Part 7 of The Rebel’s Guide to Joy
Pastor Mark Driscoll | Phil. 3:1-11 | November 18, 2007
Father God, we ask today that as we study, you would give us greater clarity about the person and the work of Jesus Christ – that as we study we would see him as different from both sinners and religious people – that we would see how gracious and good he is and continues to be to us, even in this very moment. Lord Jesus, it is my prayer today that you would save us from sin and religion, and that you would allow us to understand how you are the source of our righteousness. You are the means by which we are saved, and you are the purpose for which we live, and in living with you, the source of all of our joy. And so we ask that you would send the Holy Spirit to make our time pleasing to you and profitable to us as we open your Word and ask these things in your good name. Amen.
Well I’ll start by reading Philippians Chapter 3, verse 1. Paul says this to the church that he had pastored – “Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you is no trouble to me and is safe for you.” Paul is saying that he is going to remind his church, as their pastor, of some things that he had taught them repeatedly over the course of many years. There are certain aspects of our faith that we need to continually be reminded of because we are prone to forget who Jesus is and what he has done, and we are prone to move on to such things as religion and pride and self-righteousness, and so we need to continually come back to an understanding of who Jesus is and what he has done. And that’s exactly what Paul is going to do for us today. He is going to remind us of some very important things.
And what you’ll note as we launch into the rest of Philippians Chapter 3, verses 1 through 11, is that Paul’s tone changes pretty drastically. Up until this point, his tone has been very kind, very loving. This is a very loving man who in 1 Corinthians 13 writes one of the most insightful and lengthy explanations of what true love is. So this is a man who is very loving.
Furthermore, thus far in the book, he continually speaks about joy and rejoicing, and how he is a happy man, despite the fact that he is suffering and poor and in prison and facing the prospect of death. Through his relationship with Jesus, his joy is able to transcend his circumstances and give him new perspective on how he is learning more about Jesus and learning how to be more like Jesus, even in the midst of hardship. And so as his tone shifts, you need to understand that this is a loving man. This is a Godly and mature man. Not perfect, but Godly and mature to be sure. And additionally, he is a man who is joyful. This is a man who smiles and is generally happy and is not a grumpy man by disposition. But his tone shifts because there is a conflict that he has been involved in for many years – that he himself started out as a very religious, devoted, self-righteous, proud, contentious kind
of man. But upon meeting Jesus, his heart changed and his life changed. He became a more humble man, a more gracious man, a more patient man, a more loving man. A man who was more and more like Jesus by the grace that Jesus gave him and by the Holy Spirit which empowered that Grace.
Yet throughout Paul’s ministry as a Christian, there were other religious people who continually contended against him. Wherever he would plant a church, they would show up and fight him. Whatever he taught, they would refute him. Anything he would write, they would write a counter argument. Any sermon he preached, they would preach a counter sermon. They were continually trying to undermine his ministry. And so today when we see the tone shift in Paul, it is because he is not thinking first and foremost about the people in the church that he loves and who love Jesus, but about all of the critics and the enemies and the opposition that is coming from the outside, sometimes also rising up from within the church. This happens throughout the
New Testament even on occasion with elders and pastors in the church undermining the truth and the clear teaching of the Bible. And Paul is very angry with, righteously frustrated with reasonably, these kinds of people – these people who have an agenda that is not about Jesus and they’re so determined to lead other’s astray. We’ll call them “religious people”, because that is what they are.
And so Paul’s rebuke is of these people. His warning is to those who do love Jesus. And furthermore, he is illustrating for us that you can be loving and humble, and also someone who embraces conflict; who is willing to fight for the truth of Jesus against false teachers; who is willing to fight for the truth of the Bible against error and heresy and wolves and Satan and demons, and all those that work with them to undermine all that Jesus has accomplished.
And in our day when everyone has a perspective and an opinion and an interpretation, Paul’s words are very important – that some things are right and some things are wrong; that some religions are – one religion, I should say, is right, and that every other religion is wrong; that furthermore, not all truth is true – that there are lies; and not all teachers are truth tellers. Some are liars. And not everyone is advancing the cause of Jesus. Some are working for Satan.
