From his Roman jail, Paul had time to reflect on his early life as a Pharisee and a religious zealot. “I have reasons for confidence in the flesh. If anyone else thinks he has grounds for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised the eighth day; of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; regarding the law, a Pharisee; regarding zeal, persecuting the church; regarding the righteousness that is in the law, blameless”(Philippians 3:4). Paul was a religious big-shot!
But after meeting Christ, all of Paul’s own proud accomplishments, his accolades and his honors became worthless. He “consider them as dung” (Philippians 3:8). “Everything that was a gain to me, I have considered to be a loss because of Christ” (Philippians 3:7). Paul’s supreme hope, the sole desire of his heart was to “gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own from the law, but one that is through faith in Christ—the righteousness from God based on faith” (Philippians 3:7).
Paul clearly proclaimed that salvation is granted as a gift, given by God and received by the faithful recipient. “For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift—not from works, so that no one can boast.” But don’t stop reading there. He continues, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time for us to do” (Ephesians 2:8–10)
Mankind is saved from eternal death by grace alone, through faith alone, in Jesus alone. Mankind is not saved by works, but mankind is saved to accomplish “good works.”
Paul compares the hard-working Christian disciple to the Olympic athlete. The well-trained competitor runs the race with singleness of purpose. Nothing else matters. “Forgetting what is behind and reaching forward to what is ahead, I pursue as my goal the prize promised by God’s heavenly call in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13–14). “Don’t you know that the runners in a stadium all race, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way to win the prize. Now everyone who competes exercises self-control in everything. They do it to receive a perishable crown, but we an imperishable crown. So I do not run like one who runs aimlessly or box like one beating the air. Instead, I discipline my body and bring it under strict control” (1 Corinthians 9:24–27).
At the end of Paul’s life, he could confidently, yet humbly, write, “For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time for my departure is close. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. There is reserved for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give me on that day, and not only to me, but to all those who have loved his appearing” (2 Timothy 4:6–8).
At the risk of being redundant ... Mankind is saved from eternal death by grace alone, through faith alone, in Jesus alone. Mankind is not saved by works, but mankind is saved to accomplish “good works.”
Like the Olympian, like Paul, we should “run with endurance the race that lies before us, (not in order to be saved, but because we are saved) keeping our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith. For the joy that lay before him, he endured the cross, despising the shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:1–2).
All Scripture quotations, except as otherwise noted, are from
Holman Bible Publishers’ Christian Standard Bible.