The Résumé That Won't Cut It
Topic: Rooted in Christ Passage: Philippians 3:4–9
The Résumé That Won’t Cut It
An Exposition of Philippians 3:4-9
By Pastor Brian Wilbur
Date: September 23, 2018
Series: Philippians: Gospel Partnership on Mission in the World
Note: Scripture quotations are from The ESV Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version), copyright 2001 by Crossway. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Do you have what it takes? Each one of us would like to think so, wouldn’t we? Do you have what it takes to ace the exam or perhaps simply to pass the test? Do you have what it takes to make the cut, to be chosen for the sports team or to be included in the cast for the school play? Do you have what it takes to learn a profitable trade or earn a college degree?
Do you have it takes to be noticed and accepted by others, to be liked and even perhaps loved, to be befriended and cared for? Do you have it takes to find a prospective husband or wife and enter into the blessed estate of holy matrimony? Then comes an even more sobering question: Do you have what it takes to be a truly good spouse and a truly good parent?
Do you have what it takes? Do you have the requisite character and qualifications? Do you have sufficient knowledge and understanding, wisdom and skill, talent and charm? Do you have the values and virtues that are proper to successful living? Do you measure up?
As important as these questions may be, they pale in comparison to a far more fundamental question: Do you have what it takes to be accepted by God, to make the salvation cut, to pass the entrance exams after which you may be admitted into fellowship with the living God?
To some people, of course, this question is nonsensical. If there is no god, the question is irrelevant. If the god who possibly exists is unknowable, then what use is it to speculate about whether this god would accept us. If there is a god and his job is to overlook the shadier parts of our character and bring us to paradise, then what difference does it make, since we’re all getting in anyway?
In truth, however, there is a God – the God of heaven and earth, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of the apostles and prophets, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the God who is holy, righteous, and just. He is the Holy One who stands in judgment over the human race. The Lord God makes a distinction between the righteous and the wicked:
“the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous; for the LORD knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish” (Psalm 1:5-6).
The sovereign Lord makes it clear that not just anyone can come into His presence:
“Who shall ascend the hill of the LORD? And who shall stand in his holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to what is false and does not swear deceitfully.” (Psalm 24:3-4)
The Lord Jesus warns us that many will not attain to eternal life:
“Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” (Matthew 7:13-14)
Do you measure up to the divine standard? Do you have what it takes? Have you made the cut?
Which raises another question. Since we are all sinners – “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23); “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God” (Romans 3:10-11) – what does it even mean to make the cut? How does one get into the reality of being accepted by God, of being a human being who is on good terms with the Most High God, when Scripture makes it so clear that left to ourselves we are most assuredly not on good terms with God? Can any of us really be good enough for God?
THE SCRIPTURAL TEXT
Our instruction is drawn from Philippians 3:4-9. After this sermon is over, if you find yourself disappointed that I didn’t cover everything in these verses, relax – I think we’ve got a couple more sermons ahead to reflect more fully on these verses. One step at a time. In any case, let me read our passage – I will start my reading at verse 2 in order to capture the flow of thought. The apostle Paul writes,
“Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh. For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh– 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: 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; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. 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 as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 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–” (Philippians 3:2-9)
EVERYONE WANTS TO MEASURE UP
So here’s the deal: everyone wants to measure up – everyone wants to measure up to whatever the standard of righteousness is in their religious or moral system. I didn’t say that everyone wants to measure up to God’s standard of righteousness, which is the only standard that actually matters, but that everyone wants to measure up to whatever the standard of righteousness is in their religious or moral system. In a very basic sense, everyone wants to be ‘righteous’, everyone wants to be ‘justified’, everyone wants to be accepted and approved by their group, by their system, by their view of the world.
