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Just By Faith Alone - Part 1

Tom Pennington • Philippians 3:1-11

  • 2004-08-29 AM
  • Just by Faith Alone
  • Sermons


This morning we turn to the next chapter in the book of Philippians, Philippians 3. We come to what I think is one of the most profound and rich passages, not only in the book of Philippians, but honestly in all of the New Testament.

If I were to ask you this morning, what you believe is the absolute central core of your faith, what would you say? What would you say is the one thing in the Christian faith that really is the foundation for everything else? Well, in the history of the Church, many minds far greater than yours and mine have answered that question, and have identified one specific truth as the foundation of our faith, that on which everything else is built. And that is the doctrine we call "Justification by Faith Alone."

William Cunningham, in his Historical Theology, writes this, "There is no subject which possesses more intrinsic importance than attaches to this one." Thomas Watson, the Puritan divine, described this one truth as "the very hinge and pillar of Christianity." He went on to say that to be wrong in this one truth is like a defect in the foundation. John Calvin declared it to be the main hinge on which our salvation turns.

In our day, the chorus for support of this great doctrine continues. John Stott has written, "Nobody has understood Christianity who does not understand this concept." Before his death, the pastor of Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, James Montgomery Boyce, wrote, "There is nothing in all life and history that is more important than these teachings," referring to the doctrine of justification by faith alone.

But perhaps the one man in Church history who has written more clearly and forcefully, and has articulated more profoundly the importance of this one foundational truth was the man, Martin Luther. Listen to what Martin Luther wrote about this doctrine, he says "This doctrine is the head and the cornerstone. It alone begets, nourishes, builds, preserves, and defends the Church of God." Let me reread that statement. Listen to how full and complete it is with meaning. This doctrine, he says, begets, that is, gives birth to, the Church of God, nourishes the Church of God, builds the Church of God, preserves the Church of God, and defends the Church of God, and without it, the Church of God cannot last for one hour.

Why did he say that? Why did he say on another occasion that this is the article on which the Church either stands or falls? It's because there are only two kinds of righteousness in the world. There's either the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, or there is our own righteousness, earned by some effort of our own. Those are the only two varieties in all the world. There is the righteousness based on human effort, or what Luther called "the passive righteousness of God," the righteousness of Christ, imputed to the believer's account, by faith alone. Those are the only two options. There is no middle ground. Everybody in the world is looking to gain a right standing with God on the basis of either the righteousness of God, given as a gift through faith alone, or their own human efforts.

And I know that we all understand this truth at some level. But this morning, and the next few weeks, as we go through this passage, I want us to let the Apostle Paul in our minds put back a little of the "amazing" into grace. I want us, as we track over this passage, to be reminded why this is the main thing in Christianity, and why this should be the main thing in each of our lives as well. You follow along as I read this incredible passage. Philippians 3:1 to 11. Paul writes,

Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things again is no trouble to me, and it is a safeguard for you.

Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of the false circumcision; for we are the true circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh, although I myself might have confidence even in the flesh. If anyone else has a mind to put confidence in the flesh, I far more: circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless. But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.

What an amazing passage of Scripture! And in this passage, Paul develops in great detail the crucial issue of justification. Justification is the very center of our faith. But sadly, almost no doctrine is more poorly known and understood by most Christians than the doctrine of justification. If you were to ask most Christians to define for you, to explain to you the doctrine of justification, very few could do it. And my guess is, if we were to do that even here this morning, some of you would have difficulty explaining and presenting the biblical doctrine that we call "justification."

But it's the center, it's the core, it's the foundation, on which everything else is built. Over the next several weeks, I want to unpack what these eleven verses teach about this absolutely essential doctrine. And I can promise you this: whether this doctrine and what it teaches is a little vague in your mind, or whether you know it well enough to come up here and teach it in my place, either way, if you are a Christian, as we go through these eleven verses, you will find your own heart warmed and stirred and moved, and hopefully, your passion for this truth reignited.

Paul's basic message in these eleven verses is this: the truths encapsulated in the biblical doctrine of justification must always remain the focus and center of your life. You're never too old in the Lord to move beyond this. These truths must always remain the focus and the center of your life, and my life as well.

