2 Watch out for those dogs, those people who do evil, those mutilators who say you must be circumcised to be saved. 3 For we who worship by the Spirit of God are the ones who are truly circumcised. We rely on what Christ Jesus has done for us. We put no confidence in human effort, 4 though I could have confidence in my own effort if anyone could. Indeed, if others have reason for confidence in their own efforts, I have even more! 5 I was circumcised when I was eight days old. I am a pure-blooded citizen of Israel and a member of the tribe of Benjamin—a real Hebrew if there ever was one! I was a member of the Pharisees, who demand the strictest obedience to the Jewish law. 6 I was so zealous that I harshly persecuted the church. And as for righteousness, I obeyed the law without fault.
“Watch out for those dogs” are very strong words of warning coming from Paul. The word used for “dogs” gave his readers the picture of dirty scavengers that often roamed in packs feeding on garbage. These “dogs” – these “men who do evil” were actually religious legalists just like Paul had been at one time (vv.4-6). Paul was warning the Christ-followers at Philippi to watch out for these men, because they taught the false doctrine that people could be saved by their works. Paul was reminding them again that no ritual of any kind can save you. For Believers, we observe some rituals (ordinances) like communion and baptism, but they are outward expressions of an inner change that takes place when we place our faith in Jesus Christ for salvation, and have nothing to do with our being saved.
For the Jew, circumcision was a mark of God’s covenant with them. The Jews observed many outward religious acts and ceremonies, but these Jews Paul referred to had hearts that were far from God. According to Paul, their rituals did nothing to draw them close to God.
Paul claimed that Believers were the true “circumcision” because Believers have a truly changed heart which comes from repentance and faith in Jesus Christ. He said true Believers worship; when we live in such a way that honors and serves God. This ability is made possible by the power of God’s Spirit who lives in us. Paul said true Believers make their boast in Jesus Christ; they give all the credit for their salvation and life-change to Jesus Christ – not to anything they’ve done. And Paul says true Believers put no confidence in the flesh; our confidence and joy is in Jesus Christ and what He has done for us.
Isn’t it great to rejoice in the fact that when we put our faith and trust in Jesus Christ, we don’t have to observe a lot of legalistic rituals or rules to be right with God. Paul wrote in Galatians 2:21 that if we can be made right with or acceptable to God by obeying the law, then it was useless for Jesus to die on the cross.
As Paul told these Believers earlier; we are to live pure lives in the midst of a depraved culture – we are to shine like stars in the midst of much darkness (Phil. 2:14-16). Our joy comes when we strive to live pure and blameless lives – not to gain favor with God, but because we already have that favor through our faith in Jesus Christ. God’s grace is amazing!