The Joy of Knowing Christ

1 Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you is no trouble to me and is safe for you. 2 Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh. 3 For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh (Philippians 3:1-3)

After Paul makes some straight-forward and pointed comments, warnings about false teachers who would desire to entrap believers into a works-based lifestyle of trying to earn their salvation, he moves on to briefly describe the very opposite. One thing about a works-based way of living in which people try to earn their salvation or convince God of their goodness and worth is that it is very much focused on self. It is always, “What can I do better to earn God’s favor? What can I do that will earn me more blessing? How can I convince God that I am worth the sacrifice of His Son?” The Jewish zealots were saying, “Live out the Law,” in particular the Law’s demand of circumcision, “Live out the Law and God will find favor with you.”

It’s no wonder why they and perhaps we may struggle here with a works-based way of living. Part of the reason is because we live in a fallen world, being fallen ourselves, and around fallen people, people who only love us with conditions. You know what I mean, right? If we are nice to our neighbors they are generally nice to us. If we are ugly to our neighbors, well, guess what? They often times return that. We tell our children, “If you want friends then be a good friend. Be nice and people will be nice to you. If you want people to be kind to you then be kind to them.” Even in Christian homes we may question whether or not our parents, or our children, or even if our spouse will really love us no matter what. We may spend our whole marriages or home life as a child trying to earn the affection of other people. “If I’m good enough they will love me. If my performance is just right, I will be wanted.” And we think that, at times, for good reason, because frankly many people have a conditional love for us. That’s the environment in which we live sometimes.

So if we grow up working with all our might and come to be an adult working with all our might, trying to make people like us, trying to earn people’s favor, then it makes sense that we may view our relationship with God in the same way. And so if we think about trying to earn God’s favor, trying to make God like us for who we are and what we do, well, good luck with that. He is perfection. He’s perfect in all of His ways. How in the world are we going to get to that? And so legalists then are championing a method to God that leads to utter failure and despair. That is, trying to earn the favor of God. You talk about burnout, try to do that! You will burn out trying to be good enough for God.

And so God says in a sense, “Forget about that path, it’s not going to work for you. Have faith in the One who has already done that work and is fully pleasing to me. Take my Son, Jesus Christ, take His life, take Him in, believe in His Work, be His. Get off that desperate track that never ends, and embrace the Son, Jesus Christ.” We have got to get off the cycle of thinking we must or even that we can impress God with who we are. Beware of those who may try to cage you into that kind of thinking which leads to despair. God is pleased with you if you embrace His Son. He is satisfied with you if you love Jesus and trust in Him for salvation, if you belong to Christ by faith.

for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. (Galatians 3:27)

Your translation may say “put on” Christ. We get the picture here of being wrapped up, fully covered, clothed with Christ Jesus and His righteousness. Jesus has impressed the Father with His work so that we don’t have to. So where does that leave us? Paul says, “beware of false teachers, look out for them,” so how do we successfully do that? How do we stand against their ruthless, persistent false teaching, how do we go on not falling prey to what they say? Not fall back into a works-based salvation even after we’ve been saved in Christ? The “how do we do that” is really fascinating from what Paul tells us in verse 3. The answer, the solution, is to remember who we are and then act accordingly! Remember who you are and then act accordingly; act in a way that is consistent with who we now are in Christ. So, who are we? Paul says, “For we are the circumcision.” You may say, “Wait a minute, I thought Paul was against circumcision.” The false teachers were preaching that one must be circumcised, so what does Paul mean, “we are the circumcision”? Isn’t that the mutilating the flesh that Paul just condemned in verse 2? Well, not exactly. Paul is talking spiritually here. He says, “We, you and me who are Christians, we are the true circumcision.” Physical circumcision in the Old Testament served to identify someone with the Jewish nation, with God’s people, and it had value in that sense, God had commanded it. But it had no value in commending anyone to God.

Paul illustrates this for us in the way he counseled Timothy and Titus. In Acts 16:3 Paul had Timothy circumcised, physically circumcised, in order that he would not be offensive to his Jewish countrymen. But in Galatians 2:3 Paul forbade Titus from being circumcised because it would hinder the gospel message to those he was ministering to. In both cases circumcision had nothing to do with either of these men and their standing before God, but it instead had to do with offending or being helpful to to those they were trying to reach. What Paul does hold in high esteem and of greatest importance is spiritual circumcision. Spiritual circumcision is a matter not of the flesh but a matter of the heart.

