False Confidence

4 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. 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 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— 10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. – Philippians 3:4b-11 ESV

What does Paul mean by “confidence in the flesh?” Remember the context. He has just warned the believers in Philippi to “Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh” (Philippians 3:2 ESV). This was a direct broadside delivered against the Judaizers, a group made up of Jewish converts to Christianity who were attempting to bring the legalism associated with the Mosaic Law into the church. They were demanding that Gentile believers first be circumcised and then agree to keep the Jewish laws, religious festivals, and sacrificial requirements. In other words, they had to become Jews before they could be considered truly saved.

So, when Paul mentions having confidence in the flesh, he is stressing the teachings of this group. They believed that their human efforts, those things done in their own strength, somehow earned them favor with God. As Jews, they put a high priority and value on the rite of circumcision. It was an outward sign of their unique relationship as God’s chosen people. And they were of the strong opinion that circumcision was necessary for any and all who would hope to enjoy the salvation offered by Jesus Christ. But for Paul, this was nothing short of another gospel. It was a false gospel. And it was to be exposed for what it was: a dangerous heresy.

The Greek word Paul used for “flesh” is sarx and, while it was often used to refer to the actual physical body, it could also be used in a metaphorical sense, to refer to human nature. The Judaizers put a lot of stock in human nature and their own human abilities, believing that they were able to keep the laws of God and live up to the holy standards of God. But Paul rejects that mindset, stating that believers were to “glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh” (Philippians 3:3 ESV). Salvation was based on the work of Christ, not the works of men.

But Paul decides to take their argument and use it against them. He somewhat sarcastically paints a picture of what the kind of credentials that might earn someone favor with God would look like. And he uses himself as an example. Paul boldly states:

“If someone thinks he has good reasons to put confidence in human credentials, I have more…” – Philippians 3:4 NLT

It is as if Paul is saying, “So, you think you can earn a right standing with God based on your accomplishments and status? Well, check this out!”

What follows is a laundry list of Paul’s off-the-chart credentials.

  • He was a card-carrying member of the nation of Israel
  • He was from the tribe of Benjamin
  • He had been circumcised according to the Mosaic Law
  • He was a Hebrew of Hebrews (a hard-core traditionalist)
  • He had been a member of the Pharisees, an elite religious group
  • He had been a passionate and zealous persecutor of the church
  • He had been painstakingly dedicated to keeping the law

Look at that list and then consider who he was comparing himself with. He was placing himself in direct competition with the Judaizers. If they thought they were somehow better than everybody else because of their Jewish heritage and law-keeping ability, they had nothing on Paul. His resume made them look like third-string players trying to win a spot on the varsity squad.

But notice what Paul says next. He takes his list of accomplishments and credentials and describes them “as liabilities because of Christ” (Philippians 3:7 NLT). His relationship with Christ, based solely on faith in the work of Christ done on his behalf, made any of his so-called assets amount to nothing. They earned him no credibility with God and bought him no favor from God. Paul understood that his righteous deeds were of no value when it comes to his salvation. He firmly believed what the text in Isaiah clearly states:

We are all infected and impure with sin.
    When we display our righteous deeds,
    they are nothing but filthy rags. – Isaiah 64:6 NLT

Paul’s lofty list of accomplishments and personal assets were worthless. Which is why he could say, “I now regard all things as liabilities compared to the far greater value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Philippians 3:8 NLT). Rather than placing any stock in human nature or his ability to produce righteous-looking deeds, Paul saw those things as hindrances to his spiritual walk. They were liabilities. Because they were all tainted by sin. So, Paul had given them all up. He had decided to treat them like what they were: Liabilities, not assets. All so he could know Christ. And Paul gets a bit graphic in trying to describe his new relationship with those things he once held near and dear. They were like dung to him now, to be tossed aside and treated for what they were: worthless and detestable.

The bottom line for Paul was righteousness. A holy and righteous God demanded that His people live holy, righteous lives. But man’s sin nature made that impossible. And no amount of law-keeping, ritual-observing, or efforts at God-pleasing were going to make a difference. Paul states, “I have the righteousness that comes by way of Christ’s faithfulness—a righteousness from God that is in fact based on Christ’s faithfulness” (Philippians 3:9 NLT). In other words, Paul’s righteousness was not based on self-effort, but on Christ’s faithfulness. Jesus died a sinner’s death to satisfy the just demands of a holy and righteous God. As Paul explained to the Corinthian believers:

For our sake he [God] made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. – 2 Corinthians 5:21 ESV

And as Paul stated earlier in this letter, Jesus “humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8 ESV). His faithfulness to do the will of His Father resulted in righteousness for us.

The Judaizers were not right before God because they had been circumcised. They were not right before God because they were Jews. They could not claim a right standing before God because they kept the law. In fact, Paul vaporized that idea in his letter to the Galatians.

So it is clear that no one can be made right with God by trying to keep the law. For the Scriptures say, “It is through faith that a righteous person has life.” – Galatians 3:11 NLT

He said the same thing to the believers in Rome.

For no one can ever be made right with God by doing what the law commands. The law simply shows us how sinful we are. – Romans 3:20 NLT

We have no reason to boast. We have no ground on which to stand and from which to proclaim our own self-righteousness. Our righteousness is actually Christ’s righteousness imparted to us when we place our faith in Him. When Christ died on the cross, He paid in full the debt that was owed for sins of mankind. He died in our place, bearing the penalty we deserved. And that act justified us before God. He now sees us as righteous and just, not sinful and worthy of death. We have been cleansed by the blood of Christ. And with that thought in mind, Paul refocuses the attention of his readers on that which is really important. Not effort and earning, but the pursuit of an ongoing and always growing relationship with Jesus Christ.

