Thursday, August 30, 2007

Several Birds with One Stone

The following passage of Scripture addresses several topics that have come up lately in this author's work on the blog.

First, it relates to soteriology generally, and thus can be addressed toward the challenge I have already issued.

Second, it relates to human merit, and thus can be addressed to Godith's comments regarding the RCC.

Third, it relates to another topic that I have been working on, for this blog, but have not presented yet. That topic will be a long time in coming. Nevertheless, this tidbit for now.

Having discussed his faithful adherence to the outward constraints of the law of Moses, Paul continues with the passage under discussion:

Philippians 3:7-14
7But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. 8Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, 9And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith: 10That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death; 11If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead. 12Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus. 13Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, 14I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.

In this passage, Paul speaks of the inadequacy of man's "righteousness." Paul was a zealous adherent of the most outwardly strict sect of the Jews. His outward adherence to the Mosaic law began on the eighth day of his life with circumcision, and continued with unparallel zeal until his vision on the road to Damascus. Nevertheless, all that "righteousness" Paul considers dung.

If verse 7 were the last verse of the discussion, many who hold to a view of work's righteousness salvation would be content. "The works of Judaism - they were the problem," such folks might say. That, however, is not Paul's point.

Paul clarifies by stating that he considers everything loss (i.e. a negative) because the knowledge of His Lord Jesus Christ is exceeding it. Paul explains that for Christ Paul lost (i.e. subtracted) everything and considers all such dung, so that he can obtain Christ and be found in Christ.

At this point it is worth taking a brief excursis to explain what Paul means. What does he mean by "to be found in Christ"? Paul is referring to the day of judgment, when men will be judged as either worthy of eternal life, or of eternal death. Paul is willing to give up all earthly righteousness in order to be found in Christ on that day. And what does it mean to be found in Christ? It means to have Christ's righteousness on one's account.

As Paul explains, he wants to be found in Christ, not having his own (i.e. Paul's) righteousness (depending on obedience to the commands of the law), but that righteousness of Christ that comes through faith, in other words, the righteousness that is of God and by faith:

- the knowledge of Christ and the power of his resurrection
- the fellowship of his suffering
- assimilation into his death

so that, in that way, he can arrive at the resurrection of the dead.

But Paul is quick to point out that Paul has not arrived and is not perfect at the present time. (Wesleyean perfectionists, beware) Instead, Paul states that he chases, so that he may grasp the thing for which he is being grasped by Jesus Christ.

In other words, contrary to the assertions of the RCCs and the consistent Arminians, Paul is not saying that he is perfect now, but may risk falling away later, instead Paul is saying that his sanctification is not complete. He has not been resurrected with Christ.

Nevertheless, Paul is confident that he has been grasped by Christ. Paul runs, but not as though he only hoped to obtain: he is reaching out to grasp, but Christ has already grasped him. Paul explains that he does not consider himself to have grasped already, but instead presses on toward the goal of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.

In the context immediately following the passage above, Paul goes on to explain that this should be the mindset of all believers: Christ has grasped us in his resurrection, but we - living out our lives - are running toward that goal, admitting that we have done is nothing, and placing all our confidence in Christ.

After a brief excursis regarding those who have a different mentality, Paul explains that our mentality is different because our citizenship is in heaven, the place from which we expect our deliverer, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our vile selves like unto his glorious self, according to the operation by which he can subordinate everything to himself.

In other words, Paul recognizes that he will be made righteous only by the power of God, not by his effort. In short, we are vile, but Christ is glorious: our hope is not in our merit, but in Christ's ability to transform our meritless selves into the likeness of his glory. We run - not motivated by a mere wishful desire to attain - but by a recognition that Christ has already attained for us. We live unto Him, because we are citizens of Heaven, looking forward to the resurrection - the power of God - not at ourselves, but at Him.

A final note is worthy of mention: the Christ whom Paul worships has the power to subdue all things to himself, and Paul's confidence is in that ability. That trust is inconsistent with any view either that Christ is unable or unwilling to subdue man's will to himself: in short Paul's trust in the Power of God is a refutation of synergism.

Praise be to our Risen, Ascended, and Coming-Again Savior!



Anonymous said...

V. 11 is the one that can, and has, tripped up Christians into a fear of losing salvation.

Many conservatives say we will be judged by our works (because they are the sign of our faith). Matthew 25, right? Faith is invisible; works are visible. I believe that while our works will evince our faith, and therefore attest to our salvation, it is only Christ's righteousness which will save us, because even the paltry works we do, while they show our having received faith, still fall far short of what God requires for perfection.

Others say that some of Paul's words about possibly being a castaway, etc. show his carefulness to pursue godliness, not his fear of losing salvation. And is it not true that if we are saved (by faith alone) that we will be careful to do good works? It's a huge controversy.

Turretinfan said...

Dear Godith,

Yes, use of the subjunctive mood seems to have confused many; and not just in this passage but in other passages that use the subjunctive mood.

The use of the subjunctive mood here (as in many other places, and expressed by "might") is not to convey uncertainty but purpose.

Judgment according to works is justice. If that's what someone wants to receive, they either have an grossly deflated conception of hell, or a grossly inflated conception of themselves (or perhaps both).

Do not forget the words of the Lord in the mouth of the prophet Malachi:
Malachi 3:1-2
1Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me: and the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in: behold, he shall come, saith the LORD of hosts. 2But who may abide the day of his coming? and who shall stand when he appeareth? for he is like a refiner's fire, and like fullers' soap:

And the prophet Isaiah afore spake saying:

Isaiah 40:5-8
5And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it. 6The voice said, Cry. And he said, What shall I cry? All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field: 7The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: because the spirit of the LORD bloweth upon it: surely the people is grass. 8The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of our God shall stand for ever.