And so as we get into it, the first point that Paul seeks to make for us is that religious people are dogs. “Religious people are dogs.” He says this in Chapter 3, verses 2 and 3. “Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh. For we” – the Christians – “are the real circumcision,” – circumcision of the heart; a tender disposition toward God – “who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh” – or their own efforts, or their own attempts to be a good person. Paul says that there is a difference between a Christian and a religious person – between Jesus people and religious people. And what he says about Jesus people is that Jesus people understand that they are sinners and that they are saved by Jesus and that they live a new life of worship by the power of the Holy Spirit.
The result is humility and joy. Humility knowing that I am not a good person, but Jesus is a good God. “I have not lived an acceptable life in God’s sight, but Jesus lived an acceptably and perfect life in God’s sight in my place.” That I don’t deserve God’s love, but Jesus gives it to me as a gift. The result is humility. That I don’t save myself. That Jesus is my savior, and that leads to joy, because the pressure is off of me to perform and make God happy. And instead, Jesus pleases God the Father in my place, and now he saves me – gives me the Holy Spirit to empower me to live an obedient life so that now the pressure is off and I get to live a new life out of joy.
He contrasts that with people he calls “the dogs” – religious people, evil doers, mutilators of the flesh. These are very stark terms. These are very critical terms of very self-righteous and religious people. And in speaking of religious people and in calling them “dogs”, the euphemism can easily be lost on us.
Many of us have pets. We love our dogs. Our dogs are trained and they’re pleasant and nice. In that day, he was speaking of wild dogs who run free; they eat human corpses; they go to the bathroom wherever they want; they chase people; they bite them; they bred openly in public; they’re disgusting; they’re wild, ravenous, unpleasant, dirty, defiled, mean dogs. That’s what he’s talking about. He says that religious people are like that. They’re violent. They’re mean. They bark. They’re scary. They bite. They hurt. They’re no fun at all.
It may be surprising for some of you to note that God hates religion in this form. If you’re speaking of religion in terms of “I love Jesus because he gives me grace,” there we’re talking about Christianity. But religion in general, God hates religion. God hates religion. And here through Paul, being inspired of God the Holy Spirit, he says that religious people are dogs and that religion is absolutely disgusting in his sight; that it is opposed to his intentions; that it is a horrible and sick and awful and evil thing. And often times, Christianity gets wrongly thrown into the category of religion, and people criticize all religion.
There’s some note worthy atheists, like Sam Harris and such, who have risen up in recent years to talk about how horrible religion is, and Paul would furthermore agree with them. He would say, “Yes, religion is horrible and we hate it too.” And in that way, Christianity is not a religion. It’s a humble, joyous new life with Jesus that has a different tone, a different motivation, a different salvation, and a different implication than religion. He says that religious people essentially believe that Jesus helps us, but we need to help him. That Jesus isn’t enough to save us. He needs our participation and our salvation. As a result, it is not humble. It is proud. And subsequently, it is not joyous. It’s very angry and critical and mean. Can’t laugh, have much fun. Religious people are very self-absorbed, and as a result, they’re not very pleasant.
Now when we speak of religion in this way, what we’re saying is that all we need is Jesus. And Jesus plus anything ruins everything. And what they were doing – he calls them “mutilators of the flesh” – is they were saying that you needed Jesus plus circumcision.
Now they got this concept of circumcision from the Bible itself. From the Bible itself. In Genesis, there’s a man named Abraham. He was not a Jewish man, but God saved him. He had a relationship with God, and God told him to circumcise himself as a symbol of the covenant relationship that he had with God. And so from that time forward, God’s people in the Old Testament, the Jewish people who were awaiting the coming of their Messiah Jesus, they had their boys circumcised, usually on the eight day, as a symbol outwardly of what was to be true inwardly – that being a circumcised heart that loved and served God.
That was all preparatory, and all of the Old Testament was preparatory. It was to get God’s people ready for the coming of Jesus. And once Jesus came, the Old Testament was fulfilled. There was nothing wrong with the Old Testament. It was to prepare us for the coming of Jesus. And once Jesus had come, all of the Old Testament longing and anticipation and expectation was fulfilled. The result then is once we have Jesus, we don’t need to continue to undergo the same rituals and symbolism that they had in the Old Testament.