My aim is to know him, to experience the power of his resurrection, to share in his sufferings, and to be like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead. – Philippians 3:10-11 NLT

Paul is not talking about cognitive knowledge. He’s not suggesting a purely academic understanding of who Jesus was and is. He is describing a deep and intimate relationship that features an ever-intensifying awareness of all that Jesus Christ has done and will do for him. In the immediate context, Paul wanted to experience all the power that Christ’s resurrection had made available to him. Jesus had been raised back to life by the power of the Holy Spirit, and each and every believer has that power living within them.

But Paul knew that the resurrection power he so desired to see is most often revealed in the context of suffering. Just as Jesus had to suffer and die before He could experience the resurrection, we will find ourselves suffering so that we might experience the resurrection power of God’s Spirit in our lives. Just as Jesus experienced humiliation before His glorification, so will we. And then, Paul reminds us, it will all end in death. The ultimate form of suffering we all face is our own physical deaths. But Paul wants us to remember that there is a resurrection of the dead. Death is not the end. It is really the beginning of something greater. And Paul told the believers in Corinth what they could expect when death finally came.

For our dying bodies must be transformed into bodies that will never die; our mortal bodies must be transformed into immortal bodies.

Then, when our dying bodies have been transformed into bodies that will never die, this Scripture will be fulfilled:

“Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” – I Corinthians 15:53-55 NLT

Why put confidence in the flesh? It’s of no value and will ultimately be left behind. And why put stock in our own worthiness before God? Without Christ, we have no righteousness of our own. As Paul told the Colossian believers, it all boils down to this: “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27 ESV).

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson


The Self-Delusion of Self-Effort.

Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to those that by nature are not gods. But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more? You observe days and months and seasons and years! I am afraid I may have labored over you in vain. – Galatians 4:8-11 ESV

There is a common belief, even among evangelical Christians, that all people are seeking after God. But the Bible seems to paint a distinctively different picture of mankind. Ever since the fall, humanity has been on a trajectory away from God, not toward Him. Men have not been seeking after God, but for anything and everything but Him. They have sought to make their own gods. Adam and Eve knew God intimately and personally. They had a daily and uninterrupted relationship with Him. But after the fall, they found themselves cast out of His presence. And the further mankind got from Eden, the more distant their recollection of God became. Paul paints a vivid picture of this fading knowledge of God in his letter to the Romans:

For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. – Romans 1:21-23 ESV

God’s character was visible through His creation. Paul writes, “his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made” (Romans 1:20 ESV). But as time passed, men began to lose their perception of God and their ability to recognize His attributes in the world He had made. They lost their knowledge of the one true God and began to create gods that reflected the qualities and characteristics they deemed necessary for deity. Paul says they worshiped the creation rather than the creator. They even worshiped other men.

But Paul reminds the Galatians that they have had their knowledge of God restored, and it was not something they had achieved. It was not as a result of their own searching or seeking. He emphasizes the fact that they have come to be known by God. It was God who had sought them out and not the other way around. He had chosen to know them and have a relationship with them. He had determined to make Himself known to them through His Son. As the apostle John put it, “No one has ever seen God. But the unique One, who is himself God, is near to the Father’s heart. He has revealed God to us” (1 John 1:18 NLT). As a result of placing their faith in Jesus Christ, they had come to truly know God for the very first time. Up until that point, they had been “enslaved to those that by nature are not gods” (Galatians 4:8 ESV). They had been worshiping false gods. They had been limited in their spiritual understanding and were stuck worshiping the “weak and worthless elementary principles of the world” (Galatians 4:9 ESV). Their spirituality was of this world and not of heaven. While thinking they were seeking and coming to know God, they were actually moving away from Him.

But God had chosen to seek them out. He had called them to Himself and opened their eyes so that they could see the truth found in His Son’s death, burial and resurrection. For the first time they had been able to see the depth of their own sin, the hopelessness of their condition, and their need for a Savior. Rather than attempting to earn their way into God’s good graces, they relied on the grace of God as expressed in the finished work of Christ. But Paul was concerned that these very same people, who had discovered the secret of justification by faith in Christ alone, were allowing themselves to become enslaved again. They were listening to the false teachers who were preaching justification by works. Suddenly, grace was not enough. The death and resurrection of Christ was insufficient. More was required. Human effort was necessary. But Paul completely disagreed.

There were those who were trying to convince the Gentile converts in Galatia that they were not truly saved unless they became circumcised and began to keep all the Jewish rituals, feasts and festivals. That is what Paul means when he refers to observing days and months and seasons and years. These outsiders were convincing the Gentile believers that their salvation was incomplete. They needed to do more. Their faith in Christ was insufficient. And it was this false teaching, a form of legalism, that Paul stood against so strongly. He would not tolerate it or allow it to take root among the churches in Galatia. Earlier in his letter to the Galatians, Paul had stated his amazement at how quickly and easily the believers there had turned their back on justification by faith alone.

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel — not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. – Galatians 1:6-7 ESV

There was no other gospel. There were no other requirements. The salvation offered by God was not based on human effort, but on faith in Christ alone. The works of men had never made God known to them. Self-righteousness had never earned anyone access to God. The righteousness God required was only available through faith in Christ. As Paul told the Romans:

For I am not ashamed of this Good News about Christ. It is the power of God at work, saving everyone who believes—the Jew first and also the Gentile. This Good News tells us how God makes us right in his sight. This is accomplished from start to finish by faith. As the Scriptures say, “It is through faith that a righteous person has life.” – Romans 1:16-17 NLT

We don’t seek God. He seeks us. We can’t earn God’s favor. He must willingly extend it to us through His Son. When it comes to our justification before God, self-effort is self-delusional. We would do well to remember the personal testimony of Paul to the believers in Philippi: “I no longer count on my own righteousness through obeying the law; rather, I become righteous through faith in Christ. For God’s way of making us right with himself depends on faith” (Philippians 3:9 NLT).

