Commentary on Philippians, 3:7-9 (Defining Faith)

Scripture quotations are from the English Majority Text Version (EMTV) unless noted otherwise. 

Philippians 3:7-9

3:7 But such things as were gain to me, these I have considered loss for the sake of Christ.
3:8 More than that I also consider all things to be loss, on account of the surpassing worth of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have sustained the loss of all things, and I consider them to be rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ,

In verses 4-6, Paul made the case for himself that if anyone had reason to have confidence in the flesh (as the legalistic Judaizers had), it was he, for he was not only circumcised and of the nation of Israel, but he was “of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, persecuting the church; as to righteousness which is in the law, blameless.”

Presenting this list of reasons for having confidence in the flesh was on account of the legalistic Judaizers who infiltrated churches in Paul’s day, who taught that faith in Christ was not enough, but that one also had to adhere to the Law of Moses. Paul was letting the Philippian Christians know that if there was any Jew who understood the gospel of Jesus Christ, it was he. In other words, if following the Law was necessary for salvation, then he above everyone would know, and he above everyone would certainly feel confident in himself as a “faithful Jew.” He liked his chances with God.

However, as one who knew the truth, who had met the risen Savior personally, who had been commissioned by Jesus himself, who had been taught by God Himself through revelation, he was making it clear that all those things that he mentioned about himself are worthless….that it’s only through faith in Christ that one gains salvation. 

All those things that “were gain” to Paul, he “considered loss for the sake of Christ.” Furthermore, he “considered all things to be loss” that he “may gain Christ.” Everything he relied upon before, he gave up “on account of the surpassing worth of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord.” It was all “rubbish” to him. Those things had no eternal value. They had no power to gain him favor with God.

“in order that I may gain Christ,”

Paul didn’t doubt his salvation. On the contrary, if there was anyone who ever felt secure in their salvation, it was Paul. He was a man who walked intimately with Jesus. He refers to Him as “Christ Jesus my Lord” in verse 8. Thus when Paul says, “that I may gain Christ,” he’s talking about a closer relationship with him, and one that will last for all eternity.

Whatever we gain in Christ in this life, goes with us into eternity. Those who have a close relationship with Jesus in this life, will have one in the next life. Those who don’t have such a close relationship with Jesus in this life, will not have such a close relationship in the next.

Defining Faith

3:9 and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness [which is] of God by faith;

All through Paul’s writings, he makes it clear that it’s only through God’s grace through our faith that one gains salvation. There is nothing within ourselves that has any power to merit favor with God. However, Paul also taught that true faith is a faith that endures:

21 And you, who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now He has reconciled
22 in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy, and blameless, and above reproach before Him—
23 if indeed you continue in the faith, established and firm and not drifting away from the hope of the gospel which you heard, which was proclaimed to all creation under heaven, of which I, Paul, have become a minister.  (Col 1:21-23)

20 That is true. By unbelief they were broken off, but you stand by faith. Do not be arrogant, but fear.
21 For if God did not spare the natural branches, perhaps He may not spare you either.
22 Behold then the kindness and severity of God: upon those that fell, severity; but upon you, kindness, if you continue in His kindness. Otherwise you also shall be cut off.  (Ro 11:22)

Paul also taught that not only does true faith endure, but he also taught that true faith is characterized by faithfulness:

12 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts,
13 nor present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God.
14 For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace.
15 What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means!
16 Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves as obedient slaves, you are slaves to whom you obey, whether of sin [resulting] in death, or of obedience [resulting] in righteousness?  (Ro 6:12-16)

Also:

4 so that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.
5 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those [who live] according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit.
6 For the mind set on the flesh [is] death, but the mind set on the Spirit [is] life and peace.
7 Because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not submit to the law of God, nor indeed can it.
8 And those that are in the flesh cannot please God.
13 For if you live according to the flesh you shall die; but if by [the] Spirit you put to death the practices of the body, you will live.
14 For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.

Here’s what the Apostle John taught:

3 Now by this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments.
4 He who says, “I have come to know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.
5 But whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him. By this we know that we are in Him.
6 He who claims to abide in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked. (1 Jn 2:3-6)

Paul and John couldn’t have been any clearer. True faith is lived out in obedience, or it’s not a true faith. Salvation is not something that occurs in a moment of time, and once we’re “through the door” it no longer matters how we live. That’s a lie. Salvation is gained by a faith that continues, one that continues in faithfulness. If faithfulness doesn’t continue, then true faith was lost somewhere along the line.

Thus Paul makes it clear that true faith in Christ both endures and is demonstrated by faithfulness

The following scriptures indicate that we are in the process of being saved:

46 So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were sharing food with joy and simplicity of heart,
47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to the church daily those who were being saved.  (Acts 2:46-47)

18 For the preaching of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.  (1 Cor 1:18)

2 and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you–unless you believed in vain.  ESV (1 Cor 15:2)

15 For we are the fragrance of Christ to God among those being saved, and among those perishing.  (2 Cor 2:15)

What’s the difference between the legalistic Judaizers taught and what Paul himself taught? 

