“Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord. It is no trouble for me to write the same things to you again, and it is a safeguard for you. Watch out for those dogs, those workers of evil, those mutilators of the flesh! For it is we who are the circumcision, we who worship by the Spirit of God, who glory in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh.”
So often when people comment on the meaning of a verse, or apply a verse to their lives, they do so without first determining the author’s original meaning of the verse.
This is a common mistake.
To understand Philippians 3:1-3, we must first discover Paul’s, the author of Philippians, original meaning of these verses.
After making this discovery, then we will know the meaning of the verse and can apply it to our lives properly.
In these verses, Paul mentions the word “circumcision”.
Circumcision was God’s way of identifying the people of Israel as his very own.
The act of circumcision separated the people of Israel from the other nations.
To understand what Paul was referring to in these verses regarding circumcision, we must be familiar with Israel and the law.
God gave the law to Israel.
His desire was they would follow the law so they could be blessed and shine as a light of truth to the Gentile nations.
Yet if they did not follow the law, they would be cursed (Deuteronomy 29-30) and the Gentile nations would take them into captivity.
However, God knew they could not follow the law because their hearts were sinful.
Therefore, in Deuteronomy 30:6, God told the people of Israel he would circumcise their hearts and the hearts of their descendants so they could love him with all their heart and soul.
“The Lord your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants, so that you may love him with all your heart and with all your soul, and live.” (Deuteronomy 30:6)
God knew the people of Israel could not obey the law because their hearts were not filled with love; hence, the reason for the law.
Also, God knew the law could not change their hearts so that they could love. Consequently, their hearts needed to be changed.
A spiritual surgery would need to be done on the hearts of the people of Israel so they could love God and live. God would perform this spiritual surgery by his Spirit (Ezekiel 36:26).
Paul references this spiritual surgery in Romans 3:29:
“No, a person is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code.”
Now, to understand what Paul means in Romans 3:29, we must first review the context of this verse.
In Romans 1, 2, and 3, Paul teaches that neither the Gentiles nor the Jews are righteous before God.
Both have violated the law.
The Gentiles, who had the regulations of the law written on their hearts, violated the law (Romans 2:14-16).
The Jews, who had the law given to them by God, violated the law (Romans 2:17-2).
So both Jews and Gentiles were guilty of breaking the law, resulting in being unrighteous before God and revealing their need for grace (Romans 3:9-26).
The Jews believed that through the ritualistic practice of circumcision a person was a Jew, a worshipper of God, a child of God...someone who was in right relationship with God.
In Romans 2:25-27, Paul corrects their theological view of circumcision by writing:
“Circumcision has value if you observe the law, but if you break the law [which the Jews did], you have become as though you had not been circumcised. So then, if those who are not circumcised keep the law’s requirements, will they not be regarded as though they were circumcised? The one who is not circumcised physically and yet obeys the law will condemn you who, even though you have the written code and circumcision, are a lawbreaker.”
Paul is saying in these verses that the Jewish people’s ritualistic practice of circumcision is not what makes a person a true worshipper (in right relationship with God, connected to God in relationship) of God.
He is telling the Jews that circumcision is pointless if they are lawbreakers, which they were.
Paul then says in Romans 2:28-29 that those who are truly worshippers of God, those who are in right relationship with God and are God’s own children, are those whose hearts have been circumcised by the Spirit, not those who have been outwardly circumcised or follow the written code (the law).
“A person is not a Jew who is one only outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. No, a person is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a person’s praise is not from other people, but from God.” (Romans 2:28-29)
The Jews mistakenly believed that since they practiced the regulation of circumcision and followed the law (which they didn’t!), the written code, that they were God’s children...worshippers of God.
However, Paul makes it clear that it was those whose hearts had been circumcised by the Spirit who were God’s children, not those who practiced the external ritual of circumcision or sought to obey the law.
Paul makes this point in Romans 3-8.
In these chapters, he proves that everyone, Jew and Gentile alike, have all sinned, have broken the law, are unrighteous before God, and in need of grace.
Grace is everything God freely did for us in Jesus to forgive our sin, declare us not guilty, make us righteous in his sight, bring peace between us and himself, and reconcile us to himself in a love-relationship.
Obedience to the law or any religious ritual rule, regulation, or requirement, such as circumcision, could not do what God did freely for us by his grace in Jesus.
Paul writes in Romans 7 that those who have come to faith in Jesus have died to the law, which once bound them.
