Friday, December 13, 2019

Why did Paul call his own works "rubbish"? (Imputation & Philippians 3:9)

A very popular verse that Protestants consider a key proof text for Imputation and Faith Alone is Philippians 3:9. Just like their handful of other favorite texts (which I've also written about), this verse on the surface doesn't even suggest Imputation or Faith Alone. But since it is so popular among even Protestant scholars, I want to address it. Let's jump right in.

Here's what Paul says, in context of verse 9:
2 Look out for the dogs, those who mutilate the flesh. 3 For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and put no confidence in the flesh. 4 If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5 circumcised on the eighth day, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. 7 But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8 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 9 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 I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
The first issue you should call Protestants to the carpet on here is their sloppiness of routinely only citing only verses 8-9. It is astonishing that people who claim to take the Bible seriously routinely have such little regard for the context (same for Ephesians 2:8-9). Building your theology around two verses from random chapters of Scripture is a very immature and dishonest approach. How often do we see Protestants not having the energy or integrity to even read a mere paragraph or two? It's a total insult to God's Divine Majesty to treat the Scriptures with such contempt as to only focus on a few pet verses while ignoring the context (and Scripture as a whole). Just stop to realize that Paul wrote more than just these verses, and that he thought more information was necessary. So why read Paul as if he only wrote in incomplete thoughts? The above context is only about 12 sentences long and takes less than a minute to read! Side note: I think the adding verse numbers to the Bible a few centuries ago actually harmed Biblical literacy, by causing us to direct our attention only on specific numbered sentences, without having to first familiarize ourselves with the context. Without chapter numbers or verse numbers, we would be forced to memorize the context. It is astonishing how much time we waste each day online and other such nonsense, but we cannot find the time to read an entire Letter by Paul, which are generally short and only a few pages long! Anyway, enough of that.

The pertinent part of this text appealed to by Protestants is where Paul says he does not rely on his own righteousness, but rather the righteousness of God. Protestants think this means that Paul's own efforts to save himself weren't good enough, so he needed someone else's righteousness (i.e. Jesus) to substitute for his failures. If you do a casual search of Protestant treatment of this passage, they read it as if Paul was saying any and all works are the problem. They are blind to the fact that Paul says the righteousness he no longer holds in high regard is the righteousness "that comes from the law". They skip over this crucial "comes from the law" detail because it doesn't make sense to them, and they adamantly refuse to acknowledge it even when you bring it up. In their mind, Paul is simply focused on righteousness that he generates himself somehow, by allegedly trying to live a perfectly obedient life without ever sinning. This leads us to another serious Protestant error that they need to be called out for, but is hard to do because they don't want to listen to what a Catholic has to say. 

Aside from ignoring the context, Protestants are notorious for not studying how the Bible defines its own terms. It is beyond question that "the law" that Paul had in mind was the Mosaic Law (see HERE), not some law in general or good works in general, as Protestants insist it must mean. Nor is it some fictitious, unbiblical "Covenant of Works" that the Reformed/Calvinist tradition invented. Likewise, Protestants invent their own definition of "righteousness," which they take to mean living your whole life in perfect obedience to God's commands without having ever sinned. But the Bible never defines "righteousness" this way, and rather sees it as conforming your life to a standard or having upright qualities about yourself (see HERE). With awareness of simple details like these, it is plain that Paul is not speaking of his own efforts to save himself, but rather that his living under the Mosaic Law did not provide a righteousness that saves. He had to look elsewhere for that. Paul was not discounting any and all works here, just that within the context of the Mosaic Law. In short, living as a Jew is not what saves a person.

Now, as we turn to the context itself, we can see that Paul is opposing these "dogs," these "mutilators of the flesh". He's talking about Judaizers who were pressuring Gentiles to get circumcised. But getting circumcised has no bearing on the salvation of Gentiles (I've written a lot about this), thus it amounts to little more than "mutilation of the flesh" when taken too far. I had recently written a post about the link between "works" and "flesh" (HERE), and we see that playing out in this context. Paul says he can boast above all his Jewish opponents, since Paul himself was: circumcised as an infant (i.e. not a convert), from the faithful tribe of Benjamin (not the unfaithful "Ten Lost Tribes"), a Pharisee in terms of education level about the Law (basically a scholar, which most Judaizers weren't), zealous enough about Judaism that Paul would persecute Christians (most Judaizers weren't that brave), and most importantly "as to righteousness under the law, blameless" (meaning Paul kept the Law flawlessly). This last detail is a point of contention. The reason is because Protestants cannot accept that Paul perfectly kept the Law. It throws a wrench into their erroneous understanding of Salvation, where they actually think that Works Alone save us (see HERE), and they mistakenly think that works being "tainted by our sin" is what prevents works from saving us (see HERE). Given these other errors, Protestants are forced to say Paul didn't actually keep the Law perfectly, concluding either because he was delusional or that he only kept it outwardly while inwardly was full of sin. Which leads us to the climax of this post.

