Paul was a man that had a lot of reason to be able to boast and brag about his background. He was a zealous Pharisee with all of the right pedigrees, background, and upbringing. From a human perspective, he would have had a strong case to tell people why they should follow him. He had figured it out. He had done it all. He was prepared and ready and now he was ready to be rewarded by God in finances, in power, in fame, and certainly in reward from God from heaven.
God owed him for this, didn’t he?
At one time, Paul may have thought this. In fact, it was very likely given the extent to which he is aware of his pedigree. He knows where he comes from, and if he was a man that looked for praise from other men, or if he was a man to expect that God would reward him because of the righteousness that he had built for himself, his pedigree could be easily flaunted before others.
But now, having come into relationship with Christ, he knows that it all means nothing. In fact, he calls it all garbage. It means nothing when compared to being found in Christ. In fact, this is how he said it:
But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, 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 is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.Philippians 3:7-11
Our own righteousness
Paul warns the Philippians that they should watch out for the people who would come to tell them that they should be circumcised to fulfill the law. Why would they need to do fulfill the law? Because, according to those that advocate this idea, the people need to be righteous before God.
But what is that righteousness based on? It is based on religious actions that we take so that we can build our own righteousness.
Or in reality, so that we can appear that we have been righteous people.
In fact, they would only be appearances because our actions have been evil. Have we lied to other people? Have we stolen from others in some way? Have we been unfaithful? Have we broken any of the other commandments?
Yes, of course we have and it is because our actions on the outside come from a heart that thinks of the needs of our flesh. Our hearts are far from God and are evil and need to be renewed by God through his Holy Spirit. This is a righteousness that comes from God, not from us. Otherwise, our “righteouness” that is built by us is only an appearance of righteousness in front of other people, not a true righteousness that we would be able to stand before God and proclaim that we have truly been the people that He has called us to be.
Boasting in Christ Jesus
There is only one way that we can be considered righteous before God and that is by taking on the righteousness of Christ in faith. Jesus died as a sacrifice for our sins and was resurrected by God, defeating death. He did this to purchase, to ransom them away from captivity to sin, many people from many nations so he could give glory to God.
And so Paul is saying that there is only one way that we can be considered righteous: Through faith in Jesus’s death in resurrection.
What does that mean?
It means that we trust that Jesus will keep his promise. His promise is that his blood that was shed on the cross was the payment that makes us righteous, and so any righteousness that we have hasn’t come from us or anything that we have done. Instead, the righteousness comes only from Christ. Only in him can we have any confidence that we can stand before God and declare ourselves righteous. We will say that it is because of Christ that I am clean.
Not because of anything that I have done. My righteousness comes only through Christ.