Dear radio friends,
The deepest desire of the apostle Paul was that he would be found in Christ.
Do you know what that means? Is that true also for you?
Paul makes this confession in a very beautiful passage of Scripture, Philippians 3:8, 9, “Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, and be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith.”
That confession that Paul makes leaves no room for glorying in ourselves but calls every child of God to confess, “to God alone be the glory” in my salvation. There are those who would say that Paul’s statements in these verses are a bit exaggerated. They would say to us that, after all, we must remember he was at that time engaged in the great conflict of his life against the Judaizers, against those who taught that salvation in some measure is due to one’s own self or one’s works. And his statements, they say, are a bit extreme and need to be toned down a bit. He says, “I do count all other works but dung”? Surely, in the heat of the battle and with his passions running high, his words have become a little radical, they say. He loses that nice balance, that moderation.
Well, that is not so. This word of God is very clear to us today. God’s truth is perfectly clear. The words of holy Scripture in these verses exclude any human element as the basis of our salvation. Not our works, not our will, not faith, and not our person. There is no one who can come to this chapter and read these words and say, “Well, although we need God’s aid for salvation, yet the fundamental movement toward salvation is of man’s making.” If one says that, he refuses to read what God is saying. No one can come to these words and say, “Yes, the basis of our acceptance with God is in the work of Christ. But faith is man’s part and conditioned from his will, which he must supply before salvation will be given to him.” No, that is not reading it right either.
If you attempt to place one item for salvation in the hands of man, in your own hands, you will meet the apostle Paul in the passage confronting you head on with holy zeal proclaiming, “God forbid!” This Scripture obviously means that our own righteousness, in every sense and in every degree, is excluded as the ground of our salvation. Christ alone is the sole ground of our acceptance with the Father. We are saved entirely on the basis of the work of Christ, His righteousness, and not at all on the ground of anything we are, have done, or can do, even if it be our faith.
What we must understand today is that this is a very personal confession. Paul is, indeed, set here for the defense of the gospel of God’s grace. We, too, are set for that defense. But we must remember that the apostle is not merely intent on arguing a theological case. He is speaking of the single, most profound conviction of his own soul. Paul’s interest was not just to combat false doctrine and false teachers, to expose their subtle errors. But his passionate words were out of a personal faith given to him. He knew that all of his salvation was of God.
Do you know that? That is the truth!
Now, if you would read the whole passage, the first nine verses of Philippians 3, you would find that it is filled with an emotion which is deep and pure. Nowhere in the apostle’s epistles are Paul’s words so fierce and so passionate. It is clear that his heart is set upon high things. His heart is set upon the theme of our salvation and, specifically, the ground of our salvation with God.
Paul opens the third chapter of the book of Philippians thinking that he will draw his epistle to a close. He says, “Finally, my brethren,” which are familiar words introducing his concluding words for an epistle. “Finally, my brethren” — that is, he will close his letter with some striking thought that he would want to abide in their minds as his last message to their souls. “Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord.”
The idea of joy or rejoicing is a fundamental note in the epistle of Philippians. “Rejoice in the Lord.” That is the thought that he would leave us. And that idea of rejoicing in the Lord does not simply mean “be happy, be filled with some indefinable good feeling, perk up.” No! Specifically, let your joy be in the Lord. Not in yourselves. We would say, “Let your boast be in the Lord. Let your glorying be in Jehovah.” The apostle would conclude the letter by reminding us of the very core of the gospel — you are saved. You are not a self-saved soul. You did not save yourself. But rejoice in the Lord.
Then he goes on to say, “I know this is repetitious. To write the same things to you,” he says, “to me indeed is not grievous, but for you it is safe.” It was a joy for Paul to cry over and over, “Boast in the Lord. He alone is due all of our glorying.” And he says, “This is very safe. It is very safe for me to impress this upon you, to remind you that he that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.” And it is at this point, even though he was concluding his letter, that Paul is led by the Holy Spirit to remember those who were undermining the purity of this gospel, who were attacking the truth of our sole dependence upon God for salvation.
