Rev. Haak is pastor of Georgetown Protestant Reformed Church in Hudsonville, Michigan and radio pastor for the Reformed Witness Hour. This message was aired on December 10, 2000.
The deepest desire of the apostle Paul was that he be found in Christ.
Is that true also for you?
Paul makes this confession in a very beautiful passage of Scripture, Philippians 3:8, 9:
Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, and be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith.
The confession that Paul makes leaves no room for glorying in ourselves. It calls every child of God to confess, “to God alone be the glory in my salvation. ” Some suggest that Paul’s statements in these verses are a bit exaggerated. They say that we must remember that Paul was at that time engaged in the great conflict of his life against the Judaizers, against those who taught that salvation in some measure is due to one’s own self or one’s works. His statements, they say, are a bit extreme. They need to be toned down a bit. He says, “I do count all other works but dung”? Surely, they say, in the heat of the battle and with his passions running high, his words became a little radical. He lost that nice balance, that moderation.
Well, that is not so. This word of God is perfectly clear to us today. These words of the apostle Paul exclude any human element as the basis of our salvation. Not our works, not our will, not our faith, and not our person. There is no one who can read these words and say, “Well, although we need God’s aid for salvation, yet the fundamental movement toward salvation is of man’s making.” No one can come to these words and say, “Yes, the basis of our acceptance with God is in the work of Christ. But faith is man’s part, which he must supply before salvation will be given to him.” No, that is not reading what God is saying.
If you attempt to place one item for salvation in the hands of man, you will meet the apostle Paul in the passage confronting you head on, with holy zeal proclaiming, “God forbid!” This Scripture obviously means that our own righteousness, in every sense and in every degree, is excluded as the ground of our salvation. We are saved entirely on the basis of the work of Christ, His righteousness, and not at all on the ground of anything we are, have done, or can do, even if it be our faith.
What we must understand today is that this was a very personal confession. The apostle was not merely arguing a theological case. He was speaking of the single, most profound conviction of his own soul. Paul’s interest was not just to combat false doctrine. His passionate words were out of a personal faith given to him. He knew that all of his salvation was of God.
Do you know that? That is the truth!
Now, if you would read the whole passage, the first nine verses of Philippians 3, you would find that it is filled with an emotion that is deep and pure. Nowhere in the apostle’s epistles are Paul’s words so fierce and so passionate. It is clear that his heart is set upon high things. His heart is set upon the theme of our salvation and, specifically, the ground of our salvation with God.
Paul opens the third chapter of the book of Philippians thinking that he will draw his epistle to a close. He says, “Finally, my brethren.” He will now close his letter with some striking thought that he wants his readers to remember as his last message to their souls. “Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord.”
The idea of joy or rejoicing is a fundamental note in the epistle of Philippians. “Rejoice in the Lord.” That is the thought that he would leave us. And he does not mean simply “be happy, be filled with good feeling, perk up.” No! Specifically, let your joy be in the Lord. Not in yourselves. The apostle would conclude the letter by reminding us of the very core of the gospel—you have been saved. You did not save yourself. Rejoice, therefore, in the Lord.
Then he goes on to say, “I know this is repetitious. To write the same things to you, to me indeed is not grievous, but for you it is safe.” It was a joy for Paul to cry over and over, “Boast in the Lord. He alone is due all of our glorying.” And he says, “This is very safe. It is very safe for me to impress this upon you, that he that glorieth, must glory in the Lord.”
And it is at this point that Paul is led by the Holy Spirit to call to mind those who were undermining the purity of this gospel, those who were attacking the truth of our sole dependence upon God for salvation. The apostle bursts forth in warnings. He says in verse 2, “Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of the concision.” He has in mind the Judaizers. They were the ones who, in their doctrine, stood against the very truth that he was expressing. He says, “I must warn you. Mark these people. Beware of the concision, of these Judaizers, who would glory in the flesh.” They were the group who said, “Yes, Christ saves, but not entirely. We must also have the ceremony of circumcision. There are also things that we must add to Christ in order to make the package of salvation real and complete.”
The apostle proceeds vigorously to combat that error. In the passage, Paul’s fundamental motive is exactly this: Rejoice in the Lord; let your boasting be in God alone. These Judaizers are to be rejected exactly because they deny that boasting must be exclusively in the Lord. We must rejoice in Christ Jesus, Paul says in verse 3, and have no confidence in the flesh. True religion is to renounce all of our self, our will, our acts, as the basis of our salvation, and to look to Christ alone as the ground of that salvation.
The apostle begins to apply that truth personally. He lists his own high claims, which at one time he thought marked him out for distinction in God’s sight. He thinks of the fact that he had a pretty good pedigree. He was from the stock of Israel, the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews. And he looks at his life and says that that was pretty good, too. “I was a Pharisee, blameless as touching the righteousness of the law. When I look at my life in terms of outward compliance to a mere external code, I did OK.”