Now what exactly are these things that we need to know about our justification? Well, Paul in these verses fills all of those out; he will explain to us, as we work our way through them, all of the crucial truths about this great doctrine. We're going to begin today by looking at the first two.

The first crucial truth that Paul wants us to understand is this: justification is absolutely essential. It is absolutely essential. Notice verse 1, "Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things again is no trouble to me, and it is a safeguard for you." He begins the chapter with "finally." Many of you have experienced preachers who use that word, and then go on to preach for another twenty, twenty-five minutes. This is not an excuse for long-winded preachers. In fact, in this context, this word is a transition word. It simply means, "as for the rest of what I want to say, I'm going to move on now to some other things that are important for you to hear." And as Paul unfolds the rest of this verse, verse 1, he provides for us three reasons why justification is absolutely essential. He wants us to understand why justification is essential, and here's why: three reasons.

First of all, because it's the source of our joy. It is absolutely essential, because it's the source of our joy. "Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord." That phrase, "rejoice in the Lord," echoes from the words of the psalms. And "rejoice" here doesn't refer to a feeling. It refers instead to an activity. You see, to rejoice in the Lord is to sing to the Lord; it's to praise the Lord; it's to do something. And this praising, and singing to the Lord is to be the preoccupation of our lives. And it's one of the main themes of this epistle, as we've already noted. Though why does Paul begin this section with an admonition to rejoice in the Lord? Why here? Because at first glance, even perhaps as I've read it, you found yourself thinking, why is that, that doesn't seem to fit.

Well, Paul deliberately connects what he is about to write about justification with the command to rejoice in the Lord. Their justification is intimately tied to their joy. That shouldn't surprise us, should it? Christ Himself linked the same thing. Turn back with me to Luke 10. Luke 10. In Luke 10 beginning in verse 1, Christ sends out seventy men: seventy selected men to go out and to minister on His behalf. Notice verse 1, "Now after this the Lord appointed seventy others, and sent them in pairs ahead of Him to every city and place where He Himself was going to come. And He was saying to them, ""The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest."

And then He gives them various instructions about how they are to go and how they are to minister and how they are to respond when they're received, or when they're actually refused. In verse 16, He says, "The one who listens to you listens to Me, and the one who rejects you rejects Me; and he who rejects Me rejects the One who sent Me."

So they go out, eager to minister and serve, eager to, as it were, be the forerunners of the Lord in all of these cities and villages. And they come back, verse 17, "The seventy returned with joy," excited about what was going on in their ministry and how the Lord had used them, "saying,"Lord, even the demons are subject to us in Your name."

What an amazing reality, to be sent out on behalf of Christ, to go out into the villages and towns and declare "The Lord is coming! The Messiah is here; He is coming to your town!" And then to see through the power of your ministry to have even the demons subjected to you! Notice Christ's response in verse 18, He said to them, "I was watching Satan fall from heaven like lightning." You haven't seen anything yet, He said. In fact, "I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing will injure you."

I can imagine, as they heard those words, how their hearts must have thrilled. But notice what the Lord says in verse 20, "Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are recorded in heaven." Do you know what Christ is saying? "Listen: nothing you do, no success you achieve, no ministry that you perform, should ever be ultimately the source of your joy. But get your joy in this reality: that your names are written in the presence of God." Rejoice in the wonderful reality of your justification.

I was raised in a Christian home, but I was telling someone after the first service that I don't remember ever hearing anything about in the churches we attended justification. It was never taught. I don't, it was understood, honestly, by those in leadership. And it was never presented. And I'll never forget as I was saved as a senior in high school, and went off to college, and I'll never forget the first time, or the period of dawning, I should say, it wasn't one time, the period when this truth began to dawn on my heart and the Holy Spirit began to unveil the reality of it in a profound way. I'll never forget what that did for me personally. I had lived, as many Christians live, under this sort of veil of continuing guilt, still sort of wondering about future sins, and how those might figure in my relationship to God.

But when I came to understand the simple reality, that when I came to faith in Christ, the day I came to Christ, God did something truly amazing. He credited, in a financial transaction, as it were, He credited every sin I would ever commit to Jesus Christ. And He punished Jesus Christ for those sins. But He didn't stop there. He did something else that's more amazing. He then credited the perfect life of Christ, those thirty-three years of perfect obedience, of perfect righteousness, every thought, every attitude, every action, entirely pleasing to God, perfect love to God, perfect love for fellow man, God credited that to my account. And now, He sees me forever complete in Christ, forever righteous, in His sight, forever bearing a right standing before Him.

Listen, when I came to understand that, my heart filled with joy. And every time I come back to this reality, the same flood overwhelms my soul. And that's true for you as well. If you will come to understand this truth, it will become what enables you to rejoice, regardless of life's circumstances, this wonderful knowledge that God has credited your sins to Christ, and He has credited Christ's righteousness and sacrificial death to you. Justification is important, because it's the source of our joy.

Paul provides us with a second reason that justification is so absolutely essential. Not only because it's our joy, the source of our joy, but it's the constant focus of Scripture. It's the constant focus of Scripture. Notice verse 1 again, "To write the same things again is no trouble to me"

Now understand the situation here. Paul is referring back to when he'd been at Philippi, ten years before, and he'd been there several times in the intervening time, and he says, "When I'd been with you, I have taught you certain truths, and get ready, because you are about to hear them again." Paul is saying, listen, this is something that I have come back to time and time again, and now in this brief letter to you, I'm going to tell it to you again. And he says it doesn't bother me to do that. Literally, he says it's not irksome to me. It's almost as if the people in Philippi might be tempted to say, "Paul, aren't you tired of talking about this? Aren't you tired of telling us this?" And he says oh no, it's no bother for me. It's not a bother at all. You see, this was a theme to which Paul the Apostle constantly returned. You see that in this verse, but you also see that in the rest of the New Testament. Two of Paul's epistles, two of his lengthy epistles are written with their primary theme having the doctrine of justification by faith alone, Romans and Galatians.

Why was this doctrine so important to him? Why did he write two whole letters about it that are now in our New Testament? Why did he constantly rehearse and remind the Philippians of this truth? Well, there are couple of hints in the New Testament as to why it was so important to him. The first is that Paul saw justification as the very essence of the gospel. It was the gospel. It is the gospel. Turn to the book of Romans 1.

When I was growing up, I was taught, this was even before I was a Christian believe it or not, I went soul-winning before I was in the Lord myself, but I was taught what was called then popularly "the Romans Road." Some of you may have heard about that. There are some wonderful passages that show up in that presentation of the gospel. But I have to say that there's a sense in which the Romans Road isn't even the entrance ramp to salvation, much less the road itself—because the Romans Road is, the verses that are usually chosen entirely miss the main point of the book of Romans.

Let me show you this. Romans 1:1: Paul says, "I've been set apart for the gospel of God, that very gospel which He promised beforehand through His prophets in the Holy Scripture. He said, listen, I'm going to talk to you in this letter about the gospel of God. And after some introductory affairs, as he gets down, verse 16, he comes back to that theme, and essentially in verses 16 and 17 of chapter 1, he presents his theme. Here's what I'm going to discuss primarily in my letter with you,

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, the one who is righteous by faith shall live.

Then, beginning in verse 18, Paul lays the foundation for why justification is so important. He says, listen, I'm going to give you the gospel, and the gospel is nothing else than this righteousness being received by you from God by faith alone. And so, then he has to explain why that's important. So, beginning in 1:18, all the way through 3:20, he describes man's sinfulness. And he says here's why justification is so important. In 3:21 he comes back to the main theme of his letter. Now he's going to get to what he wanted to tell them.

But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus;

And then Paul sets out to defend justification by faith alone. Do you see what Paul is saying? He is saying, listen, the reason the gospel is so, the reason justification is so important is because it is the gospel itself. It is the gospel. When Paul sets out to explain to us the gospel, what he expounds is justification by faith alone. And yet so many presentations of the gospel never even touch on this reality.

