S P R I N G • 2 0 1 6
VOLUME 17, ISSUE 1
Dale Ratzlaff is the founder of Life Assurance Ministries, Inc., and owns LAM Publications, LLC. He served as an Adventist pastor for 13 years, seven at Monterey Bay Academy where he taught Bible. He and his wife Carolyn left the Adventist church in 1981 when he realized he could no longer teach the investigative judgment in clear conscience. He has authored several books on Adventism that are available through his website, LifeAssuranceMinistries.com. The Ratzlaffs reside in Camp Verde, Arizona.
The book of Philippians is full of the spiritual nutrients which bring joy and peace into our lives. In fact, it has been one of the chief sources of my spiritual food. After years of studying the life and letters of Paul, I have found I have several things in common with him: I, too, am the chief of sinners; I, too, grew up in rank legalism trying my best to keep the law. I, too, discovered the gospel late in life, and it was a life-transforming experience. In fact, sometimes I fear that those who grew up in Christian churches just take the gospel for granted and don’t understand the magnitude of the good news embedded in it.
For those of us who grew up in legalism, however, the gospel is like a pitcher full of cold water to tired and thirsty hay haulers on a hot day. Years ago, Bill Ruzicka and I were on our way home to Napa, California, after loading hay in Lovelock, Nevada. It was our first trip together. That fateful day we had already been up nearly 24 hours. We had loaded hay in Lovelock and were going back over Donner Pass. Bill was driving—his first time behind the wheel of the hay hauler, and as we approached the pass, we decided to pull over and check on some things. Not used to the top-heavy load, Bill steered the truck up a slanted incline by the edge of the road—and a third of the hay fell off the trailer.
We were tired, out of water, and had no loader. The only way we could reload all those bales was by hand. Using hay hooks we stacked the bales much higher at the front of the trailer, lowering the load gradually as we worked to the back of the trailer.
We were terribly dehydrated and far from any water source. We drove for many miles before we found a coffee shop, ran in, sat down, and cried out for water. The waitress brought two glasses full; we gulped them down and asked for more. Seeing our desperation, she brought a pitcher full, and we immediately drained it.
That experience helps me understand Jesus’ words, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied” (Mt. 5:6). When we realize we are exhausted from trying to be good enough and are ready to give up, when we realize we are dying of spiritual dehydration and our spiritual energy gauge points to empty, then we realize how good, how refreshing, how nourishing the gospel is. It will bring real, lasting peace, joy, and true rest. The gospel is good news for everyone!
Rejoicing safeguards our faith
Many of us know the surpassing joy of trusting Jesus and His payment for our sin and the surprising reality of being born again. Once we are made alive in Christ, though, how can we stay engaged with the gospel and not fall into apathy or discouragement? Paul’s letter to the Philippians offers us insight. Most likely written during Paul’s house arrest in Rome, this letter is, nevertheless, known as the epistle of joy. In chapter 3:1-11 he helps us understand how the Lord Jesus has rescued us from ourselves, given us hope, and provided for our eternity with Him:
Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things again is no trouble to me, and it is a safeguard for you. Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of the false circumcision; for we are the true circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh, although I myself might have confidence even in the flesh. If anyone else has a mind to put confidence in the flesh, I far more: circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless. But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead (Phil. 3:1-11).
In verse one, Paul comes back to a central theme in this letter: joy and rejoicing: “Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things again is no trouble to me, and it is a safeguard for you.”
The first word, “finally”, marks a transition in this letter. In the last part of chapter two Paul has been telling the Philippians how he hopes to send Timothy, his son in the gospel, to them, and he reminds them how God has had mercy on Epaphroditus and tells them to keep rejoicing in the Lord—even when facing suffering and opposition. Suffering with joy, in fact, was something they had understood from the founding of their church. The story is recorded in Acts 16:22-33:
The crowd rose up together against them, and the chief magistrates tore their robes off them and proceeded to order them to be beaten with rods. When they had struck them with many blows, they threw them into prison, commanding the jailer to guard them securely; and he, having received such a command, threw them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks. But about midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns of praise to God, and the prisoners were listening to them; [here we see how suffering and joy can be combined] and suddenly there came a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison house were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone's chains were unfastened. When the jailer awoke and saw the prison doors opened, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, supposing that the prisoners had escaped. But Paul cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here!” And he called for lights and rushed in, and trembling with fear he fell down before Paul and Silas, and after he brought them out, he said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” [Here it is, the simple gospel.] They said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” And they spoke the word of the Lord to him together with all who were in his house. And he took them that very hour of the night and washed their wounds, and immediately he was baptized, he and all his household.
