Summary: It is the greatest thing we can come to do: to know Christ! This message introduces my series entitled Jesus: The BIG Questions.
“The Greatness of Knowing Christ”
January 3, 2010
Have you seen the bumper stickers that say “Coexist”? They’re all over the place; a lady pulled onto the interstate as we were traveling home and to say that her car was a billboard for every cause imaginable is an understatement. Just underneath and to the right of her “Treehugger” sticker I saw this now-familiar sentiment. Now, I’ve never made any rude gestures toward these folks; never bumped their cars. I’ve thought about it; prayed about it…I really want to engage one of these folks in a conversation about what they’re driving at when they adorn their cars thusly. If all they’re saying is that people of different religious sentiments ought not shoot each other, fine; I’ve got a sneaking suspicion that they mean more than this. My educated guess is that they’re suggesting that we all find ways to soften the edges of our beliefs in order to not make exclusive truth claims, that we alter the entry rules for Heaven so as to accommodate everybody who’s “sincere” or “well-meaning”, regardless of the specifics of those beliefs. Well, thanks but no thanks! Paul has no patience for false teaching—and neither did Jesus, by the way.
Introduction: Confidence in the Flesh (:1-6)
The context of this passage is the warning of Paul to watch out for people he calls “dogs, evil workers, mutilators of the flesh”. These are the same people—note first, though, that Paul doesn’t hesitate to call the proverbial spade a spade; unlike some in our generation who see Jesus as some pussyfooting wimp who is “tolerance personified”, Jesus used the very same term, ironically in Matthew 6, which contains the most-beloved passage of Scripture for those whose intent is to twist Scripture in the first place. In this case, Paul uses the term “dogs” not to refer to cuddly puppies, but rather to false teachers who “dogged” the apostles everywhere they went, seemingly, by introducing the devilish doctrine that suggested that faith alone in Christ alone wasn’t enough. No, for these “Judaizers”, for a Gentile to become a Christian, he had to come first through the doorway of Judaism, and particularly by undergoing the covenant ritual of circumcision. Paul will have none of it; it amounts to nothing more than the mutilation of the flesh when it comes to an attempt to add “religion” to simple faith for salvation. And Paul gives the strongest warning possible, knowing that to mix good works or religious ritual or anything else into the simple salvation equation is to pollute it beyond recognition.
These particular false teachers were placing their faith, not so much in Jesus, but in something done in their flesh: circumcision. Paul adds in verse 3 that, in a “religious” sense, circumcision isn’t a matter of something done outwardly, but rather involves an inward transformation (and this is nothing new; the same is said in several Old Testament texts). There is simply no reason to place one’s trust in outward rituals or good deeds. Paul suggests that if anyone has ever had reason to trust in himself, it is Paul himself. Paul was a religionist of all religionists; he was devout as devout could be, and had the merit badges to show for it! Nobody outshone Paul insofar as fleshly goodness was concerned. And what is Paul’s summation of all of that goodness and religiosity he possessed? Note
I. Paul’s Profit/Loss Statement:
The Relative Values of Christ & Religion
The Cure for Self-Confidence
The very things that he had considered to be great advantages were in fact great hindrances to knowing Christ—which is the ultimate thing. If we really become right with God by virtue of the things that we do, then those things Paul claims for himself in verses 5 & 6 would be of great value—but that’s not how we become right with God, and those things actually can so easily distract us from the value of knowing Christ. How many people today live all around us and are ultimately counting on something other than Christ in order to be right with God? How many of those folks are filling pews in Cobb County today, thinking that all is well because they’re not hearing the precious gospel of Christ proclaimed to them? How many people are trusting their own supposed goodness, or their upstanding image, or their heritage, or their baptism, or what-have-you? Sometimes it is the nicest people, the most upstanding in the community, the ones who do the most in service to others or give the most money to charity, who are the hardest to come to Christ, precisely because they see no need of Christ, particularly when they look at the lives of some professing Christians and compare their morality favorably with those Christians!