There's another reason Paul was constantly returning to this theme. Not only did he see it as the essence of the gospel, but he saw it as the very essence of his ministry. Notice 2 Corinthians 5, 2 Corinthians 5. Those familiar verses, verse 17, he talks about the reality that there's been this radical change in who we are. Verse 18,

Now all these things, [this change that God has worked,] these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ, [and notice the end of verse 18] and He gave us, [a particular ministry] the ministry of reconciliation that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, [there's part of justification] and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.

In verse 21, he gets to the heart of the message. He says, listen, my ministry is about justification. The heart and core of my ministry is this word of reconciliation, and the message I present is the message of justification. Notice verse 21, the most profound statement of justification in all the New Testament, "… [God] made … [Christ] who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him."

Paul says, listen, I'm coming back to this theme again, Philippians. You're going to hear it one more time, and it's because it is the essence of the gospel, and it is the essence of my very ministry.

Is that how you think of justification? Does it matter that much to you? It should, because Paul says it's really the source of your joy, and it is the constant theme of the New Testament, and of his ministry.

He gives us a third reason why justification is absolutely essential. Not only is it essential because of the fact that it's the source of joy, and because it's the focus of the New Testament, but thirdly because it's a safeguard of your eternity. It's important because it's a safeguard of your eternity. Notice the end of verse 1, "it is a safeguard for you." He said, I don't hesitate to write again about it because it is safety for you. You may be sitting here, thinking Tom's going to spend several weeks on justification? I know this stuff. I'm already a Christian. Let's talk about something practical. And Paul says, listen, there is nothing more practical than this. Paul says, I know I talked to you about this when I was there on numbers of occasions, but I am going to do it again, not for me, but for you. He says it's a safeguard to you, to hear it again. It's safety for you.

Now why is that? What were the dangers that Paul was trying to protect them and us from, by sharing justification by faith one more time? Well, there are several implied dangers; one of those dangers is misunderstanding the gospel. Listen, there are churches, even good churches, filled with people who think they understand the good news of justification by faith alone. And they sit there, and look at their pastor, and read their Bible, and they will find themselves in the terrible situation described in Matthew 7:21, when they stand before the Lord and they say, "Lord, Lord," and He says to them, "… DEPART FROM ME; I never knew you." Paul says, listen, it's safe for you, for me to repeat the principles of justification by faith one more time, because that way you can be clear that you are straight on the gospel, that you understand the most important message in the world.

He says it's also a safeguard, not only will it keep you from misunderstanding the gospel, but perhaps you fail to believe. There's the danger of sitting in a church, understanding the gospel, and yet failing to embrace it, failing to believe it. Some of you perhaps, sitting in this church, have sat in churches for years, you can articulate the principles of the gospel, you can articulate justification by faith alone, but as you sit there this moment, you have to confess that you don't know Christ. That you are not in Christ, you never embraced in faith the message that's included in the gospel, that is the gospel. So, Paul says it's safe for you. It's safe for you, for me to repeat it one more time, in case you've not believed it, to remind you of what it involves.

And there was another danger. Not only misunderstanding the gospel, failing to believe the gospel, but also being attracted by counterfeits of the gospel. Being attracted by counterfeits. Listen, there are people everywhere, looking to woo you to some man-made system of religion, some system built on human effort, as a way to gain right standing with God. And Paul says, listen, I don't mind repeating it again, because it's a safeguard for you, to protect you from falling prey to one of those deadly counterfeits. It's safe to hear it again. For those reasons and others that aren't in this passage, the doctrine of justification is absolutely essential to our Christian lives and experience.

There's a second crucial truth taught in this passage about justification. Not only is it absolutely essential, but the second one is found in verse 2. It is constantly under attack. It is constantly under attack. You need to understand that the world is filled with enemies of this doctrine. Verse 2, Paul writes, "Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of the false circumcision;" You know, when you read those words, particularly in the flow of a book like Philippians, that has so many warm, cozy sort of milk-and-cookies passages, it sort of startles you, doesn't it? It feels like Paul is shouting at us; it feels like he's put a billboard right in front of our face, and he says, "Beware." Consider the violence of his language. Paul is usually measured and careful and courteous. But here he says "dogs, evil workers, false circumcision." He does that when he feels intensely concerned about something. He says "Beware." The word speaks of a warning. In fact, in Mark 13:9, it's translated, same word, "Beware" is translated "Be on your guard." Look out! Now what follows each of those words "beware" in verse 2 are not three groups of enemies of justification, but one group described in three different ways. And the last expression, "the false circumcision," lets us know what the group is. It's the group called the Judaizers.

Now if you've been a Christian anytime at all, you've all heard that word: the Judaizers. Who were these original first century enemies of justification by faith alone? Well, we first meet them, and I want you to turn there, because it's important to have the background, in Acts 15. We first meet this group here. In Acts 15:1 Luke writes, "Some men came down from Judea and began teaching the brethren." So now, some folks who, coming from Judea, probably from Jerusalem itself, since James is mentioned in another context, and they began teaching the people in Antioch this very basic message: "Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved."

And when Paul and Barnabas had great dissention and debate with them, now there's a discussion I'd love to have been a fly on the wall for, the brethren determined that Paul and Barnabas, and some others of them, should go up to Jerusalem for the Apostles and elders concerning this issue, and what ensues of course is the Jerusalem Council. And they absolutely fall down on the side of justification by faith alone, the first real test of this great doctrine.

But when you look at these verses, we can paint a pretty good basic portrait of who the Judaizers were. They were devout Jews, and they were devout Jews who believed that Jesus was their Messiah, who were willing to embrace Jesus Christ as their Messiah. But, here was the sticking point: they concluded that for Gentiles who accept the Messiah, they must first become Jews. This meant that before a gentile could be saved, before a Gentile could become a real Christian and enjoy the blessing of the gospel, he had to do two things: he had to be circumcised, which was the sign of entrance into the covenant with Abraham, and he had to agree to keep the Law of God. That's the error that Paul is addressing. Now we don't know if it's already in Philippi at this point, or if he is simply warning them that it's coming. But regardless, notice what he says about this group of Judaizers.

First word he uses is, they're "dogs." "Beware of the dogs." Now there's a metaphor that's full of bite. It refers to those that have no genuine relationship to God. It's not uncommon in Scripture to refer to people as "dogs." For example, you remember back in Psalm 22, Christ is described on the cross as looking around them and saying, "I am surrounded by a band of dogs." In Isaiah 56:10 and 11, Israel's corrupt leaders are called "dogs." The most interesting reference, I think, though, is Revelation 22:15, where we're told that the dogs are outside of heaven. Now I know some of you thought little Fluffy was going to be there disappointed to hear that, but that's not what he's saying. What John the Apostle is saying is that those who can be called spiritually "dogs" aren't going to make it to heaven. They are excluded from a genuine relationship with God, and therefore excluded from heaven.

Now when we hear this expression used this way, "they're dogs," it's hard for us to really appreciate. Many of us have had, or currently have, dogs as pets, and it's just hard to picture little Fido or Fluffy in these terms. But here's where you have to put yourself back into someone else's culture. The Greeks, the Romans, and the Jews, all three groups of the first century, despised dogs. In fact, to the Jews they were unclean animals. But all of those groups saw dogs as sort of a zoological lowlifes. Remember their experience of dogs. In the first century dogs roved in packs. They were filthy scavengers, eating whatever street garbage they could find. They were also vicious. They would often attack the weak, and those who couldn't defend themselves. The best analogy, I think, we can have from our perspective is to think in terms of our view of vultures, and our view of hyenas. That's how the people in the first century would have viewed dogs. This phrase is used of the Gentiles by the Jews. For example, Rabbi Akba named his two dogs Rufus and Rufina. There's a couple of names to stick away for the future. Because Gentiles, he said, are like dogs in their manner of life.

But in each case when dog is used to refer to people, the focus is on two things: it's on their low moral character, in other words it's a lot like we use the expression "they have the morals of … what? An alley cat." That's how "dog" was used in the first century. And secondly, it was to refer to those, by the Jews, who lacked a genuine relationship to God. They're outside of any relationship to God. Paul says, listen, you Judaizers, you use the word "dogs" of Gentiles; but he turns the table on them and he says, you are the dogs. You are the ones who lack a genuine relationship to God, and whose moral character is despicable.

