Philippians 3:1-3 sets before us a distinct contrast between false and true religion. The message of these three verses is of tremendous importance.
This chapter begins with an exhortation (v. 1). Paul says, “Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord.” No matter what our providential experiences and circumstances are, we always have reason to rejoice in the Lord. Here is an exhortation to joy. What a blessed command! — “Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say rejoice!” Rejoice in the greatness of his person as our all-sufficient Substitute, in the power of his blood that cleanses us from all sin, in the perfection of his righteousness imputed to us for justification, in the abundance of his all-sufficient grace, in the immutability of his unfailing love, in the rule of his providence working all things together for our good, in the fact of his all-prevailing intercession on our behalf, and in the fact that our names are written in heaven. May God give us grace ever to “rejoice in the Lord” for the glory of Christ and the good of his people.
In verse 2, the apostle gives us a serious warning. — “Beware of dogs.” He warns us to beware of false prophets. He calls them dogs because that is what the Word of God calls male prostitutes. False prophets are men who have for their own sakes prostituted the gospel of Christ and the glory of God (Deut. 23:18; Isa. 56:10-11). Then he tells us to “beware of evil workers,” referring to those same “dogs” (preachers) who teach, preach, and promote any system of man centered, works based, free will religion (Matt. 7:22-23). Man centered, works based, free will religion is the single greatest cause of evil in this world. The good works of religion without Christ are the most abominably evil works done in this world. They rob God of his glory, trample under foot the blood of Christ, do despite to the Spirit of grace, and gradually abase man to his lowest, most contemptible state (Rom. 1:25-31). Next, he speaks of these men as “evil workers,” referring to all who teach that God’s salvation depends upon and is determined by man. The apostle goes on to call these work-mongers “the concision,” warning us again to beware of them. Those who are of the concision are men and women who teach us to cut, mutilate, and otherwise punish our bodies in hope of winning God’s favor.
In essence, Paul is saying, “Beware of Christless religion.” Beware of any religious custom, doctrine, or service that is centered in yourself and encourages you to focus attention on yourself.
In verse 3 we are given a description of true religion. — "For we are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh." True religion is not man centered, but Christ centered. True religion is not ceremonial, but spiritual. True religion is not a matter of creed, but of conviction. True religion is not outward, but inward. “For we are the circumcision,” God’s true, covenant people, the Israel of God, Abraham’s true children, which “worship God in the Spirit.” We worship God as he is revealed in the Scriptures, by the power of his Holy Spirit, in our spirits, and in a spiritual manner. True worship is spiritual worship, not carnal, ceremonial ritualism (John 4:23-24). — “And rejoice in Christ Jesus.” We trust the Lord Jesus Christ alone, placing all our confidence in him as our Savior. We are complete in him (1 Cor. 1:30-31; Col. 2:9-10). — “And have no confidence in the flesh.” We place absolutely no confidence in our flesh, the experiences, emotions, or (imaginary) excellencies of our flesh. The privileges of the flesh, the feelings of the flesh, and the works of the flesh are no basis of confidence before God.
In all false religion the hope of salvation and eternal life is, in some measure, found in the flesh. In true religion “Christ is all,” all hope is found in him alone. That is the great distinction. True religion is religion that trusts Christ alone. False religion trusts Christ, and…