“4 Things That Won’t Save You (and 1 That Will!)” (Philippians 3:4-11 sermon)

In ancient times, they believed that when you were sick, they needed to get the “bad blood” out of you, so they would employ certain treatments they thought would accomplish that. One (which is so gross to many of us today) was to put leeches on the sick person, so that the leeches would suck out the “bad blood” and the illness. Another procedure they used was called “bleeding” — they would surgically cut the person, and just drain their blood, thinking that would make better. Of course, losing all that blood, when they were sick, often had the opposite effect and made the person much worse.  From time to time I’ll be reading some history or biography, and come across a scenario where a person who is sick, and the doctor is going to come in to give them leeches or “bleed” them, and I just want to say: “NO! Don’t do that! That is not going to do what you think it will; it is not going to save them!” 

The same thing is true in the spiritual world. From time to time you come across people who think that doing certain things will get them to heaven, and you want to say, “NO! Don’t do that! That’s not going to save you!”  That is basically what Paul does here in the next verses of Philippians 3. We saw last week where he said in :3 that real religion “puts no confidence in the flesh” but only “glories in Christ Jesus” and what He did for us. Then starting in :4, Paul gives us examples from his own life of what he means by “putting no confidence in the flesh.” He begins listing “good works” and attainments in his life — the kinds of things that he knew that many people in his generation thought would save them — but that he knew would NOT get them to heaven. 

Now, you may look at some of the things on this list and say, “Well, none of US would trust these kinds of thing to save us today” — but you might be surprised. The truth is, many people today do trust the same kinds of things Paul mentions here to make them right with God — and these things will NOT save them! They are as ineffective for your spiritual health & salvation as leeches would be for your physical health & salvation. Let’s look at what Paul talks about here, and make sure you aren’t putting your trust in any of these “Four things that won’t save you.”

I. Your Religious Rituals won’t save you

:5 “circumcised the 8th day”.    

Circumcision was the great Jewish ritual. If you were a male and wanted to be a Jew, you had to be circumcised. They did not believe you could be right with God without it. And as we talked about last week, the false “Jewish Christian” teachers taught that even New Testament Christians couldn’t be saved without it. But Paul included circumcision in this list of things that would NOT save; only faith in Christ will. But this is not just true for circumcision; the PRINCIPLE he was emphasizing here is that none of our religious rituals will save us. 

Jews have the ritual of circumcision; other religions have their rituals:

Islam has 5 what they call “5 pillars” of their faith: 5 rituals that they believe will help you attain salvation:

— confess that there is one God, Allah, and that Mohammad is his prophet.

— pray (what they even call) a “ritual prayer” 5 times a day toward Mecca.

— give alms to the poor

— fast during the season of Ramadan

— make a pilgrimage to Mecca some time in your life.

They teach that if you will perform these 5 rituals, then you have a CHANCE (it is not guaranteed, Allah will still weigh your good deeds vs. your bad and see which is more) but if you do these 5 rituals, you have a CHANCE to enter Paradise.

So because they believe their salvation depends on it, they are very ritualistic about doing these things. I remember I was on an airplane coming back from a mission trip to India, when all of the sudden, all of the Islamic passengers in the plane got out of their seats, got down on the floor in the aisles and began saying their ritualistic prayer. I have to admit it was a bit creepy — especially since it was not long after 9/11! — but these people were very strict about saying these prayers, because they believe that keeping this ritual is an important part of their salvation.  

But we need to realize that even people with a Christian backgrounds often put their trust in “rituals” to save them. We talked about this some last week …

— Many people put their trust in the ritual of baptism: “I was baptized as a baby”; or “I know I am saved because I was baptized.”

— or the put their trust in the ritual of confirmation

— or the “informal Baptist ritual” of “going down to the front” of the church at the invitation (like we talked about last week)

— or taking the Lord’s Supper — which is a legitimate, Biblical thing to do — many of these are — but unfortunately many people have either consciously or sub-consciously turned these things into religious “rituals” that they have put their trust in to save them.

So God is reminding us here in Philippians 3 that NO religious ritual we can perform will save us: not Old Testament rituals, not rituals from other religions; not even New Testament church rituals like baptism and the Lord’s Supper can save us. As we saw last week: NO religious ritual that we can perform in our physical body can save us. Salvation is in the HEART.  (Outward) Physical religious rituals cannot save us.   