He says they have been released from the old rituals, regulations, and requirements of the law (written code) and now relate to God (worship, serve) in the new way the Spirit.
“But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.” (Romans 7:6)
According to Paul, the purpose of the law was to convince us of sin, condemn us for sin, and then lead us to Jesus righteousness and reconciliation to God, which comes by grace through faith.
Once a person receives God’s gift of grace through faith in Jesus, he is released from the law, no longer bound by it.
He is released from the bondage of all religious rules, rituals, and regulations.
Then, the Spirit of Jesus comes to live in the heart of that person.
This person now relates to God (worships) in a relationship of love with God as Father... Abba...Daddy...Papa, rather than in slavery to fear of God’s punishment as judge under the law.
Paul writes about this in Romans 8:14-16:
“For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children."
Paul teaches this same truth in Galatians 4:4-6:
"But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship. Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” "
Paul teaches in Galatians 5:18 that those who are led by the Spirit, or those who are led through life by calling God “Abba, Father”, are not under law.
He says they have been redeemed from the law and the Spirit of God now lives in their hearts, enabling them to call God “Abba, Father” or my Daddy who loves me (Galatians 4:4-7).
Paul teaches us that God loves us as dearly loved children (Ephesians 5:1) and we are being renewed in the image of God...which is an image of love (Colossians 3:10-13).
God’s love toward us is one of peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and compassion. As we are renewed in his love, we will love as he loves.
This is called the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23).
The Spirit fills us, deep within our inner being, with our Father’s love as we come to know how much he loves us, with the ultimate revelation of his love being the love of Christ demonstrated through his death (Ephesians 3:14-20).
This is the Spirit-filled life...the Spirit filling our hearts with the Father’s love.
Helping people understand the Spirit-filled life of love, in contrast to the law-filled life of fear, was at the heart of Paul’s teachings.
During his time, there were many religious leaders who continued to teach people that if they were to truly worship God, be one of his children, then they were to follow the rules, rituals, and requirements of the law, as well as be circumcised.
They taught the people that if they were not circumcised and did not follow the regulations of the law, meaning the law regulated or controlled one’s relationship with or worship of God, then they were not in right standing with God, righteous before God, or worshippers of God (Acts 15:1, 5).
This is exactly what was happening in Philippi, as well as in other cities where Paul had started grace-based churches.
These churches were free from practicing circumcision and from obeying the regulations of the law for righteousness before God.
They worshipped or related to God by the Spirit of Jesus in them, calling God “Abba (Daddy, Papa) Father”.
These religious leaders were infiltrating churches, demanding people be circumcised and follow the regulations of the law, in addition to faith in Jesus, if they were to truly be worshippers and children of God.
So what does Paul mean in Philippians 3:3 when he writes “For it is we who are the circumcision, we who worship by the Spirit of God, who glory in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh”?
With the understanding of the background regarding circumcision, we know Paul is saying that those who are truly the children of God, who worship or relate to God by the Spirit of Jesus in them, whereby they call God Abba, Daddy, or Papa, are those who no longer practice circumcision or follow the rules, rituals, and regulations of the law for righteousness before God.
According to Paul, those who are truly God’s children are those who take pride (glory in) in Jesus alone and all he did for them through his death and resurrection.
They take no pride at all in their religious practices, rules, rituals, are regulations. Their only confidence in relating to God (worship) and being righteous before him is in Jesus and what he did for them by grace, not what they do in adherence to their religious practices, rules, rituals, and requirements (confidence in the flesh).
Now that we understand what Paul meant in Philippians 3:1-3, how do these verses apply to us today?
So often, when the phrase “worship by the Spirit “is used, it is mistakenly applied to mean those who praise the Lord at a church worship service by singing worship songs or by speaking in tongues”.
They label themselves as those who “worship in the Spirit."
Other times, when the phrase “worship” is used, it is used to communicate a church’s “worship service” where the religious practices of the denomination are methodically followed.
It is also used by others to describe how “free people are to worship God in the worship service through praise and worship, unlike the “traditional dead church down the road.” In these churches, we may hear terms such as “the Spirit was really moving in the service today.”
Most of the modern day Protestant, Catholic, and Charismatic churches connect “worship by the Spirit” with a service, songs, and a sermon...some have a schedule and others does not.
Some say they are open to whatever the Spirit wants to do at their “worship service”, while others say a “worship service” should be done in an orderly way.
