Click Here For Sunday Morning Livestream

Philippians 3:1-12

Knowing Christ

Philippians 3:1-12

Video Link

Audio Link


Main Point: In order to thrive in our faith, we need to know Christ's work for us, his work in us, and his heart towards us. 

1. Look Out!

a. Judaizers

b. Why?

2. Knowing Christ

a. His work for us: justification

b. His work in us: sanctification

c. His heart towards us


Sermon Text

Misunderstandings can have serious consequences. Even when it first appears to be a small thing, its effects can be far reaching. Take for example a British army unit in the Korean War that was positioned on a strategic hill, overlooking an important river that the Chinese army was attempting to cross. When the unit’s commander was asked by his American superior what the situation looked like, making sure to stay within the bounds of British sensibilities, he simply replied, “Things are a bit sticky, sir.” Well, not being used to British culture and slang, the American commander took this to mean it was tough but not too terrible so he did not send any reinforcements. The British, however, were outnumbered 8 to 1 and 500 of the 600 men in the unit were captured when they were overrun. 

What the American didn’t understand is that “a bit sticky” is British understatement for “we’re in bad shape! Send help!” This simple miscommunication cost the lives of hundreds of soldiers and is a vivid reminder that having a clear understanding is of the utmost importance.

 And this is all the more true in our Christian faith. We have a system of beliefs based on words, the written word of God and so it is crucial that we understand what God has revealed about himself. If we don’t, our faith will falter and we will miss out on the glorious truths of hope and joy and peace that God has given to us. We will be like someone placed on the top of Mt Everest only to keep our eyes closed the entire time.

 In our passage this morning we see some of the most fundamental aspects of our faith and would do well to pay close attention to these wonderful words God has for us, to come at them with the eyes of our hearts wide open to make sure we dont misunderstand something critical, leading to far-reaching consequences and robbing us of joy in God.

 From these verses we learn that

 In order to thrive in our faith, we need to know Christ’s work for us, his work in us and his heart towards us. 

 We jump into chapter 3 with a warning to wake us up to the critical nature of what is at stake.

  1. Look Out!

 In verses 1 and 2, Paul comes back to the dangers facing the Christians at Philippi. While he has already written about people that preach from false motives, seeking to do him harm, and about persecution from the world, he has reserved his strongest language for this section of his letter. In verse 1 he speaks of writing things that are safe for his readers and then verse 2, “look out” is repeated three times. The word that Paul used literally means to beware, pay careful attention and be prepared to respond to future danger. They must be ready for these people he harshly rebukes here.

 So, what is he warning them to be on guard against? While he doesn’t go into too much detail, I think we can make a safe assumption that he is warning the Philippians against a group of false teachers known as Judaizers.

a. Judaizers

 The Judaizers come up in various places throughout the New Testament, particularly in the book of Galatians where Paul deals with their false teaching head-on. These people were not just in error and in need of correcting, they were peddling a dangerous false gospel that needed rebuking and the strongest language.

 They would teach that in order to be saved, Gentiles needed to become Jewish and everyone had to observe the Old Testament Law. Jesus alone wasn’t enough for salvation, it was Jesus plus circumcision, Jesus plus law keeping. Jesus gets you in the door of grace, so to speak, but you need to get the rest of the way there through your religious observances; you need to fully and truly earn your place before God.

 And they were very shrewd in how they slithered about, too. They would travel around to different churches and say, “hey the apostles sent us and wanted you to know this stuff.” Or more brazenly, “Paul is wrong and trying to lead you astray and just get money from you!” They were not only false teachers, they were truly evil, as Paul says in verse 2.

 Therefore, he warns his readers in Philippi that they need to be on guard, to be aware of what’s out there. Since he doesn’t spend too much time on it, it would appear there was not a serious issue for the church at Philippi at the time of his writing, unlike when he wrote to the church at Galatia. But that didn’t mean it wouldn’t come, hence they needed to watch out for and be prepared to deal with them when they came knocking.  

b. why?

 And this raises an interesting question in my mind, and perhaps in yours as well: Why do we, today, need to know about Judaizers? Why did God inspire these texts and preserve them for us when they deal with a very specific problem and a very particular group of false teachers that no longer exist. There are not Judaizers anymore, so why do I need to care? Do we, too, need to look out and be prepared?

 I think the answer is yes, for two reasons.

 The first is that history always repeats itself; there is nothing new under the sun. Heresies from bygone eras always resurface, maybe in a different packaging, maybe with some differences but the general themes and false doctrines will be present. If we ignore history and what the church has dealt with for over 2,000 years, we will be left unprepared ourselves. We can always learn from the past.

