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Philippians 3:1-3: Counterfeit Christianities

January 8, 2012

The danger of a counterfeit is twofold: first, it deceives people into putting their hope and trust in something that can’t deliver. Second, it causes those who are trusting in the genuine article to become suspicious and doubt, no longer sure what to believe.

If counterfeit money is deadly to a national economy, then counterfeit Christianities—counterfeit expressions of the faith—are deadly to the spiritual wellbeing not only of individual Christians and churches, but to the whole world.

In Philippians 3:1-3, Paul sounds a sharp note of warning, urging us to beware of false Christian teaching and counterfeit Christian communities that look and sound like Christianity, but are in reality a fraud and deception. The particular counterfeit Paul has in mind are the so-called Judaizers—a group of Jews who were willing to believe that Jesus was the promised Messiah, but claimed that to be a true follower of God you had still had to become Jewish, receiving the sign of circumcision and following the old covenant law. In essence, they were basing their relationship with God on heritage and hard work instead of faith in Christ. Indeed the common denominator among all counterfeit Christianities is the attempt to gain an audience with God out of the flesh, and therefore not through Jesus Christ (cf. Col. 2:8).

Paul warns the Philippians against counterfeits. But he does so by telling them to anchor their hope and joy in the genuine article, Jesus Christ (3:1), and to take confidence that in Christ, we are part of the new covenant community that approaches God by the Spirit, not the flesh, and that boasts in Christ, not in family descent or personal performance (3:3).

Only Jesus is qualified and capable of rescuing us from our sin and reconciling us to his heavenly Father (cf. Col. 1:15-23). Rejoicing in Jesus our Lord—being satisfied in him and resting all our hope and trust in his life and work for us—is what guards us from being tricked by counterfeits and going astray. In fact, being joyfully consumed with Jesus is such an important part of Paul’s message that he has no problem repeating himself (3:1; cf. 1:18; 2:18; 4:4). May it be so among God’s people.

Update: For sermon text and discussion questions, click here: Phil 3.1-3 Westgate 1.8.12

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