So the apostle bursts forth in warnings. He says in verse 2, “Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of the concision.” He has in mind there a group called the Judaizers. He hotly warns against them. They were the ones who, in their doctrine, stood against the very attitude that he was expressing. He was expressing the attitude: Rejoice in the Lord; be entirely dependent upon Christ to the exclusion of everything in yourselves. So, he says, “I must warn you. Mark these people. Beware of the concision, of these Judaizers, who would glory in the flesh.” They were the group who said, “Yes, Christ saves, but not entirely. We must also have the ceremony of circumcision. There are also things that we must add to Christ in order to make the package of salvation real and complete.”
So the apostle proceeds to combat that in great fury. In the passage, the apostle Paul’s fundamental motive is exactly this: Rejoice in the Lord; let your boasting be in God alone. These Judaizers are to be rejected exactly because they deny, they are antagonistic to boasting exclusively in the Lord.
We must rejoice in Christ Jesus, Paul says in verse 3, and have no confidence in our own flesh. True religion is to renounce all of our self, our will, our acts as being the basis of our salvation and to look to Christ alone as the ground of that salvation.
The apostle begins personally to develop that truth. He lists his own high claims which, at one time, he thought marked him out for distinction in God’s sight. He thinks of the fact that he had a pretty good pedigree. He says he was from the stock of Israel, the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews. He looks at his life and says that was pretty good, too. “I was a Pharisee, blameless as touching the righteousness of the law. When I look at my life in terms of outward compliance to a mere external code, I did OK.”
Then, about zeal — he was a very zealous person. Apart from the gospel he persecuted the church of Jesus Christ. If anyone was going to go to heaven on the basis of his works, on the basis of his ardor, on the basis of his passions, on the basis of his feeling, it would be Paul. If anyone was good enough, it was Paul.
But now, says the apostle, all of these things in which I used to boast, all of these things are a matter of refuse, of dung, to me in the matter of my salvation. He says, but what things were gain to me, these I count loss for Christ, “Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, and be found in him.” That is it! “I desire to be found in Him!”
The apostle Paul was saying, formerly all those things that I sought after; all those things that I thought would save me; all that I did and all that I was which, from an earthly point of view, was far superior to what most could point. All of that now, he says, “I reckon it useless, I reckon it loss, I reckon it a mass of manure to be cast away! I depend,” says the apostle, “for my salvation on the surpassing excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord. And that I might be found in Him.” The apostle, you see, did not have just a barren knowledge of Christ Jesus. Many people have that — “O, yes, Jesus Christ, he lived in the first century, didn’t he? And he was this moral reformer, wasn’t he? O, yes. We have a knowledge of who he is and what he did.” No! Not for the apostle! That he might know Him personally by faith, and by the gift of God be placed in Christ.
So, get it straight. On the one side stood all of human works done in order to save oneself, to earn salvation. And if anybody piled them up, the apostle Paul had a big pile: his pride, his works, his will. And, Paul says, it is all dung. On the other side stands Christ — His work, His obedience, and His sacrifice. He is all, says Paul. I want to be found in Him, not having my own righteousness which is of the law, but that which is of faith, the faith of Christ, the righteousness that is of God by faith.
The apostle’s words to us are these: “Rejoice in the Lord! That must be your fundamental confession. Boast solely in the Lord.”
The contrast here you must see as being absolute. The contrast between the righteousness which a man can make for himself and the righteousness which God gives purely of grace — that contrast is absolute. There is no point of merger here. The apostle is pouring contempt on the idea that lurks within our own hearts — that our works can, at least in part, be the basis of our salvation. Or the idea that our faith, after all, is part of the ground of our salvation. The idea that salvation, righteousness with God, is exclusively of God’s grace is an idea that, apart from the work of the Spirit, will be rejected by you and by me, by all men. For we would boast in ourselves.
But, by grace, Paul utterly rejects his own righteousness, his own works as the ground of his trust, to be found in Him.
This is the gospel. Get it straight! We can do nothing to earn our salvation or secure it for ourselves. Salvation is a gift of God. It is in Christ. Christ has done it all.
Oh, I know the response. Paul faced it and so do we. The response is that this gospel will be branded as immoral. “What,” it will be asked, “we can do nothing? Nothing depends on us, not even our believing? Christ does it all? Well, then you are saying to us, let us eat, drink, and be merry. Then you are saying that it is not important to live a good life. Then you are saying it is not important to believe. Then how can you call men to believe, since believing cannot save them?”