The Philippian church understood Paul’s admonition: “Rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things again is no trouble to me, and it is a safeguard for you.” Rejoicing is a safeguard to us as well. When suffering and opposition come to us, and they will, we are to rejoice in the Lord, singing hymns to God, knowing that God is right now working all things together for our good and His glory.
Having reminded the Philippians to keep rejoicing in the Lord, Paul, with graphic words, gives three descriptions of and warnings against the Judaizers who would steal their joy if given opportunity:
Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of the false circumcision (Phil. 3:2).
Who are these Judaizers?
We find a summary of their teachings in Acts 15: “But some of the sect of the Pharisees who had believed stood up, saying, ‘It is necessary [and that is the key word] to circumcise them and to direct them to observe the Law of Moses’” (Act 15:5). Notice that they said, “It is necessary to circumcise them and to direct them to observe the Law of Moses.” In other words, faith in Christ was not sufficient.
“Sure,” they would say, “faith in Christ is important, but one must teach these Gentiles coming into the Christian church that they must be circumcised, and they must keep the Law of Moses.”
The term “Gentiles” refers to anyone who was not a Jew. Jews understood circumcision, the sign which God had given to Abraham, to be the covenant sign that entitled one to be under the Law as one of God’s covenant people. For example, Jewish boys had to be circumcised at eight days old to become part of the covenant community, and believing Gentiles had to be circumcised in order to become part of the Israelite community. Thus, as Gentiles became Christians, the Judaizers believed the converts had to be circumcised and had to place themselves under that law in order to be truly part of God’s people. The key parts of the law of Moses that the Judaizers were enforcing included: worshiping on Sabbath, new moons, the annual feasts of Israel, and eating only kosher food. The sign that one was observing all these laws was circumcision—the entrance sign into the covenant community that God gave to Abraham and repeated in the Law of Moses.
Beware of the dogs
Now we’ll examine Paul’s three warnings against the Judaizers. What does Paul mean calling them dogs?
When Carolyn and I go on our daily walk, we go by a home that has three huge dogs that bark at us: one Great Dane, one Mastiff, and one St. Bernard. Their deep-throated barks warn us, “Beware of the dogs”. However, well-loved family guard dogs are not what Paul has in mind. In his day, while there were little dogs that were family pets that ate the crumbs that fell from the children’s table, most dogs were wild scavengers that would roam the streets looking for a free lunch wherever they could find it.
That kind of scavenging is exactly what the Judaizers did. They would wait until Paul and his companions had done the work to form a Christian church, then they would sneak in behind them with a false gospel and win over the converts’ allegiance.
Today the same thing is taking place; it’s just packaged differently. Today, beware when two nicely dressed young men in white shirts knock on your door. Beware when people come to your door handing out the latest edition of Watchtower and telling you that Christ is not God, that the Holy Spirit is not a person, and that Christ died on a “torture stake” and not a cross. Beware when your mail contains a highly-colored graphic advertising a prophecy seminar that will explain the mark of the beast and the United States in prophecy.
All of these movements are out to capture and convince undiscerning people, threatening they will not be saved unless one joins their religion. Yes, beware of those proselytizers who prey on those who are not well-grounded in biblical truth.
Beware of evil workers
Beware of evil workers who would like to put you into bondage. Today there are modern Judaizers who teach that Christians must keep Saturday as the Sabbath as well as the new moon celebrations and annual feasts commanded in the Old Testament.
Others teach that unless one speaks in tongues, he or she has not received the Holy Spirit and is not a first class Christian. Still others believe one must interpret the Scripture through the writings of their prophet in order to avoid being deceived by his or her own Bible study.
Some modern Judaizers are promoting the idea that unless one uses the Hebrew or Aramaic names for God such as YHWH and Yhashawa, one is either not pleasing God or is worshiping a pagan God. Yes, beware of evil workers.
Beware of false circumcision
Beware of the false circumcision, or people who put on a front of holiness or spirituality to cover persistent sin. Two extreme examples come to my mind.
First, when I was pastoring in Santa Cruz, California, there was a lady who claimed to be fully sanctified. True, when we are “in Christ” we are declared to be perfectly holy, but imputed holiness was not what she had in mind. She said she was living above sin. After one Sunday night service we were talking, and then she looked at her watch and said, “Oh, I need to run; it is almost time for…” and she mentioned a TV program that I believed one who was “fully sanctified” would not watch.
