The Magnetic Power of the Perfect Home

I. True Circumcision: Residents fit for the home

A. How often we need to be reminded. Paul was painfully aware of the attempts of false teachers to infiltrate the churches and win followers to themselves by their strange doctrine. He found it necessary to reiterate his teaching—the true gospel revealed to the apostles—in order to protect the faith and the faithful. So, Paul found it no trouble to “write the same things” for it was a “safeguard” for the church (1). Peter had this same purpose in mind (2 Peter 1:12-15) when he reminded the churches within his sphere of influence of the truth he had taught them—“I will not be negligent to remind you always of these things.”

B. Paul issues a strong warning against false teaching, because false teaching produces false faith. He calls these heresy-mongers “dogs, . . . evil workers, . . . the false circumcision” (2). Evidently some of the same group that challenged the Galatian churches had also made their way to Philippi (Gal. 5:1-11). Throughout the letter to the Galatians, Paul warned against embracing this false gospel. He warned against a yoke of slavery, that Christ would be of “no benefit” and that they would be “severed from Christ” and “fallen from grace” if they adopted the ceremony of circumcision as a qualification for the gospel. Instead, Paul urged that they continue to in their obedience to the truth, follow no other persuasion and adopt no other view (Galatians 5:1-10). The gospel has a particular content and true faith includes a persuasion of its truthfulness.

C. Paul issues a theological statement about the true meaning of circumcision. It was a ceremony that prefigured the work of the Spirit in removing a sinner’s hardness of heart. The Spirit would create a free flow of trust and love from a sinner to Christ. The true circumcision of regeneration establishes three things, at least in the spiritual response of a believer.

  1. He worships by the Spirit of God. That is, according to the work of the Sprit in the new covenant, the law is written on his heart (Jeremiah 31:33), the heart of stone has been removed, the Spirit of God has been put within us to cause us to walk in God’s statutes (Ezekiel 36:26, 27).
  2. The true believer glories in Christ Jesus. The participant in this covenant has forgiveness of sins, iniquities no longer remembered against them (Jeremiah 31:34) for the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses from all sin (1 John 1:5). In Christ alone he trust for he has accomplished all righteousness.
  3. The true believer puts no confidence in the flesh. “Flesh” refers to any status that we may clam from natural relations or from accomplishments from any talents or attempts at personal virtue. All that we do and are is so interpenetrated by the principle of the “flesh” that wars against the Spirit (Galatians 5:17) that it can avail nothing before God, can accomplishment no reconciliation, no righteousness.


II. True Righteousness involves the necessity of a Divine intervention resulting in a singular accomplishment on the part of a divinely-appointed Redeemer.

A. Paul pointed to himself as the paradigm of fleshly qualification for true knowledge of God. He exhibited a compelling picture of “godly” zeal without grasping the cross. The pedigree of his birth and his relation to the law were without equal (“I far more”) and presented the greatest opportunity for a right standing before God on the basis of human merit.

  1. He had all the right qualifications from his birth. Just as the law required, Paul was circumcised on the eighth day in accord with the Abrahamic covenant for the covenant nation through whom Messiah would come. He was not from a proselyte family, but his genealogy could be traced throughout to the nation of Israel so that he was a “Hebrew of the Hebrews.” He was, in fact, from the tribe of Benjamin, in the southern kingdom that maintained loyalty to Judah when the nation split. From his tribe came the first king of the United Kingdom, and his name was the same name, Saul.
  2. If one merely looked at qualification according to the flesh, again Paul surpassed all his peers. He was of the strictest sect of Jews, a Pharisee, holding to the exclusive claims of divine revelation as the only source of true knowledge of God and his law, rejecting any compromise with the intellectual or social traditions of unbelieving nations. So powerfully committed was he to the glory of the Messianic promises and the kingdom that he would establish, that he became a persecutor of those who claimed that the Galilean peasant, Jesus of Nazareth, was indeed the Promised One from God. Also, his obedience to every external detail concerning the Law, both in the moral law of Moses, the interpretations given to it by the Scribes and teachers of the Law, and the ceremonial requirements concerning sacrifices, and the yearly calendar of Jewish celebrations and fasts. If all those elements of the Law constituted true righteousness, Paul was righteous.

B. A personal confrontation with Jesus of Nazareth, now risen from the dead and dwelling in glorious splendor, caused him to change his posture toward greatest attainments of human righteousness (7, 8).

