Lesson 6: Grace That Justifies
Devotion: Read Philippians 3:2-16. Once again Paul writes to a church struggling with the issue of circumcision. He understands the temptation to believe we earn God’s forgiveness and love, but he wants the Church to know salvation comes by faith, not good works. He uses a new metaphor for justifying grace: participation in Jesus’ life, suffering, and resurrection.
When Paul talks about “knowing Christ,” he does not mean intellectual knowledge. He wants to be aware of God’s Spirit and live out the self-giving life Jesus taught (Phil 2:16; 1 Cor 9:24; 2 Tim 4:7). To know Jesus as Sovereign transforms how we live. It is as if God is the leader of a huge orchestra with each creature playing their own instrument. God wants each person to tune their instrument so as to be in harmony with the song God is leading. When our lives are in tune, we respond to God’s leadership and are transformed by God’s presence. The goal is for all creation to harmonize together under God’s leadership. In this metaphor, emphasis is placed on being led by God, so humility is important as a means of following God (Phil 1:12-14, 29-30; 2:1-8, 17; 3:20-21). Likewise, when we are in harmony with God but out of harmony with the world’s song, we can expect to share Christ’s sufferings and resurrection. In what areas of your life are you out of tune with God? When and where do we learn the song God is singing? How does viewing salvation and righteousness as a process of being slowly transformed over time (3:12) rather than a one-time action change how we view faith?
Personal Worship Option: Read Hebrews 12:7-11. We do not have to enjoy hardship to learn from it. Few of us are good at accepting humility or suffering. That said, what have your most recent sufferings taught you about yourself and/or God’s love?
Dig A Little Deeper:
3:2 As in our Galatians 3 reading earlier this week, some leaders in the church at Philippi are forcing Gentiles to be circumcised as well as baptized (Acts 15:3-5).
3:3 “We who are the circumcision” means those living by faith are the sign of God’s covenant community, a role previously played by circumcision. His emphasis is on being led by the Spirit.
3:4 Paul is not saying Judaism is rubbish, but that because of faith in Christ, all his gains through works are comparatively worthless. What is the difference between looking like a Christian and being a Christian? Between outward appearance and inward righteousness?
3:7 Following Jesus turns Paul’s life upside down because he now understands all his efforts to earn righteousness were empty. Knowing Christ is his total aim.
3:9 Paul describes salvation in experiential, mystical terms: “be found in him” and “know Christ” in a way that brings partnership in his resurrection and sufferings (3:10). What is the difference in knowing about love and knowing love? In knowing about Jesus’ teaching and knowing Jesus?
3:11 To participate in Jesus’ life and death means participation in his resurrection. To be in harmony with Christ in life means we will be in harmony with his death and new life.
3:12 Those who are demanding circumcision are most likely claiming they have arrived at a perfected state of faith. Paul is arguing for Christian life and faith as a journey, a process which requires pressing on toward growth. Why is his advice about forgetting what lies behind, so important? How does seeing Christian faith as a journey change our view of worship?