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A New Testament Study - Philippians 3:9b-11

Justification, Sanctification, Glorification


9...not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ--the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. 10I want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death, 11and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.

In this short passage, Paul speaks on the cornerstones of the Gospel: justification (vs. 9), sanctification (vs. 10), and glorification (vs. 11). We begin this study at the end of verse 9. In our previous Philippians' study, we looked at the beginning of verse 9 (see the August 1996 issue). Paul there spoke of how he values above all things of the world his relationship with Christ: "I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him" (then Paul continues) "not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ--the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith." So we see here, at the end of verse 9, Paul summarizes what to "be found in Him" means, that is, justification not by works of the law, but through faith in Christ.

Justification by faith is at the center of the Christian faith. Justification by faith, and faith alone, distinguishes Christianity from all other religions of the world. In fact, justification by faith in Christ defines the Christian religion; just as affirmation of the doctrine of justification by faith in Christ defines the Christian. And so Paul states his desire to "gain Christ and be found in Him", and then defines what being found in Him means: "...not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ--the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith." To make himself clear, Paul first states how he is justified in a negative form, by saying what it is not: "...not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law"; and then in a positive form, by saying what it is: "...but that which is through faith in Christ."

First, let us look at how we cannot be justified: "...not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law." God is holy, infinitely holy: "[His] eyes are too pure to look on evil; [He] cannot tolerate evil" (Hab. 1:13). Thus, only the perfectly righteous may enter His presence, only the perfectly righteous may escape His judgment. But fallen man, each and every one, has sinned, as Paul points out: "There is no one righteous, not even one" (Rom. 3:10), and then "[A]ll have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Rom. 3:23). Because of this, "no one will be declared righteous by observing the law" (Rom. 3:20). Make no mistake: righteousness is a good thing, and we should strive to observe God's law, but our attempts at righteousness can never be enough to satisfy God's perfect standard of conduct. Even if from this day forward we lived in perfect obedience to God, this is what is expected by God as the minimum standard of righteousness. And so, perfect righteousness from this day forward cannot make up for past sins, just as paying off today's debts cannot cancel yesterday's. Consequently, personal righteousness (as good as it is) can be dangerous, that is, if we rest in it. "Though personal righteousness, observance of the law, be necessary and useful in other respects, yet in point of confidence it must be renounced, it must in no case be relied on; it is commendable and advantageous in its own place, when made use of for those ends, and in that way which God requires; but if it be relied on, it may prove dangerous, pernicious; it will be found a broken reed, deceive the soul that puts confidence in it. . . There is that in our best righteousness which exposes us to more severity, and makes us further obnoxious to justice; that which may provoke Him, instead of appeasing or satisfying."[Footnote #6] Our personal righteousness exposes us to the severity of God when we think that it is enough to satisfy God; it provokes God to wrath, because resting in our own righteousness denies and despises the saving work of Christ on the cross.

Satan leads men to destruction in two ways: first, by provoking open disobedience and ungodliness so that men ignore God's law; second, by provoking pride, self-confidence and self-righteousness so that men ignore God's salvation. Of the two, self-righteousness may be the most damning, for "though this way be fairer than the other, yet ordinarily it proves more dangerous, because those that are entered into it are not so easily convinced of it, and brought out of it; publicans and sinners are more easily brought to Christ than Pharisees."[Footnote #7] There are many ways that men rest in their self-righteousness, and thus, ignore the salvation of God. Some rest in their good nature; they are friendly to everyone, pals to all, and think that their good nature is enough to win God's favor. Some rely on the following of religious rites; they observe Sacraments, attend church every week, and think that this is enough to win God's favor. Some rely on comparative righteousness; they see themselves as better than the average guy on the street, and think that this is enough to win God's favor. Some rely on morality; like the rich young man (see Matt. 19:16-22), they've never stolen, never beaten their wives, never committed adultery and think that this is enough to win God's favor.