  1. Our attainments are less than nothing, damning (7, 8 a). He learned that if we are to have Christ and his work of true righteousness, he must count all of his fleshly qualifications as “loss.” Loss means, “less than nothing.” Such supposed merits if adhered to would only seal his condemnation for none of them measured up to the internal conformity to the divine glory as intended by the moral Law and then supported by all aspects of the ceremonial Law and the civil Law to be practiced by Israel as a nation. He says, “I have counted all loss.” This perfect tense mean that Paul did this when he saw Christ’s excellence and even this evaluation of his fleshly accomplishments is still the same.
  2. Paul used a construction that gave the strongest possible emphasis to what follows: “Even right now, still, I am counting all things to be loss.” Is there anything to which I should adhere in light of the clear transcendent, absolute, perfected, gloriously sealed excellence of Christ in his righteousness. Faith involves a reckless desire for Christ Himself because of the heart’s perception of the infinite excellence of his person and work. So, in fact, “I have suffered the loss of all things.” All his former relations, the esteem he enjoyed in the Jewish community have been thrust aside and the result is their constant hounding him with opposition, attempts on his life, and a consistent parade of misrepresentations and lies. But does he lament such a loss? He does lament the blindness of his fellow Israelites and desires their salvation (Romans 10:1-4, this same view of the law, zeal, ignorance of true righteousness and the perfection of Christ is set forth), but his personal status within that community based on a perception of his zeal for their interpretations of the Law he counts as rubbish. (8b).

C. God is pleased only with a righteousness that comes through union with Christ

  1. The one who would find true salvation must repudiate any confidence in personal righteousness. Instead of any idea of being found “blameless” (6), Paul sets the condition for all in saying “not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law” (9a). Paul is not rejecting the idea that true righteousness is found in the Law as revealed in the Ten Commandments; it is. He soundly affirms that our corruption of nature so infiltrates our every action and thought that what we consider righteousness is real unrighteousness. The moral operation of our very soul—will and affection—pours forth iniquity and transgression.
  2. True righteousness, therefore, is constituted by Christ’s death and resurrection; his death was the last act of his perfect obedience to the law and its demands (2:8). His resurrection constituted the Father’s seal on that completed work and marked its acceptance as accomplishing all by way of both obedience and punishment for meeting the immutable standard of justice resident within the very nature of God: “the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith.” Believers have pardon from sin and presence with God because of twofold fulfilled righteousness (9b).


D. Verses 10 and 11 are in the form of a chiasm: resurrection death, death, resurrection. To know Jesus in a saving relationship is to know the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of his suffering.

  1. To know the power of his resurrection is to believe in one’s heart that the resurrection shows that Christ has done all for salvation and nothing remains to be done (Romans 10:9).
  2. The “fellowship of his suffering” in the first place indicates the profound perception and conviction that Jesus took my place. He died the “just for the unjust. . . . He loved me and gave himself for me” (1 Peter 3:18; Galatians 2:20)
  3. Because of this, I am “conformed to his death” while I live. This means my life is not my own for it is bought with a price. It involves also a continual mortification of the flesh that I may show a genuine repentance from those perversities of mind and heart that brought death to Christ for my sake. A constituent element of true faith is the sanctifying desire for emulation of Christ: being conformed to his death necessarily includes remorse for sin.
  4. Attain to the resurrection from the dead looks toward the eternal circumstance of being freed from the power and presence of sin. It means that existential reality of righteousness is our present and eternal experience. Resurrection means righteousness in both body and spirit.


III. True Zeal:  The Expulsive Power of a New Affection.

A. In our present condition Paul recognized, and so must we, that even though regenerated by the Holy Spirit, we fall short of God’s goal for us 12a, 13a. Paul stated that he seeks to attain the “resurrection from the dead. That condition of righteousness constitutes the goal toward which he works with all his might. It is for that he “worked out [his] own salvation with fear and trembling, knowing that it is God who works in him both to will and to do according to his good pleasure (2:12, 13). Everything inconsistent with the state of resurrection had to go. All that brought to light the purity and the beauty of holiness that would come to pass at the glorious appearing of the exalted Savior was to be pursued and nourished. In 13a, he reiterates that the pursuit will be life long, for “I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet.”

B. Desire for the progressive attainment of righteousness 12b, 13b, 14. Paul uses several images to communicate the importance of this pursuit.

  1. His present lack of perfection does not discourage him but prompts him to work with even greater energy: “I press on.” According to A. T. Robertson this word means “keep up the chase.” In these texts it is the verb “pursue.” “Pursue love” (1: Corinthians 14:1). “Who did not pursue righteousness” (Romans 9:30). “Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness” (1 Timothy 6:11). This admonition to Timothy would be a good description of how Paul conceived his own chase, or pursuit, for the holy purpose of God in his justification.
  2. The pursuit was to culminate in actual attainment: “So that I may lay hold of.” Those things that would constitute his perfection and that he pursued are the very things for which he was detained, laid hold of, by Christ. The word has the ambience of aggressive capture. Perhaps Paul has in mind the violent manner in which Christ confronted Saul the persecutor (Acts 9:3, 4). Though not as externally dramatic and impressive, the same effectual violence, as it were, was required to awaken every regenerate person, to call them out of darkness, to give life to their dead souls.
  3. The next image is that of a runner leaning forward, either to gain momentum or reach the finish line first. All that is behind has been left behind for those things that are ahead now occupy all Paul’s attention (13b). The attainments of personal sanctification will absorb every parcel of energy in mind and spirit that we have. Paul is repeating the image he used in 1 Corinthians 9:24: “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it.”
  4. Also, Paul “presses on,” meaning that he has a restless urge to achieve the goal as a persecutor seeks for his victim. He is relentless and can find no rest in his soul unless he grasps the object of pursuit. He must have it; the object of his hunt must not escape.
  5. What prompts these images of unceasing forward energy? A prize! The prize is the “upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” Moving upward toward Christ, to be like him, to see him as he is, to worship him eternally, to feel the final transformation of his holy presence, to sense the exhilaration of the unfolding layers of his glory for eternity—that is the prize we seek.