A People of Faith.

Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith. – Galatians 3:7-9 ESV

In his defense of justification by faith alone in Christ alone, Paul appeals to the patriarch of the Jewish people: Abraham. As he did in his letter to the Romans, Paul argues that Abraham was deemed righteous before God because of his faith.

What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” – Romans 4:1-3 ESV

Paul contends that it was Abraham’s belief in God and the promises He had made to him that led to God’s declaration of his righteous standing. It had nothing to do with works. In fact, it would be hundreds of years before the law would be given. And God declared Abraham as righteous long before He commanded the rite of circumcision. Paul clarified this point as well in his letter to the Romans.

For we say that faith was counted to Abraham as righteousness. How then was it counted to him? Was it before or after he had been circumcised? It was not after, but before he was circumcised. He received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. – Romans 4:9-11 ESV

You can see why Paul was so upset with those who had shown up in Galatia representing the party of the circumcision. They were demanding that all the Gentile converts be circumcised as a non-negotiable requirement for their acceptance into the fellowship. And yet, in his letter to the Romans, Paul clearly revealed the fallacy behind this belief. He made it perfectly clear that God declared Abraham righteous long before the requirement of circumcision had been given.

The purpose was to make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised, so that righteousness would be counted to them as well, and to make him the father of the circumcised who are not merely circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised. – Romans 4:11-12 ESV

Abraham was to be the father of many nations, not just that of the Jews. Later on in this same chapter, Paul will divulge how God intended to make Abraham the father of a multitude of nations and become a blessing to the nations. “Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, ‘And to offsprings,’ referring to many, but referring to one, ‘And to your offspring,’ who is Christ” (Galatians 3:16 ESV). Paul, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, unpacks this familiar Old Testament passage and reveals that God’s plan all along had been to bless the nations through Abraham by making the Messiah one of his descendants. It would be through Jesus and by faith in His finished work on the cross that the nations would be blessed. The Jews (circumcised) and the Gentiles (uncircumcised) would discover the blessings of God through faith in His Son. Paul was adamant in his belief that righteousness was available through faith alone in Christ alone.

For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith. For if it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. – Romans 4:13-14 ESV

No one could save themselves, including the Jews. Yes, they had the law of God, but they were incapable of keeping it. All the law could do was expose their sinfulness and condemn them as unrighteous and unworthy of God’s goodness. The law revealed God’s righteous expectations and man’s incapacity to live up to them. The law made the holiness of God tangible, but also unattainable.

Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. – Galatians 3:23-24 ESV

Paul wanted the Galatians to realize that their salvation was solely based on faith in Jesus Christ. There was nothing missing. There was nothing that needed to be added and there wasn’t anything more they needed to do. It was the finished work of Christ and their complete dependence upon it that had resulted in their salvation. And Paul reminded them that “those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith” (Galatians 3:9 ESV). Faith is foundational to all that we are as believers. Without faith, we have nothing. Without faith, we are nothing. “In walking with God, a man will go just as far as he believes, and no further. His life will always be proportional to his faith. His peace, his patience, his courage, his zeal, his works – will all be according to his faith” (J. C. Ryle, Holiness). We are saved as a result of faith. We grow spiritually in proportion to our faith. We live our lives according to faith. The author of Hebrews reminds us, “without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him” (Hebrews 11:6 ESV). Our works, devoid of faith, are worthless. And our faith, if not placed in the finished work of Christ and kept there, can easily transform into self-reliance – a kind of faith that seeks to earn favor with God through self-effort. At the heart of biblical faith is a God-dependence that recognizes self as insufficient and Jesus as the only solution to our sin problem.

Philippians 3:1-11

Knowing Christ.

Philippians 3:1-11

I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead. I want to suffer with him, sharing in his death, so that one way or another I will experience the resurrection from the dead! – Philippians 3:10-11 NLT

What a fascinating and somewhat confusing series of verses these are. In verses 10 and 11, Paul actually stresses three things that he has made it his aim to know. In the Greek, the sentence would literally read, “to know him, the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings.” So Paul wanted to know all three. The Greek word he uses is not just intellectual or “head” knowledge. It conveys an intimacy and experiential aspect to it. The Jews actually used this same word to refer to sexual intercourse between a woman and a man. There is no question that Paul knew Christ. He had come to know Him years ago on the road to Damascus. But Paul had a desire to grow in his knowledge of God, and he seems to link the three things he mentions in these verses together. Knowing Christ, the power that raised Him from the dead, and sharing in His sufferings. For Paul, they all went together and were essential elements for a vibrant relationship with Christ.

Intimacy with Christ will include a ever-increasing replication of the character and qualities of Christ. Paul wanted it all. He was not content to have a surface-level awareness of Christ. He wanted to truly know Him. He wanted to experience the same power that raised Jesus from the dead. He knew he had that power available within him in the form of the Holy Spirit. Paul wrote to the believers in Rome, “The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you. And just as God raised Christ Jesus from the dead, he will give life to your mortal bodies by this same Spirit living within you” (Romans 8:11 NLT). Paul wanted to experience the power of the Holy Spirit in his life on a daily basis. He wanted to know what it was like to be raised from death to life, from not just at the resurrection from the dead, but here and now – in this life. And Paul wanted to know and experience the same kind of suffering Jesus had experienced. He wanted to share in the sufferings of Christ, learning first-hand what it was like to undergo trials and tribulations all for the sake of obedience to the Father.

