Bible Study Lessons

Good Works Can’t Get You to Heaven


Darren was pushing his cart into the checkout lane at his local grocery when a police officer interrupted him. “You’re under arrest.” Darren was stunned and demanded, “What did I do?” The officer was calm but firm in his response. “You know. You escaped from the penitentiary several years ago and went west. After you got married, you came back to live here.” Dejected, Darren nodded. “May we stop by my house to talk to my family on the way?” he asked. At home, Darren told the officer about what a kind husband and good father he was and asked his wife to confirm it. He expected his new record as a good family man would cancel out his past criminal record. But he was still an escaped criminal. Each of us has broken God's law. No matter how many good things we do, we cannot undo our past record of sin which deserves death as its sentence. Only trusting in Jesus Christ who died in our place can make us right with God. Learn more about why good works can’t save us and how to worship God rightly in this study of Philippians 3:1-6.



Before beginning to study this passage, ask the Lord to give you understanding and wisdom through it so that you can know and live His will for you.

Read Focus Verses

Read Philippians 3:1-6 and try to pick out what ties these verses together.

Not This

What does this passage say Christians do not do?

But This

What does this passage say Christians do instead?

Keyword - Flesh

Marking the word flesh will help you remember what Christians do not have confidence in.

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Not in the Flesh

Mark the word flesh as it appears in Philippians 3:1-6.

Keyword - Spirit

Marking the word spirit will help you remember how Christians worship God instead.

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Spirit, Spirit of God

Worshiping in the Spirit

Mark the word spirit as it appears in Philippians 3:1-6.


What is the first command in Philippians 3?


Why does Paul say he is repeating himself?


Of what are Christians to beware according to verse 2?

Keyword - Rejoice

The words rejoice and joy are repeated frequently in these last two chapters of Philippians.



Mark the word rejoice both times it appears in today's passage.


Who had more cause to have confidence in the flesh than anyone else?


What things does Paul mention about himself in verses 5-6 that used to be his confidence?


Read Philippians 3:7-14 for context to understand better what is being said in today's passage.



Philippians 3 opens with a thought that is based on the previous chapters. Read Philippians 2:1-16 to understand the background of the command to rejoice in the Lord.


Why should those truths lead Christians to rejoice in the Lord?

Humility and Rejoicing

Chapter 2 speaks of humility. Why is rejoicing in the Lord the natural result of true humility?

In the Lord

The command is repeated in Philippians 4:4.


What does the added "always" in Philippians 4:4 mean?

Remember His Holiness

Psalm 97:12 tells us one of the things rejoicing in the Lord will look like.

Rejoice in the Lord

What will rejoicing in the Lord look like?


In 2 Peter 1:12-15 we see Peter also says he is reminding the believers of things they already know.


Why does God want us to be reminded of the things we know in Scripture?


How could you use these verses about God wanting us constantly reminded of the things we know through His Word to explain why Christians are to read the Bible over and over again?


The dogs used as an analogy in verse 2 of today's passage were not friendly house pets. They were ferocious scavengers. They were dirty, wild, and dangerous. Why did God choose that analogy for these people who were working evil and drawing people away from Christ and the gospel through their false religions of works?

In Sheep's Clothing

In Matthew 7:15 Jesus warns us that not all of these evildoers will be immediately obvious as such.

As Angels of Light

2 Corinthians 11:13-14 further reinforces this.

Further Defined

We are told more about these people in Philippians 3:18-19.


In Philippians 2:19-23 we see an example of someone exactly opposite to this description of these evil workers.


What is the difference between these two descriptions of people, and how does their motivation impact their lives?

What They Do

Titus 1:16 tells us how to identify these people.

Their Works

How are we to identify those who are working evil and denying the gospel of Christ?


In Genesis 17:11-12 God gave circumcision as a sign to Abraham which all his male descendants were to be given on the eighth day (as Paul says he was in verse 5 of today's passage) to remind them that they were distinct.


In Deuteronomy 10:16 we see that God intended circumcision to serve as a sign of the work He wanted to do in the hearts of His people.


In Ephesians 2:11-22 we see that Christ's death fulfilled the Law of Moses so that uncircumcised people (non-Israelites) could be part of God's people.

Either Way

In 1 Corinthians 7:17-19 we see that Christ's fulfilment of the Law was so complete that circumcision no longer matters. Both Jews (circumcised) and Gentiles (uncircumcised) were equally welcomed by God.

A Good Show

Throughout the New Testament, though, we see that groups of religious teachers were going into the churches and teaching that the Gentile (non-Jewish) believers needed to be circumcised to please God. We see one of the discussions of this in Galatians 6:12-16.


Today's passage explains why this matters in verse 3. What did those people teaching that circumcision was necessary for true salvation put their confidence in according to that verse?

In Spirit

Even in the Old Testament, circumcision didn't save a person - there were many people who were circumcised but did not have faith in God. We see one instance of this in Hebrews 3:7-12.

Lest We Should Boast

Notice what Ephesians 2:8-10 says about works and salvation.


According to Ephesians 2:8-10, is there anything we can do to get or earn salvation?


When, according to Ephesians 2:8-10, do good works come in - before or after salvation?


Based on Ephesians 2:8-10 (and the rest of Scripture), why was it so wrong for these false teachers to put confidence in the flesh and the things they could do to try to earn salvation?


This article helps summarize what the Bible teaches about the relationship between good works and salvation - No amount of good works can save us because only death can pay for our sins. Even our best works are not pure and holy so that God could accept them. But once we have trusted in Jesus Christ to save us because He died in our place to pay for our sins and give us His perfect righteousness, we will start to do the things that please Him because we love Him and He has changed our nature so that we can do what is right and please Him.

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Using these Scriptures, how would you explain to someone that works like circumcision cannot save a person?


Why do God's people not need to be circumcised to obey God anymore (like they had to in the Old Testament before Jesus Christ lived and died) according to these verses you've seen?


Circumcision isn't a big deal for most of us today, but there are other things people try to get us to do to be right with God on our own or to add to salvation. What are some of these things which we are tempted to trust in to save us?

In the Spirit

In verse 3 of today's passage we see that true believers worship God in the Spirit. Notice that this is what Jesus says in John 4:23-24.

The Spirit's Work

Romans 8:9-15 tells us more about how the Spirit lives in Christians to help them worship God in a way that pleases Him.

Spirit vs. Flesh

What does it mean to worship God in the Spirit instead of our own strength in the flesh?


Paul had an unquestionable resume. There wasn't anyone else who could claim to be a better person than him with all his religious training, pure ancestry, and good life. He had even been a Pharisee - people considered the strictest religious people of his day. Notice what he says about all of that in Philippians 3:7-11.


How did Paul have to learn to think about all of his religious accomplishments in order to come to Christ for salvation?


In Romans 3:23 we see that even the most righteous person (other than the Lord Jesus Christ) who has ever lived is a sinner.

Death and a Gift

Romans 6:23 tells us what this means and what God has done about it.

In Our Place

In 1 Peter 2:24 we see that Jesus Christ, who was perfect and didn't deserve death, took our sins on His account and died in our place.

In Him

2 Corinthians 5:21 explains that not only does Christ take the sin from our account when we trust in Him, He gives us the obedience and righteousness of His account and makes it ours.


Romans 10:9-13 explains how to make this gift of salvation your own.

Works and Faith

How could you use these verses to explain the way to accept God's gift of salvation to someone who has been trusting in their good works to get them to heaven so that they can be saved and forgiven?

In Your Words

In your own words, how would you summarize what today's passage teaches about the difference between trusting in our own works versus God's works, and how a person can truly worship God?


In the Flesh

Have you been trusting that your good works can get you to heaven? What has God shown you about that through today's passage?

In the Spirit

Do you need to stop trusting in your own efforts to try to save you and instead trust in Jesus' righteousness to allow you to go to heaven?


How can you remind yourself that Jesus Christ has done all of the work for your salvation and it is a free gift, and that you now should desire to please Him and do good works because He has died for you?


What are some things you can rejoice in the Lord in that you've seen or been reminded of in this study?



We hope this study has helped you understand why we cannot trust in our good works to save us, and challenged you to trust in Christ alone and worship God through the Spirit.


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