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Requirements for Pursuing Christ
If you have lived in Spokane, Washington, you are familiar with Bloomsday–a seven-mile race with approximately 50,000 participants. You pay your 18 bucks and get your number—you can run as an elite runner, walk, whatever you want to do. Bands and entertainment line the course. And one thing for certain, it is impossible to get off-course. You cannot lose your way. There are officials, fans, crazy people lining the course for the entire seven miles.
Sadly, that is not the case when it comes to being a Christian–you can get off course. That’s why the New Testament teaches in Hebrews 12:1 and 2, “Since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith.”
And 1 Corinthians 9:24, “Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win.” Christians often run the wrong way, stop pursuing Christ, and fix their eyes on lesser things. What do I mean? Even though they’re saved, they try to earn salvation. Or, since they can’t escape materialism, they give up and indulge. They love their kids more than husband or Christ. They live for their work and not for the Lord. They know they can’t live perfect, so holiness turns optional. There are many more–Christians who stop pursuing Christ, Christians who get off course . . .
Paul was concerned about his beloved Philippians. They were battling the triple P–persecution from the Romans, pressure from legalists, and a party spirit from their friends. So Paul will call them today to pursue Christ, get back on course, and as he opens chapter 3, Paul tells you the requirements for pursuing Christ in your spiritual race, how not to trip up or get off-course.
Read with me Philippians 3:1 to 3. “Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things again is no trouble to me, and it is a safeguard for you. 2 Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of the false circumcision; 3 for we are the true circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh.”
Paul now warns the Philippians about the legalists, called Judaizers–why? Adding Jewish tradition to the Gospel would stop unbelievers from coming to Christ and distract believers from pursuing Christ. So as Paul exposes the error of legalism and attacks these Judaizers, Paul will tell the Philippians a few keys to staying on track in their pursuit of Christ.
This morning, you may be bummed, bored or battling. Many are too busy, too burdened with lesser things and brooding with issues, which is why you need to be reminded of these essentials for pursuing Christ. Three verses give us three requirements.
#1 Sustain a HEART of joy Verse 1a
“Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord.” Doesn’t that first word of verse 1 crack you up? “Finally”–I always get a kick out of that because Paul is only halfway through the book. It sounds like he’s saying, “Now, in closing . . . ” and then he goes on for two more chapters. He must have been an expositional preacher. In fact, the next time you hear me say, “Now, in closing . . . ” then I go on for another fifteen minutes, realize this–I’m just being Biblical.
But let’s be accurate–the Greek word finally means furthermore, so then, now then. It’s a word of transition introducing a new focus. Paul will move away from his focused statements on unity in chapter 2 and introduce a new focus in chapter 3. A first requirement to pursuing Christ is to sustain a heart of joy. “Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord.”
I love this focus. Most think what’s most important is a quiet time, giving sacrificially, serving others–but Paul reminds us, it’s also a heart of joy. Doctrine is crucial. Love is crucial. But so is rejoicing! Rejoice occurs as a noun and verb over 150 times in the New Testament. Joy is a recurring theme in Philippians. Paul talks about joy seventeen different times in this letter. He just keeps hammering, I want you to rejoice–I want you to be joyful.
Good teachers know, repeating yourself is an important teaching tool. You often have to repeat something several times before people get it. Parents know this, coaches know this, and so do apostles. Say it again—rejoice.
Now joy is not happiness. Happiness is related to the word happenstance, which is dependent upon circumstances. So happiness is a feeling of exhilaration connected to favorable events, making happiness temporary and external. But joy can exist when you’re in the worst of pain–why? Because biblical joy is a sweet confidence in the future based on God’s purpose and power.
Joy is the result of knowing your heavenly Father loves you, is all powerful and is in complete control. Joy comes from an intimacy with Christ not only being your Creator and Savior, but also being your friend. That’s why Paul is commanding continual joy here. The persecuted Philippians can obey and choose joy. By commanding joy, Paul is proving that rejoicing is a choice of the will. And the results of joy are a supernatural, positive confidence which comes from the Holy Spirit.
But joy is not merely a quality, it is a relationship. Verse 1 says, “Rejoice in the Lord.” Rejoicing is connected to relationship. “Rejoice in the Lord.” The psalmist said it in Psalm 16:11b, “In Your presence is fullness of joy.” Where does rejoicing come from? Where does joy exist? In your relationship with Jesus Christ. Joy is confidence in God who causes all things to work together for your good and His glory. There is no fear in joy because joy is based on your intimacy with Christ, which cannot be broken.