I’ll give you some examples. In the Old Testament, they had a temple. Well the temple was destroyed because we don’t need it. We have Jesus who is
the presence of God with us. They had priests who would mediate between God and people. And “Jesus,” Hebrew says, “is our great high priest, so we don’t need priests like they had. We have Jesus.” And the priests would offer sacrifices so that sin could be dealt with through death and the shedding of blood. And today we no longer offer animal sacrifices because Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world – that Jesus suffered and died and shed his own blood on the cross in our place for our sins, and so we can have forgiveness of sin through Jesus, because the penalty of sin has been paid.
The Book of Hebrews in large part explains how the Old Testament was preparatory anticipating the coming of Jesus, and once Jesus came, everything was finished. That’s what Jesus said on the cross – “It is finished.” And Jesus says this as well in Matthew 5:17 and 18. He says, “Do not think I’ve come to abolish the law in the prophets, the Old Testament writings and teachings.” He says, “No, instead I’ve come to fulfill them.”
Now these people that Paul is arguing with – these religious people – they didn’t understand rightly that everything was about Jesus because he had fulfilled all of the Old Testament commands. And so they said, “You must believe in Jesus and be circumcised.” Now in saying that, what they are saying is that Jesus is not enough; that Jesus has not been good enough; that we must do something good as well; that Jesus Christ didn’t fully pay the price for our salvation; that instead we must participate and contribute to our own salvation.
Now this is by definition religion. It’s Jesus plus anything, and that ruins everything. And so Paul is just very angry because they are neglecting the importance of Jesus.
In our day, there is a spiritual form of this where people will say that Jesus was a good person, but in addition to that, you need to live a moral life so that God will love, or you need to try really hard, or you need to help people, or you need to recycle, or you need to give money, or you need to feed that poor – all of which are good things, but they’re not things that will help you in any way know God apart from Jesus.
There is also a religious form of this where you need to believe in Jesus and speak in tongues, or believe in Jesus and baptized, or believe in Jesus and vote for a political party. Believe in Jesus and subscribe to a certain educational form for your children. Believe in Jesus and wear certain kinds of clothing. Believe in Jesus and sing certain kinds of worship music. That religion never sees the sufficiency of Jesus, and either in a soft or a hard form, tries to add something to Jesus.
And Paul says, rightly, that religious people are dogs. They’re dangerous and they destroy everything. That leads us to his second point – that religious people are dogs, and religion is rubbish. He says this in verses 4 through 8. Paul says that religion is rubbish. He says, verse 4, “though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also.” By flesh, he’s talking about the things that he has done in his body that he had previously considered to be holy, righteous, moral, good things. What Paul is going to list here is his resume before he became a Christian.
You and I will all stand before God on that great Day of Judgment, and what Paul is saying is that in anticipation of that day, he lived a very devoted religious life, and his goal was to have a very good resume so that when he stood before God, he could show God his resume, and then he would expect that God would be pleased with him and allow him into heaven. “And it’s all rubbish,” he says.
He says, “If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more:” – here’s his resume – “circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel,” – “I’m from the right race and I was circumcised on the right day” – “of the tribe of Benjamin,” – this is like a Kennedy or a Gates.
He comes from a very nice family line – “a Hebrew of Hebrews;” – not some mixed race person, but a purely Jewish father and a purely Jewish mother. He has a pure blood line all the way back to Abraham and Sarah – “as to the law,” – the Old Testament scriptures – “a Pharisee;” – those were the most rule keeping, devoted religious people of their day. Jesus makes fun of them for actually tithing out of their spice rack. You know you’re religious and devoted when you give God ten percent of all your cinnamon. They actually tithed out of their spice rack because they wanted to make sure that since God said he deserved ten percent – that they gave him ten percent of everything. Again, these are very devoted religious people. Very sincere.
He goes on to say, “as to zeal,” – his passion – “a persecutor of the church;” – he actually murdered Christians like Stephen – “as to righteousness under the law, blameless.” That’s an amazing statement, because the Old Testament has in its first five books, the books of the law, more than 600 commandments. And Paul says, “I’ve been blameless,” – blameless – “on 600 counts.”
“But” – see he met Jesus. That was his resume before he met Jesus. “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 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” – there’s our word – “as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.”
What he’s saying is this – religious people have a resume. “Here’s all the good things I’ve done. Here’s all the bad things I haven’t done. God, when I stand before you, I want you to look at me and say that I’m a good person and I earn heaven.” Paul said, “That is how I used to think until I met Jesus, and now I consider all of that rubbish. And I have one thing on my resume, and that is the name of Jesus Christ. And when I stand before God at the end of time for my judgment and he asks me, ‘Why should I let you into my Eternal Kingdom?’ my answer will be, ‘Here’s my resume – Jesus Christ. Jesus lived the perfect life. I have not. Jesus died a death that I should have died, but he died in my place to pay my penalty for sin. He rose to give me new life. He takes away my sin. He gives me his righteousness.’”
Paul’s going to articulate this in just a moment to a greater degree, and I would ask you, “What makes you a good person? What makes you a moral, righteous, decent person? What do you anticipate you will have on your resume when you stand before God on the Day of Judgment?”
Paul says, “I had the most amazing resume until I met Jesus, and then I burned that resume. And now I’m just trusting him.” Now in saying this, Paul uses the word “rubbish”. And not to denigrate what I consider to be very good translations of the Bible, but the language here is very strong. And in
telling you what the Bible says in Chapter 3, verse 8 of Philippians, I’m not trying to be crass and crude, but I’ll tell you that the Bible uses bad words to talk about bad things, and religion is very bad, so God here chooses a very bad word making it a good word.
Rubbish is translated in certain translations as garbage. “Religion is garbage.” Other translations will call it refuse – that “religion is refuse”. Others will call it filth – so “religion is filth”. Others will call it dung – so “religion is dung”. Others will call it dog dung. Need to specify it. Apparently there’s a distinction there. So religion then would be “dog dung”. One calls it terds. Just quoting the Bible. “Religion is a terd.” And a 17th century translation of the Bible that was used by people who lived on the farm and were more accustomed to such things, actually uses the “s” word. I won’t say it because my in-box can’t handle that much opposition. But “religion is” the “s” word. That’s what it is. And some of you don’t understand that and you’re very religious. You need to know that from God’s perspective, religion is just a steaming pile of your own fleshly efforts at holiness. Some of you say, “That’s disgusting.” Religion is that disgusting to God. “But that’s unpleasant.” Religion is unpleasant to God.
If that doesn’t work and Isaiah – I’ll double check the reference. I think it’s 64:6. He says that our righteousness is as filthy rags. It is as bloody tampons. All of you ladies, just meditate on that. All of you religious ladies, meditate on that dearly. Every time you gaze upon a bloody tampon, remind yourself, “That is religion in the eyes of God.” Every time you go to the bathroom, remind yourself, “That is religion in the eyes of God.”
I have a wonderfully fun job. I praise God. All scripture is God-breathed and profitable, including those two verses.
Now let me explain this to you. The difference between religion and what we’ll call the gospel or the good news of Jesus Christ, religion is about me. The gospel is about Jesus. Religion says this – if I obey God’s rules, then he will love me. The gospel of Jesus says, “Because God has loved me through Jesus, I now have a new nature and a new power that can obey God.”
Additionally, religion sees good people and bad people. And God loves the good people and he hates the bad people. The gospel of Jesus sees everyone as bad. All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, and there are bad people and Jesus. That’s all. And no one is allowed to be on the side of the line with Jesus numbered among the good. Religion is about what I do. The gospel of Jesus Christ is about what Jesus has done. Religion trusts in my works. The gospel of Jesus Christ allows us to rest in the finished work of Jesus.
Religion confuses what we’ll call justification and sanctification. Justification is where you get connected with God. Sanctification is where you live a new life with God in relationship. Religious people say, “If you live a sanctified good life, then God will justify you and make you a Christian.” No, no, no. The gospel of Jesus says, “Because Jesus justifies us,” – we’ll explain this in a moment – “that enables your sanctification.”
Religious people hate to repent, because they believe that they’re good and they believe that if you acknowledge their sin and they acknowledge their sin, you’re taking away their goodness, so they hate to repent. They hate to say they’re sorry. They hate to tell the truth when they’ve done something wrong. But the gospel of Jesus Christ allows humble repentance – say, “You know what? I sinned. I’m sorry. What I said was wrong. What I did was wrong. My motives, my deeds behind it, they weren’t good either. I ask your forgiveness, and I ask God’s forgiveness too. And I thank God that Jesus died on the cross to pay the penalty for that sin. And I’m glad that God forgives me, and I’m asking you to forgive me, and I’m asking Jesus to change me so I don’t keep doing that, because if my righteousness” – we’ll get into this in a moment – “is from Jesus and not me, I don’t lose anything when I repent.”
Additionally, religion leads to an uncertainty about your standing before God. When you die and stand before God, will you go to heaven or hell? Will you be his friend or his foe? And religion says, “I don’t know. I’m not sure. I’m not sure I’ve been good enough, tried hard enough. I’m not sure I’ve succeeded. I don’t know.” So there’s this anxiety that religion produces.
The gospel of Jesus Christ provided certainty. 1 John say, “I write these things so you may know.” Certainty. You have eternal life. “He who has the son, Jesus Christ, has life.” There’s certainty. Not arrogance, but a comforting certainty regarding your standing before God if you belong to Jesus.
And lastly, religion results in either pride or despair – meaning if you try really hard and you’re a good, religious, devoted, passionate person, you’re going to be very proud. “Look at me. I’m a good person.” Like Paul says, “Here’s my resume. Here’s all the good things I did do, and here’s all the bad things I didn’t do.” Or it ends in despair. “I think it’s too late. I’ve already done the bad things.” Or, “I tried to do the good things and I’m not very good at them. And I try not to do the bad things and I keep doing them. I’m stuck and I’m a sinner and I’m totally depressed and suicidal, and I think I’m going to hell, and I don’t have any joy and I don’t have any hope, because I can’t do it. Christianity’s too hard.”
The gospel of Jesus Christ ends in humble joy – two of the great themes of Philippians. He told us in Chapter 2 that Jesus enables us to be humble and joyful. Humble meaning, “I’m not saved because of what I do, but because of what he’s done, and I’m really, really happy, because God has loved me so well and he’s not given up on me and he’s still working on me, and he won’t reject me, leave me or forsake me.”
“Religious people are dogs and religion is rubbish.” Religion exists in soft forms – just be a good moral person; obey the Golden Rule such things. It also exists in very hard forms where people have strong lists and they’re very self-righteous and very judgmental, and somehow they have a longer finger than almost everyone else and they love to point it.
But think about that, that “religion has a list” – hard religion – “by which I judge other people.” “Clean up your act.” That’s religion. That’s a great definition of the heart of religion. The message is, “Clean up your act.” It doesn’t tell you how – through Jesus. It doesn’t give you grace to change over time because God’s patient. “Clean up your act.” That’s religion. That’s why Paul says, “Religion is rubbish. Religion doesn’t help. Religion doesn’t work.”
And that’s what religious people do. They take things that are in the Bible and they miscommunicate them without any hope and then they add to them, because religious people not only like the list of rules in the Bible, they believe it’s insufficient and they make additional rules of their own. And then they judge other people, and Jesus calls this plank—speck – where you’re pointing out a little problem in someone’s life and you’re overlooking the huge hypocrisy in your own. It’s because there’s a lack of humility. There’s a lack of grace. There’s a lack of Jesus. And that’s what hard religion is like.
Secondly, there is soft religion. Soft religion is still self-righteous and it still basically says it’s about you, not about Jesus, and it’s about you obeying some rules, but it’s more of an internal compass of some sort of vague spirituality to be a decent person. The soft form or religion is practiced by those who possibly are even atheists, but they still live by some sort of moral code, whereby they think they’re pretty good and they think some other people are pretty bad.
Here’s the bottom line – everybody’s religious. They say, “I’m an atheist.” You’re a religious atheist.