These ways of righteousness, though commendable ways of behavior, will not gain God's favor. Again, as Paul states, "no one will be declared righteous by observing the law" (Rom. 3:20). Rather, the righteousness that God accepts, is not man's fallen righteousness, but (as Paul here in Philippians gives the positive requirement for justification) "that which is through faith in Christ--the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith" (vs. 9). The basis of our righteousness is our standing with Christ, our faith that His death on the cross satisfies the punishment that we deserve for our sins, our resting in His work on the cross, not on our own works of righteousness. It should be a comfort to us that our salvation does not depend on our own works, for we all miserably fail. God is gracious, and displays His great wisdom, in not tying our salvation to works of righteousness. If our salvation depended somehow on our partial obedience of the law, if their were some point system of some sort, whereby we were rated for our good works, then justification would be available only to the elite, who knew the fine points of the law, and who had the means (the time, the money) to do good works. But since justification is by faith, it is available to all in full measure, because our "righteousness...comes from God and is by faith" (vs. 9).

So, we are justified by faith, but the Christian life does not stop there. Paul, beyond resting in his justification, says: "I want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death." Since he was saved, Paul's greatest desire was to "know Christ". Paul strived for, what he called earlier, "the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord" (Phil. 3:8). One might think that Paul--who was obviously a mature believer, who was the man who wrote more of the New Testament than anyone else--knew Christ enough. And many of us, who have walked with Christ for a long time, may think that we know Christ enough. However, as well as we might know Christ, we all need to know Him better. This should be our overriding desire, our top priority, for to know Christ is more important than knowing anyone or anything else. C. H. Spurgeon tells a parable about why we should desire to know Christ:


You have been captured by Roman soldiers and dragged from your native country; you have been sold for a slave, stripped, whipped, branded, imprisoned, and treated with shameful cruelty. At last you are appointed to die in the amphitheatre, to make holiday for a tyrant. The populace assemble with delight. There they are, tens of thousands of them, gazing down from the living sides of the capacious Colosseum. You stand alone, and naked, armed only with a single dagger--a poor defence against gigantic beasts. A ponderous door is drawn up by machinery, and forth there rushes the monarch of the forest--a huge lion; you must slay him or be torn to pieces. You are absolutely certain that the conflict is too stern for you and that the sure result must and will be that those terrible teeth will grind your bones and drip with your blood. You tremble; your joints are loosed; you are paralyzed with fear, like the timid deer when the lion has dashed it to the ground. But what is this? O wonder of mercy!--a deliverer appears. A great unknown leaps from among the gazing multitude, and confronts the savage monster. He quails not at the roaring of the devourer, but dashes upon him with terrible fury, till, like a whipped cur, the lion sliinks towards his den, dragging himself along in pain and fear. The hero lifts you up, smiles into your bloodless face, whispers comfort in your ear, and bids you be of good courage, for you are free. Do you think that there would arise at once in your heart a desire to know your deliverer? As the guards conducted you into the open street, and you breathed the cool, fresh air, would not the first question be, `Who was my deliverer, that I may fall at his feet and bless him?' You are not, however, informed, but instead of it you are gently led away to a noble mansion house, where your many wounds are washed and healed with salve of rarest power. You are clothed in sumptuous apparel; you are made to sit down at a feast; you eat and are satisfied; you rest upon the softest down. The next morning you are attended by servants who guard you from evil and minister to your good. Day after day, week after week, your wants are supplied. You live like a courtier. There is nothing that you can ask which you do not receive. I am sure that your curiosity would grow more and more intense till it would ripen into an insatiable craving. You would scarcely neglect an opportunity of asking the servants, `Tell me, who does all this, who is my noble benefactor, for I must know him?' `Well, but', they would say, `is it not enough for you that you are delivered from the lion?' `Nay,' say you, `it is for that very reason that I pant to know him.' `Your wants are richly supplied--why are you vexed by curiosity as to the hand which reaches you the boon? If your garment is worn out, there is another. Long before hunger oppresses you, the table is well loaded. What more do you want?' But your reply is, `It is because I have no wants, that, therefore, my soul longs and yearns even to hungering and to thirsting, that I may know my generous loving friend.'[Footnote #8]


And so, we should desire to know Christ, our Savior, our Deliverer, our Benefactor, our Lord, our Master.