Then he calls them, verse 2 again, "evil workers." That refers to their conduct. That phrase is often used in the Psalms to refer to those whose actions are contrary to the Scripture. And "workers" here, I think, the word "'workers'" has a double meaning. It has a reference to their tireless work and efforts to convert other to their view, but I think it also plays off a sort of a sarcasm. Remember, they were constantly teaching that if you wanted to be accepted by God, you had to, what? Work. It was your good works that were involved in your justification before God. And Paul says, listen, they may think their work is good, but in reality they are evil workers. In fact, in 2 Corinthians 11:13, he calls the Judaizers "deceitful workers." And he says they are in league with Satan himself.

Evil workers. He adds in verse 2 the "false circumcision." This is the most cutting epithet of all. It refers to those whose confidence is in their own religious efforts to gain a right standing with God. You see, the Judaizers believed that they and those whom they were teaching, the gentiles they were teaching, to get right with God through a ritual, a ceremony, and then adherence to the Old Testament Law. Paul says they are the "false circumcision." You know what that says literally? Literally, it means the mutilation. They are the mutilation. Sarcasm. Elsewhere, Paul spoke respectfully of circumcision; after all, circumcision was demanded by God of the Jewish nation. But there was an inherent danger in circumcision. And that is, if a man had gone through that ceremony, lived in unbelief, and he put his confidence in the fact that rite had been done to him when he was young, it wasn't just unhelpful then; it was absolutely damning.

There is an interesting pun, between verses 2 and 3 of Philippians 3. Notice he says, in verse 3, "We are the true circumcision." "We are the true," literally he says, "We are the "peritomh" the cutting around. But in verse 2, he says they are the "katatomh" the cutting to pieces: the mutilators. That same Greek word is used to refer to those pagan practices that were outlawed in the Old Testament, where in the worship of pagan gods, people would take knives and cut themselves up. You know what Paul was saying? He's saying, listen, you think your circumcision is earning you a right standing before God, but what you are doing is really no better than those pagans who cut themselves up in the worship of their gods.

You want to know what Paul thinks about circumcision? Turn to Galatians 5. He couldn't be more clear. Verse 2, Galatians 5, he says,

Behold I, Paul, say to you that if you receive circumcision, Christ will be of no benefit to you. [Christ will become null and void to you if you get circumcised.] And I testify again to every man who receives circumcision, that he is under obligation to keep the whole Law. Verse 3

You think your circumcision is going to earn you some standing before God? Don't stop there. If you get that done, and you think that's going to do it, then you have to keep the whole Law. You are now once again obligated to keep the whole Law to gain a right standing before God. Verse 4, "You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law;" [There's the bottom line. They may not have said that, but that is in reality what they were doing.] you have fallen from grace. In other words, it's as if you have shifted, you had a paradigm shift, away from the Law, or away from grace, to Law. Verse 5,

… we through the Spirit, by faith, are waiting for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but faith working through love.

So, what is Paul's point, back in Philippians 3:2? What is he trying to do with this warning? And this is crucial for you to get. The biblical doctrine of justification has many dangerous enemies. Every church and every Christian must constantly be on guard against them. And those enemies are always extremely religious, and they usually appear super pious. They often appeal even to the Scriptures, to argue their case.

So how do you identify them? How do you pick these people out of the lineup? Well, the next couple of verses smoke them out. Notice back in Philippians 3:3, he mentions putting confidence in the flesh; verse 4, he again refers to that. Here's the bottom line: what distinguishes those with a Judaizing mindset from genuine Christians is that their confidence is in their flesh, or in their own efforts. You want to know what the genuine article looks like, verse 3 says it's those who put no confidence in the flesh. But if you want to see the false, they're the ones who put their confidence in their own human efforts as a way to present themselves acceptable to God.

Paul saw through the disguise. What the Judaizers were teaching had the effect of adding to grace. And listen, grace plus anything always equals zero. In reality, they had replaced grace with their own actions.

Modern day Judaizers, bringing us up to our day, modern day Judaizers, and there is a world full of them, everything that isn't genuine Christianity is in a sense modern day Judaism, modern day Judaizers rather, looking to please God, to satisfy God, based on their own efforts. Modern day Judaizers always add some kind of human effort to faith as means to gain a right standing before God. Oh, listen, don't be naive; they won't say you're saved by your works. Rarely will they say that. They'll talk about faith, and they'll talk about grace as important, but when you cut through all the junk, and you boil what they're teaching down to its simplest terms, there's always something that you have to do, to gain a right standing before God.

