Glory In Christ
Nick Esch, 7/5/2020 Cornerstone Baptist Church
Right now the world is desperately searching for something: safety… Do we shelter in place? Do we wear masks? Do we avoid everyone? What do we do to feel safe and secure? Well, today God’s Word is going to tell us how to find true safety, not from the Coronavirus, but from something far worse: from false teaching, from sin, Satan, and the world, and from God’s wrath. We need to be safe from falling away. And I say that as a Reformed Baptist who believes totally in the perseverance of the saints.
It’s said that most teenagers who grow up in the church leave the faith when they go off to college (I would argue from 1 John 2:19 and other places that all who fall away were never truly Christians; but God calls all true Christians to fight to stay in the faith). One of the reasons for that is because they’re challenged by questions to their faith that they don’t have the answers to… Things like, if you’re a Christian why do you eat pork? If you’re a Christian how come you don’t stone evildoers? If you’re a Christian how come you don’t keep God’s Law rightly? Why don’t you put people to death who work on the Sabbath? And on and on it goes? I wonder, can you answer those questions? Do you know what you believe and why you believe it enough that you’re safe from false teaching, misunderstandings, or even your own hypocrisy? Lord willing our passage today is going to help us in all of these areas; so with that in mind, look with me at Philippians 3:1-3.
Our passage begins in verse one, with the words, “Finally, my brothers…” But of course, Paul doesn’t actually mean finally, as though he’s wrapping up, because, as we can see, he still goes on for all of chapter three and chapter four. Once a young boy asked his father what it means when the preacher says finally and looks at his watch. His father said, “Nothing son… Nothing at all…” And that’s kind of how this finally in Philippians 3:1 comes off; but, in Paul’s defense, I don’t think finally is a good translation of the original Greek here… In my opinion, a more accurate translation would be so then… In other words, after spending the last two chapters calling the Philippians, and us, to be content and joyful in Christ, and then giving examples of what it looks like to be content and joyful in Christ, in Timothy and Epaphroditus, Paul is now tying everything he’s about to say in chapter three and four back to what he just said. So, we should read Philippians 1:1 as, “So then, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord…”
And notice that last part… After laying out how he has been content and joyful in Christ, and that we should be as well, and that we can see how to be by looking at godly examples, he now again says, therefore, “rejoice in the Lord…” He’s told us before, and now he’s telling us again, rejoice in the Lord… And he follows this by saying, “To write the same things to you is no trouble to me and is safe for you.” In other words, him telling us over and over again to rejoice in the Lord doesn’t bother him at all. He has no problem repeating himself, or stressing his point. And the reason he has no problem with that is because it is safe for us… It’s no trouble for Paul to repeat himself because his goal in what he’s saying is for us to rejoice in the Lord, and it’s safe for us to rejoice in the Lord… But why is that? Well, look at verse two.
In verse two he says, “Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh.” He says look out! three times here… In other words, rejoicing in the Lord is safe for us because it keeps us on guard… Contentment and joy in Christ are safe for us because they help us beware of those who would lead us astray… When we truly rejoice in Jesus we are not easily pulled away from him. If we truly know Jesus, love Jesus, and delight in Jesus, we will not be easily led astray.
John Newton once said, “My principal method of defeating heresy, is, by establishing truth. One proposes to fill a bushel with tares: now, if I can fill it first with wheat, I shall defy his attempts.” In other words, if a person has really tasted and seen that the Lord is good, cheap substitutes are not going to be as appealing as they might have been otherwise. They don’t need to know every detail of the bad, they just need to know as much as possible of the good… If a person is full of truth there will not be room for false teaching… It’s like how the FBI trains agents to identify counterfeit money; they don’t become experts in the imitations, but experts in the real thing. They know it so well that any and all imitations are easily spotted. That’s how it should be with every Christian and Jesus; that’s how it should be with ever church and Christ… We should know Jesus so well, love Jesus so much, and be so joyful in Him that we are safe from anything that would pull us away from Him.
This is why Paul has been calling us to be content and joyful in Christ. He’s been seeking to point our affections to Jesus, because he knows that typically our affections control our allegiance. We all have to do things we don’t like to do, but we do them because they need to be done… But, there are some things we get to do that we love to do, or we love who we are doing those things for; so doing them is not merely a duty, but a delight. I love being a husband to my wife. I love being a father to my children. I love being a pastor to this church. And above all I love being a Christian, and living in service to my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. And part of why I love all of those things so much, is not only because I actually enjoy doing all of those things, but because I deeply love the one’s I’m doing all of those things for. And I seek to do them all faithfully to the best of my ability, because of my love for and delight in every person involved in all those things I do… In other words, my affections control my allegiance. And the same is true for all of you as well. We all tend to do our best at and be faithful to what and who we love. Our love keeps us tethered to our duty, and our duty becomes a delight because of our love.
