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Author:Rev. Mendel Retief
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Kelmscott
 Kelmscott, Western Australia
 frckelmscott.org
 
Title:Counting our own righteousness as loss in order to gain Christ
Text:Philippians 3:4-11 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Life in Christ
 
Added:2013-08-21
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps. 27: 1 – 3

Ps. 27: 4 – 6

Hymn 14: 1, 4

Ps. 40: 4, 5, 7

Ps. 22: 10, 11

 

Scripture reading:       Rom. 3: 21 – 31; Phil. 3: 1 – 21

Text:                              Phil. 3: 4 – 11

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Mendel Retief, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Clinging to Christ’s righteousness only

Ps. 27: 1 – 3

Ps. 27: 4 – 6

Hymn 14: 1, 4

Ps. 40: 4, 5, 7

Ps. 22: 10, 11

 

Scripture reading:       Rom. 3: 21 – 31; Phil. 3: 1 – 21

Text:                              Phil. 3: 4 – 11

 

Beloved congregation, saints in Christ Jesus,

 

The gospel went out far beyond the borders of Judea.   Especially the apostle Paul was very active as missionary.   His preaching was received by some Jews, but most of the converts were from the Gentiles.    And thus he even calls himself, more than once, an apostle to the Gentiles, and says that he has been appointed by God as a teacher of the Gentiles (Rom. 11: 13; 1 Tim. 2: 7; 2 Tim. 1: 11).

Also in the church of Philippi most of the believers would be converts who came from the heathen nations; they were not Jews.  

 

But there were Jews who travelled all the way from Judea and visited the newly instituted churches, teaching the Gentile believers that they need to be circumcised.   We read about this for example in Acts:

 

“…certain men came down from Judea and taught the brethren, ‘Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” – Acts 15: 1

 

Here in Philippians chapter 3 the apostle is warning the saints against these false teachers.   We noted last time how he called them dogs, workers of iniquity, mutilators.   They do not make their boast in Christ Jesus but boast of their own heritage and their own achievements.  

Over against these men who place confidence in their human heritage and their own achievements, he described true believers as people who worship God in the Spirit, rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh.

 

And now the apostle will flesh this out in more detail.   He gives a description of the things in which these men boast.   They are physical descendants of Abraham and grew up in the covenant, and they boast of keeping the law, but by trusting in their origin according to the flesh, and by trusting in their own righteousness, they cut themselves off from Christ.   Therefore he states that he count all these things as loss and rubbish in order that he may gain Christ.    And that will be our theme this morning…

Counting our own righteousness as loss and rubbish to gain Christ

 We will note…


1.      Paul’s previous confidence in the flesh

2.      Exchanging rubbish for true riches

3.      Striving for the resurrection from the dead


In the first place we note…

Paul’s previous confidence in the flesh

 

We, who believe in Christ, have no confidence in the flesh. 

Now, what does that mean?

 

The apostle gives a description of such confidence in the flesh.

In this regard he is no outsider.   He knows what he is talking about.   For he has himself also once trusted in the flesh.   His heritage and achievements were second to none.

 

            “…If anyone else thinks he may have confidence in the flesh, I more so…”

 

He mentions seven things in which he could boast.  

1.      He was circumcised on the eighth day

2.      He was the physical seed of Jacob

3.      He was of the tribe Benjamin, which was a very privileged tribe among Israel, as we will note in a moment.

4.      He was a Hebrew of the Hebrews.   That is: he was still one of the real Hebrews; a genuine Hebrew not only in the flesh but also in lifestyle.  

5.      He was a Pharisee.   (We will note in a moment why this would give reason for boasting)

6.      And as Pharisee he showed more zeal than anyone else.   In his zeal for the Jewish nation and traditions he persecuted the church.  

7.      And then comes the climax: concerning the righteousness that is in the law he was blameless!

The apostle mentions all these things very shortly, but it is worthwhile to reflect on this list for a moment.   The first thing he mentions is that he was circumcised on the eight day.  That was according to the prescription of the law:

“He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised, every male child in your generations…” – Gen. 17: 12

The apostle’s parents were diligent in doing this carefully according to the Lord’s prescription.  

That he was circumcised on the eighth day also means that he was born a Jew.   He was not added to the Jews later as a proselyte.    

