Genuine Christianity, part 1 (Philippians 3:1)

A wife asks her husband to make her some ice cream.  “OK,” he says, and turns to go into the kitchen.  “Are you sure you don’t want me to write that down?”  “No, I can remember.”  “Oh,” she asks, “can you put chocolate syrup on it?”  “Sure thing.”  “Do you want to write that down?”  “No, it’s only two things.  I can remember two things.”  “One more thing, she adds, “could you put some whipped cream on top of that…And are you SURE you don’t want me to write that down for you?”  A little perturbed, he says, “My memory is fine.  That’s ice cream with chocolate syrup and whipped cream.”

He goes into the kitchen.  She hears drawers open, the rattle of pots and pans, the sound of frying.  It’s taking some time.  After a while he comes in with a plate…an omelet and some hash browns.  She looks at the plate, looks up at him and says………“You forgot the toast.”

Forgetfulness, sometimes innocent, sometimes tragic.

When it comes to spiritual issues, forgetfulness needs to be remedied…and fast.  That’s why Paul starts off Philippians chapter 3 with these words…

1 Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you is no trouble to me and is safe for you. 2 Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh. 3 For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh—

There are some things that we need to be reminded of over and over and over again.  The primary thing we need to be reminded of is the false confidence we place in the flesh, or, in other words, legalism.

I think we default to legalism because our life is so immersed in the idea that we have to earn our way.  We are required to study to earn good grades, make ourselves popular to win friends, work hard to earn a living.  Everything in life involves working to earn something.

That makes grace foreign to us and causes us to regularly slip into the mindset that we have to perform in some way to be acceptable to God.

There are those, Paul is saying in these verses, who profess have true religion, but Paul is saying that true religion, or genuine Christianity, puts no confidence in our flesh to win God’s approval.

Paul wants them to have joy and be safe, both of which are in peril when we put confidence in the flesh.

Now, Paul begins this section with the word “finally,” which has occasioned a lot of humor at the expense of preachers, as, for example when the little boy whispered to his father, “What does the preacher mean when he says ‘finally’?” To which his father muttered, “Absolutely nothing, son.”  Paul, here, says, “finally” and then “rambles on” for two more chapters.

This word might be better translated as a transitional particle to introduce a fresh point in the progress of thought and could well be translated, “Well then, my brothers, rejoice” or “And so, my brothers, rejoice.”  This is a turning point in the epistle.

Paul is addressing believers, his “brothers,” and encouraging them to “rejoice in the Lord.”  Only true believers in Jesus Christ can “rejoice in the Lord” and be truly happy.

But that joy was in danger of being stolen from them…through legalism.

Notice that, like in Philippians 4:4, Paul commands them to “rejoice in the Lord.”  As a command it is something we can will ourselves to do.  I don’t know if we can will ourselves to be happy, but we can will ourselves to rejoice in the Lord.  We can make ourselves happy in the Lord—not in the circumstances of life, but in the Lord.

Many distinguish that happiness is dependent upon happenings, happenings in my favor.  Joy, however, is rooted more in unchanging truths, thus I can be joyful no matter what happens.  Our joy is rooted in Christ and the gospel through faith.

Notice the varying circumstances, indeed often negative circumstances, that we as Christians can go through, yet still maintain joy.  We find these words of Paul in 2 Corinthians 6:4-10…

4 but as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: by great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, 5 beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; 6 by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love; 7 by truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; 8 through honor and dishonor, through slander and praise. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; 9 as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as punished, and yet not killed; 10 as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything.

What does it mean to “rejoice in the Lord?”  It means to experience Jesus as your deepest and most satisfying treasure and then enjoy all the good things He gives to you.  But even when those things are temporarily taken away, you can still rejoice in Jesus, who can never be taken away.  Jesus is primarily the object of our joy.

Rejoicing is the action that produces joy.  When we rejoice we verbalize—often to other people, to the Lord or just to ourselves—our joy in something—like a good book, an amazing movie or a mouth-watering meal.  It completes our joy by rejoicing in it AND it fuels our joy by rejoicing in it.

We rejoice in the Lord when we tell Him and others how much we treasure Him above all else.  True and lasting joy is found only in Him, all else is temporary and shallow.