The difference is that the Judaizers trusted in their own efforts for salvation (faith plus works), and what Paul taught is that though we are saved only by faith, faith is defined by our faithfulness to Christ. This is no different than what James taught (Ja 2:14-26), and what the writer of Hebrews taught, and what John wrote (1 Jn 2:3-6). They’re all in agreement. 

Christians who don’t believe it’s possible for a true, born-again believer to forfeit (lose) their salvation, have such a hard time with this idea. No matter how it’s explained to them, they still see it as a faith-plus-works salvation. I can relate to their point of view, as I was among them for over 40 years. Those who believe in the idea of “once saved always saved,” are more comfortable with the idea that a Christian can live any way they want to and still remain secure in their salvation, then they are with the idea that true faith in Christ is defined and characterized by obedience. Don’t you think there is something very wrong with that way of thinking? Does that really make sense?

In reference to those who profess Christ, but living in sin, many reply: “then they were never saved to begin with.” That’s a worn out statement that’s completely unreasonable. I used to use it all the time myself. But it’s a bucket that carries no water. I think the evidence is too great against that line of thinking. I think there’s too many people who have shown real fruit of true salvation (and over a period of many years), who have strayed into a life of self-will and sin. It’s just not reasonable that all of these fruit-bearing followers of Christ were never saved. It’ more reasonable that somewhere along the way they gradually got their eyes off Christ and on the the pleasures of this world, which led them away into sin. When that happens, it’s clear evidence that something went very wrong with their faith. They ceased to believe as they once did.

If someone has a genuine faith in Christ, it will completely change the way they live. If someone professes Christ, but not living for Him, then their faith is not real. It’s not based on a firm foundation. More directly, it’s not based on a proper view of Christ and what He taught. What did He teach? Without using the word faith, here is how Jesus defines faith:

“Then Jesus spoke to them again, saying, “I am the light of the world. He that follows Me shall by no means walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (Jn 8:12)

38 And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me.
39 He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it. (Matt 10:38-39)

23 Then He said to them all, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.
24 For whoever desires to save his life shall lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake shall save it.
25 For what is a man profited if he gains the whole world, and is himself destroyed or lost? (Luke 9:23-25)

Paul and John and James and the writer of Hebrews taught what they did, because they learned it from Jesus. A Christian is a follower of Christ. True faith follows what it knows to be true. 

Those who dwell in the presence and glory of Christ will be changed. This always results in true faith, a faith that follows. It’s when we drift away out of His glorious presence (out of fellowship with) that we get our eyes off of Him and onto self and the things of this world. The New Testament is full of warnings to Christians. If it wasn’t possible to drift in our faith – and a forfeiture of salvation – then those warnings have no real meaning. Read through the book of Hebrews and consider all the warnings of that book:

He 2:1-3
He 3:6
He 3:12-14
He 3:18-4:2
He 4:6,11,14
He 5:9
He 6:1-12,18
He 10:23-17
He 10: 36-39
He 12:14-17
He 12:25-29
He 13:4

If these instructions and warnings don’t apply to salvation, what is the writer warning us of? A lack of rewards in Heaven? Read the context of those passages, not one of those warnings are given in the context of eternal rewards.

So many Christians fear the W-word. When someone starts talking about faithfulness to Christ within the context of salvation, their mind immediately goes to works. They think of all that Paul taught about the way of salvation, that it’s “not by works, but by faith.” However, Christians have an imbalanced view about what Paul taught on this matter. The same one who taught that it’s not by works, also taught that faith is defined by obedience, as we already discussed. Here’s another statement by Paul:

15 All things indeed are pure to the pure; but to those who are defiled and unbelieving nothing is pure; but even their mind and conscience have been defiled.
16 They profess to know God, but in their works they deny Him, being abominable, disobedient, and disqualified for every good work. (Titus 1:15-16)

To Paul, faith = obedience, and obedience = faith. We as Christians simply must get it out of our heads that faith is just something we feel in our hearts and has nothing to do with the way we live. The two go hand in hand, as James clearly taught.

Paul didn’t teach that there was no value in the way we live as it relates to salvation. He merely placed the emphasis on where it belonged, and that is on faith in Christ, for there is nothing we can do to earn our own salvation. Apart from Christ, there is no salvation, but only faith in Him for what He accomplished for us in His death and resurrection.