The second example was at a large Adventist gathering also in Santa Cruz, California. Carolyn and I were introduced to a twenty-something woman who claimed to be sinless. I told her that Paul never claimed sinlessness and asked her if she had bypassed Paul in righteousness, and she said “Yes”. Later, I found out that she was living with a man who was not her husband.
The message of Paul comes through clearly today:
• Beware of those who proselytize believing Christians with a counterfeit gospel.
• Beware of false teachers who seek to put one under bondage.
• Beware of those who put on a front of holiness by promoting their own righteousness.
True believers defined
Paul has just given us three characteristics of the Judaizers, now he will give us three features that describe true believers:
For we are the true circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh (Phil. 3:3).
First, we—those who have trusted Christ and have been born again—are the true circumcision. We are those who receive the promise of righteousness given to Abraham, not because of any outward sign, but because we have the faith of Abraham (Rom. 4:13-16).
Second, we, the “true circumcision”, worship in the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus. As Jesus said to the woman of Samaria, “God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” In other words, true spiritual worship is not demonstrated by following a rigid list of prescribed duties, but true worship springs from a grateful heart for what Christ has done for us at the cross and every day since. My favorite worship song is “In Christ Alone.” Coming from a legalistic background and then experiencing the grace of God, my heart melts when I realize that the center of my faith is Christ alone—now and forevermore—and I no longer have to trust my legalistic performance for right standing with God.
Third, we put no confidence in the flesh. Paul expands on this fleshly confidence in the next three verses:
Although I myself might have confidence even in the flesh. If anyone else has a mind to put confidence in the flesh, I far more: circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless (Phil. 3:4-6).
For the Jews who prided themselves on being God’s chosen people in Abraham, personal heritage was very important. Pre-conversion Paul was no exception.
• “Circumcised the eighth day”, exactly as the law required. In other words, he was not a proselyte, someone who accepted the Jewish faith and was circumcised late in life. He was a Jew by birth.
• “Of the nation of Israel of the tribe of Benjamin.” He could trace his ancestry to one of the two existent tribes. There was no questioning his connection to Abraham. In fact, he was named after Saul, the first King of Israel, who was also of the tribe of Benjamin.
• “A Hebrew of Hebrews.” Both Paul’s father and mother were true Jews, and he could trace their ancestry—probably better than ancestry.com would have been able to trace it!
Now Paul moves to his personal performance as a Jew:
• “As to the law, a Pharisee.” In fact, in Acts 23 we learn that Paul was not only a Pharisee, but he was the son of a Pharisee. The Pharisees were strict law keepers; they knew the 613 laws of Torah and were the most diligent in keeping them.
• “As to zeal, a persecutor of the church.” Paul compares his zeal to that of the Judaizers who had enough zeal to follow him and to try to steal his converts. Paul, however, says in effect, “You think you have zeal? I had more; I was a persecutor of the church and tried to destroy it.”
• Paul saved the most important point in his personal performance list to the last. “As to the righteousness that is in the law, found blameless.” Wow. Who could match that? Paul has now shown that by their own standards of personal heritage and personal performance, he has trumped them!
What Paul does now is amazing. Using his own record of personal heritage and personal performance, he completely pulls the rug out from under the Judaizers. He shows that all their bragging about obedience is worthless:
But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ (Phil. 3:7).
Before Paul met Christ, he must have said to himself, “My personal heritage and personal performance were a real plus before God. God knows I am a real Jew. He knows my self-discipline, God knows I was an A student in the school of Gamaliel and graduated summa cum laude, God knows my personal obedience to the law.” Yet, when Paul met Christ, a major re-alignment took place. Paul states that these positive achievements he has now counted as loss for the sake of Christ. “Have counted” is in the perfect tense. Paul indicates he considered his heritage and performance carefully, and then he counted them once and for all nothing but loss.
Next, Paul expands his conclusion in verse 8:
More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ (Phil. 3:8).
Paul now says “all things”—not just his personal heritage and personal performance, but in comparison to the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus his Lord, he now counts all things as rubbish. In verse 7, Paul uses the perfect tense for “have counted” or “considered”, conveying the idea that he had made a once and for all decision. Now, in verse 8, he uses the present tense. “I still count this matter carefully,’’ he says in effect. “I still consider my decision to be once and for all, and unlike many politicians, I have not gone back on my evaluation. All my goodness—even my meticulous law keeping—when compared to the perfect righteousness of God, is nothing but rubbish.”