To this he adds that he is of the stock, the race, of Israel.   That means: he is the physical seed of Jacob.   It means he is part of God’s covenant people to whom all the promises were made.   He is by descent part of God’s chosen people and was thus privileged above all the nations of the earth.

Moreover, he was of the tribe of Benjamin.

Jerusalem and the temple was within the borders of the tribe of Benjamin – Judges 1: 21

After Solomon, when the kingdom was divided, the tribe of Benjamin remained loyal to the house of David.  And it was mainly the two tribes, Judah and Benjamin, that returned from exile and formed the core of the returned nation – Ezra 4: 1.

In the end Judah and Benjamin were the most privileged tribes among the twelve, and their descendents were still living in Jerusalem and Judea in the time of the apostle.  They were as it were the redeemed remnant of Israel.  

 

He was a Hebrew of the Hebrews.    After the exile there were Jews who were called Hebrews and Jews who were called Hellenists – for example in Acts 6: 1.   The Hellenists spoke Greek, and some of them were also influenced by the Greek culture.   The Hebrews were Jews who still spoke Hebrew as their mother tongue and probably kept themselves more pure from Greek influence.  

The apostle Paul was still a real Hebrew.   Not only did he still speak Hebrew; he also lived the lifestyle of a Hebrew.  

 

The apostle said to the Jews who arrested him at the temple:

 

“I am indeed a Jew…brought up in this city (Jerusalem) at the feet of Gamaliel, taught according to the strictness of our fathers’ law, and was zealous toward God…” – Acts 22: 3

 

Not only does he have the pedigree of a true Hebrew, also his upbringing was strictly according to the Jewish customs.

And to the Galatians he writes:

 

“…I advanced in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries in my own nation, being more exceedingly zealous for the traditions of my fathers.” – Gal. 1: 14

He became one of the most prominent Pharisees in Jerusalem.  

He testified before king Agrippa, saying:

 

            “…according to the strictest sect of our religion I lived a Pharisee.” – Acts 26: 5

 

He was very strict and zealous to keep the traditions of his fathers, and thus he lived as Pharisee.  

The name Pharisee means “separated one”.    That refers to a separation from the world unto holiness.   But it was a man-made holiness, as we will see in a moment.  

Nevertheless, he lived strictly according to the laws and traditions handed down by the fathers.   

In Acts 23: 6 he says: “…I am a Pharisee, the Son of a Pharisee…”

He was not just any Jew, but the most strict observer of the Jewish laws.

 

In his great zeal for the Jewish nation and the Jewish laws he even persecuted the church, as he viewed Christianity as a threat to the Jewish religion.   

In this regard there was no one more zealous than he.

 

And then, the climax of his achievements: his own righteousness.   He was blameless in the eyes of men.   No one could lay a finger on any transgression.   He was a strict observer of the law; blameless.

 

Dear congregation, we can easily respond to this and say: “The poor Pharisee!   He did not understand the gospel!”   And then we can easily congratulate ourselves that we are not so foolish as to put any confidence in these things.  

But let us bring this a bit closer to ourselves.

Could we maybe have a similar list of boastings?

 

You were not circumcised on the eighth day, but were you not baptised as soon as feasible after birth?   

You are not of the race of Jacob, or a physical descendant of Abraham, but maybe you are a physical descendant of a generation of men who separated from the false church and continued to be true church.  

Your Reformed pedigree may go back some centuries.  

You were born and raised in the church, the son of an elder in the church!

And with regard to zeal – have you not done many things for the kingdom?  

 

Maybe your list may turn out to be not so much different from that of the apostle.   Maybe you are able to say:

 

“I am baptised in a Reformed church, and the surname of my fathers is engraved in church history.”

 

You were born and raised as truly liberated.   You have a good and established name in the church, and are well respected.   You have done many things for the church, and have been a very active member all your life; in the sight of men: blameless.

 

But dear brother and sister, if this is your boasting and if this is your confidence, then you are without Christ!

 

You may ask: “What then, is there no advantage in all these things and are they worth nothing?”

 

Of course there is great advantage in being born and raised in the church.   What a privilege! Of course there is great advantage and blessing if you have such a Reformed heritage and if it runs through the generations.   And of course all your church work and activities within the communion of saints are good and praise worthy.  

But the moment these things become your confidence, you have lost Christ.