Generally speaking, people don’t want to go around thinking that they are not okay, that they are not good enough, that they don’t measure up, that they are abject failures. People would much rather think that they are okay – and they believe that their okay-ness means that they should be regarded as acceptable within their own moral and social framework. Never mind that their framework itself is wrong, it is enough that they should be reckoned ‘righteous’ in accordance with the faulty standards of their own worldview.
Everyone wants to measure up. Everyone wants to have a résumé that makes the cut. And the default mindset of sinful human beings is that the way to make the salvation cut is for you to build an impressive résumé, for you to put together an outstanding portfolio, for you to string together a wonderful collection of compelling performances. Do this, and you’ll be at peace with the cosmos!
To put the matter a bit more clearly, the default mindset of sinful human beings is that you’ve got to earn salvation, earn your way to heaven, earn righteousness, earn eternal life. In other words, the default mindset of sinful human beings is that you’ve got to put confidence in the flesh. Paul refers to “confidence in the flesh” three times in Philippians 3:3-4.
1) In verse 3, Paul says that God’s true people “put no confidence in the flesh.”
2) Paul begins verse 4 by saying, “though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh.”
3) Then, continuing in verse 4, Paul adds, “If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more.”
Clearly these attitudes of putting or not putting “confidence in the flesh” are important to this passage. As a Christian, Paul does not and will not put confidence in the flesh, though he has the credentials that could tempt him to do so. Before he became a Christian, Paul most certainly did put confidence in his fleshly credentials.
When Paul speaks of putting confidence in the flesh, “the flesh” refers to your personal, moral, and religious assets; your earthly qualifications; your human character and credentials; the kind of stuff you would include on your résumé or your biographical write-up. This flesh-oriented mindset is to put confidence in yourself, that you possess – by privilege of birth, family origin, religious association, and individual performance – that you possess all that you need in order to be righteous within your system, and that such righteousness is all that you need.
Paul, before his conversion to Christ, had a system – we’ll call it Legalism 1.0: The Jewish or Pharisaical Version. Keep in mind that the Old Testament law is fundamentally good: it reveals the character of God, teaches us how to walk in fellowship with God, and directs us in the way of godly living. The Pharisees, however, distorted the Old Testament law, added their own laws on top of it, and turned law-keeping into the mechanism for justification: if you keep the law, then God will regard you as righteous. Instead of trusting the Lord, they “trusted in themselves that they were righteous” (Luke 18:9). They put confidence in the flesh, in their own fleshly credentials, in their religiosity and righteous conduct. In Philippians 3 Paul is warning the Philippians about these folks: “Look out for the dogs….” After warning us about these folks, Paul tells us that he used to be like them. “If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh” – if these Jewish false teachers are proud because they are circumcised Jews who strictly adhere to the rules and regulations of the Old Testament as well as their own rules and regulations that they have added on the top, Paul wants us to know that he was highly skilled in this religious game before his conversion – and he had to give it up, he had to count his religious résumé “as loss” (Philippians 3:7, 8), “in order … [to] gain Christ” (Philippians 3:8). But if others suppose that they can stand on their own two blessed feet, “I have more” reason to suppose that I can do so, says Paul.
FOUR EXAMPLES OF FLESH-BASED RIGHTEOUSNESS
In the ensuing comments in verses 5-6, Paul sets forth what it looked like for him to put confidence in the flesh, to trust in his own goodness. In doing so, Paul answers at least six questions:
1) What system are you living in?
2) What is your pedigree?
3) What are you passive credentials?
4) What are you active credentials?
5) What is your level of passion and zeal?
6) How would you summarize your status under your system?
You can take any religious or moral or social view of righteousness and unpack it by means of these six questions. Imagine a speaker panel with four people on it, each one representing a different system of righteousness. As we shall see, however, these different systems all share one thing in common: the righteousness that they offer is law-based, works-based, flesh-based, self-performance-based. That said, let’s hear from each of our four panelists.
