“If anyone had good reasons for self-confidence in their achievements (as if they could purchase salvation), it surely would be me. I was circumcised when I was eight days old. I am an Israelite by race and a Hebrew by birth: a full-blooded Jew. As a zealous Pharisee, I persecuted the Church with bitter hatred. I was immaculate by the standards of legal righteousness to the minutest detail and no fault could be found in me. But all things that I once held to be assets I now consider as liabilities, for compared to knowing Christ they are valueless.” (paraphrased)
Paul realizes all the combined merits of his old life can not purchase his salvation. Although he does not totally disregard his accomplishments, he discovers salvation through Christ is the answer, not human achievement. He knows the sum of all his educational merits are of no benefit in attempting to know Christ personally.
To gain a more complete understanding concerning what Paul achieves prior to his conversion, read Romans 9:4-5 and II Corinthians 11:22.
Here in Philippians 3:5, Paul gives a short list of his secular advantages:
A. A circumcised Jewish infant
The eighth day after birth is the official day required by Jewish law for infant circumcision (Gen. 17:12 & Lev. 12:3). Converts to the Jewish faith (called proselytes) are circumcised as adults.
B. An Israelite
Paul is a direct descendant of the great patriarch Jacob. He knows his ancestry and is able to trace his roots. He is not a proselyte, nor was any of his ancestors.
C. A Benjamite
Benjamin is the only son of Jacob born in the Holy Land (Genesis 35). This tribe tends to be loyal to God and the temple rituals. Paul belongs to this honorable tribe that remains faithful to the royal house of David (Rom.11:1).
D. A Hebrew of Hebrew parentage
His parents name Saul after Israel’s first king, who also is a member of the tribe of Benjamin. Both parents are untainted by any trace of Gentile heritage. As a full-blood Jew, he speaks the Hebrew language and maintains Jewish customs.
E. A Pharisee
As a further verification of his love and adherence to Jewish law, Paul states he is a Pharisee. The word “Pharisee” means “separated one;” a person who voluntarily separates himself from everything impure (Acts 26:5). In Paul’s day, this elite sect numbers about six thousand. As the orthodox defenders of the Mosaic Law, they are the strictest of the Jewish hierarchal groups.
F. A persecutor of Christians
As a proof of his zealousness, Saul (who becomes Paul) pro-actively persecutes and prosecutes Christians (Galatians 1:13-14). He causes havoc and scatters the infant Church (Acts 8:3-4). He breathes out threatening and slaughter against Believers of both genders (Acts 9:1-2). Paul’s religion drives him to attempt to eliminate what he perceives as a great threat to the Jewish religion until He meets Jesus on the Damascus Road.
Paul epitomizes legalistic righteousness. As he considers his rich heritage and education, Paul knows if anyone can be saved by adherence to Jewish laws it will be himself. In both education and zeal, he is beyond reproach. However, the superficial trappings of religion ultimately give way to the reality of the risen Christ. Prior to his conversion, Paul claims he is guiltless of violating Jewish laws. However, after he encounters Jesus, he considers himself “the chief of sinners” (I Tim. 1:15).
CERTIFICATION – STUDY QUESTIONS
1. Paul noted he is:
A. a full-blood Jew
B. a half-breed
C. had some Jewish blood
D. over forty years old
E. none of the above
2. Paul is from which of the following tribes?
3. According to Acts 22:25-27, Paul is also:
A. a Samaritan
B. a Sadducee
C. a Roman citizen
D. an Arab
E. a Cyrenian
4. According to Acts 22:3, Paul has the advantage of being taught by the great:
B. Roman teachers
CERTIFICATION – REFLECTION
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS FOR COUPLES
1. List some things people delude themselves into thinking will guarantee their righteousness before God.
2. Discuss what badges of pride you and your spouse wore before you came to know Christ.
3. Paul’s parentage plays a key role in his struggles to be righteous before God. Discuss the positive or negative influence your parents had upon your spiritual life.
ESSAY QUESTIONS FOR INDIVIDUALS
1. List some things that people delude themselves into believing will guarantee their righteousness before God.
2. List any badges of pride you wore before you came to know Christ.
3. Paul’s parentage plays a key role in his struggles to be righteous before God. Write a paragraph concerning the positive or negative influence your parents had upon your spiritual life.