Religion believes that there is a list that if you obey, you’re a good person. If you don’t, you’re a bad person. The only difference is various people have various lists.
Hard religion has a very specified list. Soft religion has a very general list, but on it is everything from don’t smoke, don’t drink, listen to certain kinds of music, read your Bible everyday, otherwise you’re going to hell – over to be nice to people, vote, recycle, obey the Golden Rule and just try to be treating of others as you would like to be treated. But both are still the same in that they’re trying to decide what goes on our resume. When we stand before God, or perhaps when we stand before our own conscience or we stand before others that we respect, whomever we consider ourselves to be standing before for judgment, we want to have something on our resume.
What Paul says is that religion is rubbish, because no matter whether it be soft or hard religion, it’s still an effort to include things on the list that you have done to make yourself a good person and acceptable in God’s sight.
Paul says, “We don’t need any of that. We need Jesus.” That he used to think that way until he understood Jesus. And he explains this in Chapter 3, verses 9 through 11 of Philippians. Here’s how Paul says it. He says, “I may gain Christ and be found in him,” – that’s in Jesus – “not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law,” – from doing the things on the list – “but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith, that I may know him” – that’s Jesus – “and the power of his resurrection,” – he’s alive today – “and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.”
What Paul is saying is this – I’ll back up in scripture and tell you that you and I were created by a righteous God – Holy and pure and blameless and good – and we were made in his image and likeness to live righteous lives, and we have sinned, and the Bible says that now none of us is righteousness. We have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, and that furthermore, we still however want to be righteous and we want righteousness and that desire is a good desire. It’s good to desire righteousness, but the question is, how will you pursue it? Will you pursue it through religion or Jesus?
Paul says, “I used to pursue it through religion, and that’s rubbish, and then I learned about Jesus, and Jesus is everything.” That’s what he’s saying – that religious people are dogs and religion is rubbish, but Jesus is everything.
Now in saying this, what he is doing is he is telling us how to be righteous. And almost every religion exists to tell you how to be righteous. I’ll give you some examples. Buddhism says to be righteous, you cease all desires. Confucianism says to be righteous, you pursue education, reflection and live a moral life. Hinduism says that you detach yourself from your separated ego and live in unity with the divine. Judaism says that you obey God’s law. That’s what Paul was articulating. The New Age says that you should see yourself as connected to the whole of divine oneness and live in concert with all of creation. Taoism says you should align yourself with the Tao and literally go with the flow. And Islamism says that you should live a moral life. Do good deeds. You will stand before Allah in the end, and if your good deeds outweigh your bad deeds and Allah so wills it, then you will be declared righteous.
Every single religious answer, both soft and hard, tells us that on our resume for our righteousness should be what we have done. And Paul says, “No, all we need is the name of Jesus Christ. We need to trust in who he is. We need to trust in what he has done. He is the source and means of our righteousness.”
This is amazing. This changes everything. This is why to some degree I’ve become very frustrated when people love Christianity in the category of world religions. What we believe is very different, because in our understanding, we don’t save ourselves. God saves us. We are not righteous until Jesus makes us righteous. This is what we mean when we use words like “grace” – that ours is grace and theirs is works; that ours is gift righteousness and theirs is works righteousness and self-righteousness and religious righteousness, which Paul says is rubbish.
We’ll go over this slowly – verse 9. Verse 9, Paul is talking about something that theologically he elsewhere calls “justification”. The question of justification is this – God is a righteous, holy, pure, blameless and good judge. You and I are sinners. We’re unrighteous and unholy, and we all die because sin results in death and we stand before God for judgment. And the question is, how could God declare us righteous and allow us into his Eternal Kingdom of Heaven, because we are unrighteous? God wouldn’t be just if he said that we were righteous. He would cease to be good and holy if he just lied and said that we were good people. And in explaining how this issue of justification occurs, Paul says that God is able to both maintain his justice, along with his holiness and righteousness and goodness, and love us and forgive us and declare us to be righteous, and allow us entrance into his Eternal Kingdom.