FIRST EXAMPLE: PAUL – LEGALISM 1.0: THE PHARISAICAL VERSION
Paul, what system did you live in before you became a Christian? My system was the law of Old Testament ceremonies, instructions, and Jewish identity. If you perform well according to the letter of the law, then you will be justified. The righteousness that mattered was the “righteousness of my own that comes from the law.”
What is your pedigree? My pedigree is among the very best, because I am a descendant of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. I am a true Hebrew, a Benjamite to be precise (Benjamin was one of the twelve tribes), a citizen of Israel. Do you know what great privileges were given to the Israelites? “… to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises” (Romans 9:4). “… the Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God” (Romans 3:2), and there I was right in the thick of it, a beneficiary of this rich heritage.
What are your passive credentials? Oh, that’s an easy one. I was “circumcised on the eighth day,” as the Old Testament law required. A passive credential, for sure, since I was circumcised by the will of my parents and my community, not my own. But though a passive credential, it was regarded as eminently important. It meant that I bore in my body the sign of the covenant, that I was among God’s true people, and that I was set up for success.
What are your active credentials? I was devoted to the law. I was “brought up in this city [Jerusalem], educated at the feet of Gamaliel according to the strict manner of the law of our fathers, being zealous for God” (Acts 22:3). “… according to the strictest party of our religion I… lived as a Pharisee” (Acts 26:5). Picture a religious devotee and young seminarian who reads Scripture and studies theology and fasts and prays and tithes and goes to temple and makes vows (and keeps them) and offers sacrifices and avoids moral debauchery, that was me.
What was your level of passion or zeal? High, very high. So very high, in fact, that I persecuted the church: I was present and supportive when my group killed a Christian evangelist named Stephen, and thereafter I “[ravaged] the church, and entering house after house, [I] dragged off men and women and committed them to prison” (Acts 8:3). So great was my zeal, that I obtained authorization from the high priest to go to Damascus, arrest Christians, and “bring them bound to Jerusalem” (Acts 9:2). I was ‘all in’ to Pharisaical Judaism, and those who opposed and threatened the purity of our religion needed to go.
How would you summarize your status under your system? Under the law of Old Testament ceremonies, instructions, and Jewish identity – as interpreted by the Pharisees – I was blameless, justified, righteous. Not only that, I was the cream of the crop. “I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers” (Galatians 1:14). So if others were also righteous, I was righteous all the more. If others “[had] reason for confidence in the flesh, I [had] more.”
Thank you, Paul.
SECOND EXAMPLE: BETH – LEGALISM 2.0: THE CHRISTIANIZED VERSION
Now we turn to our next panelist, a woman named Beth. Now a Christian, Beth was once a practitioner of Legalism 2.0: THE Christianized Version.
Beth, what system did you live in before you became a Christian? My system was the law of Christian tradition, lived in my own strength. If you do Christiany and churchy things in a Christiany and churchy context, then you will be justified. The righteousness that mattered was the “righteousness of my own that comes from the [tradition].”
What is your pedigree? My pedigree is among the very best. I was born into a Christian family, full of Bibles all over the house and grace before every meal, church on Sundays and Wednesdays, AWANA on Thursdays and later Youth Group on Fridays. I attended a Christian school, and then a Christian college, and married a Christian man. Do you get the picture? How much more Christian could one be?
What are your passive credentials? I was dedicated – some would say baptized – as an infant. I was taught the catechism and had memorized it by the age of six. I was practically raised in the church – we were there whenever the doors were open.
What are your active credentials? Regular churchgoer, dutiful Bible reader, always faithful to my family, a productive member of society.
What was your level of passion or zeal? In the church, I always showed up, put generous contributions into the offering plate, and served faithfully on two or three different committees. In society, I was a champion for the Judeo-Christian moral ethic, and toward that end I participated in protests, circulated petitions, and subscribed to the newsletters of conservative think tanks. I was serious about all of it!