Corrie Ten Boom once said, “We don’t know that Christ is all we want until He is all we have.”  In other words, sometimes it is through losing the possessions, or even loved ones, in this life that we come to seek and savor Jesus alone, and then we find that He really is enough.  He really is deeply satisfying.

Martha Snell Nicholson expresses it this way in her poem Treasures:

One by one He took them from me,
All the things I valued most,
Until I was empty-handed;
Every glittering toy was lost.

And I walked earth’s highways, grieving.
In my rags and poverty.
Till I heard His voice inviting,
“Lift your empty hands to Me!”

So I held my hands toward heaven,
And He filled them with a store
Of His own transcendent riches,
Till they could contain no more.

And at last I comprehended
With my stupid mind and dull,
That God COULD not pour His riches
Into hands already full!

Asaph expresses it like this after he had initially been envious of the wicked for their rich, lavish, healthy, care-free lives:

Psalm 73:25 Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. 26 My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

It glorifies God when we experience God as our desired portion so deeply, so sweetly, that other desires are as nothing in comparison.  Nothing else satisfies.

Now, the prophet Jeremiah warns us how easily it is for us to seek our joy outside of the Lord.  In Jeremiah 2:13 he warns…

13 for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.

Two evils—forsaking God as our satisfaction, and seeking satisfaction elsewhere.  And here’s the sad thing, we are giving up the “fountain of living water” for the brackish, lukewarm, quickly disappearing water kept in “broken cisterns.”  It is unsatisfying and momentary compared to the deeply satisfying and continual satisfaction we could find in the Lord.

John Piper describes it in these words:

Evil is the Creator of the universe, who loved us enough to send his Son to die in our place, holding out infinite satisfaction in the fountain of living water — and we taste it and go, “Eh, don’t think so.”

And we start digging — digging and digging in the world.  “I will find it.  I will find it here, not there in God.”

And evil is: “No thank you,” or “No, I will find my way, and do my thing, and I will dig my wells, and my cisterns, and I will suck on this dirt till I’m dead.  And then I’ll go to hell, and I will hate you forever.  No regrets.”

And yet God is saying “I know what satisfies your soul.  I made your soul.  I know what it needs, and I’m it.”

And Jon Bloom reminds us how Jesus reversed this in his interactions with the woman who came to the well (the cistern) to find water, and ended up finding a deeper, long-lasting satisfaction in Jesus Christ.

He goes on to say…

The core evil of the original sin was believing the forbidden knowledge of good and evil would yield more satisfaction than God.  The core evil of ancient Israel was believing idols would yield more protection and prosperity than God.  The core evil in all our sins is believing some broken cistern will give us greater life and joy than God.

Which means the fight between good and evil in the human heart is a fountain-fight: Which fountain do we believe will really satisfy us — right now, in this moment of temptation?  The struggle to discern good from evil is a joy-struggle: Which well has the most real and longest-lasting joy in it? (

Which is what the Fountain of living water holds out to us.  He offers us the deepest satisfaction, the sweetest refreshment, and life forever (John 4:15), and he offers to fully pay the wages of our sin, the appalling evil of our futile broken-cistern hewing (Romans 6:23).  And as with the man who found a treasure in a field or the merchant who found the pearl of great price (Matthew 13:44–46), what he essentially requires of us is almost unbelievably wonderful: to forsake what will lead us only to misery and despair, and to choose the greatest joy.

Now verse 1 encourages us to rejoice in the Lord, but it also shows us that there is never a time in our Christian lives when (1) we don’t need to be reminded about the dangers of legalism and (2) we don’t need to be concerned about our safety, from legalism.

They would remain “safe” if they kept their joy in Jesus and remembered not to put their confidence in the flesh.

You see, our minds don’t stay focused on the truth.  Our flesh, the world and Satan and his demons keep us distracted and deceived more often than we realize.

Thus the importance on repetitive reminders, teaching the same basic gospel truths over and over again.  In fact, it is important that we realize that the gospel of grace—the forgiveness comes by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone—is needed throughout our Christian lives.