It’s interesting that Paul makes this statement at the end of a section where he addresses the false hope of human effort. As he has had to do elsewhere in his ministry, Paul was addressing the problem of circumcision. The believers in Philippi were being hounded by converted Jews, known as Judaizers, who were trying to convince them that they had to become “card-carrying” Jews if they wanted to truly be saved. This meant that all males had to be circumcised, and everyone had to keep all the Jewish laws and rituals. Paul stood vehemently against all of this. He would stand for nothing that added to the simplicity of the Gospel message of faith alone in Christ alone. There was absolutely no place for works or human effort. If merit or achievement were the standard, then he had a resume like no other. He was a Jew, a Pharisee, a keeper of the law, and even a persecutor of the church. But as far as Paul was concerned, all of that was literal garbage compared with knowing Christ as His Savior. Paul was no longer a law-keeper, attempting to make himself right with God through self-effort. He was a Christ-follower, relying on the work that Christ completed on the cross for his sake. “For God’s way of making us right with himself depends on faith” (Philippians 3:9 NLT).

So for Paul, human achievement was dead-end street. It achieved nothing and provided a false sense of hope. Knowing Christ was everything. Growing in his awareness and understanding of His Savior was the highest priority for Paul. He wanted to know in his own life the same kind of power that had raised Jesus from death to life. Paul wasn’t interested in some kind of sterile, intellectual knowledge. He wanted to experience the power of God in his life, even if that meant having to suffer. As Paul stated earlier in chapter two, “When he appeared in human form,he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross. Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor and gave him the name above all other names” (Philippians 2:7-9 NLT). For Jesus, humility, suffering and obedience preceded glorification and honor. The same should be true for us as His followers. Paul wanted to experience what Jesus had experienced. He wanted his life to be marked by the same qualities and attitudes that Jesus had. The power of God showed up in Jesus’ life at the worst possible moment – in His death. Jesus experienced the presence of the Spirit even in His greatest times of suffering. It was how He survived the ordeals surrounding His trials and crucifixion. Paul wanted to know what it meant to experience those same things. So should we. Suffering as a result of our faith lends our walk a sense of legitimacy. It is proof of our fellowship with Christ. It also provides an opportunity for the power of God to show up in our lives. When we are weak, He is strong. God shows up in our darkest moments. His light illuminates our darkest days. Paul wanted to know Christ. He wanted to experience the power of God in his life. And he wanted to share in the sufferings of Christ in order to understand and appreciate what Christ had done for him. Every other goal or achievement is worthless in comparison. But how odd these words sound in our happiness-obsessed, comfort-at-all-costs society. What a difference it would make in our lives and in our world if the words of Paul became our daily prayer: “I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead. I want to suffer with him, sharing in his death, so that one way or another I will experience the resurrection from the dead!”

Father, these are hard words. I want to know Your Son better, but I am not fond of suffering. I want to experience the power of the Holy Spirit in my life, but I am not always willing to let go of my own power and rely completely on His. I want all that a relationship with Christ offers, but I still hold on tightly to what I think this world has to offer as well. Continue to work on my life, giving me the capacity to view life the way Paul did. So that one day I might be able to express his words with equal enthusiasm. Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men

Colossians 2:6-23

Rooted In Christ.

Colossians 2:6-23

And now, just as you accepted Christ Jesus as your Lord, you must continue to follow him. Let your roots grow down into him, and let your lives be built on him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness. – Colossians 2:6-7 NLT

You can’t ever get enough of Christ. I realize that might sound a bit heretical, but it is completely and solidly biblical. We are never to grow satisfied with a basic knowledge about Jesus. While a deep and intimate knowledge of Jesus is not necessary to enjoy a saving relationship with Him, once we have come to faith in Him, we are to grow in our knowledge of and relationship with Him. Peter put it this way: “…you must grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18 NLT). That’s a command. And in another one of his letters, Peter wrote, “Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation” (1 Peter 2:2 NIV). Both of these passages are fascinating if you take the time to think about what they are saying. In verse six of Colossians 2, Paul uses the word, “rooted.” It is a Greek word that actually means “to take root” or “to strengthen with roots.” It conveys the idea of a plant sending down a healthy root system in order to receive nutrients for growth, but also strength for future adversity. Paul tells us we are to sink our roots down into Christ. We are to be rooted in Him. In other words, we are to grow in our knowledge of who Christ is and what He has done for me. We are to grow in His grace and in the knowledge of who He is. Peter uses the term “grow” and it means “to increase or become greater.” We are to grow in our knowledge of Christ. We are to grow in our salvation. But what does all this mean?

Think about when you came to Christ. How much did you really know and understand about Jesus and His gift of salvation? You probably had a fairly basic knowledge of who He was and what He had done. When I accepted Jesus’ free gift of salvation at the age of seven, I had a very elementary and basic understanding of what I was doing. I knew and believed that Jesus was the Son of God. I knew that I was a sinner – from my own experience. I also knew that I couldn’t be good enough to live the kind of life God expected of me. I couldn’t even please my own parents. And I knew that Jesus offered me forgiveness of sin and eternal life, if I would simply place my faith in who He was and what He had done for me on the cross. So I did. But that was 51 years ago, and my knowledge of Jesus is far greater than it was then. I know so much more about Him, intellectually and, more importantly, experientially. I have a much more robust understanding of just how significant His death on the cross really was. I appreciate His grace and mercy far more than I ever did at seven. I have a much more sophisticated understanding of my own sin nature and my need for grace than I ever did. Because I have grown in my knowledge of Jesus and of my own salvation.