11 In him you were also circumcised with a circumcision not performed by human hands. Your whole self ruled by the flesh was put off when you were circumcised by Christ, 12 having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through your faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead. 13 When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, 14 having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. 15 And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross. (Colossians 2:11-15)

Spiritual circumcision is a heart change, a cutting away of the old self and being transformed inwardly, made new on the inside, in the heart, in the mind. This describes what has happened in the life of a believer. This is not an external act, it is internal change. We, all who have believed, all who have embraced Christ, all who have trusted in Jesus Christ and His work for salvation, we are the circumcision. And as those who have this new identity in Christ that cannot be stolen, that cannot be taken away, we put off these futile efforts, we begin to understand who we are in Christ, His work for us, and then what? What now? If we don’t have to work to impress God, what do we do? Are we to do anything? 

Well, in this newfound identity in Christ, while in the comfort of His eternal love and care, already embraced by Him in the safety of His loving arms, while we rest in His faithful promises in anticipation of what’s to come, His future presence, without fear of rejection, without worry that He’s going to leave us, in full unconditional love, at peace, with joy, we can respond to His lovingkindness as grateful men and women in these three ways:

1. We simply worship – Verse 3 says, “worship by the Spirit of God”
2. We simply glory in Christ – Verse 3 says, “glory in Christ Jesus”
3. We simply put our confidence in Christ, not ourselves – Verse 3 says, “put no confidence in the flesh”

I just want you to notice, each of these represent a focus on our Savior, a focus on Him, instead of what the legalists were emphasizing which was a focus on ourselves and our own attempts at good works to earn His favor. So let’s briefly look at these three ways to get our eyes off of self and focus on our Savior.

First, we worship – we worship by the Spirit of God. We’ve talked a lot about worship over the last few weeks, but let me just remind you that this is supernatural, it’s supernatural that we become worshipers of God, it’s not normal for man; what is normal is self-worship. But in Christ, by the Spirit of God, we can and we do as Christians stop ascribing great worth to ourselves and worship of ourselves, looking inward, and we worship our Savior. We ascribe all worth to Him. John wrote of Jesus’ conversation with a Samaritan woman:

“But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him.” (John 4:23)

As Christians, as those who have been transformed by Christ, we can rightly view Him as the One who is of greatest value and worth, and give our praise and adoration to Him. We are free to recognize His greatness and give honor to His name. It’s a unique position we are in that we can do this. I mean, if we are going to worship someone, and ascribe all worth to someone, isn’t it great to know who it is that is worthy of that? Rather than worshiping someone or something much less.

When I was in high school we really had only one good year as a football team. We just weren’t very good. Of those years, one year we did alright, but the other three years were just terrible, we were just bad. The interesting thing is we would still go out on the field; it was a big school so there was a lot of fanfare, and the band would play loudly with lots of enthusiasm, the fans would yell with enthusiasm, the cheerleaders would cheer with cheers that made it sound like we were winners, and they would say really lousy things about the other team, who was likely about to put us in our place, really trounce us. It was like everyone thought, or made it sound like, we were really good, like we could actually be winners. But in the end the outcome was generally predictable, another loss. We were good, or it sounded like we were good, until the game started, and then reality set in. That pre-game “worship” turned to disappointment. We are set, I mean by our nature, to worship ourselves. We do for ourselves, we try to get the best for ourselves, we work to please others, we are caught up in thinking we deserve the best but in the end we cannot succeed. Why not worship the One who is great, and never be disappointed in the end?

There is a perfect One whom we are called to worship, and this perfect One is perfectly loving us and providing for us and preparing a place for us. He has done all that needs to be done to secure our salvation. He alone is worthy of our worship. And so forget the legalists who say, “Do this, do that, perform this way and God will love you.” That leads to despair and disappointment as we realize we cannot win that game. We’ll never win that game. Forget that, and worship the One who has perfectly performed for you! No more need to prop ourselves up in the eyes of other people, trying to impress God or others, give that up, that is self-focus. Focus instead on Christ, all our worship to Him!

Secondly, instead of self-focus, instead of self-boasting, we can boast in Christ. Paul says, “glory in Christ Jesus.” Worship is very much a heart attitude that says in our heart, “God is great and we are not.” Glorying in Christ, or your version may say “boasting in Christ,” is simply making much of Christ. It is boasting with great joy in Christ. Again, our tendency as humans will be to boast in whom? In ourselves. Some of you may say, “I never boast in myself, I don’t go around saying how great I am, boasting in what I have done or can do, that would be arrogant.” I agree, it would be arrogant. But many of us may not stand on a platform and shout to a crowd or to our friends how great we are or how well we have done something, but we may find instead subtle ways to accomplish the same thing. Maybe we’re a little more refined in how we boast. Maybe a subtle passing comment made at just the right time which communicates, “Look at me, look how important I am, look how important other people think I am.” We can be really good at that in our subtleties.

“16 And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 17 But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, 18 that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” (Matthew 6:16-18)

Jesus blows the cover off the hypocrites here. It’s like they were saying, “Yeah, look at me, look how I am sacrificing for God, look how I am serving God, look at how I am giving of myself.” They are not saying that with their lips, but they are communicating that without words, right? Have you ever done something like that? I have. Just a word here or there to say, “Aren’t I great?” Sometimes we just want others to glory in us. Putting our lowly selves on display when we have Christ in us. Why not glory in Him, boast in Him? If we have done anything good at all as Christians, it’s because He has done it in us, right? Why not boast in Him? Again, it is making little of ourselves and making much of God. Paul speaks of glorying in Christ thirty-five times in his writings. I think we may be tempted sometimes to glory in Paul, to highly exalt him, his commitment, his work, his humility, and his commitment to the Lord. He was a great pastor, preacher, missionary, encourager, so we may be tempted to glory in him, but Paul recognized that he was very small, and for everything he did he realized that it was Christ in him. “All glory to God” was his attitude.

“Worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus,” and lastly, “we put no confidence in the flesh.” The flesh here represents our humanness. It is a picture, a reminder of our abilities apart from God. This can be a tough one. This can be a real struggle for us. We are to put no confidence in our humanness, our own abilities at all.

“it is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing.” (John 6:33)

The legalists who promote works for salvation would say, “Work harder, put your mind to it, you can do it, pick yourself up, no one can stop you, give a little more, be better than your neighbor, you can make it to heaven with your works, say more prayers, be more sincere, give more to God, and in all this, He will love you, He will then save you. God will look down from heaven and say, ‘Wow, I’m impressed, come on to heaven, you’ve earned it.’” It’s like the man I heard a few years ago who stood and said, “God looked down and saw my potential and saved me.” That was a man who had great confidence in his flesh. What a sad thing. As desperately as we may want to be good enough, the simple truth is we aren’t. “Put no confidence in the flesh.” Instead of that, this is what we have:

For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. (Romans 8:6)

The more accurately we see ourselves as helpless, the more accurately we will see the glory of Christ and put our full confidence in Him. When we stop propping up our flesh, we will also be quicker to be real with other people. That can be frightening as we ask questions like, “What will they think of me? Will they still like me if they really know me?” Honestly, I don’t know the answer to that. Maybe not, maybe they won’t. But if they are Christians they should, because they should share the same view of themselves.

And so we can live as those who love self, who want to work for salvation, who desperately try to impress God and others, and we can exhaust ourselves doing that. Or we can let go of that, and by God’s grace and with great joy, we can worship our Lord, boast in Him, and put all of our confidence in Him! To live the second way is such a relief! It’s a huge burden that’s lifted. I hope you see it that way. It is such a relief, it brings such peace and joy, it is living consistent with God’s plan for us, it is simply trusting in our God. It also means that when we mess up, when we sin, when we fail, it changes nothing about our salvation, nor about our positional righteousness before God. His love is still genuine, deep, strong, and permanent. It never fails. When we mess up we don’t have to go days or weeks lamenting over our failures and sin; we can repent, receive forgiveness, and move ahead by His grace and in His love. That’s just a breath of fresh air. Here is what we have, what is true of you if you are in Christ, if you glory in Christ:

1 There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. 3 For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? 33 Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:1-4, 31-39)

So don’t you just want to live in that? Be a worshiper of God, glory in Christ, and put no confidence in the flesh.

1 Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you is no trouble to me and is safe for you. 2 Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh. 3 For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh (Philippians 3:1-3)