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From Perfection to Imperfection back to Perfection from Philippians 3:1-16 August 10, 2008

Posted by roberttalley in Philippians, Religion, Sermons, Spiritual Goals.


Philippians 3:1-16

INTRODUCTION: It is popular today to describe the Christian life as a spiritual journey. In fact, one of the characteristics of the new century in which we are living is the idea that the journey is more important than the destination. I do not believe that Paul would have agreed with that philosophy. In fact he might would describe his journey with the words of our title, “From Perfection to Imperfection back to Perfection.”

Now Paul is describing his spiritual journey as an example for us. He wants us to understand his spiritual journey and to copy that journey. More importantly though, Paul wants us to focus on the destination, the goal of that journey.

This is in fact, how Paul begins this section of our letter. He makes it clear that in our Christian lives we need certainty (verses 1-3). Compare with Hebrews 6:18-19a, “…that by two immutable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we might have strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold of the hope set before us. This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast…”

There is the danger of dependency on our flesh (verses 2 and 3a). In fact Paul is warning them of those who are like wild dogs, roaming through the streets, ready to attack for a scrap of food. This describes their character. He the says that they work to produce evil. Then he describes this evil as mutilation. Now why are they so dangerous? They depend on the flesh. They depend on the ability to do good works to come to God. Paul describes these people as dangerous dogs who will harm those who follow them.

Certainty for the believer is based on the knowledge of an inward change, a spiritual circumcision (verse 3).

Notice Paul in verse 3 says, “we … are the circumcision…” He means that true believers have been circumcised in their hearts through faith in Jesus Christ. We don’t need what he terms in verse two a mutilation because we’ve had a spiritual circumcision, a new birth.

De 10:16 “Therefore circumcise the foreskin of your heart, and be stiff–necked no longer.” It is not the outward actions that must first bow to Christ but the inward self-sufficiency or striving for spiritual self-sufficiency.

Obviously, I am talking about the initial inward change when we trust Christ as Savior but I am also talking about application of that inward change in our hearts. That is why Paul begins this chapter with the command to rejoice and then tells them why they should do that, because they have been changed. The constant and consistent reminder of a changed life through the Holy Spirit in that you believe on Jesus as the only way of salvation will transform you. That is the beginning of the spiritual journey that reaches a good destination.

In our Christian lives we all have areas of confidence (verses 3-6). Now this might appear to be a good thing, but Paul goes to great lengths to show us by his own example that the areas in which we have confidence in our perfection are actually disadvantageous to us.

Paul says that he has reason to be confident in the flesh. Not that he had in the past reason to be confident in flesh. He says, I have reason right now. He says, if someone (these dogs, these evil workers, these mutilators) can point to their past and say that they now have confidence in their flesh, I can top anything they have to offer (see also Romans 2:28-29; 2 Corinthians 11:18; Galatians 6:13-14).

Paul says, “I can have confidence because I have come from God’s chosen people, the Jews.” He could prove it of course, there were papers at that time in the temple that traced his ancestry all the way back to Benjamin, Jacob, Isaac, and Abraham. He was a spiritual blueblood.

Paul says, “I can have confidence because I was zealous.” He could prove that also. He belonged to the sect of the Pharisees. These were men of religious zeal who were willing to lose their lives for their beliefs. In addition, the outer robes he held while Stephen was being stone spoke to his zeal. The dungeons of Jerusalem could testify to the zeal Paul had for his Jewish religion.

Paul says, “I can have confidence because I have kept the Ten Commandments.” He could prove it because he was blameless, undeserving of criticism. In fact, he was still undeserving of criticism. Repeatedly in the book of Acts as his accusers attempted to show that his life was lacking in respect to the law of God, he successfully defended himself. In fact, the reason he was now in prison was because no one had been able to find fault with him but because he was in danger of becoming a political sacrifice to his enemies, Paul had appealed to Caesar and was now in Rome awaiting his release, for their was no reason to hold him. He had broken no law.

Humanly speaking, Paul was perfect. He was one to whom we could look to as an example and say that is someone to emulate, to copy, to imitate.

As believers in Christ we have chosen what is better, counting our perfection as imperfection (verses 3, 7-9) and glorying (rejoicing, boasting) in Jesus Christ alone (verse 3).

I counted what I had as loss in exchange for Christ and my decision is final (verse 7).

Jesus illustrated this in Mt 13:44-46 with two short parables, “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto treasure hid in a field; the which when a man hath found, he hideth, and for joy thereof goeth and selleth all that he hath, and buyeth that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls: Who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it.

Paul not says I have counted all as loss and my decision is final but I am still in a practical sense counting what I had and have as loss in exchange.

Why is it important to continue to count all things as loss? What is it that we receive in exchange for our loss? For the purpose of gaining Christ (verse 8) and for the purpose of being found (or confirmed) righteous in Him, that is, justification (verse 9).

Gaining Christ is the only way to truly know Christ (verses 8 and 10). You do not get to know Christ by dabbling in Him. To know Christ demands a total commitment.

Counting all things loss to gain Christ confirms our justification in Christ (verse 9).

How is this possible? Through faith in Christ and not in my self-sufficiency to satisfy some standard.

Now we are on the road to true perfection (verses 10-16).

True perfection defined (verses 10-11). It is defined in verses 10-11 as “being conformed to His death and attaining to His resurrection.” The power of His resurrection speaks of our transformation both now in the spirit and in the future in the body. It is the second part of true perfection that I want to focus on. How can we be conformed to His death? Fortunately, Paul has already answered this question for us in a very practical way. Look in Philippians 2:5-8. You see being conformed to the sufferings of Christ is not limited to physical suffering. It includes the humility of Christ that we are to imitate in our lives by living for others. In other words, knowing Christ produces two things in our life, hope and humility.

True perfection desired (verses 12-14).

We need to be dissatisfied with our spiritual condition.

Now we are not talking about guilt. Most of us feel guilty when we are found out. As long as God allows us to keep our good face toward men, we do okay. We are not talking about guilt but about a deep sense of our sinfulness. There is a huge difference.

John Piper put it this way once, “People who are depressed and immobilized and angry because their behavior has injured the glory of God are very, very rare. But people who are depressed and immobilized and angry because their behavior has prevented them from having a reputation of being cool and competent are very, very common.”

This week, I was exposed to this failure in my own life. I was talking to someone and they mentioned something that someone had said that was very inappropriate. I recognized it as inappropriate, the person who I was speaking to recognized it as inappropriate, and I said all the proper things that should be said about the inappropriateness of that persons behavior, perhaps even with a little pride that I would not be caught making such an inappropriate statement. Later speaking with the same person, they mentioned something that perhaps was inappropriate but was certainly not on the same level. But this time I got hopping mad because it was a criticism of myself.

What we need is to be dissatisfied with our spiritual condition. We need to recognize how weak and sinful we really are.

We need to disregard our spiritual past. Paul brings us back to all of those things that he had reason to be proud of and says again, “They do not matter!” You see this attitude is important not just for salvation but for reaching the perfection that God has set before us.

We need to discipline ourselves to the stretching point. The Olympic games in Beijing have just begun. There are thousands of athletes there who all have one thing in common, they have disciplined themselves in order to reach the goal. For some the goal is to make it to the games, others have a medal as their goal, the best among them have multiple gold medals as their goal. The sacrifice though is the same. They have stretched themselves.

True perfection applied (verses 15-16). The mature need to apply this truth, depending on God to reveal to them their faults, leading all others in the application of this same truth. There are two things commanded here. First, change the way you think. Second, let us march together to this perfection.

Conclusion: Today is the day in which we recognized those who have memorized two Psalms during the summer. Those people have said, I am going to change the way I think through the Word of God. Do you need to change the way you are thinking? You cannot march in step until you think in step with God. Eleven times in Philippians, thinking is mentioned. What do you spend most of your time thinking about? Should you not think like Christ and on Christ? What is it believer that you love so much that you have no room for Christ in your thoughts. Count it loss!

If you have not counted everything as loss for Christ alone, you have yet to begin the spiritual journey to perfection. Begin that journey today. Put away your good works and your bad works. Put away anything and everything that is of importance to you and trust in Christ alone.



1. Marie - May 5, 2009

Thanks for this – I get very discouraged in my own failure, and wonder why I haven’t changed. It’s true I rely on myself and I guess I have confidence in some innate abilities, but I don’t know how to be any other way. I just want to obey Christ, but get very discouraged by all the sin and corruption inside.

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