Sermon Text: Where is your Confidence, Philippians 3

Proper 22A: Where is Your Confidence? Philippians 3:4-14

  1. The verses of our Epistle go right to the heart of Christianity and the proper understanding of the relationship between faith and works and which gives the certain confidence of our salvation.
    1. In our world self-confidence is usually an admirable trait, it’s what we train our children to have, we would like to think of ourselves as self-confident people
      1. Often our self-confidence rests on our abilities or accomplishments – our intelligence, physical attributes, or some other natural ability.
      1. In an ideal world our self-confidence would rest on being human not our accomplishments or abilities, but we don’t live in an ideal world so it’s very easy to conflate the two.
      1. This is made more difficult because the world generally rewards and affirms us based on ability and accomplishment – it’s difficult not to equate confidence with accomplishment.
    1. So, it’s not surprising that when we come before God, we naturally begin by listing our accomplishments that we think should be rewarded, we base our spiritual confidence on the same foundation as our worldly confidence
      1. However, most of us, when we’re really honest with ourselves, lack real spiritual confidence based on our own accomplishments
      1. That why when you ask someone why they think they should go to heaven the first response is “I don’t know, I try to do the right thing…”
      1. Is that the kind of confidence you want to enter eternity with? Nothing more than an “I don’t know…” and a shrug?
    1. But what about those who humanly speaking really do seem to have confidence that they’ve earned heaven?
      1. Like a Mother Teresa or the saintly folks who have dedicated their lives to serving the disadvantage to their own disadvantage?
      1. Surely, they should be confident shouldn’t they? Are you a Mother Teresa?
      1. And if not why should God smile on you and why would He smile on Mother Teresa either? Was she good enough to earn her way into heaven?
      1. Where’s your confidence…are you good enough for heaven?
  2. That’s exactly what Paul is talking about in our Epistle lesson today, how do you know you’re “good enough” for heaven?
    1. And what we find is that everything we base our confidence on in the world, ability, accomplishments, etc, mean nothing in God’s economy
      1. Are our “good works” the result or product of a confident faith or are they the beginning and foundation of it?
      1. As we’ll see from Paul our confidence of being saved rests not on our accomplishments but only on Christ’s accomplishments for us
    1. However, not everyone throughout Christian history shared his understanding, not just in Philippi but even more recently
      1. In many Christian circles people of faith are saved in order to obey the law as a condition of their salvation
      1. An American preacher in the 19th century, Charles Finney said this about justification, “The doctrine…that Christ’s obedience to the law was accounted as our obedience, is founded on a most false and nonsensical assumption…We shall see that perseverance in obedience to the end of life is also a condition of justification.”
      1. Unfortunately, he is often credited with starting the American revivalist movement that continues today, many still honor him as a Christian theologian like the late Jerry Falwell and Billy Graham.
      1. The issue at hand is – are we saved from the Law or for the Law? Does our confidence rest in our obedience or Christ’s?
    1. The folks who were troubling the Philippian congregation were Judaizers – those who believed that in addition to faith a Christian had to fulfill the Law (like Mr. Finney)
      1. Your confidence as a Christian lay not in Christ but your works, in following the Jewish Laws like circumcision and dietary guidelines
      1. Paul says NO, “we are the circumcision (true Israel), who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh.
    1. Why is this such a pervasive and recurrent problem that it occurred then and continues today?
      1. Again, because it goes against our human understanding of how things should work.
      1. It’s so easy, even as a believer, to think that when things go along well: “God must be pleased with my Christian walk look at all of my blessings”
      1. Conversely, when illness or misfortune set in many believers wonder, “Am I doing something wrong that God is punishing me?”
      1. That kind of thinking should provide a reality check for us because it reveals that our confidence isn’t in the completed work of Christ but our own efforts – God rewards or punishes based on something I do
  3. Paul completely rejects that understanding of the Christian life in our reading
    1. First, he sets up his argument by extolling his own virtue as a Pharisee, “If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.
      1. In essence it’s a challenge to those who put confidence in their work
      1. Paul is saying, “Are you as righteous as me?” 
      1. He had the right pedigree, he was also a Pharisee, and zealous to the point of persecuting others
    1. Then he undercuts all that by saying, “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ.  Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.  For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.
      1. That is all human accomplishment, all human righteousness – NOTHING!
      1. So even if you were a Mother Teresa it doesn’t matter…all of those good works, like Paul’s fervent Judaism before coming to faith, mean nothing!
    1. However, Paul goes on to show us the proper understanding
      1. Rather than confidence in his works or his humility he says, “that I may be found in Him not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ…
      1. Righteousness based on the completed work of Christ on the cross, that He has fully pardoned my sin, without condition on my part, and offers that gift received through faith
      1. In Rom 4 Paul says, “Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, (Rom 4:4-5)
      1. What a glorious exchange for us: In the crucifixion the first exchange happened – Christ bore our sin. Through faith the second exchange takes place when we receive Christ’s righteousness.
    1. Now having been declared righteous by God, based on the merits of Christ we are free from having to keep a running ledger of good deeds vs sin.
      1. Our confidence doesn’t rest in what we’ve done or not done
      1. We are free live a life of faith to God and love to the neighbor without the fear of wondering if it is enough
      1. Oddly, the confidence of eternal life rests in death: the death of Christ for our sins, and we get everything, Jesus’ perfect righteousness and the Kingdom of Heaven, for nothing, a free gift through faith.
      1. No wonder Charles Finney and a whole host of people didn’t “get it” – it’s not something our minds can fathom, but praise God that He loved you enough to take the responsibility for your salvation out of your hands so that you might be truly confident of eternal life!