Scripture meets these challenges. These challenges are repeatedly condemned in the epistles. They are carefully explained to us, for instance, in Ephesians 2:8-10 where we are told that, while we are not saved on the basis of our works, we are indeed saved by grace unto good works. We are created in Christ Jesus unto good works. You cannot be saved and still walk in the dominion of sin. And although your faith is not the ground, that is, the reason, the basis, of your salvation, faith is a gift of grace which unites you to Christ so that you live out of faith and in faith.
Would you note with me that in this chapter the apostle Paul does not wish to answer the charges that his gospel is immoral, not because he did not know the charge would come and not because he did not know what to say. He does not immediately respond, “Now, don’t let this offend you, that I’ve said that salvation is only in Christ and there is no element whatsoever of human merit with God. Now, let’s moderate this a bit. Let’s not begin to think that your works out there and your will are not important. God has a purpose and a great desire for these things.” No, he does not talk that way. But he simply stands and says, “You heard me correctly. As far as the ground of salvation is concerned, all that is of yourself, all of your work, all of your will, is dung. It is loss. Salvation is in Christ alone.”
That is the heart of the gospel. Throughout all of the ages, this is the battle. The battle comes down to one between these two statements. 1) Do this and live. 2) Live and do this. Do this and be saved, say many. But the gospel says, Saved by grace and therefore we do this.
Which one appeals to you? Do you think that your salvation is grounded upon yourself, anything in yourself that you have done? Or do you wish to be found in Christ alone?
Do you, like the rich young ruler, feel that you must do some good thing to be saved? Then you are not prepared at that moment to trust your salvation to Christ. The gospel is this: His perfect work alone. Not our supplementing His work, but His work alone.
You must trust something for salvation. There must be a reason. What is the reason for God to embrace you, for God to open His arms, to receive you into His fellowship and to promise never to forsake you, to keep you? What is the reason for God to forgive your sins and give you glory in heaven? What is it? What is the reason? It is either in yourself and in something you have done, in your will and work, or it is in Christ. It cannot be both. God will not share His glory here. It is not both. You either glory in your flesh or you glory in Christ.
What is the call of the gospel? Forsake yourself. Forsake all reliance upon yourself. Believe in Christ. Christ only! Let your joy be in the Lord.
That I might be found in Him.
The idea there is the idea of being assumed in or reckoned to be in Christ. It is a legal idea. In Christ, so that His righteousness is imputed as my own. The word “imputed,” a biblical word, refers to the fact that God reckons legally the righteousness of Christ to belong to His people, to belong to those for whom Christ died. And they are the elect, chosen of God from eternity. To be found in Christ. Christ’s righteousness and obedience, freely given as my own, by mere grace of God. And God giving me faith whereby I might receive, believe, and embrace this glorious gospel, that I might be found in Him.
Then the voice of my conscience will arise to condemn me. And that voice will say, “How can you be saved? You cannot deny your sins. Look at those sins — gossip, hate, lust — yes, many sins.” And we weep in sorrow. But the answer: that we might be found in Him. Then Satan’s voice condemns us and says, “You? You? Look at yourself. You think you’re a child of God?” Then the answer is, that we might be found in Him. Then death comes and again sin mounts up before us and we ask the question, How can it be? How can it be that I will be with my Lord in glory? Look at my sins. But then the answer is, that we might be found in Him and rejoice in the Lord. Then, one day, we shall all stand, all men and women shall stand before Him in the day of judgment. The books shall be opened and every secret thought and spoken word shall be known. Are you afraid? That I might be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, but the righteousness which is of faith, the righteousness that God has given to me in Jesus Christ.
Let all the people of God then say with one voice: I count all things but loss, save for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, that I might be found in Him and in the righteousness of God in Christ. Then truly you may raise up your voice and rejoice in the Lord!
Let us pray.
Father, we thank Thee for Thy word and we pray that Thou wilt bind it to our hearts in this day, that there may be a clear, believing understanding of this precious gospel and that it may be the source of all of our faith, all of our comfort, and the source of our strength. Amen.