 But there is another reason, and one that hits closer to home. While Judaizers may not exist as they once did, in a sense though, they are all around us. In fact, in many ways, you are looking at one, and I am looking at a room full of them. There are stark differences to be sure, I am not saying we are all heretics in need of an inquisition, don’t misunderstand. I know that none of us are running around insisting on circumcision as a requirement for salvation.

 But the whole reason this heresy came up in the first place is that our flesh loves to be justified. It craves it. We all have within ourselves, a sinful desire to be righteous on our own merits, whether we can articulate that or not, recognize it or not. I think this is the fallen human condition, we all want to insist that we are not that bad, not that far from God.

 And as believers this comes out in subtle ways where we approach our standing before God as something we can change based on our own righteousness, our personal ability to do what he wants us to do, our goodness. Yes, we believe, rightly, that salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. But is that how we truly think and feel about God or how I think he feels about me? Does that have any bearing on how I live before God each and every day?

 Perhaps we think that there are just some sins that Christ’s blood did not and could not cover. We believe that we need to feel guilty and we are filled with shame because we have to pay back some sins that are just too egregious, too deep-rooted that Christ just couldn’t get down to in our hearts. Yes, he has saved me, but I need to pay for this one. He has left me to deal with this one, its my problem, not his.

 Or, yes, I am saved, but I need to pay him back now, maybe at least just in part, as much as I can. Thank you, Jesus, for your salvation, not let me live my life in such a way that deserves it. Do you see the issue there? Do you see the Judaizing there? Its subtle for sure. He did most of the work, maybe even 99%, but I still need to be involved to some degree. My righteousness needs to come into play somehow!

 Or, and one that is personal for me, something I have wrestled with my whole life, do I approach God just like a Judaizer would, laying my righteousness at his feet and saying, “now I can come before you!” This is where we view God as someone that needs to be continually appeased, like Christ was enough to get God to not hate us, but he still doesn’t like us unless we can stop sinning. We have to continually earn his favor by our goodness or at the very least just make sure we are doing ok, better than other people, not anything major happening in our lives as far as sin goes, so he doesn’t get angry.

 Did I hit all of us? Did I miss anyone? If you think none of this applies to you, please unplug your ears. In many ways, we are all Judaizers, therefore these words have direct and urgent meaning for us right now. So, like the Philippians we need to Look out! Be on guard! Be prepared to stand against these false views of God whether from the world or right within our own hearts.

 How then do we do that? How do we fight against the Judaizer, particularly the one inside of us right now? Paul tells us it is by knowing Christ.

  1. By Knowing Christ

Paul has first-hand life experience in trying to be righteous by his own merit. He was a model Jew meaning he followed the old testament law as good if not better than anyone and he lists all his credentials here. But he came to understand that all of that, everything he could muster on his own, is pure rubbish, trash, it’s worthless. Nothing Paul could do, nothing I can do, nothing you can do, can earn an audience with a perfectly holy, just, transcendent God. No matter how hard we try, it will never work because one sin, just one, disqualifies us. Think of it as trying to shoot an arrow to the moon. Some of you may be able to shoot one further than me, but does that mean any of us go anywhere near the mark? No, whatever gain or advantage you or I could have, as Paul says, it is only loss in the end because it doesn’t truly get us anywhere.

 The only way we can come before God, the only way we can find lasting joy and thrive in our faith is to know Christ. It is all about him.

 What exactly, then, does Paul mean by that? Because it is obviously really important, Paul repeats himself in verses 8 and 10 about knowing Christ. And he says that to know him is of surpassing worth, meaning this knowledge is exceptionally valuable. This isn’t just a head knowledge this is something so much deeper, this is a heart knowledge, an experiential understanding that changes everything about how we view God and our lives before him.

 I see this played out in three specific ways in this passage. Three things we need to know, truly, deeply know in our hearts each and every day about Christ: his work for us, in us and his heart toward us. 

a. his work for us: justification, v.9

First, Christ’s work for us. Doctrinally speaking, this is what is known as justification, and we can see it clearly in verse 9. I know that for a lot of people when they hear theological terms it’s a signal to check out! Let’s just keep it practical. But to that I would say there is nothing more practical than knowing and truly grasping and reflecting on what God has done for us in Christ Jesus. In thinking about justification, John Newton wrote, “The right knowledge of this doctrine is a source of abiding joy.”

 A right knowledge of what Christ has done for us brings an unshakable, steadfast, abiding joy! What could be more practical than that?