How would you summarize your status under your system? Under the law of Christian tradition, lived in my own strength, I was blameless, justified, righteous – and a cut above almost everyone else. I was seen as an exemplary Christian, held in high regard by my fellow churchgoers, even though I didn’t know Christ.
Thank you, Beth.
THIRD EXAMPLE: ROBERT – GOOD OL’ MORALISM
Our third panelist is Robert. Before Robert became a Christian, he lived what he considered to be a good, moral life.
Robert, what system did you live in before you became a Christian? My system was the law of moral excellence. I wasn’t oriented to any particular religious tradition – my father was a liberal Jew, my mother was a liberal Protestant, and there were a variety of spiritualities in my extended family. My motto was: Be a good guy, get a good guy’s reward.
What is your pedigree? I came from a good family: they loved me and gave me a moral compass.
What are your passive credentials? I had a lot of wonderful opportunities as a youngster: good schools, a scouting program, sports teams and other extra-curricular activities. I didn’t choose them, they were chosen for me – and I was the better for it.
What are your active credentials? I was an excellent student, earning a number of scholarships and making the Dean’s List all the way through college. I was a successful athlete who always honored the sport and won sportsmanship awards on three different occasions. Now I have a career with a decent salary, I respect others, take care of my family, pay my taxes, and stay out of trouble.
What was your level of passion or zeal? I really believed in giving back to your community. In that vein, I have served on the Board of Education, participated in the local Rotary Club, coached a number of different teams (mostly the teams that my kids were on), and donated generous amounts to charity. I was acknowledged by all as an upstanding member of my community.
How would you summarize your status under your system? Under the law of moral excellence, I was blameless, justified, righteous. Other people said that I was a great guy, and I agreed!
Thank you, Robert.
FOURTH EXAMPLE: SUSAN – SECULAR PROGRESSIVISM
Our final panelist is Susan, and her background isn’t in a traditional religious or traditional moral framework. Before she was baptized as a new believer in Christ, she was a secular progressive. As it turns out, they care about ‘righteousness’ as much as anyone else, even though the trappings of formal religion are largely absent.
Susan, what system did you live in before you became a Christian? My system was the law of progressive ideology. Be on the right side of history (as the progressives interpret it, of course), and you’ll be judged right by history – and you’ll also be judged right by all the smart people who already get it! I toed the line at every turn, and walked my way into secular righteousness.
What is your pedigree? I could tell you, but it doesn’t matter in this system. If I grew up under the oppression of religious extremism, and rose above it; or if I grew up in the emptiness of dead orthodoxy, and escaped to find life in the world of self-expression; or if I grew up in the home of principled progressives who cheered me on as I took their progressivism to entirely new levels – it doesn’t matter. It’s not your pedigree, but your management of it that matters. But if you want to know the truth, my parents were both sociology professors at an elite college in a small New England town, and that should tell you all you need to know.
What are your passive credentials? I was the beneficiary of lively intellectual conversations around the dinner table with my parents’ professor friends, students, writers, and artists. Some of these people – and their work – had a profound influence on me, and two of them became mentor figures. So I was an insider in the movement from my youth.
What are your active credentials? I earned a doctorate from an Ivy League, worked as an activist, fought to protect a woman’s right to choose in red states, embraced widespread tolerance, and was open and affirming in nearly every direction. On top of that, I bought local, ate organic, loved the earth, and typically listened to independent music.
What was your level of passion or zeal? I chaired the Student Diversity Committee, went door-to-door for my favorite politicians, wrote weekly blogs for four years, and even got two essays published in an academic journal.
How would you summarize your status under your system? Under the law of progressive ideology, I was blameless, justified, righteous. I dotted every ‘I’ and crossed every ‘t’, and I was well-regarded in the eyes of the people who mattered.
Thank you, Susan.