And Paul says in verse 1, “Rejoice in the Lord.” This is the same Lord described in chapter 2—“every knee will bow, every tongue confess.” This is the name above all names–the one who is completely in charge, the Lord. These are the Philippians who are being told they must say Caesar is Lord. Paul says, “You rejoice in the only Lord.”
When you are rejoicing in the Lord, it’s like playing video games when you have all the cheats. It’s like having a royal flush before you go all in. It’s like being on a sales call, knowing you have the best product and the lowest price. Romans 8:31b, “If God is for us, who is against us?” Rejoice in the one who is the Lord–the Master. Have joy because you’re on the Lord’s side.
But this is bigger than just you. Paul says, “Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord.” Paul is commanding the entire Church to rejoice in the Lord. This is a corporate command. No matter what’s happening to a church outside or battles faced inside, the church is to be rejoicing. The church is to be a community of joy, intentionally spilling joy on each other–like being in the ultimate paintball war, you hit each other with joy.
And where does your joy come from? You are to have joy in the Lord, in the sphere of the Lord, in the midst of Christ. Joy is cultivated in you when you pursue being filled with God’s Spirit every moment. Joy is maintained in you when you pursue personal intimacy with Christ through His Word. Joy is produced when you moment-by-moment walk with Christ and live for Him.
But you are hampered in your pursuit of Christ when you allow your intimacy with Christ to be sustained by mere attendance without daily relationship. Believers lose their way when Christ is not your first love. Christ is to be your most important priority and first in every priority. Born again saints stop pursuing Christ when they rely on fellowship, but don’t find their joy in their Savior and friend, Jesus.
Community groups, church attendance, talks on the patio, serving in a ministry cannot replace your personal communion with Christ through the Word, prayer and daily Intimacy via the filling of the Spirit. So Paul continually commands the Philippians to pursue Christ by sustaining a heart of rejoicing. “Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord” (verse 1). As Paul transitions to a new focus, he commands the Philippians to . . .
#2 Remain DISCERNING Verses 1b-2
What Paul writes here is for every genuine Christian and for every true church. Read Philippians 3:1b to 2, “To write the same things again is no trouble to me, and it is a safeguard for you. 2 Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of the false circumcision.” This is for you! You can’t be a Christian without a fundamental understanding of the Gospel. You can’t be a Christian if you can’t discern what is true and what is false about salvation.
Discernment must grow as a Christian and as a church, because false teachers are subtle. They don’t announce themselves as false teachers. They don’t say, “I am here to mess you up by distorting the true faith.” Some false teachers are eloquent and persuasive. One false teacher I recently had to help believers discern is an incredible teacher. He is biblical when he teaches on the resurrection, but a heretic when it comes to justification by faith.
I am trying to tell you something. False teaching and Gospel error is rat poison and dog vomit put in a box–but the box is wrapped up with the paper of incredibly sound teaching. You must grow discerning so you don’t get off-track and stop pursuing Christ. Second Peter 2:2 and 3 warn of false teachers. “Many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of the truth will be maligned; 3 and in their greed they will exploit you with false words.”
Discernment is so important–Paul says in verse 1, “To write the same things again is no trouble to me, and it is a safeguard for you.” Paul will keep warning the Philippians because it is a safeguard for the Philippian–why? False teachers proclaiming salvation through ritual, ceremony and legalism are deadly.
High school students and collegians—now is the time for you to learn the Word, learn your theology, and become discerning. You must understand how to properly interpret the Bible so when you hear it taught weakly, poorly or heretically, you will discern and be able to reject error. The imagery of the Greek word safeguard is powerful–it means to not trip, not stumble, as if in a race. A requirement to stay on course spiritually is discernment so you don’t trip and fall hard.
“To write the same things” means Paul is elaborating on something previously mentioned. Remember back in 1:27 and 28, “Only conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, 28 in no way alarmed by your opponents—which is a sign of destruction for them, but of salvation for you, and that too, from God.”
In 1:28, Paul warned the Church not to be alarmed by false teachers. Now in 3:1 to 3, Paul tells the Church how to recognize false teachers. So now in verse 2, Paul goes for the throat and calls out false teachers who oppose the Gospel with three imperative commands. The word beware is the Greek word see–to be vigilant, to be on the lookout. You Philippians, open your eyes and see.
The translation beware fits. You could also say watch out–watch out for this type of teacher. Verse 2, “Beware of [see] the dogs, beware of [see] the evil workers, beware of [see] the false circumcision.” Can you feel Paul’s intensity here? He says, “Watch out for the dogs–see them as dogs, beware of these dogs.” You probably didn’t realize, the sign, “Beware of dogs” is biblical? There it is!