Paul tells us that if we will sink our roots deep down in Jesus, holding firmly to who He is and feeding regularly on the truth of what He has done, our faith will grow strong and we will experience an overflowing thankfulness for all that He has done and is doing in our lives. This is so important, because the world will constantly attempt to distract us from becoming rooted and grounded in Jesus. The enemy will try to get our eyes off of Christ and on to something or someone else that promises to give us hope, joy, peace, fulfillment, and happiness. Paul knew that the believers in Colosse were going to be bombarded by the temptation to buy into “empty philosophies and high-sounding nonsense that come from human thinking and from the spiritual powers of this world” (Colossians 2:8 NLT). These humanly, worldly alternatives to Christ would never be an adequate substitute for Christ. “For in Christ dwells all the fullness of God in a human body” (Colossians 2:9 NLT). Christ was all they needed. But they needed to grow in their knowledge of Him. They needed to continue to root their lives in Him. And so do we.

A growing knowledge of who Christ is and the significance of what He has done for us will help us discern false teaching, reject the accusations of the enemy claiming we haven’t done enough, refuse the condemnations of others demanding we need to do more, and allow us to rest in the all-sufficient work of Christ on our behalf. “You have died with Christ, and he has set you free from the spiritual powers of this world” (Colossians 2:20 NLT). My roots continue to grow deep down into Christ. I am continually learning to root my hope and strength in Him and what He has done and is doing for me. I didn’t save myself through self-effort and I cannot sanctify myself through self-effort. He saved me and is sanctifying me. He loved me enough to redeem me and He loves me enough to renovate me. He is all I need.

Father, thank You that Jesus is sufficient. I don’t need to add my hard work and human effort to the equation. I don’t need to keep a set of rules and live up to some human set of standards. My roots are set down into Christ and what He has done for me. It is all about Him, not me. He is my salvation and my daily source of strength. He not only saved me, but is sanctifying me each and every day of my life. Show me how to continually sink my roots into Him and build my life on Him, so that my faith will continue to grow and prosper – even in the midst of adversity. Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men

Romans 7:1-13

Free To Be Fruitful.

Romans 7:1-13

So, my dear brothers and sisters, this is the point: You died to the power of the law when you died with Christ. And now you are united with the one who was raised from the dead. As a result, we can produce a harvest of good deeds for God. – Romans 7:4 NLT

Paul continues his diatribe about the law and its role in the life of the believer. He is having to instruct the believers in Rome, just as he had to do with those in Galatia, that the law is holy and its commands are holy and right and good. But there were those who were trying to say that keeping of the law was also a necessary requirement for salvation. This was a teaching that had cropped up in the early days of the church and had been following Paul in his missionary journeys throughout the Gentile world. Some Jews who had come to faith in Christ in the days immediately following the events at Pentecost, were convinced that conversion to Judaism was a required next step in the process of becoming a follower of Christ. For them, the law of Moses was still in effect, as was the requirement of circumcision for men, and the keeping of all Jewish religious festivals and rituals. So they were attempting to convince Gentile converts that their conversions were incomplete unless they became card-carrying Jews and kept the law of Moses.

As a former Pharisee and expert in the law of Moses, Paul knew exactly what the requirements of the law were. He had lived most of his life attempting to keep the law in order to attain a right relationship with God. But since his conversion to Christ, he had grown to understand that the law was never intended to save him. It was given to reveal the righteousness of God and the sins of man. And when Christ died on the cross, He paid the penalty that God required for sin, because the wages of sin is death. His sinless life was what was required to satisfy the just demands of a holy God. He became the blameless sacrifice required to atone for the wrath of God against sinful mankind.

Paul loved the law and understood that it was given by God. But he also understood its purpose. “It was the law that showed me my sin” (Romans 7:7 NLT). The law revealed God’s righteous standard and exposed man’s inability to keep it because of his sin nature. But Christ’s death provided a way for us to escape the condemnation of the law. The law can no longer condemn us because we died with Christ. Our old man was crucified with Christ and we have been given new lives and a new power to live holy lives. Which is why Paul says, “We can produce a harvest of good deeds for God” (Romans 7:4 NLT). Not in our own strength, but through the power of the Holy Spirit living within us. Paul gives us the wonderful news that “we have been released from the law, for we died to it and are no longer captive to its power. Now we can serve God, not in the old way of obeying the law, but in the new way of living in the Spirit” (Romans 7:6 NLT). WE CAN SERVE GOD! Not through our own feeble attempts at trying to keep some written code or standard. But through submission to and reliance upon the Holy Spirit who Jesus sent to indwell us and empower us. We have a new power and a new capacity to live lives that are pleasing to God. But it requires that we come to grips with the painful reality that our self-effort is still inadequate to satisfy a holy, righteous God. If we allow ourselves to fall back into some form of rule-keeping, we will fail. We will become defeated and demoralized. The law is a constant reminder of our own tendency toward self-righteousness. We somehow want to try to measure up. We want to perform and earn God’s favor. We are prone to becoming spiritual over-achievers. But Paul wants us to know that spiritual fruitfulness is a byproduct of living in the power of the Spirit, not our own flesh. Only the Spirit of God can produce fruit that is pleasing to God. Only the Holy Spirit can produce holy people. And as soon as we realize that the life God is looking for in His people is of divine origin and not the product of human achievement, the sooner we will experience the fullness of life that Jesus came to bring.

Father, show me how to rely more on the Spirit and less on me. Open my eyes to the impossibility of trying to earn favor with You based on my own self-effort. Keep pointing me back to the futility of trying to earn my way into Your good graces or trying to live up to Your standards on my own. I needed Your Son to save me. I need Your Spirit to sanctify and transform me. Never let me forget that fact. Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men

Romans 5:12-21

Law Versus Grace.