Four different people with four different systems: Legalism 1.0: The Pharisaical Version, Legalism 2.0: The Christianized Version, Good Ol’ Moralism, and Secular Progressivism. And yet, these four different systems have something significant in common: each one is law-based. What matters is having a résumé that makes the cut in accordance with the standards of your system. Everyone wants to have a track record that measures up and merits you – earns you – a justified status. If you are like Paul or Beth or Robert or Susan, and you have earned a justified status within your system, then you think that you have all the righteousness that you need.
BEWARE: FLESH-BASED RIGHTEOUSNESS KEEPS YOU FROM GOD
And here’s the problem: if that’s your mindset, then your righteousness is keeping you from God – your goodness is keeping you from fellowship with God – your being esteemed in your own eyes or in the eyes of others is keeping you from true spiritual life.
Friends, we don’t talk about this enough. We typically speak about how our sins keep us from God – and they do. We typically speak about how we need to forsake our sins – and we must. But the theological edge of Philippians 3:2-9 is that our righteousness also keeps us from God and we must forsake our righteousness if we would gain Christ.
Don’t miss Paul’s point here. Our tendency, if we were to encounter a person who is trusting in their own goodness, is to try to convince them that they are not good at all, to try to help them see that they actually have a boatload of sins. This approach is a necessary part of our evangelistic message – everyone really does have a boatload of sins! – but it is not the only thing we ought to say. We also need to help them see that their goodness, their morality, their religion, their righteousness, their social virtue, their honorable reputation, is actually keeping the from God and – if they would have God – they must forsake all the good things that are on their résumé. Do you understand this? You actually need to forsake your moral, religious, and social assets if you would lay hold of the true prize, Jesus Christ. You need to forsake your wickedness and you need to forsake your excellence.
It is quite common to explain Paul’s teaching in Philippians 3:4-9 in terms of assets and liabilities. Everyone wants to increase their portfolio of assets and, at the same time, limit their liabilities. In the present case, of course, we are not speaking about economic assets but righteousness assets – assets that build up a good moral résumé. As these assets get stacked, one on top of the other, you start to get impressed. Pureblooded Jew, asset, check the box. Circumcision, asset, check the box. Well-studied and well-practiced in religious instruction, asset, check the box. Zeal for your religious tradition, asset, check the box.
We all know how to play this game, except that when we are doing it, it doesn’t seem like a game at all. Some pursue a righteousness of their own before they are converted to Christ, and tragically there are others who are hoodwinked into pursuing a righteousness of their own after they profess to be converted. This is why Paul had such sobering words for the Galatians: “O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you?” (Galatians 3:1) This is why Paul issues a warning to the Philippians: “Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh.” (Philippians 3:2) These are false teachers who want you to lose sight of the precious Redeemer and start putting confidence in a résumé of your own that comes from the law or from the tradition or from the expectations of your own congregation. Been in church my whole life, asset, check the box. Baptized at 12, asset, check the box. Choir member, asset, check the box. Committee chair, tither, married, no divorce, kids on the straight and narrow, assets, check the boxes. Someone might reply by asking: What’s wrong with these things? I didn’t say there was anything wrong with these things. What I am saying – indeed what Paul is saying – is that it is wrong to put your confidence in such things as if they are sufficient to give you a right standing with God.
This is so very relevant because our world is full of people who think they are getting in because they’ve been good – they’ve been a successful student, an industrious worker, a loving spouse, a wise parent, a respectable neighbor. If anyone is getting in, they’re getting in, because they’re good – surely they are good enough for God. Such people are actually perishing, not only because they haven’t obtained forgiveness for their sins, but also because they haven’t forsaken their goodness. They are relying on their goodness, they assume that their characteristic goodness outweighs their occasional misdeeds, they assume that heaven – if it exists – was made for people like them. Their portfolio of moral assets is keeping them from God.