See this is the problem with religion. I’ll tell you the real problem with both hard and soft religion. It does not believe that God demands perfection. God demands perfection. Jesus says that we are to be perfect because God is perfect. We are not perfect. And when we stand before God as condemned sinners, there is no way we could plead our goodness and our works and our morality, because anything seemingly good we’ve done is just what we were supposed to do anyways, and you don’t get credit for that which was expected. So how can we as sinners, unrighteous, stand before a holy, righteous and just God and be declared righteous and given permission to live forever with him?
Paul says it this way in verse 9. “To be found in him,” – that is in Jesus – “not having a righteousness of my own” – not having any religion. He says that “I don’t intend to stand before God and talk about my religion and my righteousness and show him my resume and all the good things I did and all the bad things that I did not do.”
“Not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law,” – obeying all the rules – “because I’ve already broken them and I’m a sinner” – “but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith.” Paul says that in trusting in Jesus, having faith in Jesus, believing in Jesus completely, not adding to Jesus – baptism, speaking in tongues – any other thing that may even be good, but is not necessary for salvation and pollutes the finished work and complete work of Jesus. Paul is saying, “I trust Jesus, and when I stand before God the Father at the end
of the day when I am judged at the end of time, I will tell God the Father,” Paul is saying, “I’m a sinner. I’m unrighteous. I broke your laws. I did what I was not supposed to do. I did not do what I was supposed to do. Furthermore, even in my heart, I was self-righteous and proud. My motives were mixed. I obeyed not even the spirit of the law, but Jesus lived a perfect life in my place. He’s God come from heaven and he did live the life that I have not lived – the perfect life. He died the death that I should have died and he paid the penalty for all my sin and he rose for my salvation. And so Heavenly Father, my answer is Jesus. My answer is Jesus. I have two words on my resume, Father, Jesus Christ. That’s all. That’s all.”
This is the Protestant doctrine of justification. The reformation was in many ways a fight over this doctrine. And Paul say, “We are justified – declared righteous in the sight of God, though guilty sinners – solely by faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ alone.” That’s all. We call this “imputation”. My sin goes to Jesus. Jesus’ righteousness comes to me. Martin Luther calls it “The Great Exchange”. 2 Corinthians 5:21, Paul says elsewhere, “God made him” – that is Jesus – “who knew no sin” – he was righteous – to become sin; to take all my sin – “so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
The exchange is this – my sin and unrighteousness goes to Jesus, and Jesus’ sinlessness and his righteousness and his holiness and his perfection comes to me, and Jesus goes to the cross and he takes my place and we trade places. He takes my unrighteousness. He gives me his righteousness. We call this “gift righteousness”. It’s a gift. That’s what Paul is saying – “When I stand before God, my answer will be ‘Jesus Christ’, because my only righteousness is gift righteousness from Jesus Christ alone.”
He goes on then to speak about the result that the imputation – the giving – of the righteousness of Jesus to me does in my life right now. It changes everything. He goes on to say in verse 10, and we’ll call it here “sanctification”. Justification is where the righteousness of Jesus is given to you and makes you a Christian. Sanctification is where after that event of being born again, becoming a Christian, God connecting you to him through the person and work of Jesus so that you’re made spiritually alive – call it regeneration – that after that, your life begins to change. Your thinking and your desires and your heart and your mind and your will and your actions and your attitudes and your motivations, they change. We call this “sanctification”. Justification occurs whereby you are connected to the living God by virtue of the righteousness of Jesus Christ. Sanctification is where you now have a relationship with God where he is changing you to be more and more and more like Jesus.
He explains this in verse 10 – “that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him” – that’s sanctification – “becoming like him,” he says, “in his death.”
Paul says, “I am justified’ – declared righteous in the sight of God, thou unrighteous, by the gift righteousness of Jesus – “and I am made to be more like him” – sanctified – “throughout life also by gift righteousness.”
Justification happens by imputed righteousness where Jesus’ righteousness is imputed or gifted to me and I live my new life not by my own works and by my own efforts and by my own morality, but instead by the same grace of God. We’ll call it “imparted righteousness”. That God doesn’t make me a Christian and then say, “Try hard. Clean yourself up. Do your best. I’m sitting back judging.” God says, “No, I will help you,” and God does help.