C. Paul admonishes those who are perfect, that is, in this case mature in their thinking, to think in the same way. They too must use all the energy that God provides to seek that prize. As one advances through such determined work for increased sanctification, God will reveal further areas of life yet unmortified. Until God does reveal such areas, each person should not decline but maintain his present level of maturity—“living by the same standard to which we have attained.” Progress through spiritual challenge will come in God’s time for Christ is determined to present his church to himself in “splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing.” He will do this by sanctifying her, cleansing her “by the washing of water with the word” (Ephesians 5:26).


IV. False Paths: Discernment of Deceivers

A. Verse 17 -The fellowship of the saints is vitally important for this upward call and the eventual attainment of the prize. We grow by the work of the Spirit in conjunction with learning the truth of the word and also by looking to the example of more mature saints. Christians must select good examples for holy living. Paul points to himself and to those who “walk according to the pattern you have in us.” As an apostle, not only did Paul teach by revelation God’s truth, he lived under scrutiny and suffering for this revealed truth. By God’s design and grace, he set a pattern of word and life.

B. On the other hand, as Paul gloried in the cross, some lived in a contrary way. “Many walk.” Whereas Paul has admonished to a lifestyle consistent with the humiliation of Christ in serving others and desiring that time when every knee bows and confesses that Jesus is Lord, others live only for themselves and the present pleasure. This marks them out as deceivers and as enemies of Christ’s cross; they see neither the true nature of sin, the true glory of Christ, the necessity of self-loathing, or the righteousness characteristic of heaven (18, 19).

  1. Their present commitment is to extend their pleasure in this life, but their final destiny is eternal destruction.
  2. While Paul served Christ, the Lord of heaven and earth, the god of these false brethren is their “belly.” They cannot see any good beyond the next meal or the next round of personal pleasure.
  3. The activities in which they rejoice and toward which they stretch in anticipation, those things in which they find reason to glory, only redound to their shame on the day of Christ. Whereas Paul stated his expectation and hope “that I will not be put to shame in anything, but that with all boldness, Christ will even now, as always, be exalted in my body, whether by life of by death” (1:20), these false walkers glory in things that will indeed bring final shame.
  4. This is because they do not have a spiritual sensibility of the glory of Christ’s present exaltation in heaven nor of his final advent in which he will be “marveled at among all who have believed” (2 Thessalonians 1:10). Instead, their mind is “set on earthly things.”


V. Home at Last: The perfect conformity of Body and Soul to the glory of heavenly life.

A. Our citizenship is in heaven. We are mere pilgrims here and await that home and condition of which the Holy Spirit is an earnest (Eph 1:11-14).

B. The Lord of Heaven himself will come to usher us in. For him “we eagerly wait.” He is enthroned now in heaven having accomplished his work of humiliation in which he redeemed his elect; His eternal Father has enthroned him and has warned all to “Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way” (Psalm 2:6, 12). Those who eagerly await him, however, do not fear the wrath that is “quickly kindled” but have taken refuge in him and await him as a Savior.

C. He finally will fit us for the nature of that dwelling.

  1. His transformed humanity will be the model, since it is the firstfruits, of the glory to which we will be conformed (21a).
  2. His Deity will exert the power by which we will achieve that final transformation toward which we have been exerting energy by his power that works mightily within us even here (2:12, 13)


VI. Markers for the Upward call

A. True Doctrine cannot be separated from true faith or holy living.

B. Justification lies completely in Christ, his person and his work

C. Sanctification lies completely in knowledge of Christ and a Spirit-wrought desire to be like him

D. Glorification – complete sanctification, body and soul, are perfected by his divine power

Tom has most recently served as the Professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He previously taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he was Professor of Church History and Chair of the Department of Church History. Prior to that, he taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Along with numerous journal articles and scholarly papers, Dr. Nettles is the author and editor of fifteen books. Among his books are By His Grace and For His Glory; Baptists and the Bible, James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman, and Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles H. Spurgeon.
Get Founders
in Your Inbox
A weekly brief of our new teaching resources.

"*" indicates required fields

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Teaching BY TYPE
Teaching BY Author
Founders Podcasts