A couple of years ago, I had the opportunity to be a part of a meeting. There were myself, John MacArthur, and the head of the theology department at Brigham Young University. He'd come on a mission, as it turned out. His mission was to convince as many evangelical leaders as he could that he was a genuine Christian, embracing something very close to what we embrace as the gospel, and that Mormonism was in fact simply another denomination of Christianity. He went and visited with several different people on the West Coast, as it turned out.

John agreed to meet with him because, he was never one to pass up an opportunity to communicate the gospel with anyone. And as I sat in that meeting, I was struck with how eager this man, sadly deceived and a deceiver, was. Because he sat there, trying to convince us that what he believed was just a hair's breadth of difference from what we believed. In reality, and this is what John ended up telling him is that, he worships a different god, He worships a different christ, and he has a different gospel. But there are always people, eager to try to convince you that their brand of being a Judaizer is really the real thing.

In fact, there are always people looking to add to grace. The list of modern versions of this is absolutely endless. Let me give you a couple of examples. There are those who go door to door as missionaries for the Jehovah's Witnesses or the Mormons. And they see their efforts as missionaries as gaining them some sort of acceptance with God. They are adding that, to whatever grace they think is there, as a way to achieve righteousness. There are those who light candles, who go to mass, who belong to a church, who live a good life, who obey the Old Testament Law, who keep the Ten Commandments, who are baptized, or who take communion, and they believe that somehow one of those things contributes to their acceptance with God, that they have gained a right standing with God, based on one of those activities. Every other religion, and every heretical version of Christianity always says, "Do." The Bible says, "Done." That's how to distinguish the real article.

You know, Christ's first recorded sermon on earth makes it clear what you and I are responsible to do in response to the good news of justification. His first sermon couldn't be any clearer. Mark 1:15, He says, "Repent and believe the gospel." There it is. Nothing else. Repent and believe. Those are the means, the instrument, the channel, through which we receive this amazing gift. If you're here this morning and your confidence of heaven, if your confidence of a right standing before God is based on anything but Christ and His perfect life and His sacrificial death, if it's based on anything that you have done, or yet must do, then you, I can promise you by Scripture, are outside of Jesus Christ.

Instead, Scripture teaches you must renounce everything that you are. You must renounce everything that you think has any standing before God. And you must fall on your face as one who deserves only an eternal hell. Repent of your sins, turn from your sins, and embrace Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Salvation is by grace alone, by faith alone, in Christ alone.

And if you're a believer, you ought to understand that. But remember what Paul is saying in verse 2, justification is constantly under attack. Be on your guard. And whenever it comes, wherever it comes from, refuse to be persuaded. Refuse to give an inch on this issue. Don't allow peer pressure to get you to compromise. You say, well, that will never happen. I mean, I believe too strongly in this. Listen, if you think that's true of you, then you better think again because the Apostle Peter himself gave in on this issue.

You know, a lot of people will ask, when do you think is the darkest period of church history? And some will say, many will say, well it was the Dark Ages. It was the time of the dominance of the Roman Catholic Church. My answer is, no, it wasn't. The darkest day in the history of the Church came in the first century. Turn to Galatians 2. Paul records it for us. Galatians 2:11. He says, "But when Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For prior to the coming of certain men from James," that means the Jerusalem church, if James was in on this deal, "he used to eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he began to withdraw and hold himself aloof, fearing the party of the circumcision."

You see, Peter wasn't convinced. He didn't change his theology. He simply was afraid. He wanted to be liked. He wanted to be respected. He wanted to be accepted, and because of that he went along, and he compromised on the doctrine of justification. Notice the next verse. It says, "The rest of the Jews joined him in hypocrisy, with the result that even Barnabas …" Barnabas, who traveled with Paul on his missionary journeys, they're all joining in on this, they're all cashing out on the gospel. Verse 14, Paul just tells it like he sees it, "saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter in the presence of all, "If you, being a Jew, live like the Gentiles and not like the Jews, how is it that you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?" So, Paul publicly confronts Peter.