And this is why I get concerned about some of you guys. Some of you seem to show very little delight in being a husband, a father, a wife, a mother, a brother, a sister, a child, a student, an employee, a Christian, or in whatever else the Lord has called you to… And what we see in God’s Word is that not doing and being with joy, and not doing all that we do faithfully to the best of our ability is actually a symptom of a bigger problem: the problem of us not properly loving and rejoicing in the Lord. You not wanting to go to church, or obey the Lord in whatever area of your life is a sign that you’re not properly loving and rejoicing in Christ. So to get to where you need to be you need to get your heart tethered to Christ all the more.
Knowing Christ, loving Christ, and rejoicing in Christ, having our affections captured by Christ will control our allegiance to Christ. We don’t need to be experts in false teachers and false teachings to stay faithful to Christ; but we do need to be experts in Christ to stay faithful to Christ. We need to taste and see that the Lord is good, again and again, and at a deeper and deeper level, so that we will not be pulled away from the only true God and true gospel for some cheap imitation. However, though we do not need to be experts in false teaching, though we need to devote the bulk of our time and effort to the truth… we do still need to be at least generally acquainted with the people and the things that would seek to lead us astray. And that’s what Paul tells us next.
Again, in verse two he says, “Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh.” There are indeed false teachers with a false gospel that would lead us to a very real hell. And so, we must be on the look out. And the ones that Paul calls us to look out for here are those who he says are evil doing dogs who mutilate the flesh. And who he’s talking about here are the Judaizers, who would lead people away from Christ. They are those who insisted that in order for one to be truly saved, to truly be a Christian, they must not only look to Jesus, but they must become a Jew through circumcision and commit themselves to following the Jewish Law.
It’s ironic that Paul calls them dogs here. We tend to think about dogs as man’s best friend, as loving pets… but that’s not the image we see in the Bible, or in the culture surrounding the Philippian church. When the Bible speaks of dogs, and what the culture at the time thought about when they spoke of dogs, was more like what we would call a Coyote. Think of wild dogs that are dangerous scavengers. That’s why Proverbs 26:11 speaks of a dog returning to its vomit. Or in 1 and 2 Kings it speaks of dogs eating people… Isaiah 56:11 says, “The dogs have a mighty appetite they never have enough…” Indeed, a wild dog will eat anything that doesn’t eat it first.
And you see, Jews typically referred to Gentiles as dogs because they saw them as unbelieving, evildoers, who were controlled by their ungodly appetites, like a wild dog. So, it’s ironic that Paul refers to the these Judaizers here as dogs because they are telling Gentiles that they must become Jews (“true believers” like them) in order to be saved, they must follow the whole of the Jewish Law and be circumcised. But that showed that weren’t true believers at all… Now, they weren’t out right rejecting Jesus, but they were saying that Jesus is not enough… They didn’t believe He was a sufficient Savior. According to them, instead of being saved by Christ alone, we’re saved by Christ plus works of the flesh… Jesus plus law… And in saying and doing this they are showing themselves to be the true dogs here. They’d like to think they are righteous, but they are showing themselves to be unbelieving, evildoers, who are controlled by their ungodly appetites… especially their appetite for their own glory. But salvation is all of grace in Christ, and all to the glory of God alone.
So, the dogs in verse two are the Judaizers who are seeking to lead people astray, telling Gentiles that they must fully embrace the Jewish Law and be circumcised; that’s what Paul is referring to in verse two when he talks about them mutilating the flesh. Now, that isn’t to say that circumcision is wrong and a mutilation in and of itself. After all, God did indeed call ethnic Israel, under the Old Covenant, to be circumcised; and this was in part to separate them from the rest of the world. Indeed, circumcision like so many of the laws and regulations that God gave the nation of Israel, were given to them to set them apart from the rest of the world, but also to point them to true holiness, to true set apartness that can only be found in and through Jesus. So many of the laws and regulations given to Israel were meant to ready them for and point them to their Messiah. But, these Jews, these Judaizers missed that, as did so many other Jews… They missed that the Law had been fulfilled in a Person, and that the point of circumcision now comes in and through that Person, and so circumcision, as the Judaizers were practicing it was nothing more than mutilating, or cutting away flesh. But now, notice what Paul says next in verse three.