Now notice what Paul says in Philippians 3:7, “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ.” Paul took all those religious and moral assets and began to see them as losses, as liabilities, as negatives – and therefore he forsook them, he walked away from them as a basis for true righteousness. As the Holy Spirit awakened Paul to the truth of the gospel, Paul realized that he couldn’t be in a saving relationship with God on the basis of his own credentials. He couldn’t hold onto his good résumé and get Jesus at the same time. You either hold onto your résumé and stake your eternity on all the good things that you have done – to your ruin, or you forsake your résumé and run to Jesus.
Friends, God never intended you to relate to Him on the basis of your portfolio of moral assets. God never intended you to use your performance as a ticket of admission into glory. If you put your confidence in the flesh, if you think that your goodness is good enough for God, if you think that a righteousness of your own is sufficient and that you therefore do not need a superior righteousness that comes as a gracious gift, then you will never be right with God. Because at the very heart of being right with God is knowing Him, trusting Him, delighting in Him, being humble before Him, standing in awe of Him, and embracing Him as your Savior and King. But the one who puts confidence in the flesh is preoccupied with what he sees in the mirror or on the résumé, and he never lifts up his eyes to the God of heaven. I urge you to understand this: if you do not have a heartfelt trust and devotion unto the Lord, then your entire life – however good it may appear by human standards – your entire life is a house of cards, built on sand, laced with the damning sin of unbelief, of not trusting the Lord, of trusting in yourself instead.
LOOK TO THE LORD!
If you would have a right relationship with God, then first and foremost you must look to Him! Look away from yourself and look straightaway to Him and all that He offers you! On that day when the Israelites were afraid because Pharaoh’s army was chasing them from behind and the impassable sea lay in front of them, Moses didn’t say, Pull out your résumé and perhaps God will be so impressed that he will lift you out of this mess. What did Moses say? “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the LORD, which he will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again. The LORD will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.” (Exodus 14:13-14)
The Lord declared through His prophet Isaiah: “Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth!” (Isaiah 45:22) “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.” (Isaiah 55:1) The riches of God’s grace are offered freely, not as a payout or promotion to those who think they have the net moral worth to deserve it, but as a gift to those who know themselves to be bankrupt. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:3) The Lord Jesus declares, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28)
See the Lord’s salvation! Turn to the Lord! Come the waters of His mercy and grace! Come to Jesus! If you are holding on to anything else as a foundation of righteousness, peace, and joy, you’ve got to let it go. Can you imagine standing before the Lord Jesus Christ, who so loved His people that He laid down His life for them on the cross? Can you imagine standing before the Lord Jesus, with His arms outstretched on that cross, dying that you might live, and you pull out your résumé and say to the Lord, “Isn’t this impressive, Lord? Look at my prayer life, look at my church attendance, look at my devotion to family, look at my career, look at my charitable deeds, look at my exemplary record – surely this impresses you as much as it does me, surely this gives me an inside track to your favor now and heaven hereafter.” What a sad scene! What a tragedy when your goodness blinds you to your desperate need for Him – your desperate need for His bloody wounds and risen life!
What a fatal mistake to assume that you measure up, what a wrongheaded move to put confidence in the flesh! Like the apostle Paul, the 20th century journalist Malcolm Muggeridge had reasons to put confidence in his earthly qualifications. He wrote,
“I may, I suppose, regard myself as a relatively successful man. People occasionally stare at me in the streets, that’s fame; I can fairly easily earn enough money to qualify for admission to the higher slopes of the Internal Revenue Service. That’s success. Furnished with money and a little fame, even the elderly, if they care to, may partake of friendly diversions. That’s pleasure. It might happen once in a while that something I said or wrote was sufficiently heeded for me to persuade myself that it represented a serious impact on our time. That’s fulfillment. Yet, I say to you, and I beg you to believe me, multiply these tiny triumphs by millions, add them all up together, and they are nothing, less than nothing. Indeed, a positive impediment measured against one drop of that living water Christ offers to the spiritually thirsty, irrespective of who or what they are.”
