by David A. DePra
For we are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh. Though I might also have confidence in the flesh. If any other man thinks that he hath whereof he might trust in the flesh, I more: Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee; Concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless. But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith: That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death; If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead. (Phil 3:3-11)
What does it mean to, "have no confidence in the flesh?" Well, the Greek word means TRUST. It isn’t the same word that is always translated, "faith," but has a closely related meaning. So Paul is talking about the need to have no faith in the flesh; no confidence in the flesh.
The FLESH, in the context of Paul’s teaching, is all that is outside of our spiritual oneness with Jesus Christ. The new man, or new creation, in Christ Jesus, is our union or oneness with the Spirit of Christ. "He that is joined (cemented) to the Lord is one Spirit with Him." (I Cor. 6:17) This is the seat of salvation – it is where Christ dwells – in our spirit. All that is not of that new creation in Christ Jesus is not spiritual, but natural, or of the flesh.
Note from the passage above, however, that the flesh is not necessarily immoral, or sinful, in the conventional sense. No. Paul lists many assets that he said he could have given him this, "confidence in the flesh." And you will not really find any overt violations of God’s law among them. So the flesh in which we might take confidence is not simply bad, sinful, or immoral. More so, the flesh is all that is not of Christ, indeed, the flesh is all that is OUTSIDE of Him. Or, to put it yet another way, all that is purely OF US is of the flesh.
Before we are born from above, we are ALL natural; all flesh. There is nothing in us that is of God, or of His Spirit. There is no Truth in us. Some of us don’t believe this, but it is a fact. Only when Christ comes to dwell in us by His Spirit, is there anything that is spiritual about us. And since Christ comes to dwell in our dead human spirit, making us alive spiritually, everything else outside of that remains OF THE FLESH.
Hopefully, we can see a big separation here between flesh and Spirit. The flesh is US – it is everything that was born naturally into this world as part of the human makeup. The Spirit is Christ – it is all that is given to us through the birth from above. There is nothing that is part of the natural birth that is OF THE SPIRIT. And there is nothing of the birth from above that is OF THE FLESH. The distinction is just that wide – that is why we are said to be NEW CREATIONS in Christ Jesus.
Now, as an aside, the flesh, through the work of the Cross is to be crucified and brought unto the dominion of the Spirit of Christ. As the flesh is crucified, the Spirit emerges through the resurrection power of Christ. But never say that the flesh is OF the Spirit, or the Spirit is OF the flesh. No. The are of separate realms, and really, of separate creations. The flesh belongs to the OLD man, and the Spirit belongs to the NEW man in Christ. This is why the Bible says, "the flesh wars against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh."
So we must realize that the flesh and the Spirit are separate. In this life they will always be separate. Much of what growth is Christ will do is show us this separation, and indeed, bring the flesh in submission to the Spirit of Christ.
No Confidence in the Flesh
From all of this we can see that to, "have no confidence in the flesh," means to have no faith or trust in ANYTHING ABOUT MYSELF. Now note: This means that I have no confidence in my WORKS, but it means more – it means that I put no faith or trust in any aspect of my makeup. Again – read what Paul had to say in reference to himself. He lists no sins. In fact, most of the things he listed as what he could have trusted in were RELIGIOUS things.
Fundamentally, to put confidence in the flesh means that we might try to do – in the flesh -- what Christ has already done, or we might try to BE -- in the flesh -- who Christ in us already IS. This will have one of two results – probably a little of both. Either I will be deluded enough to think that my confidence in my flesh is well founded, and so I’ll feel like God is happy with me. Or I’ll see the total futility of putting my confidence in my flesh, and the whole thing will collapse. The second outcome is the only way to Truth – provided that once things collapse I turn to Christ and begin to put my faith in Him.
I think it is an absolute fact that every single Christ WILL put their confidence in the flesh – in the beginning and for much time thereafter. How could we NOT do it? Are we perfected the moment we are saved? No. The fact is, God will allow us to spend much time and energy trying to do and be instead of Christ – until it is proven to us that there is no hope for us. We can learn in no other way.
In fact, many Christian never learn it. That is a sad commentary on the state of the church today. Most Christians don’t even know there is a difference between flesh and Spirit. Perhaps the central reason for deception is that we don’t know the difference.
So let’s ask: What is the key to knowing the difference between flesh and Spirit? The key is just this: To know Christ. To the extent that we know Christ we will know what is OUTSIDE of Him – i.e. the flesh. Knowing Christ is the key to being able to discern what is of ME, and what is OF HIM.
What we see here is that if I have confidence in myself – in my flesh – the reason is that I lack a true knowledge of Jesus Christ. If I don’t know Christ, I won’t put my confidence in Him. Oh, I may have a religious faith – generated from my emotions or mind – but I won’t have real faith grounded in a knowledge of the Person. And if I don’t know Him, and don’t put my whole confidence in Him, I will naturally default to what a human being does – put my faith in myself.
God wants to bring us to the Truth – and the Truth is, there is nothing about ME, or in my flesh, that is of any value. There is no point in my putting my faith in myself – all of that faith in myself MUST be broken. And I’m not just talking about my works. I’m talking about my ability, out of myself, to believe. I’m talking about my ability to present to God anything that is good – an attitude, a mood, emotions, or a nice, natural mind. Those who are, "in the flesh," cannot please God.
The good news is that once we find out that there is nothing trustworthy about our flesh, there is Christ in us. Thus, God wants to bring us away from trusting in ourselves over to trusting solely in Christ. But not just some far-off Christ in heaven. Not just some historical Christ who died for us long ago. No. Our faith is to be in the Christ who LIVES IN US NOW. That is what He died to make possible.
All in Christ
Christians continue to believe that the purpose of God is to take their flesh and make it better. We don’t use those exact words, and might even deny that this is what we believe, but it is what many believe. Thus, we talk about, "character development," and, "inner healing," and we develop systems of rule, law, and order, intended to form and massage our flesh so that it will look like Christ. We think God wants us to look like Christ. All of this, regardless of terminology, is exactly what Paul warned against in Galatians and Colossians.
God will never take our flesh and make it better. What He will do is crucify it, and when He does, it will be shown to be worse than we could ever imagine. This isn’t a matter of God making our flesh worse – it is a matter of Him allowing life to EXPOSE IT FOR WHAT IT IS. Furthermore, we are never told to, "develop character." Rather, we are told to lose our lives so that HIS LIFE IN US might shine THROUGH US. It is not US being made to look like Jesus. It is Jesus being seen in and through us. The distinction here is not theological. It is TRUTH vs. ERROR. The distinction is that of light and darkness.
For those of us who still think there is something about us that we can make work for God, we need to read just these two verses:
Examine yourselves, as to whether you be in the faith. Prove your own selves. Don’t you yourselves know that except Jesus Christ is in you, that you would be reprobates? (2 Cor. 13:5)
But the natural man receives not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. (1 Cor. 2:14)
For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwells no good thing: (Rom 7:18)
Essentially, this means that we can generate nothing OUT OF OURSELVES that can please God. Neither can God generate anything OUT OF HIMSELF that can be received by our natural man, or flesh. But the key is Christ in us. He is not merely our Mediator unto God in the sense of His finished work. He is our living Mediator unto God NOW. In other words, His presence in us is our connection, joining, and access to God. IN HIM we are one with the Father, because He is one with the Father. That is a Living Mediator.
What we see in this is an, "all or nothing," situation. It is ALL in Christ, and nothing in us. But this is great news, because it means that we need only put our confidence and faith in Christ – in Whom is all. This seals the deal. It is the purpose of God. It is why faith is the key to everything.
Being Made True
If we don’t know Christ, we won’t depend upon Him – except maybe in an untested, religious, or emotional way. And if we don’t depend on Him, we will end up depending on ourselves. This is the flesh, and here we see the essential of faith based on the Truth.
Jesus said, "I am the Truth." The Bible says, "God is light." Well, this means that if we want to walk with God, we must walk with LIGHT. If we want to know God, we must know LIGHT. If we want to see God, we must be pure in heart. In short, you cannot fellowship with God unless there is an eternal IMPACT upon you – both inward and outward. Why would we think otherwise?
Now, of course, if our idea of the new birth is nothing more than adopting a religious lifestyle, turning over a new leaf, being, "sorrow," for some sins, parroting doctrines, using God to make something of myself, or merely a legal classification or relationship with God because of Christ – if that is the Christianity I’ve settled for – well, then I suppose we need not expect much of any impact. And the sad fact is, most professing Christians have seen no change in their attitudes, spirit, or life because of Christ – other than some religious additions, some immoral subtractions, and perhaps a dedication to church. I’m not meaning to be negative or critical. But it is just the case. Look at our churches. At best they are social clubs gathered around a statement of faith. Most are simply indifferent to anything spiritual or eternal – in total ignorance of Jesus Christ. And at worst, they are centers for power struggles -- filled with bitter, squabbling, gossiping, religious frauds. Sorry to be so blunt. I can see all these possibilities in myself, too – it is what the flesh does, and all it can do. But today we have legitimized and excused what God has put under the Cross. We just don’t care, or even KNOW to care. At least in many places. I don’t want to generalize too much.