So why did Paul count all his biological advantages and efforts to be "rubbish"? That's the big question to think about. Protestants erroneously presume the reason why Paul's righteousness was "rubbish" was because his works were tainted by sin. But nothing he mentioned was sinful, and the context nowhere suggests that Paul's sinfulness was the problem, nor can his Jewish racial qualities be considered sinful. So if the real problem here is that Paul is a sinner, then by Protestant logic, Paul has no righteousness at all, and thus Paul should not even be speaking of a "righteousness of my own" and "blameless" in keeping the law. If you think about it, calling your righteousness "dung" is kind of an oxymoron. It's like saying "my sinful good deeds". There's no such thing. So it's nonsense for Paul to be speaking of his own "righteousness" if it's not actually a real righteousness. And if Paul was trying to argue that the Law couldn't save because he himself couldn't keep it, his opponents would laugh at him for such an excuse. Just because Paul cannot keep the law doesn't mean nobody else can. This leaves only one alternative: if Paul did indeed keep the law "flawlessly" and yet this amounted to "rubbish," then this can only mean the law never did save even if kept perfectly. And that's truly what he's getting at.

In Paul's mind, the (Mosaic) Law never did save, even if kept perfectly. Protestants simply cannot comprehend this. It throws a wrench into their whole way of thinking. Properly understood, the righteousness of the Law only promised a person temporal (i.e. earthly) blessings, such as: long life, healthy life, wealth, children, good farming, peace in the land, etc. The Law never promised forgiveness of sins or Heaven. This is clearly shown in Deuteronomy 28 where the blessings and curses are laid out for how you keep the law. Most Protestants cannot even comprehend this simple distinction between temporal and eternal blessings. With this in mind, we can see a good reason for why Paul was going to elsewhere than the "righteousness of the law," which we'll now turn to.

When Paul says he wants to attain the righteousness that comes "through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God," the first thing to note is that nothing here suggests this is "Christ's Righteousness" or that it is "imputed". Protestants can only project/assume this. They cannot actually show this from the plain reading of the text! So much for them caring about what Scripture plainly teaches! Protestants blindly assume that Philippians 3:8-9 is teaching that the "righteousness of the law" needs to be attained by us so that we can be saved, and since we cannot attain it by our own efforts, they say that Jesus must perfectly keep the law in our place and impute this "righteousness of the law" to us, as if we perfectly kept the law ourselves. But notice that the "righteousness of the law" is not the same as what Paul contrasts to "the righteousness that comes from God." These are two different types of righteousness! What is this righteousness from God that Paul eagerly wants to have? This is where things get really embarrassing for the Protestant side.

The truth is, Paul tells us what he means by attaining this "righteousness from God" in the very next verses, but you will almost never see Protestants even aware of these verses. Look around and ask around and see how often they cite Philippians 3:9 but leave out (often out of total ignorance) verses 3:10-11! Paul gives it to us plainly: "that I may know Jesus and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that I may attain the resurrection" Clearly, Paul is saying he wants an inner transformation to happen to him, with his soul experiencing the power of God, causing it to be transformed in the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus. There is nothing "imputation" about this, and in fact it directly refutes Imputation and Christ's Righteousness. This theme events fits the earlier verses, such as 3:3 where Paul says Christians have the spiritual circumcision done on them by the Holy Spirit (Rom 2:29). Again, nothing Imputation about that.

I'm just astonished at how many Protestants who hold scholarly degrees who are oblivious to the context of Philippians 3:9. That's how insane the Protestant approach to Scripture is. Don't ever let a Protestant think they have the upper hand when it comes to Scripture. Just quote some context and you'll see how they suddenly hate St Paul and the Bible! Don't be afraid to ask them for Biblical proof of their claims and read the text for yourself to see if that's clearly being taught. You'll be astonished to find it is rarely the case that a Protestant has any Biblical basis for their teaching.


