Paul’s Religious Credentials vs Christ

Paul’s Religious Credentials vs Christ

Paul’s Religious Credentials vs Christ
Text: Philippians 3:4-7

One of the remarkable things that happens some time during our Christian experience, is that we begin to have a deepening sense of God’s hand being upon us in our life and circumstances even before we were converted.

And we are not alone in this. Anyone who gives themselves to a study of the life of the apostle Paul I think will also conclude the unique way in which God had a hand upon his circumstances through his life even prior to his salvation by Christ on the Damascus Road.

As I have said from this pulpit before, Paul becomes a pattern for us, one that we not only learn from, but one in which the objections to salvation by grace are refuted in a remarkable way.

For the man who says he is too sinful for salvation, Paul would show from his murderous actions toward Christians that he is the chief of sinners, and thus if God can save someone who would possessed such hatred for Christ, then He can save anyone. I believe that never has there been anyone who hated Christ more than Paul, and God saved him to show His glory that no one is too hard.

However, at the same time, Paul’s life also refutes those who believe that by their own efforts they can obtain salvation. The passage we are looking at today is a reminder that whatever we may claim we have that excludes our need for Christ, we are grossly wrong.


Paul introduces us to his advantages to show that should anyone make a claim that they have reason to have confidence in the flesh, they are wrong. He has just summarized this issue in v2-3.

On the one hand you have the Judaizers who claim elements of their own righteousness or religious practice as necessary to salvation, such as circumcision, and on the other there are those who have no confidence in the flesh, and it’s the latter who depicts the true child of God.

What Paul does is expand upon true salvation that he dealt with in v3 in a personal context. He goes from “we” to “I” to prove the point he is making. 
He is not boasting here, because he will reveal he puts no value in this. What he is doing is reminding people of his credentials so that those who think they can trust such things will see that Paul had them as well, and put no saving value in them.

And listen, Paul is not addressing a small group of isolated people here. Most of the world’s population put confidence in the flesh. They believe they are accumulating credit by a good life. The only one’s who don’t live that way are Christians, because even most atheists question the possibility of an afterlife and put weight on their morality to get them there.


1. Inherited advantages
“circumcised the eighth day” – not all Jews were circumcised the eighth day. There were many proselyte Jews, those who subscribed to the religion later in life. But for those born an Israelite, they ought to be circumcised on the eighth day, so his parents had followed the stipulation of the law of God. Some of the Judaizers wouldn’t have had this.

There’s no saving merit in ritual, or rites, or ceremonies, or symbols, or sacraments, or baptisms. It doesn’t matter if it’s Jewish or Roman Catholic or Protestant or whatever these things do not save!

“of the stock of Israel” – again, many were proselytes who had no pure lineage. But Paul knew his genealogy, and he was a verifiable Israelite by birth. He was greatly privileged by this, “Who are Israelites; to whom pertaineth the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises; Whose are the fathers, and of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came” Rom 9:4-5. But none of that saved. And it amazes me that reformed theology at times gets so twisted that there are those who believe their family heritage as merit with God. Or their baptism has merit with God. Or their church membership has merit with God. These things have no saving merit.

“of the tribe of Benjamin” – Benjamin was a favoured son of Jacob, it was from this tribe Israel had her first king, Saul. Furthermore, along with Judah, Benjamin remained as part of the southern kingdom of Judah when the other ten tribes split and made up the northern kingdom of Israel, and both these tribes were key in the return to the land after the captivity. 
All these things and others made Benjamin a particularly honourable tribe to descend from, a privilege even fewer of the Judaizers would have had.

And the thing is, very few could trace their lineage like this, even in Paul’s day. Because of the captivity and intermarriage, most of the genetic claims to tribes could not be known.

“an Hebrew of the Hebrews” – this phrase summarizes his inherited advantages. You can’t be anymore Hebrew than I am. And none of that gained him saving favour with God.

2. Interpreted advantages
He deals with three things that showed the manner with which he lived his life with reference to the law, zeal, and righteousness. How did Paul’s life stack up in light of these three things when interpreted by a Jewish perspective?

“as touching the law, a Pharisee” – “My manner of life from my youth, which was at the first among mine own nation at Jerusalem, know all the Jews; Which knew me from the beginning, if they would testify, that after the most straitest sect of our religion I lived a Pharisee.” Acts 26:4-5.

In light of the gospel record, our natural reaction is to dismiss the Pharisees as the most wretched bunch of hypocrites that ever lived, and to a degree that is true. But, in spite of that, the Pharisees remained as a sect of the Jews the most devout. Both in doctrine and practice they were much better than the Sadducees. If you wanted to be a serious Jew, the Pharisees were the group to join.

They came out of the intertestamental period between the OT and NT. A period of 400 years of no prophets and no message from God. During that time the Jews began to drift into liberalism, they began to question the authority of Scripture, they began to compromise and at that time came this group called Pharisees. They started out with a noble cause, but over time they degenerated to the point they believed the law was what saved them.

At the time of Christ Josephus records there was around 6,000 of them, and they were the most serious minded religious people on the planet. But it’s not enough to save.

“concerning zeal, persecuting the church” – the Pharisees were an extremely zealous bunch, but none more so than Paul. He sought not merely to make converts to Judaism, but to destroy Jewish enemies. His love was so intense of Judaism that it dictated the severity of his hatred for what might threaten it, and that’s why he hated Christ.

“touching the righteousness which is of the law, blameless” – with regard to how Paul lived his life as a Pharisee, there was no outward hypocrisy that would have allowed anyone to point the finger at him. He lived out every principle of the law in all of its personal and ceremonial demands.


“such things were gain to me” – When I used to reflect upon all these things I saw them as distinct positives. Surely I must have the favour of God by these things.

“those I counted loss for Christ” – The realization of Christ changes everything. All the advantages have become worse than nothing to me. He came to realize that being able to trace your line back to Abraham was not the issue, but tracing your genealogy to Adam, that was significant. What can one do except flee to Christ once he realizes he has Adam’s corruption.

The revelation of Christ changes everything. I wonder have you realized the difference between Christ and your own efforts? On what basis will a holy God accept you? Oh you may have been born with distinct privileges. You may give me a list of the advantages you have enjoyed. But, no privilege automatically justifies you before God.

Paul shows the spirit Jesus reveals in Matt 13:44-46 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto treasure hid in a field; the which when a man hath found, he hideth, and for joy thereof goeth and selleth all that he hath, and buyeth that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls: Who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it.”

Our conscience has no rest anywhere else. It must rest in Christ and Christ alone. Does that mean we don’t need to live a certain way? Not at all. Paul will show that as we move on. But Christ has to be the foundation.

Upon what are you trusting today?