There has been much discussion about the meaning of the Greek word often translated “rubbish”. Some think it refers to a pile of manure; others say it can mean rotten hay, or compost—an interpretation I can endorse. We have a large lawn, and we planted clover in our orchard. I thought the clippings of the two plantings would make good compost, so I put together several old pallets to make a compost box and started putting those clippings into it. My sense of smell is somewhat diminished, yet I knew that something was cooking down inside that box.
Carolyn, who has a very keen sense of smell, kept telling me, “Dale, you are going to have to do something about your compost pile. It stinks.” I did nothing, however, and it kept growing as I kept adding new material—and yes, it kept cooking. One day when I was in the back yard, the neighbor came over and said, “I don’t know what you have going on over there, but we have company, and the smell from your pile is unbearable.”
Yes, it was a stinking mess, and a stinking mess is just what Paul meant. All his glorious heritage and all his personal performance, when compared to the righteousness of Christ, was like what was cooking in my compost pile. It stank.
Notice also Paul’s wording in verse 8, “in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” The way this phrase is written in Greek implies a personal knowledge, not just an intellectual conclusion. “Knowing” denotes personal experience—fellowship, communion, relationship, and trust.
Do you really know Christ Jesus as your Lord? Is this experience and relationship with Christ of sufficient value that it surpasses all things?
Righteousness from God
And may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith (Phil. 3:9).
When Carolyn and I were discovering the gospel as we were transitioning out of Adventism, this verse carried enormous insight for us. We were taught that righteousness was our “perfect obedience to the law”, and we did our best to be righteous. Yet here Paul clearly states he does not want to be found having his own righteousness derived from the law. Earlier he said that according to the righteousness that is in the law, he was found blameless. Now, however, he considers that personal righteousness to be nothing more than a rotting compost pile giving foul odors which disturb the neighbors.
What, then, is saving righteousness? Paul tells us in just a few words; it is “that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith.” This is such an enormously important verse on the topic of saving righteousness that I want us to consider it carefully. Let’s look at the what, the why, the where, the how, and the when of this righteousness.
1. What is saving righteousness? It is judicial righteousness. The word for righteousness is the root Greek word used for justification. We are counted righteous by a judicial declaration of God, not by our personal performance.
2. Why is saving righteousness judicial righteousness? Saving righteousness is the very “righteousness of God”, a much higher righteousness than the righteousness of a person keeping the law. We can’t achieve saving righteousness by obedience. We have to be given righteousness from outside ourselves.
3. Where is saving righteousness found? Saving righteousness is found only “in Christ”.
4. How do we get saving righteousness? It comes from God on the basis of faith.
5. When do we get this saving, judicial righteousness of God that is “in Christ” by faith? When we hear the simple yet profound gospel—that Christ died for our sins, was buried and was raised to life the third day for our justification and was seen by a number of credible witnesses after His resurrection—the Holy Spirit is present to give saving faith. Even right now. Yes, you can rejoice with Paul in the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. If you respond, recognizing that all your good works are only a stinking compost pile when compared to the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus as your Lord, and if you cry out to God, “Save me, I know I am a sinner, I now trust only in the righteousness that is in Christ,” He will save you.
Paul clarifies the “when” of salvation in Ephesians 1:13.
In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation—having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise.
Understanding saving righteousness was a major insight as Carolyn and I were transitioning out of Adventism. There is nothing we can boast about, because saving righteousness is always in Christ.
Understanding what it means to be in Christ reveals so many magnificent and precious promises. This discovery makes it possible to understand what Paul means when he speaks about the “surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.”
That I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead (Phil. 3:10-11).
In these verses, Paul is restating what God did for him when He appeared to him and blinded him with His glory, causing Paul to surrender to the One whom he had been persecuting. The story is recorded in Acts 9. Paul didn’t just decide to “follow Jesus”. The risen Lord appeared to Him and overwhelmed him with who He is. Jesus shattered Paul’s misconceptions, and Paul repented and submitted to His Lord. Not only did the Lord Jesus bring Paul to spiritual life, but He said, “I will show him how much he must suffer for My name’s sake.” (Act 9:16).
In 2 Timothy 2:11, Paul reiterated his commitment:
It is a trustworthy statement: For if we died with Him, we will also live with Him; If we endure, we will also reign with Him; If we deny Him, He also will deny us; If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself (2 Tim 2:11-13).
Paul made the decision once and for all, and he never looked back. He was going to trust Christ’s righteousness and be found in Him. In good times, in bad times, in life, and in death—he knew “the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.”
Perhaps one reason this passage in Philippians is so meaningful to me is that, like Paul, I, too, was a legalistic “Pharisee”.