II. Your Background & Heritage Won’t Save You

Paul said he was “of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin”

The Jews put a LOT of faith in their religious background and heritage. That’s one of the reasons they made a big deal out of all of those genealogies. If you could trace your lineage back to David, or Abraham, or someone like that, well those were some “big points” in your favor. But Paul says here, it doesn’t matter that I was of the nation of Israel; being of the nation of Israel doesn’t save me! (A lot of people today need to hear this, because they think that is a person is Jewish, they are automatically saved, but they are not.) Paul says, I am of the tribe of Benjamin, a venerable tribe in Israel — but that doesn’t save me. He’s emphasizing: your background and religious heritage do not save you, whatever it is! 

Some time ago I was watching a “National Geographic”-type video series on the lost Ark of the Covenant: where might it be today? Some speculate that it has been hidden in a church somewhere in Ethiopia for all these years. And this guy from Britain was the narrator, and he was going around looking for it. And in the process, he visited many villages and churches in Ethiopia. And I remember at one church he asked the pastor or guardian at the door if he could come in and look at the relics they had in the church. The man asked him “Are you a Christian?” (because only Christians were allowed in). And the narrator said “Of … of course I’m a Christian; I’m … I’m  British!”  And I was like: “you have GOT to be kidding me! Being British doesn’t make you a Christian!” But that’s what a lot of people think.

And they do the same thing with America too. Many people overseas look at America and say “They are a Christian nation” — because our country was founded on Christianity, and we have many Christian customs and traditions, but the fact is, NOBODY is a true Christian in their heart just because they are an American. Jesus said a religious Jewish Pharisee: “You must be born again.” If his heritage couldn’t save him, your heritage won’t save you either.  I don’t care if you can trace your family heritage back to Stephen F. Austin and the “original 300” families, that doesn’t make you a Christian in your heart. 

Every person has to individually repent of their personal sins, and put their own trust in Jesus as their Lord & Savior in THEIR own heart, in order to be saved. It doesn’t matter what your nationality is; or what your family background is. It has to be personal. 

This is why Cheryl & I pray so hard for our grandbabies. We are working on a pretty decent Christian heritage as a family: My grandfather was a lay evangelist & Bible teacher. My aunt worked as a counselor for the Billy Graham organization. Cheryl & I are both Christians. I’m the pastor of a church, and have been for almost 35 years; she’s a pastor’s wife. But all of that did not make a single one of our 4 kids a Christian. They each had to come to a time in their own life when they made that decision personally. And thank God, they each DID — all four of our kids accepted Christ; we can share their testimonies with you; and they are all still walking with the Lord today. And now they’re having grand babies and more grand babies (and more grand babies!). But you know what? We pray like all get out for those little grandbabies, from the oldest to the youngest — because Cheryl & I’s faith won’t save them; and their parent’s faith won’t save them — they have to put THEIR OWN faith in Jesus to save THEM. And if they don’t put their own faith in Jesus as as their own Lord & Savior, it will not matter that their grandpa Shawn was a pastor. They will be just as lost as if their grandaddy was a drug cartel leader. My religious heritage will not save them. Each person must put their own faith in Jesus to save them.

So I hope today that you realize that your religious or spiritual or national heritage will not save YOU either. You may be a red-blooded, flag waving, gun-toting, Trump-voting, Lone Star Texan American whose daddy and grandaddy were all pastors and deacons and your aunt ran the WMU — but all that does not make YOU a genuine Christian in your heart!  You have to put YOUR OWN faith in Jesus as YOUR Lord & Savior. You’ve got to realize like Paul teaches here: your background and religious heritage won’t save you!  

III. Your Religious Works Won’t Save You

Paul says, “As to the Law, (he was) A Pharisee …”.

The Pharisees as a religious group have taken a lot of flack (and rightly so on many counts) but in their day they were considered the very best religious people. They had committed themselves to keep all the commandments of the Old Testament Law — and they were very zealous about it. And they thought that all of their religious works would save them.

Jesus pointed that out in the story of the Pharisee and the tax collector who went to the Temple to pray in Luke 18. Do you remember the Pharisee’s prayer to God? He said “God, I thank you that I am not like other people … I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all I get.” (Luke 18:11-12).  See, he thought he was right with God because of all the religious works he did: he fasted twice a week; he tithed everything he got (Jesus said in Matthew 23 the Pharisees would tithe every leaf of mint and they received; 1/10 of them would go to God!) They were very meticulous about not only about tithing, but about keeping every Old Testament Law they could. And like this Pharisee showed us: they thought that made them right with God. 

Paul says here, I used to be like that; “As to the Law,” he says, I was “a Pharisee.” In other words, he thought that by meticulously keeping the Law, he would be right with God. But he says, now I am here to tell you that it does NOT. Your religious works won’t save you. 

The Word of God says in Romans 3:20 “by the works of the Law, NO flesh will be justified in His sight.” In other words, your good works and religious deeds cannot save you.

This is probably THE #1 most misunderstood thing about salvation. Most people think, and most religions teach, that your good works will make you right with God. 

A few years ago, Nabeel Qureshi, a young Muslim, was invited to a Christian event where the Judgment was mentioned. When he got home, he asked his Muslim father: “‘What is the truth about judgment?’. His father told him: ‘Allah judges us based on our choices in this world. Everything we do is recorded by angels: one on our right shoulder recording our good deeds, and one on our left shoulder recording our bad deeds. When we stand before Allah, our deeds will be read aloud. No one will be able to intercede for us; not our family, not Jesus, not even Muhammed. Allah will weigh our good deeds and our bad, and if our good deeds are greater than our bad deeds, Allah will give us paradise.’”

(Nabeel Qureshi, Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus, p. 96)

See, the Muslim hope, like the Jewish Pharisee’s hope, is based on their good works: they hope that their good will outweigh their bad.

And this kind of idea is common, even among those in our country today who don’t have a specific religion. J. Edwin Orr was a chaplain in the military, and he spoke with a lot of men about their religious beliefs. One man said to him that he just thought that all we needed to do, was to do our best, and that was good enough. After some discussion, Orr finally said to him: “Very well, then. If doing your best is all that is required for your salvation, do you always do your best?” The man admitted:  he did NOT always do his best. “Then,” (Orr said) “if the great requirement is that must do your best, you are disqualified, according to you!’” (J. Edwin Orr, The Faith That Persuades, p. 98)

See, that’s the problem; even those of us who are trying our best to justify ourselves before God by our good works, know deep down that we aren’t dong enough; and that we CAN’T do enough. That’s why people are worried about dying. That’s why people like Samuel Johnson, that we saw last week, are always anxious about their salvation, because we all know deep down in our hearts that we can can never do enough good works and deeds to cover our sins and earn ourselves a place in heaven. And the Bible confirms that: “By the works of the Law, NO FLESH shall be justified in His sight.” That’s pretty clear: “NO flesh”!  Your religious works can’t save you. 

IV.  Your Sincere Intentions Won’t Save You

Paul said here: “as to zeal, a persecutor of the church”

The word “zeal” here means “eagerness, zeal, enthusiasm”. In other words, you can really “all fired up” about your religious beliefs; very sincere; very zealous — but that won’t save you either. 

Paul said he was so “zealous,” so “fired up” in his Judaistic works, that he persecuted the church in Jerusalem, and he even went around to neighboring cities and countries tracking them down to put them in prison. He was very sincere in his faith; a real zealot.  But he said, just because I was very committed; very zealous; very sincere; that did not save me. And it won’t save anybody else, either.

Paul said in Romans 10:2 of his Jewish brethren: “For I testify about them that they have a zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge.” In other words, he said these guys are very zealous; very sincere — but it is not “in accordance with knowledge” — in other words, their zeal was misplaced. They were “sincere,” but they were sincerely wrong!  

Have you ever heard a person say about someone: “Well, at least they’re sincere”? And sincerity is a good quality; but we need to understand that sincerity doesn’t make a wrong thing right. I mentioned those doctors back in the old days who thought that “bleeding” their patients was helping them. I don’t think those doctors were TRYING to weaken or kill those people, do you? No, I think they were really trying to help; I think they were sincere. But the problem is, they were sincerely WRONG! It didn’t matter if they were sincere or not, what they were doing to those patients was killing them. Their sincerity didn’t help when what they were doing was wrong. 

And it’s the same with salvation today. There are many who say something like, “Well, I think as long as you’re sincere with whatever religion you have, you’ll be ok.”  The problem with that is, the Bible says that is not true. The Bible tells us that Jesus said “I am the way, the truth, the life, and no one comes to the Father except through Me.” The Bible clearly teaches that there is ONE way of salvation, and that way is through Jesus. Any other way is false. It’s like a medicine that you take sincerely, but it’s the wrong medicine. The wrong medicine that you take with all sincerity is still the wrong medicine, and it will NOT save you. And the wrong religion that you practice with all sincerity is not going to save you either. You must be saved the ONE way the Bible teaches you can be saved, and that is through Jesus, and Jesus alone. Your sincere intentions will not save you. 

So there’s four things that won’t save you. Now let’s look at ONE that will:

V. Only JESUS Will Save You 

Paul basically summarizes all that we’ve said, in :7, where he says, “whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted to be LOSS for the sake of Christ.”  He said, all the things I just mentioned —  rituals, background, works, intentions — they are NOTHING. He says, what I need is not all those things, but CHRIST.

And the Bible says that is what we ALL need. God made us all to know Him, and worship Him, and be with Him in heaven forever, but we sinned. And all of our rituals, and heritage, and work, and zeal can’t atone for our sins. Only ONE thing can: the blood of Jesus which He shed on the cross for us. The Bible says we are saved by repenting of our sins and putting our faith in Jesus, and what He did. Like we said last week: “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus” alone!  Don’t put your trust in anything else to save you, but Jesus ONLY — even if you have NOTHING else to go with it; no works, no heritage, or anything else. Jesus alone is enough.

While I was waiting for the next biography in the Lyndon Johnson series to come in, I read a book last week called “Final Chapters” — about how about a hundred famous authors, from ancient days to the present, have died. (It’s a very good book, but as you can imagine, it was also kind of depressing too — I mean, it’s all these people, and it’s just death after death … but it really does have a LOT of very interesting stories and insights.) One of the more “flamboyant” authors of all time was Oscar Wilde: who was also one of the most profane people who ever lived: he was involved in immorality, homosexuality, prostitution, drugs, you name it, he was involved in it. And of course, abusing his body as he did, he got very sick, and he died early. YET although I have been somewhat familiar with Oscar Wilde, I read something in this book that I had never read before: the author said that a priest claims that Oscar Wilde called him to his bedside as he was dying, and he said that Wilde had a “bedside conversion” at the very end. I had never heard that before. And I don’t know if Wilde did that or not, but IF he did — let me emphasize: IF he did — then Oscar Wilde was saved, and this day, despite his profligate and profane life, he is in Paradise!  

Now someone may say, “Really, Bro. Shawn? This man who lived such a vile life, who did NOTHING whatsoever to save himself his whole life, but on his death bed he repents … He had no works; he had no rituals; no background; no zeal — for his whole life he had nothing. And then at the end, he just gets Christ and is saved?!  Could that possibly be right?”

See, this is the whole thing. (And let me re-emphasize: I DO NOT KNOW if Oscar Wilde truly did this in his heart or not. But if in his heart he did truly repent of his sins and trusted Jesus as his Savior — THAT JESUS IS ALL HE NEEDED TO BE SAVED. He didn’t need baptism; he didn’t need rituals; he didn’t need a whole life of good works —  all he needed was faith in Jesus to be saved!  

And if you can’t understand how Oscar Wilde could be saved without any of those things, then I fear for you — because that means that YOU don’t really understand how YOU are saved either. Because YOU are not saved because you have any of those things. You are not saved by your religious rituals; you are not saved by your religious heritage; you are not saved by your good works; you are not saved by your religious zeal or sincerity. If you are saved, you are saved by Jesus Christ and Jesus Christ ALONE!  JESUS IS ALL YOU NEED TO BE SAVED!  

That is what Paul is saying here. He says I had all this “religious stuff,” but all that “religious stuff” didn’t save me. And all of your “religious stuff” is not going to save YOU, either. None of those 4 things we looked at today will save you. Only ONE thing will: repent of your sins, and put your full trust in what Jesus did, dying on the cross for you. If you’ve never done that, you need to do it, right now. 

About Shawn Thomas

My blog, shawnethomas.com, provides brief devotions from own personal daily Bible reading, as well as some of my sermons, book reviews, and family life experiences.
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2 Responses to “4 Things That Won’t Save You (and 1 That Will!)” (Philippians 3:4-11 sermon)

  1. Brenda says:

    Thank you. Was a big help in our SS lesson on Philippians 3

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