Both tend to look down upon the other as they take pride in their service over the other's.
Is this what Paul meant by “worship by the Spirit”?
Is it really a worship service filled with music from the praise and worship band and a message by the pastor?
Is it people free to worship and praise the Lord through singing or speaking in tongues?
Is it worshipping without a schedule so the Spirit will have freedom?
Is it worshipping with a schedule so all is done in an orderly way?
The answer to all of these is no.
These are just different preferences people have in the churches they choose to attend.
These are different styles of a church service, all which have nothing to do with what Paul meant by the phrase “worship by the Spirit”.
Biblically, to worship by the Spirit has absolutely nothing to do with a church “worship service” where people come together to sing and listen to a sermon.
What Paul meant by the phrase “worship by the Spirit” was that a person relates to God as his dearly loved child, knowing God as his loving Father through the Spirit of Jesus in his heart.
This person has been freed from the bondage of and confidence in religious practices that are often on full display in many church “worship services” across the world.
To worship by the Spirit means a person relates to God having been freed from the old covenant of the law and now relates to God through the Spirit of Jesus under the new covenant of grace.
Paul teaches on this in 2 Corinthians 3.
In 2 Corinthians 3:17-18, he writes “where the Spirit of the Lord is there is freedom.”
The Spirit of the Lord is in the heart of the believer and has freed the believer from the condemnation of the old covenant law.
The Spirit has written the truths of the new covenant on his heart.
The Spirit writes on the hearts of those who have come to faith in Jesus the truths that they are fully forgiven forever, under no condemnation, at peace with God, innocent before God, righteous before God, and in a love-relationship with God where they call God “Abba, Father”.
This person has been freed from the old covenant of law.
This is what Jesus was referring to when he told the Samaritan woman that the day would come when people would no longer worship, or relate to God, in a certain place or through religious practices, but they would relate to God in Spirit (his Spirit in a person’s heart, freeing them from the law and enabling a person to call God “Abba, Father”) and in truth (the truths of the new covenant written on their hearts) (John 4:24).
Jesus was not talking about a “church worship service” when talking to the Samaritan woman, but he was talking about a personal, loving relationship people would soon enjoy with his Father.
The same relationship he enjoyed with his Father.
So, in its biblical context, to worship by the Spirit has nothing to do with a worship service at a church where the praise band is playing praise and worship songs or hymns are being sung.
It has nothing to do with people speaking in tongues.
It has nothing to do with a service where there is “liberty” or one that is traditional.
To worship by the Spirit is confidently, by grace through faith in Jesus, relating to God as his dearly loved, forgiven, and accepted children where we call him “Abba, Father”, or my Daddy...my Papa who loves me.
Those who worship by the Spirit, or who relate to God as their loving Father, do not relate to God by the law.
They have been freed from the bondage to the law.
They now take pride in Christ alone and his finished work for them on the cross.
The do not seek to relate to God, connect to God, get close to God, stay in fellowship with God, acquire more forgiveness from God, or become righteous before God through any religious practice, rule, ritual, requirement or “worship service”.
They do not seek to please God or feel good about their standing before him through religious, denominational, or church practices.
They have been freed from them and now worship (relate to God) by the Spirit of Jesus in them in an open, honest, grace-based, love-laced relationship with him.
Please understand, I am not seeking to criticize church gatherings where people sing songs of praise to God.
But what saddens my heart is that most of the people who gather weekly to sing these praises to God, whether traditional or non-traditional, remain uneducated about the good news of God’s grace because their pastors and church staff are uneducated about or hostile to the new covenant of grace.
They are singing songs of praise to God, yet they do not understand the real source of praise, God’s grace.
Ephesians 1:6-8 says:
“...to the praise of His glorious grace, which He has freely given us in the Beloved One. In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace, that He lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding.”
It is only through understanding the truths of God’s grace, which God has freely and abundantly poured upon us through Jesus, that we can truly praise God.
This understanding of grace leads to a life of worship by the Spirit.
In this life of worship, enabled by the Spirit of Jesus in us, we relate to God daily as his dearly loved children, confident that we are completely forgiven and totally accepted by him, and assured he is our loving Father, where we are not under law, or under any religious, denomination, or church requirement or practice for righteousness before God.
Like Paul says in Philippians 3:3
“For it is we who are the circumcision, we who worship by the Spirit of God, who glory in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh.”
*To see my other teachings on Philippians, click below: