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A Worthless Pedigree


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If anyone else has a mind to put confidence in the flesh, I far more . . . But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ.

—Philippians 3:4, 7

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For all his life as a Pharisee, Paul had believed eternal life would be won through ritual, race, rank, religion, and right living. His religious credentials were second to none, according to how the Pharisees ranked advantages. He was “a Hebrew of the Hebrews” (Phil. 3:5)—maintaining the Hebrew language and customs, even though he was born in a Gentile region dominated by Hellenized Jews. He came from an especially noble tribe. (Benjamin was one of only two tribes that did not join the rebellion against the House of David after Solomon’s death.) He was born into the household of a Pharisee and circumcised as an eight-day-old—precisely as commanded in Genesis 17:12. In other words, he was still a newborn infant when his parents started him on a course of fastidious observance to the ceremonial law. He never overtly defiled the Sabbath or violated the Pharisees’ traditions regarding the sacrifices, washings, or other ceremonial law works. He had thus managed to keep his reputation unblemished, so in his own estimation, and from the perspective of any devoted Pharisee, he was “blameless.” The proof of his pharisaical zeal was his savage persecution of the church. Any Pharisee would be deeply impressed with such a pedigree.

But when he met Christ, Paul saw that both his ancestry and his accomplishments were permanently and irreparably flawed. It was nothing but one large mass of liabilities.

Therefore, he trashed it all in order to gain Christ (Phil. 3:8). Paul was not saying he gave up doing good works, of course, but that he realized first that those were not really good works at all, since there was nothing truly righteous about him. So he gladly gave up trusting that his own tainted, pharisaical “good works” might earn merit with God. Merely adding Christ to his religion would not have sanctified it. Remember, he said he counted it as excrement. Decorating skubalon doesn’t alter the reality of what it is.

So Paul put all his faith solely in Christ. His only aim from then on was to “be found in (Christ), not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith” (Phil. 3:9).

He is, of course, describing justification by faith and the principle of imputed righteousness. If anyone tries to tell you Paul never spoke of the imputation of Christ’s righteousness, point out that it is the focus of his own personal testimony. To be found in Christ is to be clothed in Christ’s own righteousness, “not . . . my own righteousness . . . but that which is through faith in Christ” (Phil. 3:9). This establishes the most intimate imaginable relationship between the believer and his Lord. It is an inviolable spiritual union.

What motive could possibly take a devoted, overzealous Pharisee like Saul of Tarsus and persuade him gladly to abandon his lifelong efforts and convictions, labeling them all “dung”?

Paul himself gives the answer to that question. He did it “in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ” (Phil. 3:8 NASB). Having seen the radiance of Christ’s glory in the bright light of gospel truth, nothing else would ever again take first place in his heart.

—John MacArthur, The Gospel according to Paul (Thomas Nelson, 2017), 132–134.



Posted 2018·07·23 by David Kjos
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Posted in: Imputation · John MacArthur · Legalism · Sola Fide · The Gospel according to Paul · Union with Christ

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