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 men who do 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—though I myself have reasons for such confidence. (Phil 3:1-6)
Present day usage might confine ‘flesh’ to a description of the rather grosser aspects of immorality. But, we learn what is our true state before God, and how incredibly marvelous is our Savior, only when we dismiss this popular conception from our minds, and accept that it is not only man at his worst but man at his best who is ‘flesh’ and, therefore, not yet acceptable to God. -John R. Stott
We simply cannot figure God out. His ways and his thoughts are so much higher than ours that unless he reveals his mind to us, we will always get him and ourselves wrong. That is why we not only need to know what God has done for us in Christ; we need to be constantly reminded of it. There is a self-exalting bent within us that always wants to take credit for the good that happens in our lives. When that happens, our confidence before God rests upon our works rather than his grace. It has devastating effects in the individual believer and in the Church.
The only way we can know just how bad we are is by hearing God’s judgment written down in the Scriptures. If we believe what is written there, outside of Christ, we have little reason for self-confidence. Paul shatters our self-esteem by pointing out that none of us are righteous and none of us do good. We all have throats that are open graves, with lips dripping with poison, spewing forth cursing and bitterness from our mouths. [Romans 3:10-14] And if we are still unconvinced, he describes us before salvation as “powerless,” “ungodly,” “sinners,” and “enemies” of God. [Romans 5:6-9]
I think it is true that until we see just how desperate and hopeless we are before a perfect and holy God, we cannot be saved. A. W. Tozer said it like this: “No one can know the true grace of God who has not first known the fear of God,” and “Until a man has gotten into trouble with his heart he is not likely to get out of trouble with God.” Too many pulpits spread the attractive and deceptive lie that we are so precious to a loving God and that He must save us. It totally ignores the cross and the terrible wrath and the costly mercy displayed there. We are not suffering from poor self-esteem needing a spiritual lift from a grandfatherly figure. No, we are sinners in desperate need of a Savior! We are dead in our sins and facing an angry God without any credentials that might turn away his just wrath. So, we must repent of our sins and turn to Christ in faith, receiving the benefits that he alone can give because of his death upon the cross.
Maintaining a properly placed confidence is tied to possessing a genuine humility. Tozer wrote, “For the Christian, humility is absolutely indispensable. Without it there can be no self-knowledge, no repentance, no faith and no salvation.” Humility is nothing more than honesty, being in touch with reality.
And, what is true at the beginning is also true to the very end. In other words, we are not only saved by grace- God’s unmerited gift of salvation to those who believe in the Gospel- but we must live out the rest of our days on earth by that same grace. If the truth of our salvation is not fixed in our hearts, the old nature animated by pride will be revived in our heart. And, there are always those around us who will promote such a devastating lie. Like the Church at Galatia, we will be tempted to return to salvation by works. Here is how Paul responded to that threat. Writing to the church, he penned:
You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort? [Gal 3:1-3]
All of our confidence must rest in Christ alone. It is basing our lives on the truth that without Christ working in and through us by faith, we can do nothing. [John 15:7] We may come from differing circumstances, have differing gifts and holding differing positions of influence, but in the end it all comes down to the grace of God working in undeserving servants that accomplish anything of eternal consequence.
It is the godly Christian who knows himself best, and no one who knows himself as God does will see himself as deserving of anything but hell. When we really believe this, then there will be no room for boasting in the Church. Paul the apostle and the lowly publican come to Christ in the same way; by a bowing low before the cross of Christ. “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.” [1 Cor. 1:31] We will have to admit that the talents and gifts we possess are on loan from God and are never rewards for human accomplishments. “For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive?” [1 Cor 4:7]
When we do see a harvest of God’s blessing upon our lives, when people are saying good things about our ministry, we will not be tempted to scrape off a little glory for ourselves. When Corrie Ten Boom was asked how she remained humble amidst all of the attention she was receiving, she responded: “When Jesus rode into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday on the back of a donkey, and everyone was waving palm branches and throwing garments on the road, and singing praises, do you think for a moment it ever entered into the head of that donkey that any of that was for him?” Then she added, “If I can be the donkey on which Jesus Christ rides in his glory, I give him all the praise and all the honor.”
So how do we become a donkey in the service of Christ? It won’t be easy. In fact, it will be one of the hardest things we ever attempt and it will be a battle until we breathe our last. First, we need to pray and ask the Lord to give us the Spirit of wisdom and revelation so we can know him better. [Ephesians 1:17] It is the Spirit’s passion and mission to magnify the glory of Christ in our lives. Second, we need to open the Scriptures and meditate upon passages that magnify the unlimited riches that are in Christ. [Pa. 119:27] The more we know, the more we see, the more reasons we will have to trust in his promises. Third, instead of exerting much energy in soul searching to see how humble we have become, we should focus upon trusting God in every area of our lives. For, it is not in focusing on ourselves that we will see change but in placing all of our confidence In Jesus and acting upon his promises. That is the sense of Andrew Murray’s great definition of humility:
Humility is perfect quietness of heart. It is to expect nothing, to wonder at nothing done to me, to feel nothing done against me. It is to be at rest when nobody praises me, and when I am blamed and despised. It is to have a blessed home in the Lord, where I can go in and shut the door, and kneel to my Father in secret, and am at peace as in a deep sea of calmness, when all around and above is trouble. The humble person is not one who thinks meanly of himself, he simply does not think of himself at all.
That is what Paul is trying to say to the Philippian believers. We need not spend much time beating ourselves down, trying to convince ourselves of how evil we are or striving to lift ourselves up to be better. We need to forget about ourselves and celebrate the grace and mercy of God that is powerfully active in our lives. Instead of trying to make ourselves good enough, we put our confidence in the One who began the work and the One who has promised to carry it on to completion. [Phil 1:7] Our best “flesh” cannot accomplish God’s will and our worst “flesh” cannot keep it from happening when we put all of our confidence in the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.