Then, about zeal—he had been a very zealous person. He persecuted the church of Jesus Christ. If anyone was going to go to heaven on the basis of his works, on the basis of his ardor, on the basis of his passions, on the basis of his feeling, it would be Paul. If anyone was good enough, it was Paul.
But now, says the apostle, all of these things in which I used to boast are to me a matter of refuse, of dung, in the matter of my salvation. He says, “Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, and be found in him.” That is it! “I desire to be found in Him!”
The apostle Paul was saying that all those things that he had formerly sought after; all those things that he thought would save him; all that he did and all that he was— all of that, now, he reckons to be useless, loss, a mass of manure to be cast away! “I depend,” says the apostle, “for my salvation on the surpassing excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord.”
The apostle, you see, did not have a barren knowledge of Christ Jesus. Many people have that—”O, yes, Jesus Christ, he lived in the first century, didn’t he? And he was this moral reformer, wasn’t he? O, yes. We have a knowledge of who he is and what he did.” No! Not for the apostle! He knows Him personally by faith. By the gift of God he is placed in Christ.
So, get it straight. On the one side stood all of human works done in order to save oneself, to earn salvation. And if he were to pile them up, the apostle Paul would have a big pile: his pride, his works, his will. And, Paul says, it is all dung. On the other side stands Christ— His work, His obedience, and His sacrifice. He is all, says Paul. I want to be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is of faith, the faith of Christ, the righteousness that is of God by faith.
The apostle’s words to us are these: “Rejoice in the Lord! That must be your fundamental confession. Boast solely in the Lord.”
The contrast here you must see as being absolute. The contrast between the righteousness that a man can make for himself and the righteousness that God gives purely of grace—that contrast is absolute. There is no possibility of merger here. The apostle is pouring contempt on the idea that lurks within our own hearts—that our works can, at least in part, be the basis of our salvation. Or the idea that our faith, after all, is part of the ground of our salvation. The idea that salvation, righteousness with God, is exclusively of God’s grace is an idea that, apart from the work of the Spirit, will be rejected by you and by me, by all men. For we would boast in ourselves.
Paul utterly rejects his own righteousness, his own works, as the ground of his trust.
This is the gospel. Get it straight! We can do nothing to earn our salvation or secure it for ourselves. Salvation is a gift of God. It is inChrist. Christ has done it all.
Oh, I know the response. Paul faced it, and so do we. The response is that this gospel will be branded as immoral. “What,” it will be asked, “we can do nothing? Nothing depends on us, not even our believing? Well, then you are saying to us, let us eat, drink, and be merry. Then you are saying that it is not important to live a good life. Then you are saying it is not important to believe. Why do you call men to believe, if believing counts for nothing?”
Scripture meets these challenges. In Ephesians 2:8-10, for example, we are told that, while we are not saved on the basis of our works, we are indeed saved by grace unto good works. We are created in Christ Jesus unto good works. We cannot be saved and still walk in the dominion of sin. And although our faith is not the ground, that is, the reason, the basis, of our salvation, faith is a gift of grace that unites us to Christ, so that we live out of faith and in faith.
Would you note with me that in this chapter the apostle Paul does not wish to answer the charges—not because he did not know the charge would come, and not because he did not know what to say. He does not immediately respond, “Now, don’t let this offend you, that I’ve said that salvation is only in Christ and that there is no element whatsoever of human merit with God. Let’s balance this a bit. Let’s not begin to think that our works and our will are not important. God has a purpose and a great desire for these things.” No, he does not talk that way. He simply stands and says, “You heard me correctly. As far as the ground of salvation is concerned, all that is of yourself, all of your work, all of your will, is dung. It is loss. Salvation is in Christ alone.”
That is the heart of the gospel. Throughout all of the ages, the battle comes down to one between these two statements: 1) Do this, and you will live. 2) Live, and you will do this.
Do this and be saved, say many. But the gospel says, Saved by grace, and therefore we do this.
Which one appeals to you? Do you think that your salvation is grounded upon yourself, on anything that you have done? Or do you wish to be found in Christ alone?
Do you believe that you must do some good thing to be saved? Then you are not prepared at this moment to trust your salvation to Christ. The gospel is this: His perfect work alone. Not our supplementing His work, but His work alone.
What is the reason for God to embrace you, for God to open His arms, to receive you into His fellowship and to promise never to forsake you, to keep you? It is either in yourself and in something you have done, or it is in Christ. It cannot be both. God will not share His glory here. You either glory in your flesh or you glory in Christ.
What is the call of the gospel? Forsake yourself. Forsake all reliance upon yourself. Believe in Christ. Christ only! Let your joy be in the Lord.
“That I may be found in Him.”