirmed. They are those who preach Jesus, but then teach that in order to be saved you must participate in certain sacraments. They preach Jesus, but then teach that in order to be saved you must never commit a certain sin. This teaching is not the Gospel in the Bible, but so many people fall prey to these evildoers because they have never read the Bible!
You cannot be clearer than what Paul says in this passage. Verse 3 tells us that true Christians put no confidence in the flesh. No confidence. None. Zero. People, words matter, and God’s Word really matters. If anyone could have claimed that Jesus plus works equals salvation, it was Paul. His list is better than anyone’s in the Vatican, but what does he say? Rubbish. Garbage. No value. No confidence. Paul lets go of all human effort so that he can grab hold of Christ.
Look at verse 8 and 9, “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 9and be found in him.“ The only way to gain Christ is to let go of all things. You cannot cling to the cross until you let go of yourself. You baptism will not save you, your confirmation will not save you, your penance will not save you, your rosaries will not save you, your lent will not save you, only Christ saves you.
Just in case you still haven’t accepted it. Look at verse 9 again. Does Paul have some righteousness to add to Christ sacrifice? No. Paul has NO righteousness. None. Zero. Paul adds nothing to his right standing to God. The only righteousness his has is the righteousness that he receives through faith in Christ. This righteousness does not depend on works. It depends on faith.
Oh how crucial this is. If you put confidence in the flesh, if you say yes to Jesus AND yes to works, you are a dog, you are an evildoer, you are accursed, and you will be the one whom hears the words of Jesus, “Depart from me you worker of lawlessness for I never knew you.”
Worship by the Spirit and Glory in Christ
Therefore, if, Jesus plus works is a picture of a non-Christian, what is a picture of a real Christian? Take a look at verse 3.
Look at verse 8, “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” Do you see it? What does it say, “The wind blows where it wishes.” What does that mean? It means that the wind has a will. It chooses whose heart it will blow into. You cannot lasso the wind, you can only experience its effects. We see this most clearly in Acts 2, at Pentecost. The disciples were together in one place and suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind. What was it? It was the Holy Spirit. What followed this wind storm? Three thousand souls were born again, and for the first time they saw the Kingdom of God, and for the first time they had the capacity to truly worship.
Listen to what Jesus tells the Samaritan women at the well in John 4:
Some of you today may come to the realization that you are fooling yourselves. That you are not a true worshiper, but you are still blind to kingdom of heaven, and you want to know if there is anything you can do about it. My suggestion is to do the same thing the blind begger did in Luke 18:37.
And to bring it full circle, this is why in Philippians 3:3 it says, “For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus.“ To be a Christian means to give Jesus Christ all the glory in our salvation. Why? Because he did all the work. If you try to take credit for yourself, then with tears in my eyes I tell you you have no part in Christ. The blood of Jesus was sufficient to cover your sins and reconcile you to God. God was not stingy in the giving of Christ. He poured the cup of Christ's suffering richly upon your heart and cleansed you completely with the clean, living water of Jesus Christ. To the praise of His glorious Grace.