Again, it’s gift righteousness, both for our justification and our sanctification; for our relationship with God and our ongoing relationship with God.
Here’s what Jesus does in giving us gift righteousness. We’ll call it “imparted righteousness”. The Bible uses the word “regeneration”. That means that he changes what the Bible calls our heart – the well spring of our life, the center of who we are. “We become,” Paul says elsewhere, “new creations.” We start over. We’re different people. Out of that regenerated new heart comes new desires. “I don’t want to do what I used to do. I want to obey God. I want to stop that stupid silly sinning. I want to grow up. I want to mature. I want to be like Jesus.” New desires.
Not only that, a new power through the Holy Spirit. “Not only do I have a new nature, I have a new series of desires and I have a new power through the Holy Spirit who is God at work in me. The same power,” he says elsewhere, “that rose Jesus from death, and by the power of the Holy Spirit, this gift righteousness keeps working itself out so now I have a strength and an ability to say ‘no’ to sin and ‘yes’ to God in a way that I hadn’t before. My life begins to change. Now my mind changes because I have new insight as I read scripture and the Holy Spirit convicts me of sin and reveals to me the truth of the Bible. And I have a new community. I have a church of which I’m a part, and I can join Bible studies and get to know people and pursue Christian friendships and have accountability and I’m not all by myself.”
“I get new perspective. I understand that suffering,” as Paul says here, “will be used of God to make me more like Jesus.” So even the hard times and the difficult times, and the times of suffering and morning, are opportunities to be more sanctified and to be more and more like Jesus, so God doesn’t waste anything in my life and he uses it all for his glory and my good. This is gift righteousness. This is a life that results in passion and in purpose and in joy. This is the only life that is worth living. It is absolutely all together different than the life that religion offers. Religion can’t even compare to this. Religion has nothing to do with God and what he’s done through Jesus and what he’s doing today in me and through me and in spite of me and for me. Has nothing to do with new desires and new power and new purpose and new passion. Has nothing to do with a new heart – meaningful, purposeful, excited, passionate life. All of it, even the hard stuff, to be like Jesus. To be with Jesus. To be for Jesus. To experience the gift of righteousness and to live out the gift of righteousness, not so that God will love me, but because he already has. Not so that God will be pleased with me. He’s already pleased with Jesus in my place. But for his glory and for my joy. New life. Completely new, passionate, thrilling, purposeful, meaningful life with Jesus. That’s your whole life if you receive the gift righteousness that comes through Jesus. And when you die, it gets better.
That’s why Paul said previously, “To live is Christ and to die is gain.” He talked about our justification by the imputation of gift righteousness. He talked about our sanctification by the power of gift righteousness – imparted gift righteousness. And here, he will talk about our glorification – how one day we will die. And if we die with our faith – our trust – in Jesus Christ alone, and nothing else and no one else, and all we have on our resume when we stand before God is the name Jesus Christ, Paul explains it this way –“that by any means possible” – he’s saying however God’s gonna work this
out – “I may attain the resurrection of the dead.” That Jesus is our pattern for this life and he is our pattern for life on the other side of death. That Jesus died and he rose, and that if our faith is in Jesus and his righteousness is given to us as a gift, we too shall die, but one day too we shall rise and our body and our soul will be reunited and we’ll resurrect from death to live forever in perfection with no more sin, no more death, no more consequence of unrighteousness, into God’s perfect Eternal Kingdom ruled by Jesus, more happy than we could have ever even imagined.
Paul says, “Somehow God’s gonna make this happen.” The God who made from the dust to the earth can resurrect my body from the dust to the earth. And Paul’s declaration is this, “Religious people are dogs and religion is rubbish and Jesus Christ is the source of gift righteousness and completely transform living that results in eternal unending, unceasing, unparalleled, unprecedented joy. That’s Jesus.” And the reason why Paul is willing to have conflict is because that is always worth fighting for.
Conflict. Most of us shy away from it, dread it, and lament over it. Yet, from Philippians 3:1-11 Pastor Mark Driscoll preaches about how the holy rebel Paul discovered joy in the midst of constant conflict that had broken his body, taken his freedom, but not touched his joy.