Early in our marriage Carolyn and I were living in Cornville, Arizona. I had been working night and day for much of one week, helping one of Carolyn’s cousins move, when I became terribly sick with a high fever. After going to the doctor daily for about a week, he decided I had diphtheria and sent me to a hospital in Phoenix.
When we arrived, they informed us that they did not have a contagious diseases ward; consequently, they quarantined me in a motel, and the doctors came there to see me. I was so congested that whenever I dropped off to sleep, my choking would awaken me. After two sleepless days and nights, I knew my condition was not only not improving, but I knew I was at death’s door. I was terrified to die.
Like Paul, however, I had a legalistic righteousness. I had a good personal heritage and good personal performance in Adventism. My grandfather had been a missionary and a pastor. My grandmother was a paid evangelistic Bible worker, and my grandmother’s brother was a vice-president of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. My uncle was an Adventist pastor, and both my father and my mother had taught school in the Adventist school system. In fact, when I was just a baby, my parents were self-supporting missionaries and raised up a little church in the jungles of Panama.
As far as personal performance according to the laws of Adventism was concerned, I ranked high. I had never been to a movie theater; I had never been to a circus or carnival; I had never been to a pool hall, and I had never been to a bowling alley. I never had smoked—well, except once or twice as a kid in North Carolina when I smoked on a home-made corn-cob pipe using pencil-sharpener shavings for tobacco! I never had a beer, a glass of wine, or any alcohol. I never had sex outside of marriage. I was a vegetarian and had only eaten meat two or three times in my whole life. I very seldom had a coke or other caffeinated drink. I did not drink coffee, tea, or use pepper. I had gotten A grades in Bible class and had studied my Sabbath School lesson usually 7 times each week. I had participated in door to door church activities and was a deacon in the church.
Why do I mention all these things? I certainly am not bragging; in fact, seeing my almost-perfect Adventist observances listed and remembering how pious they made me feel is almost embarrassing. Rather, I tell you these things to reinforce the message of Paul to the Philippians. Within my Adventist world, I was righteous.
Yet when I was facing death, I was terrified. I knew I was not ready to meet God. Even though I could give God a list of my heritage and personal performance, they brought me no assurance before Him.
Even though I had a high fever, I could think. I began repeating Bible verses I had leaned through the years in the King James Version, and then I said 1 John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
Suddenly, for the first time in my life, I understood what that verse said. I had memorized it in Bible class years before, but the truth never hit home in my soul until that day when I was terrified, facing death.
For the first time I realized that all I had to do was confess my sins. I simply had to admit that I was a sinner, and then God would do the forgiving, God would do the cleansing. Because of Jesus’ sacrifice, God would forgive my sin. Suddenly, peace came into my soul that I had never known before. Suddenly I was no longer afraid to die. Now I could commune with God as I had never done before. I told God that I wanted to live to support my beloved Carolyn and two little boys. I told Him that I would do whatever He wanted me to do as long as He made His will clear to me.
Then I said, “I will even go back to college and study theology if you want me to be a pastor.” Being a pastor was the farthest thing from my personal desires, but now I knew I wanted to do God’s will above all.
Almost immediately the fever and the congestion began to improve, and within two or three days, I was well. God did open doors I could not have pried apart, and I did go to the Adventist Pacific Union College and then to the seminary at Andrews University and studied theology. What I had no way of knowing in advance was this: in the course of delving into my Adventist theology classes, I began to see inconsistencies between Adventism and Scripture. I spent hours studying and asking questions of my professors, but no one could give me satisfactory answers.
As God revealed to the zealous but unbelieving Saul the truth of who Jesus is and the mystery of the new covenant, transforming him into Paul, the apostle to the gentiles, so He revealed to me the errors of what I believed to be truth and showed me how the finished work of Jesus shatters the deception of Adventism.
Today I cannot take the gospel for granted. God the Son became a man and died for my sin. He was buried in a tomb, and he rose to life three days later. Because of Jesus, God has credited me with the personal righteousness of Jesus Christ—it is not righteousness of my own, and it is not related to the law. This righteousness comes from God on the basis of faith in Christ, and because of it, I know Him. My future is secure.
The gospel is good news for those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, and the promise is for you: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied” (Mt. 5:6).
Like those two dehydrated hay haulers gulped down that pitcherful of cool water, drink deeply of the gospel God offers you. You will be satisfied. †
Copyright 2016 Life Assurance Ministries, Inc., Camp Verde, Arizona, USA. All rights reserved. Revised June 7, 2016. Contact email: firstname.lastname@example.org