As many of you may know, we are presently exploring Paul’s letters during our Sunday evening Bible Study. If you haven’t joined us yet, I challenge you to do so! There is great potential for growth. One of the themes we have already noticed during our study of Galatians is works-based salvation. Paul seemed to have regular opponents to his faith-in-Christ-based salvation. These opponents attempted to impose various religious customs, traditions, and rituals upon those Paul led to Christ.
Paul doesn’t merely address this issue in Galatians. Take a look at the third chapter of his letter to the Philippians. This is, perhaps, a very familiar passage to many of you. He addresses these opponents at the outset of chapter three, and I invite you to look specifically at verses four and following. Paul makes it quite clear: he’s been down that road of “works” before. He had done the rituals (eighth-day circumcision). He was from an elite, historic tribe (Benjamin). He was passionate in his religious energies and stunningly accurate in his legalistic adherence, at least according to cultural perception (see verse six).
But something happens as we move into verse seven. All those perceived “gains” are moved into the loss column. They amount to nothing. They are not neutral; they are “loss”, meaning that they are actually detrimental. All of those resume’ bullet-points actually brought him down. It’s not merely that they failed to create something positive–they were straight-up losses. Why? What changed? Paul tells us, in verse eight, that “the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus, my Lord” has completely shifted his perspective on things. In fact, he now sees things as they truly are.
That dead-end path of being good enough and having done enough brought him no power. He seeks to know “the power of His resurrection” in verse ten. He desires to live in God’s power–the life of God’s Spirit being lived out through him. That other path has no power…or, better, it does have one power–the power of slavery and death. Paul wants resurrection–new life from that death. And only one thing can bring that about.
We see it in verse eight. Paul will not merely add his relationship with Jesus to his existing life. That old life had to be thrown away. It had to be considered “rubbish”. The actual literal word is “dung”. Insert whatever synonym you like, you know what he’s talking about. Power doesn’t come by asking Jesus to give us a better version of the life we already have. Power comes when we willingly throw out the garbage-filled old life in exchange for something brand new that only Jesus can provide. And the garbage may not actually look all that bad to surrounding culture. But even “religious goodness” is dung compared to surrendering all to Jesus. We have to see that old path as nothing but death and Jesus as the only hope of life.
May God change the way you look at things today…and may you know that same resurrection power we read about in Philippians!