Sermon

The Ineffectiveness of Self-righteousness (Philippians 3:4-11)

Jesus was very clear when He said, “not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven” (Matt 7:21). We are not saved by our good deeds, but by grace through faith in Jesus Christ (Eph 2:8-9). Born-again Christians do not place their confidence in themselves (and what they have done) but in Christ (and in what He has done). We are to place no confidence in ourselves (in the flesh) because we are incapable of saving ourselves. Paul understood this and in Philippians 3:4-11 he gave his testimony of how he came to realize the ineffectiveness of self-righteousness and his need for Christ’s righteousness.

Paul’s Prestigious Pious Pedigree

Paul’s religious qualifications were very impressive according to Judaism: he was the cream of the crop! He had “my own righteousness, which is from the law” (3:9) that was praised by others. He was blameless under the law (3:6). Consider his impressive pedigree. He was circumcised on the eighth day (Gen 17:12). He could trace his lineage back to the tribe of Benjamin. He belonged to a group that were strict adherents to the law (Pharisees). In fact, he was so zealous for the law that he persecuted the church. Paul excelled under the law and was considered righteous and blameless by those around him but was not righteous in God’s eyes.

Paul’s Insignificant Spiritual Qualities

Paul’s religious qualifications did not impress God. Paul wrote, “But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ” (3:7). In light of the “excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord” (3:8) “I count them as rubbish” (3:8). Consider the transformation that occurred in Paul’s life. Previously, he treasured his own goodness and now he considers it trash in comparison to Christ. The word Paul used to describe his own goodness is skybalon. Without being too graphic, it is the Greek word that refers to the portion of food rejected by the body as unnourishing. That’s what Paul now thinks about his own goodness (see also Isaiah 64:6 and Ephesians 2:1-3).

It’s not that the Law of Moses was bad. God’s Old Covenant with Israel was good. The Old Covenant with its rules and regulations was instituted by God to the nation of Israel to set them apart from the other nations. The required sacrifices showed the heinousness of sin and the holiness of God. But when Christ appeared, He fulfilled all the requirements, rules, and regulations and offered the perfect sacrifice for our sins. With Jesus, the Old Covenant (the Law of Moses) is fulfilled and set aside. Now, we must come to Jesus alone for salvation. We put no confidence in the flesh because we must proceed to Christ in faith.

Paul’s Courageous Crusade to Christ

If anyone had reason to put confidence in himself it was Paul. Paul, however, understood that God is not impressed with our goodness and good works. Truly understanding this, Paul cast aside his religious pedigree and committed himself fully to pursuing Christ. He knew that it didn’t matter who his parents were. It didn’t matter what sacrifices he made. All that mattered to him was Christ. In his quest for righteousness, he found Christ and discovered his need of grace.

The Necessity of Grace

Because of the ineffectiveness of self-righteousness, we have no access to God. Therefore, He must reach out to us because we can’t reach out to Him. It is by grace we are saved (Eph 2:5). Being by grace, it is not based on works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace. (Rom 11:6). Here is a helpful way to remember what grace means is G.R.A.C.E. – God’s Riches at Christ’s Expense.

The Means of Grace

Righteousness comes through faith in Christ. It is unearned (3:9). The law “was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17) and “through Him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God” (Rom 5:2). Grace is unearned but freely given to all who repent and believe.  In fact, repentance and belief are already signs of grace.

The Fruit of Salvation

Paul wanted to be righteous and he knew that salvation came only through Christ. Therefore, he stopped working for righteousness and sought first and foremost to know Christ. He wanted to “know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, if by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead” (3:10-11). Paul didn’t just want to know more about Jesus but have a personal relationship with Him. He wanted to be like Christ and have Him defeat sin and death in his life. He humbly wanted eternal life with Christ.

What about you? Are you working to impress Christ? Are you trying to avoid being bad enough to deserve hell or trying to do the bare minimum to get into heaven? Those who enter the kingdom of heaven are those who do the will of our Father in heaven. Stop trying to work and confess your need of grace. Seek Christ. Make it your aim to know Him and to be known by Him. Do you have a personal relationship with Jesus? If so, love Him. If not:

  • Admit to God you are a sinner and repent,
  • Believe that Jesus is God’s Son,
  • Confess your faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord.