“But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ…”—Philippians 3:20 (ESV).
With the believers in Christ, them who have their righteousness in Him, there should follow in this life on earth the fruits of upright living, in obedience to God. These fruits constitute the good works acceptable to God, which, being works of faith and wrought in Christ, will be rewarded in the life to come.
But Paul has in mind the individuals who, rejecting faith in Christ, regard their self-directed lives, their humanly-wrought works, which conform to the Law, as righteousness availing in the sight of God. His reference is to them who so trust, though wholly ignorant of Christ, for whose sake, without any merit on our part, righteousness is imputed to us by God.
The only condition is we must believe in Christ; for He became man, died for our sins and rose from the dead, for the very purpose of liberating us from our sins and granting us his resurrection and life.
Toward the heavenly life we should tend, in our life here walking in harmony with it; as Paul says in conclusion: “Our citizenship is in heaven [not earthly and not confined to this temporal life only]; whence also we wait for a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ.”
If we have no knowledge, no consciousness, of this fact, it matters not how beautiful and praiseworthy our human, earthly righteousness may be, it is merely a hindrance and an injury.
For flesh and blood cannot help relying on its own righteousness and arrogantly boasting in this strain: “We are better, more honorable, more godly, than others. We Jews are the people of God and keep his Law.”
Even Christians are not wholly free from the pernicious (evil) influence of human holiness. They ever seek to bring their own works and merits before God. I know for myself what pains are inflicted by this godless wisdom, this figment of righteousness, and what effort must be made before the serpent’s head is bruised.
Now, this is the situation and there is no alternative: Either suffer hell or regard your human righteousness as loss and filth and endeavor not to be found relying on it at your last hour, in the presence of God and judgment, but rather stand in the righteousness of Christ.
In the garment of Christ’s righteousness and reared in him you may, in the resurrection from sin and death, meet Christ and exclaim: “Hail, beloved Lord and Saviour, you who has redeemed me from the wretched body of sin and death, and fashioned me like unto your holy, pure and glorious body!”
This devotion is an excerpt from Dr. Martin Luther’s sermon on Philippians 3:17-21 titled “The Enemies of the Cross of Christ”. It has been formatted easier reading. Happy Reformation!