From Legalism to Liberty (Philippians 3)

“From Legalism to Liberty: The Affirmations of the Apostle Paul”

Phil. 3:1-21


Given to encourage the Philippian believers in the faith and to avoid the doctrine and attitudes of false teachers.


1. The Apostle’s Admonition (vv. 1-3)

To rejoice in the Lord—the theme of this epistle-repeated again in 4.4

It was not a tedious thing but safe for him to remind them of the need to avoid, false teachers who had mixed legalism with grace calling them “dogs”, “evil workers” and their work of circumcision as “mutilation” God’s strong attitude against those that oppose His grace. The true Christian worships God in the Spirit, rejoices in Christ, and does not trust in the flesh.


2. The Apostle’s Achievements (vv. 4-6)

If legality were the way to heaven, his credentials would easily exceed those who advocated this approach to salvation. Seven achievements are listed: four natural, three attained. Circumcised on 8th day as was Isaac (in contrast to Ishmael in the 13th year - Gen. 17.25) of the favored nation of Israel, of the faithful tribe of Benjamin, born of parents who were both Hebrew, of his own volition – a Pharisee, a persecutor, and perfect as concerning the law.


3. The Apostle’s Abandonment (vv. 7-9)

What was gain to him in his religious career and reputation, became a liability and a loss. Thinking back to the point when he trusted the Lord, he realized all things as far as man counts as important were rubbish to him so that he would “gain” Christ instead and be found in Him rather than being without Christ yet having a religious reputation.


4. The Apostle’s Ambition (vv. 10-11)

To really know Him (even after 30 years of knowing Him!) and to sense the power of His resurrection working in and through Him; to enter into the fellowship of His suffering (to feel the sorrow of soul when His cause suffers); to possibly suffer martyrdom just as the Lord gave His life for the sake of the Gospel.


5. The Apostle’s Aim (vv. 12-14)

To steadfastly press on in the Christian life to maturity, to understand more fully why Christ laid hold of him, never counting the fact that he has attained to this understanding, but focusing on one thing: to press to the finish line (the end of his life) to receive the reward of the Lord as he continued on in the upward call of Christ upon his life – in progressive holiness.


6. The Apostle’s Appeal (vv. 15-19)

To continue on in Christian maturity and keep their eyes open for others who also walk by the same rule. If they disagreed with him, God would show the willing heart the right attitude. For the Philippians to follow his selfless example not slip back in their walk . They were to avoid those who he had repeatedly warned them about who are selfishly indulgent, and enemies of the Cross—whose focus is this world and not the things of Christ.


7. The Apostle’s Affirmation (vv. 20-21)

Just as Philippi was a Roman colony – a community of citizens living away from their homeland, so also were the Philippians. They were to eagerly wait for eagerly wait the return of Christ (and so should we) who will change our bodies to be like His (1 John 3:1-3) – perhaps like the body of the resurrected Lord (John 20-21). No uncertainty about it – since “He is Able” to subdue all things to Himself (2 Tim. 1:12, Heb. 2.18, 7.25, Jude 24-25)



Questions to ask ourselves:

Are we eagerly awaiting His return, do we acknowledge that He is able to subdue all things to Himself? Are we living like citizens from another country or have we become enculturated? Are we truly pressing on and responding to the UPWARD call of personal holiness – or have we slipped back in our maturity in Christ? Are we aligning ourselves with the pattern that the apostle put forward to know the Lord more intimately in our lives? Have we counted all our past achievements as nothing compared to knowing the Lord—spiritual achievements can never compare to being in touch with the Lord.

Mark Kolchin 4/23/03