A WORD TO THE NON-CHRISTIAN
What about you? Are good things keeping you from the grace of Christ? In the case of Muggeridge, those good things were fame, success, pleasure, fulfillment. In the case of Paul and Beth and Robert and Susan those good things were religion, morality, good works, social causes. Perhaps you’ve walked into service today as a non-Christian or as someone who is confused about where you stand with God. As a minister of the gospel, I counsel you to stop looking at yourself, your system, and your social group, and instead start looking to the Lord Jesus Christ. Forsake your sins, forsake your successes (be they many or few), forsake your moral strivings (however far down that path you’ve gone), and let Jesus be your everything, let Jesus be your “exceeding joy” (Psalm 43:4), let Jesus be your everlasting treasure.
A WORD TO THE CHRISTIAN
On the other hand, perhaps you’ve walked into service today as an already Christian. Well, the Philippians were already Christians – and Paul told them, “Look out…” The apostle Peter told already Christians to “take care that you are not carried away… and lose your own stability” (2 Peter 3:17). So I say to you: Look out! Take care! Here is one of the temptations you need to avoid, or to recover from if you’ve already fallen into it.
After you become a Christian, the Holy Spirit transforms your life. By God’s grace, you start to grow in holy living, in love for one another, and in the knowledge of the truth. Praise God! But do you know what? You can be tempted to slowly look away from Jesus and start to be impressed by the fruit that God is producing in your life. And before you know it, you start to think that the fruit is what it’s all about, and you suppose that the fruit is the basis of God’s love for you. Your confidence subtly shifts from the Savior Himself to the fruit of good character and the fruit of a loving family and the fruit of theological understanding and the fruit of effective ministry. As vitally important as such fruit is, it was never meant to be your confidence, it was never meant to be your first love. But now you are enamored with the fruit, and you have forgotten that He is your everything, and that you are nothing without Him!
Dear people, perhaps some of you have taken your eyes off of the Lord, and now you are resting on the laurels of a respectable post-conversion track record, and you’ve lost your joy in the Lord. You’re no longer enthralled with His incomparable worth and – unlike Paul – you’re no longer ambitious to know Him (Philippians 3:10). But this Lord’s Day, the Lord is giving you a wakeup call: Draw near to Me, My child, and I will draw near to you (see James 4:8). Brother, sister: would you be renewed in your resolve to “count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus [your] Lord”?
Let us pray.
PRAYER TIME EXCERPT
In the words of Eliza E. Hewitt:
“More about Jesus would I know,
More of His grace to others show;
More of His saving fulness see,
More of His love who died for me.
“More about Jesus let me learn,
More of His holy will discern;
Spirit of God my teacher be,
Showing the things of Christ to me.
“More about Jesus; in His Word,
Holding communion with my Lord;
Hearing His voice in every line,
Making each faithful saying mine.
“More, more about Jesus,
More, more about Jesus;
More of His saving fulness see,
More of His love who died for me."
 John Piper explains this misuse of the law in Expository Exultation: Christian Preaching as Worship. Wheaton: Crossway, 2018: p. 296-297. Commenting on Romans 9-10, Piper explains Paul’s critique of unbelieving Israel: “They [Israel] failed to see that law keeping itself was not the ground of justification” (p. 296). What was true of unbelieving Israel in general, was also true of unbelieving Pharisees in particular.
 John Calvin, Moisés Silva, and G. Walter Hansen indicate that the Pharisees represented a particular interpretive (theological) tradition that centered on the Old Testament law. See: Calvin, John. Calvin’s Bible Commentaries: Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians. Translated by John King. Forgotten Books: 2007 (orig. 16th century): p. 75. Silva, Moisés. Philippians: Second Edition (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament). Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2005: p. 150. Hansen, G. Walter. The Letter to the Philippians (Pillar New Testament Commentary). Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2009: p. 225-226.
 Quoted in Ravi Zacharias, Can Man Live Without God. Dallas: Word Publishing, 1994: p. 116.
 Eliza E. Hewitt, “More About Jesus.”