When Passing the Test Is a Big, Fat Fail


Philippians 3:4B-6

If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless.


About those blasted Judaizers. You thought we skipped them, didn’t you? I got so carried away with joy I failed to make reference to the larger portion of yesterday’s Scripture text. Paul actually broke into some good old-fashioned, apostolic name-calling: “Watch out for those dogs, those evildoers, those mutilators of the flesh” (v. 2).

There are layers of irony wrapped up in those particular names alone, but we must move on. Judaizers were those Jewish Christians who believed that in order to become a follower of Jesus one had to keep pretty strict adherence to the Mosaic law, most notably circumcision. Paul was not having it. There is a huge backstory here that culminated in what we today call the Jerusalem Council, which can be read about in Acts 15. The breakthrough bottom line held that a person didn’t have to first become a Jew in order to become a Christian.

The Christian faith was  not an outside-in deal. It was inside-out. Salvation is by grace through faith alone, Paul said, so that no one could boast (Eph. 2:8-9). And, of all people, Paul could have been the chief boaster. Today he rolls out his religious résumé. Tomorrow he will run it through the shredder. Paul passed the test. He got an A+ only to realize it was all a big, fat fail. And he glories in it. Just wow!

If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal,persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless.

The Gospel is Jesus plus absolutely, utterly, and completely nothing else. It doesn’t matter how bad you’ve been or how good you are. Whether Jew or Gentile, everyone enters on the same terms. Circumcision, the thing that would have meant everything to Paul, now means less than nothing. Even more astonishing is the way Paul completely changes the meaning of circumcision from an outward sign to an inward reality: “For it is we who are the circumcision, we who serve God by his Spirit, who boast in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh” (Phil. 3:3).

The gospel of Jesus Christ is simultaneously the most exclusive and the most inclusive offer in the universe. Total exclusivity: there is only one way by which human beings can be saved—by grace through faith in the atoning work of Jesus Christ on the cross. “Nothing but the blood of Jesus,” as the old standard sings. Total inclusivity: anyone can be saved—all who will repent of their sin and place their trust in Jesus Christ. No one is unqualified or disqualified. In fact, because of the prevenient grace of God, everyone is prequalified. The free grace of God has, in essence, freed the will of the human race to make a decision to trust Christ. But everyone must decide.

This is why we brag on Jesus alone. This is why we boast in the cross alone. This is why everything that mattered so much to Paul before doesn’t matter at all anymore. This is the only freedom. Everything else is just another form of slavery.

With Jesus there is no more trying to measure up. The gospel only measures down.


Abba Father, we thank you for your Son, Jesus, who is able to save us completely by no merit of our own but by his grace. Give us the grace to even grasp grace and to know that our everything is still nothing when it comes to measuring up to the glory of God. Open our eyes to the glorious truth that God will give us everything in exchange for our nothing if we can let go of our everything in order to be embraced by grace alone. We pray in Jesus’ name, amen.


  1. So, let me be blunt. Are you saved? Are you ready to measure down?
  2. Are you in touch with your own deep need to measure up in life? If you are trying to measure up in every other area of your life, how could you possibly not be trying to also measure up with God?
  3. Is grace going deeper in you or are you still striving after it?

For the Awakening,
J.D. Walt

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WHAT IS THIS? Wake-Up Call is a daily encouragement to shake off the slumber of our busy lives and turn our eyes toward Jesus. Each morning our community gathers around a Scripture, a reflection, a prayer, and a few short questions, inviting us to reorient our lives around the love of Jesus that transforms our hearts, homes, churches, and cities.

Comments and Discussion

2 Responses

  1. I do believe that I am truly saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, according to the Word alone, to the glory of God alone. I also believe that this salvation is conditional on my perseverance in remaining in Christ the True Vine through which I receive grace needed, to transform me fully into His image. I know fully that the Father is the Master Gardener who will prune away those things in my life that hinder my fruitfulness. I know that there will always be the temptation to think more highly of myself than I ought, so I should not be surprised when crosses appear to keep this from happening. I pray that I may become more fruitful unto the Lord despite the discomfort I may encounter along the Way. I expect that pruning will feel more like failure when it happens.

  2. My answer to number 3 is I hope so. My own awakening has been less like a paper shredder and more of an ongoing winnowing; losing the superfluous and, at least for the meantime, holding on to what was and continues to be life sustaining. When it is about a broken church in a broken world, there is no universal fix.

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