“For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh.” Paul, speaking to Jews and Gentiles who are trusting in Christ, says that they, and he, are the circumcision… In other words, by trusting in Christ they are showing themselves to be the true Jews, to be the true Israel. He says they are the circumcision, and by that he means that those who truly trust in Christ alone are those who have been truly set apart for God. You see, circumcision, the cutting of flesh to show that Israel was set apart for God, was always pointing to something bigger that was needed, that comes in and through Christ.
In Deuteronomy 30:6, God’s Word promises His people, “the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live.” Or as Romans 2:28-29 says, true circumcision is a matter of the heart, and it is a gracious work of God the Holy Spirit. What’s being referred to here is regeneration, it’s being born again. It’s the work of God the Holy Spirit, who, “even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace” (Ephesians 2:5)… “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ [shined] in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6). He enabled us to see; He enabled us to live; He circumcised our heart by ultimately giving us a new heart. As we see in God’s New Covenant promise in Ezekiel 36:26-27, God said, “I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.” This is the circumcision of the heart; this is what the circumcision of the flesh was pointing to; and this is what has come in and through Christ, and the power of the Holy Spirit. And this is what has happened to all true Christians. “[I]f anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:17).
The Christian has God’s Law written on their heart; not meaning we merely know right and wrong, but that we, by God’s grace in the power of the Spirit, actually know and delight to follow God’s Law, that we so rejoice in Christ, that we so love Christ that our allegiance to Him is controlled by His love for us and our love for Him; that we have already begun to be made new spiritually, and now we love Him so much that we delight to follow His Law. This is in part what it means to be a born again Christian (which is the only kind by the way). But, when I say we delight to follow God’s Law you should ask what I mean?… Because, if God has commanded in His Law that His people are to be circumcised in the flesh, doesn’t that mean the Judaizers are right? Maybe that didn’t stop with Christ… I mean, we say Christ fulfilled such things, making them no longer necessary, but how? Well, to understand that we need to understand the different types of laws we see in God’s Word.
In the Bible we see three types of law. First, there is God’s Moral Law: this is the Law of God that every person created in God’s image, of right mind, knows inherently, or by instinct. God’s Moral Law is the Law we see in the Ten Commandments, the Law that tells us to love God and love people. Because God does not change, His moral Law does not change. Everyone, everywhere, at all times are expected to live in line with God’s Moral Law, and will be judged according to it. But, there are two other types of law we see in the Bible as well: the Civil Law and the Ceremonial Law.
These laws were given to the nation of Israel to lead and guide them as they lived in the land promised to Abraham as God’s set apart people. And to further show them their need for a Savior, and to pave the way for the promised Messiah, and the saving work He would accomplish. So, the Civil Law controlled how ancient Israel lived and operated day to day within the Promised Land, and the Ceremonial Law is what allowed them to stay in the land, and it’s what set them apart from the rest of the world, as those who were clean as opposed to unclean. The Ceremonial Law was the law that laid out what foods could be eaten, what could be touched, and what, when, and how sacrifices should be given, and why… And all of that was pointing forward to the only One who is truly clean, and to the only One who could and would make the ultimate perfect sacrifice that would truly pay for sin, making all who trust in Him truly clean.
We have all broken God’s Moral Law and sinned against Him; but God promised a Savior that would save all who trust in Him. And God chose to bring about that Savior through Israel. So, the Civil Law and the Ceremonial Law were given to Israel to help them live and function until the promised Messiah came in and through them. And the Ceremonial Law especially paved the way for the Messiah by further showing our need for a Savior, and showing us that the wages of sin is death, and that there must be a propitiation for sin, there must be Someone who would live the perfect obedient life to God’s Law that we have failed to live, and then die a wrath absorbing sacrificial death for sin that we deserve to die, making atonement for sin, and thus reconciling God and sinner. And on this side of the cross, we know that Jesus is that Savior, He is that Messiah. He is the God-man, who is everything we, and Israel, failed to be; He is the only true Savior. He is and always has been the only way of salvation; for no one was ever saved by following the Law, but by faith in Christ, who lived, died, and rose again to save sinners.
Now, let’s think about circumcision again. Circumcision was one of the things that set the Jews apart from the world as those who were under, not only God’s Moral Law, but also the Civil and Ceremonial Law. But, when Jesus came and lived, died, and rose again, He fulfilled the Ceremonial Law; and the point of the Civil Law was to help Israel live and function in the land until the Messiah came from the line of Judah. And when the Messiah came, He didn’t come to save one nation-state; He didn’t come to save just Israel, but people from every tribe, tongue, nation, and generation. Christianity wasn’t meant to be centered in one nation-state like Israel, but to spread throughout all nations, thus eliminating the need for the Civil Law. And by God’s grace, it’s not mere circumcision of the flesh that set’s God’s New Covenant people apart from the world, but the circumcision of the heart, where we are born again by God’s Spirit, and given new desires and new loves where we actually delight to follow God’s Moral Law.