 

It is a matter of having confidence in the flesh, or trusting in Christ alone.   We note that in the second place…

Exchanging rubbish for true riches

 

            “…what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ.” – verse 7.

 

So then, what are the things which he counts loss?

 

Is his circumcision loss?   Is the fact that he had God-fearing parents a loss?   Is it a loss to have a strict upbringing in the church, and a loss to have great zeal for God, and a loss to live blameless?  

 

No, not at all!   But when these things become our confidence, they become a loss indeed.

 

The apostle does not deny that these things are excellent in themselves, and that they are privileges and blessings from God.   He himself did not forsake these things in the sense that he no longer counted himself a Jew or that he no longer viewed it as a gracious gift that he was brought up as an Israelite.   But he rejects all of that in the context of our justification before God.   He no longer seeks his acceptance before God in his heritage or in his achievements.   He does not reckon anymore that these things make him more suitable for salvation, than the man who is without them.   He stands naked before God, trusting in Christ alone.

 

Realising that any confidence in the flesh is a hindrance to true faith in Christ, he now counts all boasting in the flesh harmful.   Any confidence in our own worth is a hindrance to receive justification in Christ alone.   And therefore anything that causes us to boast in ourselves, must be counted loss.

 

When we become big, Christ becomes small.

But when we realise our own smallness and unworthiness before God, then the grace and mercy of Christ becomes our only boasting.

 

Where there is human pride the knowledge of Christ is absent.

 

Dear congregation, we are not received by the Father because of any righteousness or worth in ourselves.   No matter who you are, no matter how religious, no matter how many good deeds you try to perform, you are without any righteousness in yourself.  

We are not righteous in ourselves – not one little bit!

And we are not worthy of salvation – not even a little bit.

Christ is our only righteousness before God.

 

“…indeed, I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ…” – verse 8

 

When seamen realise that their ship is going to sink in a storm, they throw everything overboard to make the ship lighter, so that they may reach the harbour in safety.  

The things they throw overboard may be valuable things, but to hold on to these things will cost them their lives.   Therefore, in order to save their lives they count all these valuable things as loss and throw it away from them.  It would be dangerous and harmful to hold on to them.

In the same manner the apostle Paul counted all things loss in order to gain Christ.  

 

That does not mean that the apostle threw his heritage and good works overboard.   It does not mean that instead of being chaste he became unchaste, and instead of being respectable he became immoral.   It simply means that he got rid of any confidence in his own worth or his own righteousness, knowing that any such confidence is only a hindrance in receiving the true righteousness which we receive in Christ only.

 

Paul did not get rid of good works, but of the mistaken confidence in works, with which he had been puffed up in his former life.

All his confidence is in Christ alone.   His own righteousness, his own obedience to the law, cannot justify him before God.   Therefore his aim is to be found in Christ, not with his own righteousness, but with the righteousness of Christ which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith – verse 9.

 

Dear congregation, any confidence in ourselves or in our works excludes true faith in Christ.   We cannot trust in ourselves and in Christ.  

Any confidence in our own worth or in our own works of obedience stands over against the free gift of justification in Christ alone.

 

To Paul the knowledge of Christ has become all his riches and all his confidence.   Any other confidence is harmful, loss and rubbish.  

 

What then does he mean when he speaks of the knowledge of Christ?

He wants to know Christ in all His fullness.   He wants to know the riches of His grace.   That has become his aim:

 

“…that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, if, by any means, I may obtain to the resurrection from the dead.” – verses 10, 11

 

The apostle does not only want to gain a mental knowledge of Christ; he wants to know Him personally and experience the power of His resurrection.

 

We note that in the last place…

Striving for the resurrection from the dead

 

He wants to know Christ and the power of His resurrection.

 

The apostle explains this more fully in Romans chapter 6.   There he states that through faith we are united with Christ, and thus we are also united with Him in His death and resurrection.

In Christ we died to sin, and in Christ we were raised a new man.

 

Now, here in verse 10, he speaks about the fact that Christ’s resurrection is an active power in us by which we are raised to a new life with Him.   It is what our Catechism calls “the coming to life of the new nature”.

 

            “What is the coming to life of the new nature?”

 

“It is a heartfelt joy in God through Christ, and a love and delight to live according to the will of God in all good works.” – LD 33, Q&A 90.

 

It is a resurrection from being dead in sin.