Again, Paul desired a deep knowledge of Christ. He enumerates three aspects of knowledge of Christ that he falls short in: "the power of His resurrection", "the fellowship of sharing in His sufferings", and "becoming like Him in His death." The enumeration of these three aspects of knowing Christ remind us how far we fall short of knowing Him. In fact, at first glance, it is difficult to understand what exactly Paul means by this. What does he mean? Let us look at each of these three aspects of knowing Christ:


* "the power of His resurrection" - Such power is known nowhere else. Where else is found the power to raise the dead? Paul wanted to know Christ through this power. This power can work through us, to purify us, to sanctify us, to raise us from the death of sin, transforming us so that, rather than living a futile life in service to the world and our fleshly lusts, we live a meaningful life in service to God. Calvin comments: "Christ therefore is rightly known, when we feel how powerful His death and resurrection are, and how efficacious they are in us. Now all things are there furnished to us: expiation and destruction of sin, freedom from guilt, satisfaction, victory over death, the attainment of righteousness and the hope of a blessed immortality."[Footnote #9]


* "the fellowship of sharing in His sufferings" - We cannot experience the full "power of His resurrection" without the "fellowship of sharing in His sufferings". Christ Himself said: "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me" (Matt. 16:24); and what is "the cross" but the cross of suffering? To know Christ is to follow Him in His sufferings (to some extent), because a life lived in complete obedience to God (as Christ's was) will necessarily bring suffering. Christ said also: "In this world you will have trouble" (John 16:33). This is a fact. And to know Christ is to experience this suffering, and to endure it as He did: with patience, with love, with obedience to God through it, accepting God's will, not cursing it. How can we truly know Christ, and appreciate what He has done for us, unless we experience "the fellowship of sharing in His sufferings"? Besides, there are many things that can only come through suffering: strength for the future, appreciation for times of blessing, appreciation for the afterlife; appreciation for salvation; appreciation for God's grace, empathy for the suffering of others, a stronger testimony for Christ.


* "becoming like Him in His death" - It seems that Paul had a spiritual gift of martyrdom: he would accept, indeed, he desired to live and die as Christ did, and share in His suffering. Paul literally became "like Him in His death", for he died a martyr's death for his faith. Very few of us these days are called to die a martyr's death, but in another sense, we are to become "like Him in His death." We should all say, as Paul did, "I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me" (Gal. 2:20). Paul further explains this: "We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don't you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? We were therefore buried with Him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. . . For we know that our old self was crucified with Him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin--because anyone who has died has been freed from sin. . . [C]ount yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus" (from Rom. 6:1-11). Through Christ, we have died to this world, and we are living a new life in Him.


We all need to know Christ in such a way. We need to venture beyond our salvation into a deep knowledge of our Savior, dying to ourselves, suffering for Him, with His power working in us. We should all pray to know Christ in this way, but first, we should all pray for the desire to know Christ in this way.

Such knowledge leads to glory. Thus Paul continues: "...and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead." By saying, "somehow", Paul is not doubting his salvation, but rather, expressing awe for the greatness of eternal life. Paul is "not implying uncertainty of the issue, but the earnestness of the struggle"[Footnote #10] "The phrase, [`somehow'], does not indicate doubt, but expresses difficulty, to stimulate our earnest endeavor. For it is no light contest, inasmuch as we must struggle against so many and such serious hindrances."[Footnote #11] "It is always important, in this connection, to distinguish between the firm, unmovable object of our hope and our subjective apprehension of it."[Footnote #12] In and of ourselves, we deserve no resurrection from the dead. Yet, through the knowledge of Christ, God has blessed us also with the great gift of eternal life in His presence.

Lord, we praise and thank You for the great gift of eternal life that You have already given us. May we live lives worthy of this great gift. Also, give us the desire to know You, just as Paul desired to know You. Make it the overriding yearning of our lives, by Your Spirit. In the name of Christ, we pray these things, Amen.


6. David Clarkson, "Justification by the Righteousness of Christ", from The Works of David Clarkson, Vol. I, pg. 279, 278.

7. Ibid., pg. 280.

8. C. H. Spurgeon, The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, Vol. XXXV, pg. 61-62.

9. John Calvin, The Epistles of Paul the Apostle, pg. 275.

10. Jamieson, Fausset, Brown. A Commentary: Critical, Experimental, and Practical on the Old and New Testaments. Vol. III, pt. 3, pg. 434.

11. John Calvin. op. cit., pg. 276.

12. Moises Silva, Philippians. pg. 192.

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