Watch Lists and Warnings

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. Philippians 3:3

From Guest Blogger Amy Cox:

In the years since 9-11 we’ve become all too familiar with the concept of “terrorist watch lists” — collections of names of people suspected of harboring evil intentions toward our nation or our allies. People on a watch list are scrutinized in an attempt to assure they bring no harm to others. They are placed on a watch list for our safety and that of countless others. Paul provides an unflattering watch list of his own in Philippians 3:2, and like the watch lists of today his is intended to assure the safety of the Philippian believers and the rest of Christendom. Paul admonishes believers to “Watch out for those dogs, those evildoers, those mutilators of the flesh.” But who is he talking about?

Scholars believe Paul wrote Philippians around AD 60, a few years after the Jerusalem (or Apostolic) Council. The assembled council debated the assertion, raised by a group from Judea, that Gentiles needed to be circumcised according to Mosaic law, before they could be saved (Acts 15:1). Their decision was clear, affirming that Christians are saved solely by grace through Christ’s death and resurrection. Still, the Judean Christians, or Judaizers, continued to teach their erroneous and destructive principle. They are the “dogs,” “evildoers,” and “mutilators” Paul warns against. The Judaizers’ teaching ran contrary to Gospel truth and destructively emphasized human works, circumcision, and even the decision to be circumcised, as the gateway to salvation. Paul didn’t want anyone to be led astray so his warning had to be especially pointed, yet through it he demonstrated his love for Christ and his fellow believers.

Paul’s plea to guard against false teachings extends to us today. Our “Judaizers” today look and sound different than they did in Paul’s day. Those who point to their own achievements as if they win the favor of God … those who strut with pride that they have avoided sin, while castigating others as if their sins are worse than their own … these are just examples of “Judaizing,” works-based righteousness we can find in our own context. Paul says:  watch out for those “dogs,” and turn to Christ. He alone makes us right with God in a way that does not depend on our work, but on His grace!

Prayer: Lord, please help me always to remember that you are the real source of my salvation — “for it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast” (Eph. 2:8-9). Amen.


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