Paul’s Appeal to Have the Knowledge of Christ <3:1-21>
(a) Warning against Confidence in the Flesh <3:1-9>
Paul here warns of placing our confidence in physical achievements rather than Spiritual knowledge and accomplishments, for reminding them of this is no trouble for him <3:1>. His use of the term “dogs” shows the aggressiveness of their opposition to the gospel and the seriousness and destructiveness of their error <3:2; cf Gal.5:15> (NIV Study Bible) distorting the real meaning of circumcision. He then gives us three characteristics of the true people of God who are the real circumcision – “we who worship by the Spirit of God, who glory in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh” <3:3 (NIV)>. He warns of “men who do evil” <3:2 (NIV)> who force the Gentile believers to be circumcised so as to prove their righteousness <cf Gal.5:1-6>, reminding them that as believers in Christ we worship by The Spirit of God, glory in Christ and have no conviction in physical achievements <3:2>.
Paul could boast of major physical accomplishments, “though I myself have reasons for such confidence. If anyone else thinks he has 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 legalistic righteousness, faultless.” <3:4-6 (NIV)>, and all these could not produce the righteousness that God requires, since all such are legalistic forms of righteousness. Sad to say that today there are many church-goers who boats of their self-righteousness in similar ways. He explains that his confidence, and so should ours, comes from his knowledge of Christ and things pertaining to the Scriptures; whatever may have determined his physical profit he now considers a loss for the good of the knowledge of Christ which is of exceeding importance for him; and not only knowledge but a proof of righteousness, “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 and is by faith.” <3:8-9 (NIV); cf Rom.2:21-22; 1 Cor.1:30; Gal.2:16>: faith in Christ being the sole ground for God’s acceptance.
(b) Exhortation to Know Christ <3:10-16>
The alternative to confidence in physical achievements is knowledge of Christ, and the spiritual gains we can accomplish as we mature spiritually. “I want to know Christ” <3:10 (NIV)>; to “know” (absolutely) (Biblesoft’s New Exhaustive Strong’s Numbers and Concordance with Expanded Greek-Hebrew Dictionary. Copyright © 1994, 2003, 2006, 2010 Biblesoft, Inc. and International Bible Translators, Inc.). Paul wants to know Christ totally or completely, and like Paul, you and I need to know what the Word of God teaches about Christ; His disciples got to know Him completely by learning form Him and by doing what He asked them to do, and so we too learn from the Scriptures as the Holy Spirit instructs us and are obedient to such instructions <cf Jn.16:13-15>. “the power of his resurrection” <3:10 (NIV)>; the proof of God’s acceptance of Christ’s sacrifice for our sins, the power that will be expressed in us as we are also raised from the dead or changed as we are called to meet Christ in the air when he comes to take us to be with Him, the power that His disciples witnessed after His resurrection as they preached the gospel in the early days of the Church as recorded in the Acts of the Apostles, which is still available to us today as we preach the gospel <cf Rom.1:16; 1 Cor.15:14, 17, 51-52; 1 Thess.4:14-17>. “the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings” <3:10 (NIV)>; that is, partnership or participation in His sufferings <cf Rom.6:3-5; 8:17; 1 Pet.4:13-14>, we should remember that Christ told His disciples that they, and we, will suffer with Him as we face persecution in various ways as we partner in His sufferings. “and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.” <3:11 (NIV); cf Rom.6:5; 1 Cor.6:14>; this is the promise that we have in Christ that we will attain to the resurrection.
Paul states that he has not yet achieved all this <3:12; cf 1 Cor.9:24-27>, but that he is striving to attain what is ahead; “But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” <3:13-14 (NIV)>, and this should be the intent of all believers in Christ, “All of us who are mature should take such a view of things” <3:15 (NIV); cf 1 Cor.2:6; 3:1-3; Heb.5:14>.
(c) Warning against Living for the Flesh <3:17-21>
Those that take pleasure in the “the Flesh”, or boast of their accomplishments in what they have, or can do, to accomplish their own righteousness. Paul declares such to be enemies of the cross of Christ because they deny the work of Christ, that has been accepted by God, which is God’s way of imparting His righteousness to those that believe in Him, by accepting what Christ has accomplished <cf Rom.3:21-26; Gal.3:11-13; Heb.9:11-14; 10:1-10>. Paul further states that their destiny is destruction since their mind is on earthly things <3:19>; while for believers in Christ in contrast, “our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.” <3:20-21 (NIV); 1 Cor.15:51-52>. One day we will not only know Him as revealed in our humanity, we will know him completely because we will be like Him in glory <cf 1 Jn.3:2>, and this is the heritage promised to all children of God; the true vision of Christ’s return shatters all such misconceptions.