Romans 5:12-21

God’s law was given so that all people could see how sinful they were. But as people sinned more and more, God’s wonderful grace became more abundant. – Romans 5:20 NLT

Over and over again in his letter, Paul has made it painfully clear that the Law of Moses can’t save anybody. “So we are made right with God through faith and not by obeying the law” (Romans 3:28 NLT). But that fact does not diminish the importance of the law or in any way provide us with an excuse to ignore it. “Well then, if we emphasize faith, does this mean that we can forget about the law? Of course not! In fact, only when we have faith do we truly fulfill the law” (Romans 3:31 NLT). But all of this raises the question, “What is the purpose of the law?” It makes us reconsider God’s reasoning for giving the law in the first place. After all, if God knew that man could never live up to the standards of the law, why did He give it to us in the first place? Paul answers this important question in verse 20: “God’s law was given to that all people could see how sinful they were.”

Michael Horton, in his book, The Law & The Gospel, puts it this way: “The Law leads us to Christ in the Gospel by condemning us and causing us to despair of our own ‘righteousness.'” The law can’t save us, it can only convict us. The law gives us the requirements, but without any assistance to meet them. The law gives us the expectations of God, but without any ability to fulfill them. But that was never its purpose. “The law comes, not to reform the sinner nor to show him or her the “narrow way” to life, but to crush the sinner’s hopes of escaping God’s wrath through personal effort or even cooperation. All of our righteousness must come from someone else – someone who has fulfilled the law’s demands. Only after we have been stripped of our ‘filthy rags’ of righteousness (Isa. 64:6) – our fig leaves through which we try in vain to hide our guilt and shame – can we be clothed with Christ’s righteousness. First comes the law to proclaim judgment and death, then the gospel to proclaim justification and life. (Modern Reformation, Good News: The Gospel for Christians, May/June 2003).

When Adam (and Eve) sinned, sin entered the world. It took up residence in the lives of Adam and Eve’s descendants, resulting in generations of men and women who inherited not only their propensity for sin, but the guilt and condemnation that accompanies it. The law was given to reveal just how sinful we really are. Later on in this letter, Paul gives a personal testimony regarding the law and its role in his own life: “…it was the law that showed me my sin. I would never have known that coveting is wrong if the law had not said, “You must not covet” (Romans 7:7 NLT). Like a speed limit sign on the side of the road, the law simply revealed man’s transgression of God’s righteous standard. Paul goes on to say, “But sin used this command to arouse all kinds of covetous desires within me! If there were no law, sin would not have that power. At one time I lived without understanding the law. But when I learned the command not to covet, for instance, the power of sin came to life, and I died.” (Romans 7:8-10 NLT). The law simply shows us our sin. It reveals to us our unrighteousness. It is God’s holy standard made clear – in black and white. No excuses allowed. I love the way Martin Luther said it. “The Law is a mirror to show a person what he is like, a sinner who is guilty of death, and worthy of everlasting punishment. What is this bruising and beating by the hand of the Law to accomplish? This, that we may find the way to grace. The Law is an usher to lead the way to grace.…The fatuous idea that a person can be holy by himself denies God the pleasure of saving sinners. God must therefore first take the sledge-hammer of the Law in His fists and smash the beast of self-righteousness and its brood of self-confidence, self-wisdom, self-righteousness, and self-help. When the conscience has been thoroughly frightened by the Law it welcomes the Gospel of grace with its message of a Savior….” (Martin Luther, Commentary on Galatians).

Rather than living under the exacting standards and condemnation of the law, we live within the wonderful grace of God. We have received the righteousness of Christ and the indwelling presence and power of the Holy Spirit. That does not mean the law has become null and void though. Jesus did not come to do away with the law, but to fulfill it. And Paul gives us ample exhortations that we are to live lives that are in keeping with God’s standard of righteousness. “And we are instructed to turn from godless living and sinful pleasures. We should live in this evil world with wisdom, righteousness, and devotion to God, while we look forward to the hope to that wonderful day when the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, will be revealed(Titus 2:11-13 NLT). “For God saved us and called us to live a holy life. He did this, not because we deserved it, but because that was his plan from before the beginning of time – to show us his grace through Christ Jesus.(2 Timothy 1:9 NLT). Those who walk in the Spirit don’t break the law, but fulfill it. They have a power and capacity to do what they could never have done before. We can live holy lives, not out of our own self-effort, but according to the power of the Spirit who lives within us. Paul paints the vivid difference between trying to live according to the law in the flesh, and fulfilling the law in the power of the Spirit. “But when you are directed by the Spirit, you are not under obligation to the law of Moses. When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God. But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!” (Galatians 5:18-23).

Father, I am so grateful that I do not have to keep the law to maintain a right standing with You. But I am also grateful that Your law is a constant reminder of just how holy You are and just how unholy I can be without You. May Your divine, holy, righteous law constantly remind me of my need for Christ. May it make me ever more dependent upon the Holy Spirit’s power and not my own. Thank You for providing me with the righteousness of Christ and the life-transforming power of the Spirit in my life. I have the capacity to live a life worthy of the Gospel and as a citizen of heaven. Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men

2 Corinthians 3:7-18

New & Improved.

2 Corinthians 3:7-18

Shouldn’t we expect far greater glory under the new way, now that the Holy Spirit is giving life?. – 2 Corinthians 3:8 NLT

In this section of his letter, Paul addresses the differences between the old covenant, represented by the Ten Commandments written on stone tablets, and the new covenant, written on the hearts of men through the power of the Holy Spirit. He compares one to the other, using the word glory 19 times in an attempt to prove the new covenant superior to the old. The old covenant was given by God and, therefore, was good. But it has been replaced by the new covenant. Both were marked by God’s glory, but the glory of the new covenant was greater. The old covenant, or way, was dependent on man keeping the laws of God, given to Moses on Mount Sinai. The problem was that man, because of his sin nature, was incapable of keeping his part of the covenant. He continually sinned, breaking God’s commands and failing to keep God’s holy standards for righteousness. The old covenant ended up condemning man, exposing his sin and revealing his failure to meet God’s requirements for holiness and acceptance.

