As we continue our series on “Joy filled life” from the letter to the Philippians, we’ll explore today what a “Joy-filled Identity” is from chapter 3 v1-11. What does that look like? Let’s turn to our passage for today:
[Read Philippians 3:1-11]
1. We all have a flawed Religious Identity (v4-7)
4 though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5 circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law,[c] blameless. 7 But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ.
The context of today’s passage was that Paul being their spiritual father was trying to warn the church to be careful of false teachers who were telling the church that they needed to be circumcised in order to be saved and considered as believers.
Circumcision in the OT was a defining mark of being part of God’s covenant people. It started from Abraham and then got passed on through the generations of the Israelites.
Now circumcision was a preparatory sign used by God but its fulfilment was found in Jesus. Through Jesus, we are not only considered as members of God’s covenant but even more intimately as members of His family (v3).
Now the Philippians were Gentile believers & they came to faith by believing in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Suddenly these false teachers came in and were trying to tell them that just faith in Jesus wasn’t enough.
They needed to also get circumcised. And that was a dangerous thing to get into. I’ll tell you why.
Imagine someone telling to a person who says they’ve understood the gospel, repented of their sin and trusted in Jesus Christ finishing work on the cross – “Faith in Jesus Christ is okay.
But along with this if you want to be a pakka believer then you must : Change your name, start eating non-veg, stop talking to unbelievers in your home or friend circle, you must live the way a certain spiritual person lives, you must dress like a way a certain person does – only if you do these things you’ll be saved”.
I hope we all can see the danger of the teaching that Christ’s sacrifice is not enough but needs to be supplemented. And this is absolutely wrong which is why Paul uses such strong words for these false teachers.
And Paul then uses his own example to explain how meaningless it was to trust in his religious identity. In fact he tells them in a sense – if you guys think that it’s important to trust and have confidence in our religious identity before God, then I had more reasons when I was an unbeliever. And he goes on to list it down:
- Circumcised on the eighth day – as per the law
- Of the people of Israel – Both his parents were Jews – so Paul was a pure pakka Israelite
- Of the tribe of Benjamin – It was the only tribe along with Judah that remained faithful to David’s descendants. Also Saul – the first king of Israel came from the same tribe.
- A Hebrew of Hebrews: He was fully loyal to all the ancestral traditions
- As to the law, a Pharisee – They were very strict in their interpretation and practice of the law.
- As to zeal, a persecutor of the church – so zealous was he for the traditions that he went ahead and persecuted the church – arresting them, dragging them violently and also ordering their killing.
- Righteousness under the law, blameless – in terms of external obedience no one could point a finger at him. He followed everything to the tee.
But after doing all of this, he arrives at the conclusion that “all of this was a loss” – useless -empty! He did all of this and it amounted to ZERO! Now I know as I’m talking about this – many of us probably think – “Hey, I know the gospel message.
I believed it many years back. And I don’t trust in my religious identity anymore – I only trust in Jesus Christ”. But let’s examine our foundations. How do you know if a building has strong foundations? Not when the weather is pleasant and calm but when it goes through storms and earthquakes and still manages to stand.
Let’s ask ourselves: “How do I respond to God when I fall into sin?”
Do we think “God’s mad at me right now. He’s probably really angry with me. Let me avoid God for a few days and hope that the anger goes away”? After a few days do we think “if I spend more time reading the Bible, if I spend more time praying, if I get more involved with the church and immerse myself in church activities, then God might be happy…He might be appeased.
He won’t be angry anymore” Are these the thoughts and responses toward God when we fall into sin? If yes, then we are still in manner or form trusting in our religious identity. At a deep heart level we say and believe that Christ’s sacrifice on the cross isn’t sufficient and needs to be supplemented with our bible reading, praying and service in the church.
Don’t get me wrong – reading the bible, praying and serving in the church are good things and God wants that from all of us but that’s not the reason God approves and accepts us. Those are not the reasons why God calls us His children.
Many times we forget the sheer impossibility of reaching God by our religious identity.
This is what Jesus says in Matt 5:20 – For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
What? Is Jesus really saying that my righteousness (works done to be pronounced as upright before God) needs to exceed Paul’s righteousness when he used to be a Pharisee? I mean we just saw the list – in that case it’s virtually impossible for us to enter the kingdom of heaven and fellowship with God if this is the standard.
Praise God that He didn’t leave us there with our flawed religious identity but in fact
2. Christ Gifted us a new Identity (v9)
9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith
Many of us might be aware of the story of Derek Redmond. He was a British athlete who holds the record for the 400m sprint in Britain and has won gold medals for his country in the World Championships.
By the time of the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, he was in very good form. He clocked the fastest time of the first round, and went on to win his quarter-final. In the semi-final, Redmond started well, but in the back straight about 250 metres from the finish, his hamstring tore. He hobbled to a halt, and then fell to the ground in pain.
Stretcher-bearers made their way over to him, but Redmond decided he wanted to finish the race. He began to hobble along the track. He was soon joined on the track by his father, Jim Redmond, who barged past security and on to the track to get to his son.
Jim and Derek completed the lap of the track together, with Derek leaning on his father’s shoulder for support. And in a sense that’s the picture of us who need to trust in the faithfulness of Christ. Our own religious identity that we build for ourselves can’t get us to the finish line. We are disabled and injured and we desperately need the help of Jesus to carry us to the end.
Right throughout the Bible – that’s been the message of grace. God never tells us – fix yourselves. Straighten up. In fact the message us – You can’t do it yourself. You need a Savior. And He will give you an identity you cant earn or purchase by ourselves. The Greek word used for “faith” also means “faithfulness” in this text.
This righteousness has been gifted to us through the “faithfulness of my Savior Jesus Christ”. He came for you and me. He is the only one who has ever lived and will ever live a perfectly righteous life. And then willingly laid down His life to show His commitment and faithfulness toward us.
He rose again on third Day declaring His victory over everything that enslaved us. And for everyone who comes to Him in humility – losing their flawed religious identity – not my Bible reading, not my Bible knowledge, not my spiritual activities, not my good efforts at living a life – all the crutches that they are holding onto and desperately call on Him to save – He will save and will gift them a New Identity – His own identity. That’s the beauty of the gospel message – Christ’s righteousness not attained but gifted!
But what’s the purpose of this gifted identity?
3. The purpose of the Gifted Identity is for Intimacy (v8,10-11)
8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ
10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
At one time our religious identity was used to earn favor and approval from God which we couldn’t because it was flawed. But if God has now approved and accepted us fully in Christ Jesus, what is the point of the identity? It is for INTIMACY! To know Him better. And that makes total sense!
Imagine you were drowning in the sea calling out for help. You called out loudly but no one heard you and no one came to help. But then one man saw you from a distance at the shore, had compassion on you and jumped into the sea – risking his life to save you.
He pulls you out and saves your life. What’s your response going to be toward him? Extreme gratitude and indebtedness. Yes, absolutely but also you want to know him. I want to know this person better who risked his life to save me.
Not only would I now want to know him but now I’ll want to testify about him. When I speak to my family, friends and colleagues and tell them about my incident, I’ll always tell them about the man who saved my life.
Now Christ has not just saved us for our earthly lives but He has saves us for eternity! Why is this important for us? It’s important because it reminds our heart that everything that we do is to enable us to know Christ.
If I’m reading the Bible or studying theology – the goal is to know Christ and testify about Him. If I’m serving the church in some way – the goal is to know Christ and testify about Him.
If I’m sharing the gospel with someone – the goal is to know Christ and testify through that experience. If I’m obeying Scripture – the goal is to know Christ and testify about Him. Intimacy is the goal!