Now realize what's happening here. All the leadership in Jerusalem, including the Apostle Peter, had succumbed to the pressure of the Judaizers, and are basically not being straightforward about the truth of the gospel. Only Paul remains. Without question, the darkest day in the history of the Church.

What the Apostle Paul did, you and I must do. Whenever this doctrine is challenged, he said it's not right. And he gets to the heart of the issue. Notice in verse 16, "nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified." He said listen, here's the issue. Here was the issue with Peter. Here was the issue when I was in Antioch. Don't ever give in. Don't ever compromise, even under pressure to be liked, to be respected, to be accepted. Family and friends urge you to give a little, you're too rigid, you're odd, you're putting yourself outside of the specter of the civil society. Whatever it is, don't ever give in.

What about those pastors, preachers, priests, rabbis, gurus, who promote the necessity of human effort, or human work, to get right with God? What would Paul say if he were today? What would he say about the churches that dot our cities, where this kind of message is preached? He'd say the same thing he said about those in Philippi. They are dogs, they are evil workers, and they are the enemies of God.

How should you and I respond to them? Well, Paul tells us. Turn over a page to Galatians 1:6. He says, "I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; which is really not another;" there's no other gospel, "only there are some who are disturbing you and are perverting the true gospel of Christ." Verse 8, "But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you …" Understand what Paul is describing here. He says even if we Galatians, the churches scattered around the area of Galatia, if I show up, if verifiably I show up, or an angel from heaven shows up, here's how you should respond.

Listen folks, this is true of us today. If the Apostle Paul showed up at Countryside Bible Church this morning, and if we can prove beyond the shadow of a doubt that it was Paul himself, or an angel from the presence of God, verifiably one of the holy angels from God's very presence showed up on this platform this morning and taught anything about the truth of the gospel and justification but what is recorded in God's Word, Paul says let him be anathema; let him be damned; let him be cursed.

If Paul showed up this morning and started teaching something contrary to what's written right here about justification by faith alone in Christ alone, we should grab him by the nap of the neck and the seat of his pants and throw him out the front door. Don't ever tolerate those who embrace the combining and mixing of human effort with the grace of God in salvation.

Do you love justification by faith that much? Is it really the center of your life? Is it the thing that motivates you? Is it the thing you live for? Is it the thing that you'd say is the foundation of everything for you? It should be. It was for Paul. And it has been, for many others in the history of the Church. Many of you have read about the English Reformation, the time of Luther. The English Reformation began in a pub. It began behind what is now King's Parade at Cambridge in England. The White Horse Tavern. It was the center for the discussion and the kicking around of these exciting and dangerous ideas of a young German professor of Old Testament at an obscure university in Wittenberg, by the name of Martin Luther. Many of the men who met at the White Horse Tavern in the 1520s to discuss and to read the banned Protestant books that had been smuggled in by an enterprising young man, ended up giving their lives for the ideas they found there, particularly justification by faith alone.

One of those men was Hugh Latimer. You may have heard his name. If you've been to England, you even have the chance to see marker on the ground where he and his comrade, Ridley, were martyred for their faith in Christ. Latimer was burned at the stake in Oxford on October 16, 1555. As the fires were lit, Latimer looked over at his companion, Ridley, and he said, "Be of good comfort, Master Ridley, and play the man. We shall this day light such a candle by God's grace in England as I trust shall never be put out."

May God reignite the flame in our hearts, for justification by faith, as we go through this passage together. May it be the center and core of your faith, as it was for Paul.

Let's pray together.

Father, how do we begin to thank You for the amazing reality that we stand before You righteous in Christ? Lord, we deserve only Your judgment, only Your wrath. And yet You have forgiven us in Him and You have declared us forever to be righteous.

What can we give You in exchange for this? We give You our lives.

Lord, stir our hearts. Reignite us for what matters. Don't let us chase rabbit trails of the unimportant and the trivial. Lord, help us to live, and, if you shall require, be willing to die for justification by faith alone.

I pray in Jesus' name, Amen!

Just by Faith Alone