So you’ve come to know God through Jesus Christ. Now what?
It’s not enough just to wait for the resurrection. You need to become mature, complete, and whole in Christ Jesus.
What is the goal?
The Apostle Paul had a lot to say about this. When you read this passage, picture an athlete who is straining and reaching ever forward. He’s recruiting all the muscles, tension, and tautness in his body; he’s pushing on with his goal in mind:
…Forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:13-14)
If you’re mature, you’ll have that same attitude. None of us is fully mature or complete yet—Paul certainly wasn’t when he wrote these words. (Philippians 3:12) There is, however, a kind of maturity we can grow into. That maturity involves pushing forward toward the final completeness, which is conformity to Christ and to His resurrection:
[God] will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself. (Philippians 3:21)
That’s the goal. Not only a bodily conformity to the resurrection, but also a moral and spiritual conformity to the person of Jesus Christ.
Maturity is not easy.
Not everyone will want to help you towards maturity in Christ. Paul told his readers in Philippians 3:2,
Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of the false circumcision.
“Beware of the dogs…”
We love dogs in our culture, but the word dog is almost uniformly a negative word in Scripture. Dogs were thought of as wild street animals—scavengers that ran in packs, destroyed property, and harmed children and others. To call someone a dog was to say, ‘you lowlife scavenger.’
“…Beware of the evil workers…”
Paul is referring here to the false teachers that followed him from place to place, teaching new converts that they needed to keep the Mosaic Law in order to be saved.
“…Beware of the false circumcision.”
The word for circumcision here would normally be peritomei, which literally means “cut around.” Paul instead used the word katatomei, or “mutilate.” He’s making a pun on the idea of circumcision. This line literally reads “the mutilators.”
Paul taught elsewhere that the true circumcision are those whose lives are organized around Jesus, the true son of Abraham:
Therefore, be sure that it is those who are of faith who are sons of Abraham. (Galatians 3:7)
In other words, Israel is made up of all those, Jew and Gentile alike, who believe in the Messiah Jesus. We are the true circumcision. This parallels something Paul wrote in Romans 2:29:
But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from men, but from God.
For we are the true circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh.
Paul wanted to be sure his friends in Philippi knew that they shouldn’t put confidence in the way the false teachers wanted them to live. Conformity to the old Jewish ceremonial laws cannot give anyone a right standing before God.
The Gift of the Spirit
If you’ve heard the gospel and believe the gospel, for Paul, you’ve received the gift of the Spirit. Your receiving of this gift needn’t have been a monumental occasion of great emotional display. Sometimes it can be — some in the early church apparently spoke in tongues and had ecstatic utterances. Others, like Lydia, apparently received the Spirit in a less memorable way; the Scriptures tell us simply that the Lord opened her heart to receive the word. (Acts 16:14)
We shouldn’t measure the gift of the Spirit by the enormity of the external display.
If you don’t have the Spirit of God living within you, you’ll live according to the fads and fashions of this present evil age. You’ll be gripped by things that are not of God, and you’ll live by a different set of moral standards.
The previous was adapted by Rachel Motte from an essay featured on Dr. Sloan’s radio program, A Higher Education, on July 30, 2014.