When we think of dogs, we think of warm, cuddly, poochie-pets. But in the New Testament, dogs were not pets–they were wild scavengers that could attack people. Still today, this type of dog roams in packs, feeds on garbage, occasionally attacks children or anyone wounded or sick. These dogs swoop into an area after adults leave. The image is after spiritual leaders leave, these dogs swoop in. These dogs were filthy, vicious, dangerous, to be avoided and never trusted—just like false teachers.
I love collegians–I have a passion to minister to them. As a college pastor, I quickly learned these young zealots even in strong churches are intrigued by dogs–why? Dogs today write blogs, they’re edgy, critical, combative. They write some good stuff, but it is almost always mixed with poison. So Paul says to them, don’t be enamored with false teachers–avoid these dogs. Stay away! Beware of dogs.
In chapter 2, Paul just told the Philippians who they should be modeling–good old boring Paul, Timothy, and Epaphroditus are the examples, not these dogs. The first century Jews contemptuously referred to Gentiles as dogs. Amazingly Paul, a Jew, called these Jewish false teachers dogs. Today we would probably call them cats.
When I was 26, I stopped my car in the church parking lot, got out and confronted a false teacher dog–he was proselytizing someone in our church family. His group was teaching you must be baptized to be saved, along with other error. In my firm in the Spirit confrontation, I was misunderstood by a few in our congregation of a gentler persuasion who observed me. But later I was vindicated by an elder who reminded us all, true shepherds don’t pet wolves.
Paul’s words here seem harsh in today’s tolerant climate. Some consider it unloving to point out doctrinal error–dogs. Yes, you’re called to truth and grace–truth and love. True, but you’re also called to truth and discernment. Scripture teaches salvation is by grace alone through faith alone. Those who teach otherwise Jesus calls savage wolves, demon doctrine teachers, evil men who lead people onto the broad road to Hell.
They say they’re teaching people the way of Heaven, but in actuality they’re deceptively condemning them to Hell forever. Be polite, but be unbending. Be gracious, but never affirming. They’re working for the enemy and condemning people to Hell. Your dealings with them must be definitive and firm.
What makes it worse is these false teachers are often self-deceived, convinced they’re serving God. They are in fact, verse 2, “evil workers”. Two strong terms–evil is morally wrong and harmful, and worker is laboring. An evil worker is laboring to bring about that which is morally harmful. All those who are involved in external, ritualistic, ceremonial religions see themselves as doing good and pleasing God.
Paul once saw himself this way. Galatians 1:14, “I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries among my countrymen, being more extremely zealous for my ancestral traditions.” But after his conversion, the apostle realized all his good, external works were worthless and sees those works done in the flesh as human refuse compared to knowing Christ.
Only real believers controlled by the Holy Spirit can do genuine good works. Unbelievers can do bad things for bad reasons. But unbelievers can also do good things, but only out of selfish pride–never for God’s glory and never empowered by God’s Spirit. Only genuine believers can do good deeds which are empowered by the Holy Spirit and motivated by a desire to glorify God.
The false teachers plaguing the Philippians saw themselves as pleasing God, earning His favor (and their salvation) by zealously keeping the Law. But Paul exposes them for the prideful “evil workers” they were. Evil workers do damage and must be seen for what they are—“dogs”.
Paul next commands the Philippians in verse 2 to see the false circumcision–beware of them. With this, Paul tips his hand–the false teachers he is describing are his perpetual opponents, the Judaizers. The Judaizers were unsaved Jews who claimed to be Christians, who taught others–yes believe in Jesus, yes love Christ, but as you do, keep the Sabbath laws in order to be saved. Plus, be circumcised and follow all the Old Testament dietary laws. They taught you must become a Jew to be a Christian.
Whenever Paul heard the Judaizers were around, he didn’t mince words. He made certain everyone knew these guys were flat-out wrong. These Jewish legalists denied the Gospel of grace, teaching that circumcision and keeping the Law of Moses were necessary for salvation. The Jerusalem Council condemned their heretical teachings in Acts 15, as did Paul in Galatians. Salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone in Christ alone–not keeping the Old Testament Law nor being circumcised.
Instead of the salvation of internal transformation, these guys taught a salvation of external mutilation. That external sign became their external salvation. Circumcision is essential to the Jewish people–it is the distinguishing mark of being a Jew. In obedience to God’s command, every Jewish boy was (and is) circumcised on the eighth day after his birth.
Circumcision graphically illustrated man’s depravity, demonstrated in the procreative act, because it is then the sin nature is passed on to a new generation. Circumcision then became a symbol, picturing man’s need to be cleansed from sin at the deepest root of his being. Circumcision was designed to be an outward action which reflected an inward change of heart, but for the Judaizers it became an external action necessary for true salvation.
Paul says, “Watch out for them.” So to pursue Christ, you must #1 Sustain a HEART of joy, #2 Remain DISCERNING, and . . .
#3 Maintain GENUINE Christianity Verse 3
Paul calls the Philippians to live a genuine faith, so in verse 3 he describes what real faith looks like, “for we are the true circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh.” In this verse there are four distinguishing marks of genuine Christians–do you see them?
First Genuine TRANSFORMATION Verse 3a
“For we are the true circumcision.” The true circumcision are those whose hearts have been transformed by God internally. God has cut away their hard heart and given them a transformed heart. The true circumcision have been changed internally, not merely cut on externally. From the very beginning, this is what God had in mind, Deuteronomy 10:16, “So circumcise your heart, and stiffen your neck no longer.”
Deuteronomy 30:6, “The Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, so that you may live.” Jeremiah 4:4a, “Circumcise yourselves to the Lord, and remove the foreskins of your heart.” Romans 2:29, “He is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from men, but from God.”
The true are the transformed of heart. God has cut away your fallen heart and given you a new heart–a new heart which wants to obey and can obey God’s Word. Romans 6:17, “Thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed.”
A transformed heart is known by five “W” indicators:
1—WANTS to obey Romans 6
2—WILLING to do anything for Christ Luke 14
3—WORSHIP God in Spirit and truth Romans 12
4—WHOLE-hearted love for Christ first Revelation 2
5—WORD-driven obedience–the Bible drives their lives 1 Thessalonians 2
These qualities are not seen in the perfection of your life, but in the direction of your life. Are you genuinely transformed?
Second Genuine WORSHIPING Verse 3b
Next phrase in verse 3b, “who worship in the Spirit of God”–Jesus teaches true worship goes beyond praising God, singing songs and participating in a worship service. It is definitely not about feeling good, nor does worship happen because it’s your favorite genre–country western Christians, blue grass believers, soul saints, heavy metal mentors.
Human beings were made to worship–it’s ingrained in us. But when worship is motivated by culture, preferences, guilt, tradition, fear or to gain blessings, it’s unacceptable to God. In Isaiah 29:13, the Lord warned about worship in the flesh, “This people draw near with their words, and honor Me with their lip service, but they remove their hearts far from Me, and their reverence for Me consists of tradition learned by rote.”
Stephen warned his countrymen in Acts 7:51, “You men who are stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears are always resisting the Holy Spirit.” True worship is supernatural, since it is empowered by, verse 3, “the Spirit of God.” Since the Spirit only indwells believers, only believers can participate in and extend genuine worship.
Speaking to the Samaritan woman in John 4, Jesus told her worship was not about a specific location, but takes place in the heart. The Lord also told her true worship was according to the Word of God, not according to the whims of emotional worshippers or skinny-jeaned worship leaders. Then Jesus gave her the clearest definition of true worship in John 4:23, “An hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers in the Spirit and by the truth.”
Worship is always motivated and empowered by the Spirit of God and done according to the truth of God’s Word. The Greek word for worship in verse 3 means to render respectful spiritual service. Psalms tell us worship involves love for God from a people who find their source of joy and delight in God Himself, meaning genuine worship is the adoration of God with our all of our lives, which is what Romans 12:1 affirms.
“I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.” Worship is moment-by-moment offering yourself totally to God on the basis of all His amazing mercies. Genuine worship is giving yourself away to God fully. It is each day being a living sacrifice to God–offering your life, speech, attitudes, actions, sports, job, and family to the Lord. The participle worship in verse 3 reminds us worship is ongoing–a 24/7 process, not merely a Sunday event.
True worshipers are fully devoted to God–God has no rival for their affection. As Jesus replied to Satan’s temptation in Matthew 4:10, “You shall worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only.” True worshipers hold nothing back from the Lord. Your entire life is designed to be worship, offering all of yourself to all of Him. Is that your worship? To pursue Christ, you seek to be authentic, which means your life is worship.
Third Genuine BOASTING Verse 3c
I love the next phrase in verse 3c–do you see it? “And glory in Christ Jesus.” Glory is the word boast. Paul is saying genuine Christians boast in Christ alone. This boasting is an exultant joy about what a person is most proud of–you are bragging about Christ.