I can say this for a fact: If Jesus Christ comes to live in you, and you begin to KNOW HIM, and I’m not talking about knowing the doctrines – we all do that and we all NEED to do that – but I’m talking about knowing Christ in the way the Bible means KNOWING – if that happens in our lives, the experience will utterly break us apart. You will lose everything about yourself that you thought was an asset before God. Read Philippians 3 again, from above. This is what happened to Paul. It was not because God was being especially hard on him. No. Most of it was because it is what happens when we LOSE our lives in Christ and are FOUND in Him. All that is of the flesh MUST GO – and the fact is, for most of us, what is of the flesh comprises the greater part of what has made us tick.
Now, of course, I’m talking more about the LOSS. Yet, as Paul said, it is to be counted as totally worthless – precisely because IT IS WORTHLESS. God didn’t sit down one day and invent a religion, and decide to incorporate into it suffering and loss – lest we have it too easy. No. This is about the NATURE OF THINGS. What we lose IS worthless – that is why Paul said aside from Christ in us we are reprobates.
If you want to know Christ you want to KNOW TRUTH. That Truth will expose everything that is UNTRUE – and much of US is exactly that -- UNTRUE. We are untrue and a lie – in every way, especially to God.
This is seen immediately after the sin of Adam. I don’t want to go through that whole passage here. But after his sin, when God was no longer one with him, he was naked, and ashamed – tormented and in fear over it. What did he do? He constructed a man-made solution for his nakedness – physically, fig leaves. But can we see what is happening here, and what God is showing us about natural man – man void of God? Everything that we become because of life, through environment and our choices is nothing but a defense to cover our nakedness – but as that, it is a LIE. Adam was naked – THAT was the Truth. He built a covering out of fig leaves to hide the fact – to present himself in a way that was UNTRUE. This is what the flesh does, and is, and all that it can ever produce.
When you and I were born into this world, we are composed only of natural materials. We did not have God in us – for we were born IN ADAM. So all we ever had to work with was the FLESH. Thus, anything we built – everything that had gone into the person we had become – it was flesh and only could be flesh. Sure. That which is born of flesh IS flesh. Thus, none of it is of God. None of it is spiritual. And because of that, none of it is TRUTH. You cannot be a TRUE PERSON if you don’t have the TRUTH HIMSELF dwelling in you. It is impossible.
I don’t think most of us believe this. We still think that the reason God called us was that He found something in us of value. Or, we still think that we do most of the work and Christ fills in the blank spaces. Or, we continue to try to make ourselves presentable to God in a way that we think will either maintain His favor or earn it. But all of this is a LIE – it is nothing more than us covering our nakedness with fig leaves.
Absolutely nothing natural man believes about himself is the Truth. Nothing. Why can I say that? Because a natural man is built out of natural materials. A natural man evaluates what is built with a natural mind. None of it is spiritual or true. None of it can be seen in Truth. That is why only God can break this apart. And when He does, it will seem like you are falling apart. You aren’t – if you yield to God. You are simply experiencing the first impact when Truth and light begin to gain ground in your being.
Can we see that the only solution – and the only way in which the Truth Himself could work – is if He brings to pass something that will open our eyes and strip off the fig leaves? When God begins such a work Christians think everything is wrong. But not so. Everything may be right.
Why must God expose us as fakes covered with fig leaves? Because it is the TRUTH. But more so, He must show us further Truth – that man was made to be naked before the Lord. We need to see this. Go back to the garden story. Before the sin, Adam was naked – he was unashamed – but naked. God MADE him that way. The difference is that before Adam’s sin he was naked and fully completed by God – and thus, unashamed. After the sin, he remained naked, but now was incomplete – and thus, ashamed, and trying to cover himself through his own fleshly means. Therefore, what God is trying to do is expose our nakedness so that we can confess it and embrace the only One who can cover and complete us – Jesus Christ. "You are complete in Him."
God wants to MAKE US TRUE. Well, you cannot be made true as a thing unto yourself. God cannot go, "Zap!," and do something TO YOU that will make you true. Neither can you be made true simply by being able to recite true Bible verses. No. The only way to be made true is by having the Truth Himself IN YOU – and then, once He is in you – He must be revealed to you. If you come into His light, without any conditions attached, and embracing the consequences, no matter how much your pride might suffer, then you will be exposed as completely naked and without any spiritual assets at all. But it is then that you will BE FOUND IN HIM. You will be MADE TRUE by the Truth Himself. You will be made true to God.