 What then is justification? What Paul explains here, is that all of the righteousness we can muster on our own, whether as a Judaizer or Paul in his zeal, or us in our attempts to appease God, all of that work is for nothing. Our ability to earn a right standing before God is completely null and void. We stand before God condemned from the moment of conception because of Adam’s sin in the Garden of Eden. We all, every one of us, fell in Adam, who represented all mankind. Scripture tells us throughout that we are all born guilty, slaves to sin, in love with our sin and committers of sin. Remember, no matter how hard we try, and we may try harder than anyone else, we will always fall ruinously short.

 This is where Christ’s work for us happens. By stepping into his creation, being fully God and fully man, Jesus lived in perfect obedience before the Father. He completely upheld the righteous requirements of the Law, he lived a sinless life, something no one else can do. Then on top of this, he not only lived perfectly, he died in obedience to the Father’s will, taking on the deserved punishment for our sin. He became sin in our place to satisfy the justice of God. So, not only did he uphold the Law, he took on the punishment for us who could never satisfy the Law ourselves.

 Now, all of those who place their faith in Christ as their perfect substitute before God, are declared righteous, perfect, holy before him. Not because we did anything ourselves. The perfection of Jesus’ life and substitutionary death are put on our account. When the Father looks at us, he sees the perfect obedience of Christ and we are declared innocent of the just requirements of the Law, all debts paid. No punishment is due to us because it has already been put on Jesus personally and in its entirety.

No righteousness is required of us to be saved because it is a righteousness not of our own, as Paul says in verse 9, but from Christ alone. We can add nothing to it, God requires nothing to be added because it has all been totally, perfectly and freely paid for by the life and death of Jesus Christ.

To bring it back to our examples of how we are like the Judaizers then. Does Christ’s blood cover every sin when we come to him in faith? Every single one, past, present and future.

Do I need to pay God back? Not in any way, it is a free gift of God and nothing we could do could ever earn or deserve such an immense payment anyways. And God knows that! That’s why it’s a gift! He wants us to rest in that freedom.

Does God hold me at arm’s length, never too happy with me, just sort of puts up with us as we stumble along? Never, because we have been fully brought into the family of God by his own perfect Son. When he looks at us, he does not see our sin and short-comings, but the perfect righteousness of Christ.

 A true, deep, continual knowledge of Christ’s work for us is necessary to thrive in our Christian life. Without it we will be left with false and dangerous ideas of God and never experience the fullness of joy that comes with being in him. That’s why Paul starts this rich, deep and important chapter with that phrase, rejoice in the Lord! Think of all he has done on your behalf and rejoice! Dont sit in shame and guilt any longer. Glorious freedom is being offered to you!

b. his work in us: sanctification

 I quoted John Newton’s words about the doctrine of justification a moment ago, and there’s more to that quote. He wrote, “The right knowledge of this doctrine is a source of abiding joy; it likewise animates love, zeal, gratitude, and all the noblest powers of the soul, and produces a habit of cheerful and successful obedience to the whole will of God.”

Knowing, truly knowing Christ’s work for us, leads to knowing and experiencing Christ’s work in us, our next point.

 It is really important to note the distinction here between justification and what is known as sanctification, our continued growth in Christlikeness. When we are saved, declared right before God, it is through no works of our own. We cannot supply anything, Christ has done all of the work for us, on our behalf. Our calling after that, when we are followers of Christ, involves doing things, however. We are called to good works, to live a life of obedience, after we are saved.

Do you see the distinction? That is really important to note and I think it is so easy to get confused and the Judaizing theology creeps into our hearts. We see in the Bible all of God’s commands to holy living and so we strive and we try and we fall into the trap of thinking that that is what earns his love, pays back our salvation, or covers our sins. That is a tragic misunderstanding that so many of us, myself included, struggle with over and over!

 Our life in Christ now, his work in us now, is not to earn our salvation but to live it out, to have a “habit of cheerful and successful obedience to the whole will of God,” as Newton said. Not to appease God, but to find our joy in him! He has freed us from sin and death, the darkness of our own making, to take part in the abundant life that he delights in giving his children. And he shows us clearly in his word what that life looks like, with all of the commands, the do’s and don’ts. And its not because he is waiting for us to mess up, holding us in contempt, it is to help us thrive and live how he created us to live in full enjoyment of him!

 Even after we are saved, justified by Christ’s work for us, we still struggle and fall. As Paul says in verse 12, he’s not perfect and neither are we. But that doesn’t change our standing before God. Armed with that knowledge, we press on. We continue to grow into the image of Christ, into knowing him more and more by the power that he works in us by his Spirit for our good and his glory.