However, this is where most Christians get stuck. They can’t get past his words:

8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; [it is] the gift of God,
9 not of works, so that no one may boast.  (Eph 2:8-9)

We place much emphasis on faith, and not on works, and we should, but we need to have an accurate and balanced understanding about what Paul taught about faith and works. Christians place so much weight on faith that we seem to be blind to what he said in the very next sentence:

10 For we are His handiwork, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.  (Eph 2:10)

Most Christians stop at, “created in Christ Jesus.” We have to finish the sentence: “for good works.” Inherent in our salvation in Christ, is our obedience (works) to Christ. We cannot separate the two. The one is evidence of the other. 

While we rely completely on Christ for our salvation via faith, we do so with an awareness of what true faith looks like. It’s not that we rely partly on Jesus and partly on our obedience. That is a misunderstanding of what Paul taught. We rely completely on Jesus, but it’s with the understanding of what faith looks like. Faith follows what it knows to be true, or it’s not real faith.

God’s Grace

Not only do many Christians have an improper understanding of faith, but also of God’s grace. They seem to think that God gladly sets aside His glory and holiness and hatred for sin, so that we can now sin within His bountiful grace, without it having any bearing on our salvation whatsoever. 

This idea is simply out of harmony with the Word of God, and with God’s very character. Grace doesn’t allow for sin. On the contrary, it leads us away from sin. Again Paul:

11 For the saving grace of God has appeared to all men,
12 teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age,
13 looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ,
14 who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself a people as [His] own possession, zealous for good works. (Titus 2:11-14)

God’s grace doesn’t allow us to sin, it leads us to holiness, it leads us down a path of purity. While God’s grace does provide forgiveness when we sin, it doesn’t give us a licence to live a life of habitual sin and rebellion. That’s not God’s grace, and that’s not what true salvation looks like. 

Something to Consider

I think it’s ironic that unconditional security-believers will accuse conditional security- believers of trusting in works for their salvation. The obvious implication is, that they are not saved. In fact, I think I’ve even seen that very accusation hurled at someone on at least one online site where they debate doctrine. 

The ironic thing about that is this: My position on eternal security was unconditional for over 40 years. Is someone now going to accuse me of relying upon my works, and declare me unsaved? If that’s true, then they must themselves believe a Christian can forfeit one’s salvation. How so? Because I walked faithfully with Christ – and with a passion – for most of my 40 plus years! 

Is someone going to tell me that I wasn’t really saved to begin with?! Or is someone going to tell me that once I began to believe in conditional eternal security, that I’m no longer saved? Of course, I guess there could be those who would say that since I went through the door via faith, that I’m still saved, even though I “now believe in a faith-plus-works salvation (that of course is not true). The conflict and inconsistency on the side of unconditional security is obvious. 

The consistent and reasonable position on this whole matter, is simply to recognize that “faith without works is dead” (James 2), that outward obedience is a reflection of inward faith. It’s further consistent and reasonable to recognize that true faith must endure, and that if one ceases to believe at some point (who demonstrates this lack of faith by a life of rebellious habitual sin), then a forfeiture of salvation must result.

The composition of saving faith cannot change. Whatever got us saved, must keep us saved. Those who come to Christ must recognize Him not only as Savior, but also as Lord, the supreme authority. If somewhere down the road, one decides they no longer want to live under His authority, but desire to go their own way, then the composition of their faith changed. It’s not the same thing they had when they first trusted Christ.

At what point does one cease to believe to the point of forfeiting their salvation? Only God knows. That’s not our concern. Our concern is to live for Christ and to glorify Him. That’s it. We’re to ever live with Christ and eternity in view.

Conclusion

I believe there’s a widespread misunderstanding of what defines saving faith. Emphasis is placed on faith without a proper understanding of the role of faithfulness. Thus, Christians fear the word “works” when talked about in the context of salvation. Because of this misunderstanding, I believe the shallow gospel that is commonly preached today is producing many false converts. Furthermore, I believe the teaching of unconditional eternal security is giving many a false sense of security while they live a lifestyle of sin.

I believe this imbalance in the Church is due, in part, to a lack of diligent study and teaching on the part of pastors and other Bible teachers. The trend today is to teach topical series messages, which for the most part, avoids doctrine and the deeper truths of the Faith. 

There’s an alarming need to return to in-depth study and teaching of the doctrines of Christianity in local assemblies. There’s an alarming need to return to verse by verse, book by book teaching. There may be pastors who do study the Word of God in-depth, yet are teaching their people shallow topical messages. What sense does it make to learn the wonderful truths of God’s Word, but keep it to yourself?

If you’re a pastor reading this, and you study the Word of God with a passion, and teaching the Word of God expositorily, then you’re fulfilling your calling to feed and protect your sheep. Your sheep are blessed to have you as their shepherd. 

There is a place for topical messages, but I believe they should merely supplement verse by verse teaching. I think, perhaps, the best type of topical messages are the one’s that present themselves within the context of verse by verse exposition.