Paul understood the purpose of the law in the lives of men. He wrote about it extensively in his letter to the believers in Rome. In fact, Paul was constantly having to fight against those who wanted to demand that the keeping of the law was still a requirement, even on Christians. There were those who followed Paul on his missionary journeys, teaching new converts that their salvation was incomplete unless they also kept all the Jewish laws and religious rituals like circumcision. These individuals were a constant thorn in Paul’s side and he had to deal with their false teachings everywhere he went. He told the Roman believers, “it was the law that showed me my sin. I would never have known that coveting is wrong if the law had not said, ‘You must not covet.’ But sin used this command to arouse all kinds of covetous desires within me! If there were no law, sin would not have that power…sin took advantage of those commands and deceived me; it used the commands to kill me” (Romans 7:7-8, 11 NLT).

But what made the new covenant of Christ’s death so much more glorious was that it nullified the need for men to keep the law as a requirement for being made right with God. Paul wrote, “But now God has shown us a way to be made right with him without keeping the requirements of the law, as was promised in the writings of Moses and the prophets long ago. We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are” (Romans 3:21-22 NLT). Paul told the Corinthians, “how much more glorious the new way, which makes us right with God!” (2 Corinthians 3:9b NLT). The objectives of both the old and new covenants were to make men right with God. Sin had separated man from God. Sin is nothing more or nothing less than rebellion against God’s authority. It is rejection of his rule over our lives and refusal to acknowledge Him as our Lord and Master. God’s law revealed His holy standards for righteous living. It put down in writing what God required for men to have a right relationship with Him. But all it did was reveal man’s inability to live up to that standard. For generations, man attempted to restore his relationship with God through self-effort and better behavior, only to fail miserably. That’s why God sent His Son. That’s why the new covenant is more glorious than the old. Because the new covenant provided a fail-proof way for man to be restored to God. Jesus Christ provided a means by which sinful man can be cleansed, forgiven and given new life. We have a Spirit-empowered capacity to obey God that we didn’t have before. We have been given new hearts that desire to live according to God’s standard. And God is slowly, but surely transforming us into the likeness of His Son. “And the Lord – who is the Spirit – makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image” (2 Corinthians 3:18b NLT). And it just doesn’t get any better than that!

Father, I can’t thank You enough for the new way You provided so that I might be made right with You. I never could have kept the law and lived up to Your holy standard. I was doomed to defeat, a product and a victim of my own sinfulness. But while I was stuck in my sin, You sent Your Son to die for me. He took my place on the cross and suffered the penalty and the punishment that was meant for me. He took my sins on Himself and, in exchange, He gave me His righteousness. So I stand before You as holy and righteous, uncondemned and totally forgiven. I am right with You because of what Your Son did for me. Thank You! Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men

Galatians 3:1-14

Faith, Not Works.

Galatians 3:1-14

What’s more, the Scriptures looked forward to this time when God would declare the Gentiles to be righteous because of their faith. God proclaimed this good news to Abraham long ago when he said, “All nations will be blessed through you.” So all who put their faith in Christ share the same blessing Abraham received because of his faith. – Galatians 3:8-9 NLT

This is obviously a huge issue to Paul, because he is still talking about it well into the body of his letter. He is going out of his way to let the Gentiles know that there is nothing more that they need other than their faith in Christ. These men who had showed up declaring that the salvation of the Galatian believers was incomplete because they had failed to convert to Judaism, were in Paul’s eyes, false brothers. If what they taught is what they really believed, they weren’t truly believers at all, because they had believed a false or other gospel. They somehow believed that their “Jewishness” put them ahead of the curve, After all, they thought, Jesus had been a Jew. He had kept the law and obeyed all the ceremonial requirements, and so did His disciples. So if someone wanted to be one of His followers, they concluded, he had to become a Jew. But Paul puts that logic to rest. First and foremost, because that is NOT what Jesus taught. But secondly, because the good news had always been based on faith, not works. Long before the law had been given, God declared Abraham righteous because of his faith, not because of his obedience or adherence to any laws or requirements. In his letter to the Romans, Paul tells them, “Abraham was, humanly speaking, the founder of our Jewish nation. What did he discover about begin made right with God? If his good deeds had made him acceptable to God, he would have had something to boast about. But that was not God’s way. For the Scriptures tell us, ‘Abraham believed God, and God counted him as righteous because of his faith’ (Romans 4:1-3 NLT).

Paul is using the patriarch of the Hebrew people as an example of faith. He wasn’t chosen by God because he was Jewish. He wasn’t seen as righteous by God because he kept the law, because the law didn’t even exist yet. He wasn’t even deemed righteous by God because he had been circumcised. Again, Paul writes to the Roman Christians, “Was he counted righteous only after he was circumcised, or was it before he was circumcised? Clearly, God accepted Abraham before he was circumcised! Circumcision was a sign that Abraham already had faith and that God had already accepted him and declared him to be righteous – even before he was circumcised” (Romans 4:10-11 NLT).

Law keeping has a certain attraction to us as human beings. It appeals to our pride and sense of self-accomplishment. From the time we are children, we are trained to aspire to get the gold star on our homework or the A+ on our paper. We are driven to make it on to the winning team. We become obsessed with achievement and recognition for our efforts. This attitude infiltrates and permeates our entire lives, even our spiritual lives. We look for ways to measure up and can actually end up competing with others to see who is the most spiritual. We use criteria like quiet time, prayer, service, giving, Bible study attendance, and biblical knowledge to achieve some degree of righteousness and prove our spiritual depth. But Paul warns us just like he did the Galatian believers, “It is through faith that a righteous person has life” (Galatians 3:11 NLT). Studying the Bible, prayer, service, and giving are all evidence of a life of faith, not the means to get there. These things don’t make us right in God’s eyes. We can’t earn His favor or acceptance through effort. We do these things because we believe in His Son and have accepted His gift of salvation made possible through His death on the cross. Then we read the Bible to get to know God and His Son better. We pray so that we might share with and hear from Him. We serve because His Son served us and left us an example to follow. We give because we have been given by God so abundantly and have been called to share out of that abundance with others.