Nick said...

St Augustine's in his *anti-Pelagian* writing titled "On Grace and Original Sin" gives us his professional anti-Pelagian interpretation of Philippians 3:9.

///////////////Although there are many who appear to do what the law commands, it's through fear of punishment, not through love of righteousness; and such righteousness as this the apostle calls “his own which is after the law,”—a thing as it were commanded, not given.

When, indeed, it has been given, it is not called our own righteousness, but God’s; because it becomes our own only so that we have it from God. These are the apostle’s words: “That I may be found in Him, not having mine own righteousness which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ the righteousness which is of God by faith.” So great, then, is the difference between the law and grace, that although the law is undoubtedly of God, yet the righteousness which is “of the law” is not “of God,” but the righteousness which is consummated by grace is “of God.”

The one is designated “the righteousness of the law,” because it is done through fear of the curse of the law; while the other is called “the righteousness of God,” because it is bestowed through the beneficence of His grace, so that it is not a terrible but a pleasant commandment, according to the prayer in the psalm: “Good art Thou, O Lord, therefore in Thy goodness teach me Thy righteousness;” that is, that I may not be compelled like a slave to live under the law with fear of punishment; but rather in the freedom of love may be delighted to live with law as my companion. When the freeman keeps a commandment, he does it readily. And whosoever learns his duty in this spirit, does everything that he has learned ought to be done. ////////////

In other words, St Augustine says Phil 3:9 (and presumably related works/law texts) are mostly about our motivation. Without grace/enlightenment, people keep the Law out of fear, that they will be punished for not doing it. But with grace, the person sees God's commands as delightful and desires to do them out of love for God. They are not a burden. For Augustine, the point of this verse is not to get out of doing work, but rather to do the work as God originally intended. There's nothing in this that suggests Augustine held to Imputation of AOC (Active Obedience of Christ).

Nick said...

John Chrysostom has a Homily on Philippians 3:9. Here's a good passage:

//////////////////For consider how great a thing it was to bring [sick] men, brutalized in their nature, to the shape of [healthy] men. If the law had not been, grace would not have been given. Why? Because it [the law] became a sort of bridge; for when it was impossible to mount on high from a state of great abasement, a ladder was formed. But he who has ascended has no longer need of the ladder; yet he does not despise it, but is even grateful to it. For it has placed him in such a position, as no longer to require it. And thus is it with the Law, it has led us up on high; wherefore it was gain, but for the future we esteem it loss. How? Not because it is loss, but because grace is far greater.

For as a poor man that was in hunger, as long as he has silver escapes hunger, but when he finds gold, and it is not allowable to keep both, considers it loss to retain the former; so also here; not because the silver is loss, for it is not; but because it is impossible to take both at once, but it is necessary to leave one. Not the Law then is loss, but for a man to cleave to the Law and [thus] desert Christ. Wherefore it is then loss when it leads us away from Christ. But if it sends us on to Him, it is no longer so. But why does not the Law suffer us to come to Christ? For this very cause, he tells us, was it given. And Christ is the fulfilling of the Law, and Christ is the end of the Law. He who obeys the Law, leaves the Law itself.

Yea verily, and I have counted all things but loss. Why, he means, do I say this of the Law? Is not the world good? Is not the present life good? But if they draw me away from Christ, I count these things loss. Why? for the excellency of the knowledge of Jesus Christ my Lord. For when the sun has appeared, it is loss to sit by a candle: so that the loss comes by comparison, by the superiority of the other. You see that Paul makes a comparison from superiority, not from diversity of kind; for that which is superior, is superior to somewhat of like nature to itself.

For Chrysostom, the meaning of Philippians 3:9 is not that we cannot keep the law so we need Christ to keep it for us. Rather, he sees the Law here as a good thing but inferior to knowing Christ. The Law was meant to lead us to Christ, to get us on the right path. But once we find Christ, there's no further need for the Law. It has fulfilled its duty. A Gentile doesn't have to first become Jewish and then become Christian, rather he can jump straight to Christian. The issue never was "works" being too hard or tainted with sin. The issue was that living as a Jew didn't make anymore sense now that the Mosaic dispensation was over with. It served it's purpose.

How can you go back to using MySpace when there's Facebook? How can you hang on to a case full of CDs when you have MP3 files of all your music on your phone? How can you return to drinking Miller Lite when we are living in the era of Craft Brews?