It is a resurrection by which we are made spiritually alive in Christ.

 

This resurrection, this coming to life in Christ, is an active and effective power by which our whole life is transformed and sanctified so that we start to live unto God.  

The more we know Christ and the more we are united with Him by a true faith the more we experience the power of His resurrection in our lives.

 

That is what the apostle has in mind when he says here in verse 10:

 

            “…that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection…”

 

And then, in verse 11, he again speaks of our resurrection, saying:

           

            “…if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.”

 

This time he speaks of the final resurrection in glory which will be the completion of our redemption.   At that final resurrection in glory we will reach the perfection unto which Christ saves us.   That will be the completion of our salvation in Christ.

 

It is one resurrection.   It starts with our resurrection now and here through faith in Christ, being raised from spiritual death and set free from slavery to sin, and it will reach its completion with the resurrection in glory on the last day.

 

That is the goal to which the apostle presses on – verse 12.

 

It is a goal which we reach only in part in this life, which will be obtained in fullness and perfection on the day of Christ’s coming.

 

Note also how our resurrection in Christ is linked to our communion with His death.   Verse 10:

“…that I may know the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death…”

 

Our resurrection in Christ implies also our death with Christ.   It implies that we were crucified with Christ and that our old man was put to death.   It implies the mortification of the flesh; that is: putting to death our sinful desires.

Being united with Christ in His death also implies that we share in His sufferings and bear the cross, as he says in another place:

 

“…if we died with Him, we shall also live with Him.   If we endure (suffering), we shall also reign with Him.” – 2 Tim. 2: 11

 

Yes, the gaol to which the apostle presses on is to be conformed to Christ’s death and resurrection.

That is his aim:

 

            “…if, by any means, I may reach the resurrection from the dead.”

 

The words, “if, by any means”, do not express doubt, as if he is uncertain whether he will reach the full and perfect resurrection on the day of Christ’s coming; rather, it expresses the difficulty and struggle to reach this goal.  

In Christ the victory of the resurrection is ours, but we do not reach that resurrection without a fierce struggle in this life.   Daily we have to strive against our own sin and put to death the desires of the flesh, and press on to the final resurrection in perfection.

 

And thus we see how the apostle is not against good works.  His whole aim is a new life of obedience unto God.   But He seeks this in Christ alone.

His aim is to know Christ and the power of His resurrection.

 

Dear congregation, we have grown up with this gospel.   We have heard it a thousand times that we are justified by faith alone in Christ alone, and that our own works cannot add anything to our justification before God.   

And here we heard again, that any confidence in ourselves, any confidence in our own worthiness or in our achievements, is a great loss; for such confidence in the flesh hinders man from receiving the true justification which is in Christ alone.

 

And yet it still happens, when you ask church members, “On which grounds do you know that you are saved?”, that you sometimes hear the reply: “Well, I read my Bible and I pray, I attend the worship services and I am active in the communion of saints.”

I do this and I do that; I don’t do this and I don’t do that.

 

Somehow man tends by nature to cling to his own works for confidence and assurance.

 

What a loss!   What a mistaken confidence!

 

The apostle gives us a vivid picture of his former life.   He was a pedigree Jew and blameless.   If anyone thinks that he has any reason to be confident of his own heritage and achievements – the apostle had much more reason!   But he gladly exchanged his own righteousness, which is nothing but filthiness in God’s eyes, for the perfect righteousness which we receive freely by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.

 

What about ourselves?

Do you have reason to boast?   Are you born and raised in the church?   Is your surname in the history books of the church?   Were you raised with the rich heritage of the Reformed doctrine?   Did you serve the Lord from your youth?

Thank the Lord for all these gifts of grace!

But beware lest you start to rely on your descent and heritage and the blamelessness of your life, for such confidence will rob you from the true riches in Christ.  

 

If anyone wants to come to Christ, he has to come with empty hands and naked.  

Let us confess that we, yes we, are totally unworthy to be called God’s children, and that we have no righteousness in ourselves.

 

Dear congregation, let us rejoice in the Lord.   Let our Lord Jesus Christ be all our boasting and all our confidence, for apart from Him we are nothing, and have nothing.

 

Let Him who boast, boast in the free grace of God in Christ our Lord.

 

Amen.

 

 

 




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Mendel Retief, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright, Rev. Mendel Retief

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