It is so easy to let an attitude of earning based on effort creep into our spiritual lives. And Paul is warning us to watch out. Faith leads to righteousness, not hard work. Belief in Jesus Christ as your Savior is the only requirement God has placed on us. Any obedience to His laws or commands that comes based on a life of faith, will be based on an attitude of gratitude, not earning or merit. I have nothing to prove to God. I have nothing I need to do to make God love me any more than He already does. I don’t have anything I need to do to keep God pleased with me. He loved me even when I was still trapped in my own sinfulness and sent His Son to die for me. God didn’t save me because I deserved it. And it takes real faith to believe that.

Father, salvation by faith alone is so counter-intuitive. It goes against our human reasoning. It makes no sense. Nobody gets something for nothing. Everything in life has to be earned. But You have made salvation a gift. You gave us Your Son in spite of us, not because of us. You gave us what we could never have earned or ever deserved. And it takes faith to believe that. Help us to continue to replace faith in ourselves with faith in Your Son. Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men

Galatians 2:11-21

A Point of Contention and Contrast.

Galatians 2:11-21

Yet we know that a person is made right with God by faith in Jesus Christ, not by obeying the law. And we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we might be made right with God because of our faith in Christ, not because we have obeyed the law. For no one will ever be made right with God by obeying the law. – Galatians 2:16 NLT

To some, this whole confrontation between Paul and the Judaizers may appear overblown. Paul may come across as petty and too harsh in his opinions. After all, how can he be so sure that he’s right and everyone else is wrong? Aren’t they welcome to their own opinions? Can’t there be more than one way for people to be made right with God? According to Paul, no. And he has already made it perfectly clear why he could be so adamant in his opinion – because it’s NOT his opinion. It is the word of God given to him by Jesus Christ Himself. For Paul, this was serious stuff. It wasn’t just a matter of a difference of opinion, it was a case of truth versus falsehood, the word of God and the lies of the enemy. Paul was so firm on this point that he was willing to confront one of the recognized leaders of the early church, the former disciple of Jesus, Peter.

On a visit to the region of Galatia, Peter had sat down and eaten a meal with Paul and some of the Gentile Christians – even though the men in this group were uncircumcised and not converts to Judaism. But later, when some Jewish friends of James, another former disciple of Jesus, came to Antioch, Peter snubbed the Gentile Christians, refusing to associate with them. It seems that Peter did not want to offend his Jewish comrades. Evidently, these men were not willing to associate with the Gentile believers because they were uncircumcised and, therefore, unclean. Peter’s actions appalled Paul. And in spite of Peter’s rock star status in the early church, Paul confronted him. As far as Peter was concerned, his actions were giving credence to the message of the Judaizers and leading others to believe that faith in Christ was not enough. But Paul made it clear: “Yet we know that a person is made right with God by faith in Jesus Christ, not by obeying the law” (Galatians 2:17 NLT). Case closed. Because otherwise, if these Gentile believers had come to salvation through faith in Christ alone, and then discovered that they were actually sinners because they had refused to keep the law, then the message Jesus had given Paul would have been the impetus or cause of their sin. As far as Paul was concerned, that was ridiculous and impossible. Jesus never taught that salvation was some combination of faith in Him PLUS adherence to the Jewish law. The law was never meant to save anyone. It simply revealed the full extend of man’s sinfulness. The law was intended to stand as a standard of God’s righteous expectations. It was His measuring stick, by which He judged the righteousness of men. And no one measured up. No one kept the law in its entirety. The law exposed man’s sinfulness and revealed just how far he fell short of God’s righteous standard. Paul says, “For when I tried to keep the law, it condemned me” (Galatians 2:19 NLT).

But Jesus came to fulfill the law. He took on human flesh, lived as a man, and kept the law of God to perfection. He did what no other man could have ever done. He satisfied the righteous standard of God. Which is what made Him the perfect sinless sacrifice, worthy to offer His life in place of ours, as a payment for our sins. And when He died, we were crucified with Him. Our old selves, our sinful selves, were put to death. And by dying with Christ, we were freed from having to keep the law. In his letter to the Romans, Paul writes, “You died to the power of the law when you died with Christ” (Romans 7:4 NLT). As a result, we no longer have to try to keep all the requirements of the law in order to be made right with God. This is not about self-effort anymore. It is about faith in Christ – alone. To try to add to this message or require anything more for salvation to be available, is to treat the grace of God as meaningless. It is to treat the death of Christ as insufficient. “For if keeping the law could make us right with God, then there was no need for Christ to die” (Galatians 2:21 NLT). But He did die because He had to. It was a necessity. “There is salvation in no one else! God has given no other name under heaven by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12 NLT).

Father, man is always trying to figure out a way to play a more significant role in his own salvation. We so desperately want to earn or deserve Your grace. We want a set of rules to keep or standards to live up to. But we can’t even keep the rules we make, let alone the righteous standard You demand. And yet, You offer us a restored relationship with You through Jesus Christ – completely apart from our own self-effort, and then we try to add things to it. Help us grasp the unbelievable nature of what Christ has made possible through His death. He is the key to our salvation, nothing more, nothing less. There’s nothing more that needs to be done. Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men