Paul’s shift into Philippians 3 is a bit jarring. Paul begins this section of his letter with a stern warning: “Watch out for those dogs, those people who do evil, those mutilators who say you must be circumcised to be saved” (3:2, NLT). Paul is using no light language here. Ironically, the term “dog” was used by Jews as a slur against gentile pagans, but Paul flips this term around and applies it to those Jewish religious zealots who were trying to force all of the converting gentile believers into being circumcised first. In contrast to this attitude, Paul says, “We rely on what Christ Jesus has done for us. We put no confidence in human effort…” (3:3, NLT). Paul drives his point home by arguing that, if anyone could have been saved by his own efforts, it would be himself! Paul had everything going for him. He was a Pharisee of Pharisees, keeping the letter of the law flawlessly. But, what does Paul say that all of his religious triumphs and worldly achievements amount to? Rubbish! Paul uses strong language here. Literally, Paul considered “all these things” as excrement – as dung. Not only as worthless, but as offensive when compared to the ultimate work that Christ accomplished.
But Paul then suddenly shifts his attention from what we can’t accomplish on our own to what we can accomplish through Jesus Christ! Is an all-victorious Christian life possible? Paul seems to think so. In fact, to Paul, it’s a victory that we should strive for in assurance and confidence through Jesus. Paul isn’t talking about a race here that has an uncertain outcome – one that, maybe, if you put in every ounce of self-discipline and strength you have, just maybe, you might be able to finish. No, he’s talking about a race that has already been won! We strain merely for the finish line where we will receive our eternal prize! So, don’t be discouraged by the past or by your spiritual failures. Remember that “it is God who works in you both to will and to do” – in other words, God instills the desire to do His will and then He gives us the strength to go do it! Therefore, we reach forward to the things which are ahead in full confidence that we will attain. Paul’s point ultimately comes down to this: With faith in ourselves, there’s no way we will ever win. But with confidence in Jesus Christ and His righteousness, there’s no way we can lose!