Our text for today comes from Philippians 3:8-9 and can be found on page 981 of the Bibles in the pew racks. These are the words of God:
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 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
If you are new to Christianity, it’s completely normal to feel like everyone is speaking in code words that have technical meanings. My goal in this series of sermons is to explain one of those code phrases—but I am doing so not to satisfy theological curiosity, but because this phrase is imminently practical for everyone in the room. The phrase I’m speaking of is “justification by faith,” or you may hear a Christian say they are justified. What does it mean to be justified? What does Paul mean when he says he has a righteousness that depends on faith?
Justification by faith is at the very heart of the gospel message—and it’s imminently practical for everyone in the room. But before we get practical, lets summarize the passage that’s in front of us
SUMMARY OF THE TEXT
If you look up at verse 2 you see that Paul is in the middle of warning the Philippian Christians of false-teachers. (v. 2) Judaizers taught that one must first become a law-abiding Jew before one could be a Christian, but true Christianity puts no confidence in our own moral record. (v. 3) And Paul knows this because no one had a better moral record than himself. (v. 4-6)
When Paul met the risen Christ, his confidence in his own moral record in melted like snow on the equator. He could not produce the kind of moral record God required, but thankfully, God offered him a perfect record and all that was required of Paul was trust. (v. 8-9)
And that’s the center of the Christian gospel—man owes a debt to God but cannot pay it. God can pay the debt, but he is not required to pay it—man is. Therefore, the Son of God, without losing his deity, became a man and did what we could not do: he achieved a morally perfect record. In his death, he took upon himself the divine punishment of sinners.
So, how are you made right with God? Only by true faith in Jesus Christ. God, without any merit of ours, out of mere grace, gives to us the perfect moral record of Christ, and treats us as if we had never committed any sin and as if we had accomplished all the obedience which Christ fulfilled for us—all we must do is accept this with a believing heart. That’s what it means to be justified.
So, let’s take a moment, and bring all of this doctrine down to earth by answering three questions. Why do we need it? What is it? How do we get it?
WHY DO WE NEED IT?
Throughout this passage Paul is saying: you need righteousness. Whether you realize it or not, you need it. And I know that this word righteousness may be unclear to some of you. It’s not a word we often use, and when we do it’s typically negative. So, let me explain righteousness from a different angle. Years ago, I heard a preacher say that righteousness is a record of performance which opens doors.
So, if you are wanting a job, you bring out your resume—it’s a performance record showing that you have the requisite skills for the job. And, if your resume is sufficient, you get hired on.
Or, if you’re applying to college you send your high school transcripts and your SAT scores. What is that? You give them a record of your performance and say, “Based on my record, accept me.”
Now, when it comes to being accepted by God, welcomed by God, you don’t bring out your resume, or your transcripts, you bring out your moral record. In verse 3 Paul says, “we put no confidence in the flesh.” In verse 4 he says that no one has more reason for confidence than him. The word for confidence means to trust in or depend upon like soldier who, while fighting in a battle, trusted that his shield would stop the arrows and spears of the enemy, or a blind person depends upon a guide to get them to their destination.
In other words, says Paul, “Most people, when they begin to sense a need for God or a fear of punishment from God, they depend upon their moral record to protect guide them to God, or to protect them from judgment.”
You may think, “I’m not a religious person. I’m not looking for God.” Maybe not, but you are still looking for justification—which is the same Biblical word as righteousness.
Arthur Miller –
For many years I looked at life like a case at law, a series of proofs. When you’re young you probe how brave you are, or smart, then, what a good lover, then, a good father, finally, how wise, or powerfully… [I’ve always presumed]… That I was moving on an upward path toward some elevation, where I would be justified
Joanna Gaines –
I used to want to do everything, be everything. I typically have a pretty clear vision in my mind of how I want things done. I just felt easier to do things myself rather than try to explain what I was looking for and then have to fix it all when it invariably would end up falling short.
This may make me sound like a textbook control freak and I probably was. I thought that high level of perfectionism was serving me well all those years.
Lately though, I have felt different. It could just be because I have more on my plate than I am physically capable of accomplishing. But whatever the reason, I no longer feel the need to do it all. I couldn’t see it until recently, but this wasn’t just about the work being done “right.”
There was something more sinister hiding in my best laid plans. I realize now that I found me self-worth neatly packaged together with all that I did. In fact, the two really couldn’t be separated. I wouldn’t have admitted this back then, but I think I was scared of what I would be left with if I stopped doing. I was terrified of what I might hear if I paused long enough to listen.
Arthur Miller, Joanna Gaines, and the Apostle Paul – what are you putting confidence in? You need righteousness. You’re looking for it whether you think you are or not.
WHAT IS IT?
In v. 9, Paul says he was trying to build his own righteousness resume; trying to earn his justification. But when he met the risen Christ he realized that God had been building his own moral record. Not just a good moral record, a perfect one. He learned that the righteousness we all need isn’t achieved, it’s received. It’s not one we make, it’s one that Christ made, and it comes to us, it’s imputed to us.
Imagine that a soldier who had won the Congressional Medal of Honor took the medal off their neck and placed it on yours so that everywhere you went, you were treated as if you had won the medal of honor. Doors would open for you. Everyone would show deference and honor to you. People would bow and you would be greeted with welcome.
That’s what it means to receive the righteousness of Christ. (2 Cor. 5:21) It means that God now treats you as if you had done every righteous thing Jesus Christ had done.
Righteousness is not pardon. Pardon says, “You may go.” Righteousness says, “You may come.” It means that you aren’t sneaking in the back door of heaven. The doors are flung wide and trumpets blast and you are welcomed as if you were as sinless as Jesus Christ himself is.
HOW DO WE GET IT?
You receive the performance record of Christ through repentance and faith. Two more Christian code words, right? They’re actually very simple words. What is repentance? Verse 7 “whatever gain I had, I count as loss.” These are accounting terms. In other words, repentance is an inversion of your ledgers. Everything he thought was in the profit column he now sees as a loss.
What is faith? Paul says in verse 9 that we need the “righteousness that comes through faith.” Faith is mere rational ascent. It’s not simply agreeing with truth claims. In v. 3 Paul says we don’t put confidence in our own record, instead we “glory in Christ Jesus.” This isn’t the common word for glory (doxa), but rather, a word that means “brag,” or “boast.” What do you boast in? What are you proud of? Paul once boasted in his own good deeds. Now he only boasts of Christ.
WORKS DON’T WORK
Now, let me be clear, neither repentance (counting as loss) nor faith (boasting in Christ) are works which earn God’s favor. (Rom. 5:8; Rom. 4:5) God justifies the ungodly. You do nothing to earn it. Some people think this doctrine will lead people to disobedience. “If this is true, if it’s completely free then I’d have no incentive to live a godly life.”
If when you lose all fear of punishment you also lose your incentive for living a good life then the only incentive you had to be good was fear. And here’s what is ironic: the fear is a selfish fear. And a good person is not selfish. When you live a good life so that God will love you and bless you it is by definition, not good. You’re not helping the poor, you’re helping yourself. You’re not serving God, you’re serving yourself.
This is why there is nothing in the world like free justification. The world is not divided between those who obey God and those who don’t. You can live an obedient life—that’s utterly selfish in motivation. But the Christian gospel says the word is divided between those who are boasting in themselves and those who are boasting only in Christ.
This is why so many people cycle in and out of church. They grow up in the church as children. They leave as college students. They cycle back in as young parents. What’s going on? Many times here’s what’s happening: they are trying to practice Christianity. They know they’ve done wrong. They confess and ask forgiveness, and they try harder.
But this passage says that Christ is the end of all your striving. If you are still trying to earn your place here, you have not understood the gospel. Martin Lloyd Jones used to ask people, “Are you a Christian?” And if they said, “I’m trying to be,” he knew they weren’t, because you don’t become a Christian by trying.
What are you looking to? In what are you boasting? To be a Christian means to glory only in Christ.