So, circumcision of the flesh is not required for Christians because we are not under the Civil or the Ceremonial Law. They both found their fulfillment in Christ. That’s why we can eat pork, shellfish, and the like. Some people think Christians are inconsistent because we don’t follow the Civil and Ceremonial Laws in the Old Testament; but we are not under those laws… Clean and unclean is no longer a matter of being Jewish or being a Gentile, because God’s Word tells us that it is Jesus, and Jesus alone, that makes all things clean. So we are not inconsistent for not embracing all of the Old Testament Law; rather, we are faithful to Christ… And that is exactly Paul’s point in Philippians 3:3.
Again, Paul says, “For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh.” We are not inconsistent for not following all of Israel’s laws, but rather, we are the true Israel. That’s what Paul means when he says we are the circumcision. As Romans 9:6 says, “For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel.” Rather, true Israel, the Israel of God (as Galatians 6:16 says) has always been those who have circumcised hearts, who are under the grace of the New Covenant in Christ, who have been saved by faith… So again we see Paul using irony here… As we saw, instead of the Gentiles being dogs, it was the Jewish Judaizers. And now, instead of the Jewish Judaizers being the true circumcision, the true Israel of God, in a real sense the true Jews, are Christians: Jews and Gentiles who trust in Christ. And we have no need to adhere to Jewish Laws or customs; in fact to do so is to seek to take away from the sufficiency of Christ… And that’s exactly what we see here.
While we must seek to live in line with God’s Moral Law, we are not to keep the Civil or Ceremonial Law… And no amount of law keeping of any kind can save us. Our only hope is Christ. But, we can only put our hope in Christ by God’s grace in the Spirit. Notice verse 3 says we worship by the Spirit of God, meaning that God the Holy Spirit enables us to properly worship God, enables us to properly live for God’s glory and in line with God’s Moral Law. And as we saw, that starts with the circumcision of the heart, with God the Holy Spirit causing us to be born again. Like a floodlight that stays hidden but draws attention to what it shines on, so the Holy Spirit shines out on and for Christ, for Jesus’ glory, so that we would taste and see that He is good. That’s what happen when He causes us to be born again. But how do we know God has indeed caused us to be born again? By what comes next… Those with circumcised hearts, glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh…
Nothing we do in the flesh can save us. No amount of law keeping can save us. Nothing in us can save us. We need a Savior! And Christ Jesus is that Savior. And that’s what the circumcised heart sees and knows… And it doesn’t just know it, but it casts itself upon it. We put no confidence in the flesh, but instead glory in Christ Jesus, meaning that we put all our confidence in Him. He is our glory. He is our boast. He is our only hope. Nothing in our hands we bring, simply to the cross we cling… In other words, Jesus is the all and all of the New Covenant Christian… We glory in Him… And this really goes back to what we saw earlier: that we are to rejoice in Him.
The born again Christian is the one who puts no confidence in the flesh but puts all of their confidence in Christ alone. And because of who Christ is, how He’s loved us and saved us, and because of our love for Him, we glory in Him by joyfully living for Him, by following Him, and gladly seeking to live in obedience to God’s Moral Law, all because He is our greatest joy. We delight in Him. We rejoice in Him. We glory in Him because there is nothing better than Him.
Beloved, we may not be under the influence of the Judaizers, but there are countless false teachers and false teachings around us seeking to lead us astray. And along with that there is sin, Satan, and the world constantly seeking to lead us astray. And in one way or another they all are seeking to do the same thing: to lead us away from Christ, and to place our confidence in the flesh. I mean, are we not hearing all around us boasts in the flesh?… White supremacy… Black supremacy… Republicans are right… Democrats are right… Friends, it’s the same old things… But, in Christ it makes no difference… Jew, Gentile, right, left, black, white, or whatever… Our confidence is not in the flesh! We must keep our confidence in Christ alone. And in order to do that we must rejoice in Christ and glory in Christ alone. The more we love Him, the more we delight in Him, the safer we are in Him. And the more we know Him the more we will love Him, rejoice in, and glory in Him… Because He is infinitely lovely and glorious. And it is in Him, in Christ and Christ alone that we are truly safe. It’s not about us, where we’re from, what we look like, or whatever… It’s about Jesus!
Friends, just as the Law pointed to and finds its fulfillment in Christ, so should our lives. So may we always and forevermore trust in, rejoice in, and place our confidence in Christ, and Christ alone… For that is where true safety is found; and that is how we truly glory in Christ.