Practically speaking, knowing him more, having this deep and experiential knowledge of our justification and sanctification, involves taking time to really dwell on these truths; to let them soak into our minds and hearts like brewing the perfect cup of tea. When we do that, we will be in the right frame to live before God not to earn his love and favor, but to bask it its glory.

 The 17th century pastor, Thomas Watson, said it beautifully when he wrote, “Revolve this often in your mind, and meditate upon it. What infinite cause you have to be thankful that the lot of free grace has fallen upon you! Millions lie under the bitter vials of God’s curses, but you he will bring into his banqueting house and feast you eternally with the delicacies of heaven. O adore free grace, triumph in his love! Spend and be spent for the Lord. Lay out yourselves in thankfulness.

c. his heart towards us, v.12

 If we want to thrive in our faith, we need to continually dwell on and know Christ’s work for us, his work in us and finally, perhaps most centrally to all of this, his heart towards us, the end of verse 12. Paul is saying here that he continues to move forward in his faith, becoming more and more like Christ, letting go of his self-righteousness, because Christ Jesus has made him his own. In other words, the only way you, or I, or any true believer can have a relationship with God and do anything in the Christian life is because of what Christ has done for us, he has made us his own. He has made me his own. He has made you his own.

 What does that mean exactly? The word that Paul used literally means to obtain, to take hold of. The Lord Jesus Christ, God the Son, obtained us, how? By giving up his rightful throne in heaven, to humble himself and take on flesh. To live in perfect obedience before God the Father, to follow his will even unto an unjust death, and taking the penalty for our sin on himself and dying the death we deserved. He then rose from the grave to newness of life and obtained, purchased, took hold of all of his people individually and led them out of slavery to sin and into his kingdom forever. He bought us, obtained us, purchased us by his very own blood.

 And this ties into what we talked about last week when it comes to motivation to action, right? Why did Christ do this to make you and me his own? Because of his love for us, because of his heart. God the Father did not send his own Son, God the Son did not willingly take on flesh, in order to bring us part way to him. He did not give up everything in order to show tepid acceptance towards us. Jesus Christ did not suffer in my place in order to open the door a crack, leaving me to figure out the rest. No, his heart of love for us, over-abundantly spilled out and he took hold of us, he bought us, to fully and completely and eternally bring us into the love and fellowship of the triune God. He seated us with him at the table of his eternal kingdom, not as a servant, not as a slave, but as a joint-heir with him. Totally embraced into his heart of love for us.

 We do not have to appease him; he does not look down on us and keep us at arms-length unless we find a way to make him happy. No, he is always overwhelmingly loving, kind, tender, patient, gracious and delighted in us and he has proven that by making us his very own. Oh yes, like I said a moment ago, we still sin, and he still disciplines us to grow us, mold us and change us, but never out of a heart of exasperation and annoyance but deep and abiding love to bring us back to rest in him.

 What’s more, he promises that once he has made us his own, when we take hold of that, and believe it through faith, we can never be cast out, we can never not be his own, that relationship and love and affection he has for us will never change. He will never let us go. For those who are in Christ, he will never change his heart towards us.

 John Bunyan, the author of the famous book, Pilgrim’s Progress, wrote another work about Christ and his heart towards all who come to him. In thinking about all of the objections our flesh can make, our Judaizing as we have been talking about, Bunyan creates this beautiful dialog between our thoughts and Christ. He writes, 

But I am a great sinner, say you.

I will in no wise cast out, says Christ.

But I am an old sinner, say you.

I will in no wise cast out, says Christ.

But I am a hard-hearted sinner, say you.

I will in no wise cast out, says Christ.

But I am a back-sliding sinner, say you.

I will in no wise cast out, says Christ.

But I have served Satan all of my days, say you.

I will in no wise cast out, says Christ.

But I have sinned against light, say you.

I will in no wise cast out, says Christ.

But I have sinned against mercy, say you.

I will in no wise cast out, says Christ.

But I have no good thing to bring with me, say you.

I will in no wise cast out, says Christ.

In order to thrive and find joy in our Christian life, we need to know, feel, deeply soak in the heart of Christ for us which motivated him to act for us, to purchase us, and keeps him working in us. His heart of overwhelming love, that covers all sin. His heart that bled and died to make us his own, is fully ours in him and he will in no wise cast out. Let that free you from all your Judaizing and into a life of joyful obedience to our great God.