Not just at the beginning, to encourage our faith and to enter into a saving relationship with Jesus.  I know I’ve mentioned this before, but I really appreciate (and need to be reminded myself) of what Tim Keller said in his article, The Centrality of the Gospel.  He writes:

We never “get beyond the gospel” in our Christian life to something more “advanced.”  The gospel is not the first “step” in a “stairway” of truths, rather, it is more like the “hub” in a “wheel” of truth.  The gospel is not just the A-B-C’s but the A-Z of Christianity.  The gospel is not just the minimum required doctrine necessary to enter the kingdom, but the way we make progress in the kingdom.

We are not justified by the gospel and then sanctified by obedience, but the gospel is the way we grow (Gal. 3:1-3) and are renewed (Col. 1:6).  It is the solution to each problem, the key to each closed door, the power through every barrier (Rom. 1:16-17).  It is very common in the church to think as follows.  “The gospel is for non-Christians.  One needs it to be saved.  But once saved, you grow through hard work and obedience.”  But Col. 1:6 shows that this is a mistake.  Both confession and “hard work” that is not arising from and “in line” with the gospel will not sanctify you-it will strangle you.  All our problems come from a failure to apply the gospel.  Thus when Paul left the Ephesians he committed them “to the word of his grace, which can build you up” (Acts 20:32).

The main problem, then, in the Christian life is that we have not thought out the deep implications of the gospel, we have not “used” the gospel in and on all parts of our life.  Richard Lovelace says that most people’s problems are just a failure to be oriented to the gospel-a failure to grasp and believe it through and through.  Luther says, “The truth of the Gospel is the principle article of all Christian doctrine. . . . Most necessary is it that we know this article well, teach it to others, and beat it into their heads continually.”  The gospel is not easily comprehended.  Paul says that the gospel only does its renewing work in us as we understand it in all its truth.  All of us, to some degree live around the truth of the gospel but do not “get” it.  So the key to continual and deeper spiritual renewal and revival is the continual re-discovery of the gospel.  A stage of renewal is always the discovery of a new implication or application of the gospel-seeing more of its truth.  This is true for either an individual or a church.

Paul wasn’t “troubled” to repeat these truths to them, and we shouldn’t be either.  We should value the gospel and make sure that our counseling, our preaching, our teaching, our evangelizing, indeed our own spiritual disciplines and living must be gospel-driven.

Like a loving father Paul is a faithful, patient instructor.  He knew that all might be lost if he reminded them of gospel truth 39 times, but not the 40th time.  It is the responsibility of every teacher to continually remind us of the supreme importance of the gospel and its application to every issue we face in life.

You might sometimes here the parental voice saying, “If I’ve told you once, I’ve told you a thousand times” as showing irritation.  That’s not the way Paul felt about it.  It was “no trouble” for him to repeat these things over and over and over again because he knew that it was key to keeping them safe from legalism.

We need to continually encourage one another to “rejoice in the Lord,” to rejoice in the gospel truth that He is an all-sufficient, all-supreme, all-satisfying Savior so that nothing else is our hope but Him.

John Newton, who gave us the wonderful hymn “Amazing Grace” continued to preach as long as he was able. When his eyesight began to fail, a servant stood behind him in the pulpit with a pointer to help him follow the words on his manuscript.

In one sermon Newton said the words “Jesus Christ is precious,” and then repeated them. His servant, thinking he was getting confused, whispered, “Go on, go on; you said that before.”  Newton, looking around, replied loudly, “John, I said that twice, and I’m going to say it again.”  And then he thundered, “Jesus Christ is precious!”

As he died at age eighty-two, he whispered to a friend, “My memory is nearly gone.  But I remember two things: that I am a great sinner, and that Christ is a great Saviour.”

This is what we need to preach to ourselves, day after day, hour by hour, that we have an all-sufficient, all-supreme, all-satisfying Savior.

We are safe when we hold onto that truth, in danger when we forget it.

Published by

Lamar Austin

I've graduated from Citadel Bible College in Ozark, Arkansas, with a B. A. Then got my M. Div. and Th. M. at Capital Bible Seminary in Lanham, MD. I finished with a D. Min. degree from Dallas Theological Seminary, but keep on learning. I pastored at Chinese Christian Church of Greater Washington, D. C., was on staff at East Evangelical Free Church in Wichita, KS, tried to plant an EFC in Little Rock, before moving back home to Mena, where I now pastor my home church, Grace Bible Church

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