Paul loved this word, using it 35 times in his letters–sometimes used in a negative sense describing pride, but also used to describe a believer’s joyful exulting in Christ. When boasting is about you, it’s pride. When boasting is about Christ, it’s glorying. Christians give credit for all they are and all they have to Christ.
Jeremiah 9:23 to 24 says it clearly, “Thus says the Lord, ‘Let not a wise man boast of his wisdom, and let not the mighty man boast of his might, let not a rich man boast of his riches; 24 but let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the Lord who exercises lovingkindness, justice and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things,’ declares the Lord.”
Like Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15:10, “by the grace of God I am what I am.” Genuine Christians boast in Christ. Not in ministry, or fellowship or church. Not with your possessions, kids, salary, talents, sports nor gifts. You boast in God’s provision, protection, and providence. You boast in God’s work through you. An authentic faith declares it’s all God, not you. And authentic believers boast in Christ 24/7.
The participle glory is all of life, all the time, glorying in Christ. You say, “It is not me, it is Christ.” You live saying you can’t, but He can. Salvation is all of God and not about your choices. Salvation is by faith alone, by grace alone, in Christ alone. And even though you are fully responsible to fully participate in your sanctification, anything good that comes from your life is Christ through you. So authentic Christians do all their boasting in Christ alone. In fact they are known for their . . .
Fourth Genuine INABILITY-ing Verse 3d
This passage ends with, “and put no confidence in the flesh.” The flesh represents man’s fallen, unredeemed humanness. It pictures human ability apart from God. It is what you do apart from the Spirit of God. When you are not filled with the Spirit, you are in the flesh. Romans 8:4 reminds the redeemed, “Do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.”
You are a vessel. The best part of you is Christ in you. What matters most about you is Christ through you. Genuine Christians say, “I did nothing, Christ did everything and I’ve got nothing, Christ is everything.” Galatians 6:3 is blunt, “For if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself.”
It doesn’t mean you’re not active in your growth and ministry–far from it. Paul said it clearly in Colossians 1:29, “For this purpose also I labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works within me.” And in 1 Corinthians 15:10b, “I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me.” You labor, but it is God’s power that pulls it off.
Authentic Christians are open about their inability. I can’t, Christ can. “It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me.” The participle is continual action, meaning no matter what you are doing at any part of the day, you can’t do it for Christ, nor His glory, nor in His power, nor for eternity unless Christ does it through you by His Holy Spirit.
Christian, are you pursuing Christ? Are you #1 Sustaining a HEART of joy, #2 Remaining DISCERNING, and #3 Maintaining GENUINE Christianity? If so, several thoughts . . .
1. REWARDS await you
When you live in the Spirit, for God’s glory, what you do will receive eternal reward. When you live in the flesh, for your glory, reward will be lost for eternity.
2. Two basic commitments are EXPECTED
Double G–in the church, you minister your giftedness. In the world, you share the Gospel. Are you?
3. Two EXTREMES are to be avoided
Double L–Do not add traditions to Scripture as an entrance to salvation–that’s legalism. Do not remove obedience to Scripture as an evidence of salvation–that’s libertinism.
4. Be UNBENDING with the Gospel
If Paul would say this twice in a row, Galatians 1:8, “If we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed!” Catholics trusting in Jesus and Mary are headed to Hell. The Mormon Jesus cannot save anyone. Muhammad awaits all who follow Allah in Hell. We need to be more vocal about weak sauce heretical gospels.
5. Pursue the right EXAMPLES
Who are your models? The edgy, new, hip dude? The one who writes good stuff, but also teaches heresy? The blogger who ignores the 50 clear passages, then builds a contrary doctrine on the one unclear passage? Or are your heroes the faithful teachers of God’s Word, the consistently imperfect men who seek to honor God’s Word, the non-flashy believers who uphold the truth which has been fought and died for over 2,000 years?
Do you follow men like Paul, Timothy and Epaphroditus, or the risky, edgy, humorous guys? Or worse, the dogs who teach some truth, but also push poison? Who you read and pick as your heroes will determine what kind of Christian you will become—choose wisely.
6. Make it your passion to KNOW Christ
The best way to SUSTAIN a heart of joy, Remain DISCERNING, and Maintain GENUINE Christianity is to KNOW Christ. To walk with the Lord Jesus Christ intimately, personally, devotedly and adoringly each day–that’s joy.
Philippians 3:1, “Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things again is no trouble to me, and it is a safeguard for you. 2 Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of the false circumcision; 3 for we are the true circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh.”