Text: Phil 3:1-11
Thank you for sharing your salvation testimonies with all of us. In some ways, listening to a testimony can be more helpful at times than listening to a sermon because in a testimony, you are hearing someone describe how the Word of God came alive for them. I love listening to testimonies because it reminds me that listening to the Word of God is not like listening to a lecture by one of your professors. As a student listening to a lecture, you gain some facts, but that’s about it. And I hate to break it to you, but the vast majority of what you learn in class will have absolutely zero relevance for your life outside of the classroom.
I am an extreme example of this. I was an Anthropology major and I learned about various cultures and evolution and archaeology and my career was in IT and software consulting. So for me, my major had absolutely no correlation with my entire working career. Everything I did in my working career, I learned on the job or taught myself. The facts I learned in the classroom had zero connection with my real life.
Suppose I became an anthropologist and I was like Indiana Jones and I went to the jungles of Africa in search for fossils or the Missing Link or the Holy Grail and there happened to be a very close connection between what I learned in my major and my profession. Still, this is not the same thing as someone who listens to the Word of God. The difference is, in a classroom, you are learning principles while in a church, you are getting to know a Person. For believers, when 2 or 3 are gathered, Christ promises to be in our midst. That means, Christ is here in our midst right now. Do you believe this? For some of you, you may treat service like it’s a lecture. Just give me some facts. Give me a feel good message of God’s love to lessen my guilt. Teach me some concrete principles so that I can put them into practice in the coming week.
This approach is all wrong. As children of God, we should look forward to coming to service because we get to encounter the love of our live, Jesus Christ. Don’t just go through the motions on Sundays. Prepare yourself Saturday night. Get good rest. We have an afternoon service so prepare yourself Sunday morning to come here and meet the Savior and lover of your soul. And then that attitude will trickle down into every day, Monday through Saturday. It is highly unlikely that you will have a vibrant relationship with Jesus Monday through Saturday if your attitude on Sunday is, I just need to get through the service and get back to my problem set or get back to the football game. Those who come here every Sunday to worship and connect with and savor the Savior, I am willing to bet that these are the people who are much more likely to demonstrate a heart that seeks after God throughout the week.
Salvation testimonies are great reminders that God wants a personal relationship with His people. Religion is about principles and facts, like a lecture. Christianity is a relationship with a real, living Person. God the Father who sends His Son because he loves us. God the Son, Jesus Christ, who dies and is resurrected, to redeem a people lost in sin. God the Spirit, the Holy Spirit, who convicts us of sin and points us to the Savior and who keeps us on track until we cross the finished line to glory.
Because Christianity is about a relationship with a Triune God, who is a real Person, it is unlike a religion and it’s unlike a lecture. In a lecture, you learn facts and these facts might stimulate your brain or even land you a job in a related profession. Like a Physics major becoming a Physics professor. But what you learn in lecture and what you end up doing for a living has its limitations. A lecture or a profession will not change who you are at the core. If you are an insecure Physics student who needs to prove himself through academic accomplishments, you may become a Physics professor someday, but you will still be insecure and you will seek to prove yourself through your research.
Likewise, you can be a religious person, a churchgoer for decades, but religion will not change who you are at the core. Christianity is not a religion and it’s not lecture because you are dealing with a Person and as you interact with this Person, you and I change.
All 4 people who shared their salvation testimonies testified that before they met Christ, they were selfish or stubborn or ambitious or rude, but by God grace, they met Jesus. They were born again of the Spirit. They began crucifying their flesh, their pride, their desires, their appetites. And God began to change them from the inside out.
Phil 3:1-11 is Paul’s salvation testimony. Paul begins in verses 1-2 talking about the “dogs.” It sounds offensive to call someone a dog. But the point Paul is trying to make is that these leaders were not spiritual leaders who were merely a bit off, slightly off center in their theology. Or a bit overly zealous in their methodology. These were dogs, or those outside of the faith. They were evil workers, workers on the opposite side of good, workers who were essentially controlled by demonic forces unbeknownst to them.
What was their crime? They stressed physical circumcision as a prerequisite to salvation. Why circumcision? Because the Jewish people had participated in this tradition of circumcision for centuries and so when these Jewish people learned of Christianity, they blended their past tradition with the gospel. In their minds, this practice of circumcision became inseparable from the gospel of grace. It wasn’t grace alone, or faith alone that saved lost sinners. It was the gospel + circumcision. Or grace + circumcision. Or faith + tradition. They taught that faith alone and grace alone were insufficient to save. Faith and grace are nice, but in order to really be accepted by us in this community, you need to be circumcised.
It’s like if I made it mandatory that in order to be saved at the Hill, everyone here must tithe 10% and show up early to church to cook on Sundays. Otherwise, you might in fact be saved but we wouldn’t treat you that way. We’d keep you out of the inner circle. We’d look down on you. That’s a distortion of the gospel. Or, suppose I stopped talking about sin and I only emphasized God’s love. God loves you. Sin, what sin? Don’t worry about sin. Think positively. If you add anything to the gospel or take anything away from the gospel, you no longer have the gospel that saves.
The false teachers were not presenting the gospel. They were presenting religion. Be circumcised and I will accept you. Religion says, I obey therefore I am accepted. The gospel says, I’m accepted therefore I obey. The two may look very similar on the surface, but one leads to death and the other eternal life. If you reverse the order and say, you need to do this and this and this in order for me to accept you, you no longer have a gospel that sets people free and saves them, but instead, you are left with a religion that binds people and leads them straight to hell.
The teachers who are emphasizing circumcision might seem like they care and might seem like they are doing everything for God, but they are working on the side of evil. They are legalists that bind people with rules and tactics of manipulation and pressure so that the people under them no longer serve out of gratitude for what Christ did, but they serve out of guilt and fear that they will be ostracized by the group.
What was the point of the physical circumcision anyway? Physical circumcision of the Old Testament was a necessary, preliminary step in God’s redemptive plan to set apart a people for Himself, but the practice of physical circumcision was meant to be a pointer to the future spiritual circumcision, a circumcision of the heart by the Spirit of God, and this Spirit of God was ushered in by Christ’s death on the cross.
3 For we are the circumcision, the ones who serve by the Spirit of God, boast in Christ Jesus, and do not put confidence in the flesh…
Circumcision is not something you do in order to be accepted. We should never put confidence in our flesh or what we can do. Instead, we put our confidence in Christ and what He did for us. We are accepted in His sight not because we are perfect or because we did so much, far from it. We are accepted by a holy God purely because of Christ. Salvation is a gift. You receive it and you can be fully confident that God accepts you. He loves you. And because you are accepted fully, you can obey. Never the other way around.