Yet what does it really mean to be MADE TRUE? Well, first let’s ask what it means to be UNTRUE. To be untrue means that we present to God the person we think He wants us to be. This can be through our works, our service, or just because we think we are faithful to God. We gather up all that we believe is good about us and present it to God, and then assume this is the basis of His approval upon us. Often we point to the many blessings in our lives as proof that He does approve of us. I’ve heard Christians do this – they point out their home, their money, their ministry, or their life in general, and say, "These blessings are of God. But God blessed me because I was faithful to Him." Of course, many of us DO NOT tack on the last part, where we subtlety take credit for earning the blessings of God, but it is nevertheless most often in our attitudes and heart. But what if God suddenly took away all of that? Would we still have the faith we now say we have? What would this do to our opinion of ourselves? Read the book of Job. It is most certain that we would find ourselves playing out what Job played out during his trial.
We are untrue to God if we are following Him for any reason other than HIS will to HIS glory. We are untrue to Him, for example, if the primary reason we walk with Jesus is for some kind of reward we think we will receive in return. There are going to be some terrible surprises at the last judgment. Think not? Read Matthew 7:21-27. I submit that Jesus didn’t tell such parables to hear Himself talking. These people were expecting some great reward from Christ and were evidently unaware of how far their heart was from Jesus. This is the possibility of deception – it is the result of being UNTRUE TO GOD. If you are untrue to God then when you face the Truth you will have no frame of reference.
Well, fortunately, it is precisely because Jesus told such parables that the terrible outcome of many of them need not be the case for us – He told them so we would heed. Jesus has, in fact, promised that God is already in the process of seeking to MAKE US TRUE. He isn’t sitting in heaven leaving this up to us. Note the following that indicate God’s real desire along this line:
But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeks such to worship him. God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth. (John 4:23-24)
Cease not to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers; That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him: The eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints, (Eph 1:16-18)
For we can do nothing against the truth, but for the truth. (2 Cor. 13:8)
For the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness and righteousness and truth. (Eph 5:9)
Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth. (1 Tim 2:4)
Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will show you things to come. (John 16:13)
So what does it really mean to be TRUE TO GOD? It means to walk in the Light as He is in the light. It means to have nothing, as far as you know, that is between you and God. It means to be honest, open, and transparent unto God. Now, as I mentioned, we really do not know what is in our hearts. It is possible to say you are open and honest to God, but to be deluded. People are like this everywhere. Thus, to be true to God MUST begin with an unconditional surrender to God – I ask God to do whatever it takes to make me true. If I am willing for God to do whatever it takes to make me true then I am, at that point, BEING TRUE to God.
God will make me true to Him, not only by exposing me as initially untrue, but by concurrently revealing to me THE TRUE ONE. You cannot be made true unless you know Jesus Christ. In short, you are made true by becoming one with the Truth Himself. This is fellowship and oneness in purpose.
Now, all of this relates to the issue of confidence in the flesh because an untrue person has confidence in their flesh. They are believing a LIE – they are putting confidence in that which is not trustworthy. But there are always reasons why we believe such lies. I submit that the reason we continue to put confidence in the flesh is because we still think that our flesh has something about it that is salvageable. Sure. You put trust in whatever you think is trustworthy. To the extent that we value our old man in Adam we will put trust in it.
If I am still holding onto myself – still neglecting to lose myself to Christ – then it is because I have yet to see how naked I really am. It only follows that I would be confidence in myself. Sure. This will come natural. Therefore, the solution is that God get behind all of this and expose me as utterly void of any value – He must show me that only Christ is of any value.
The root of all unbelief and confusion is found right here: In continuing to try to save my life for myself – self-ownership. I cannot get far with a walk with Christ on this basis. Read Matthew 16:
Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. (Mat 16:24-25)
Jesus said, "If any man will come after Me…." If we try to walk with Christ holding onto OUR lives, OUR agenda – even a religious agenda – and holding onto our personal interests, we won’t get far. We will come to the place where we cannot proceed until the matter is settled. Why? Not because God has set this up as a rule or religious pattern. No. We must be ruled out, and cease belonging to ourselves because this is the Truth. It is the only possible why to walk with Christ.
If you think about this, it is really ridiculously simple: What other outcome do we think possible if we are to live in fellowship with GOD ALMIGHTY? That WE would have something to bring to the table? What do we think would happen if we want to know the absolute TRUTH? Do we expect to be told that man in Adam really isn’t that bad? The Truth is, he is that bad – and I’m sure we will never see quite how bad in this life. Thus, because God cannot lie to us, and must be true to us, He cannot walk with us upon OUR basis. He must guide us into all Truth – He must MAKE US TRUE so that we can walk IN and WITH the Truth.
Some professing Christians will not have this. They continue to think that the reason God is able to work in them is because they have offered Him choice material. They think that God found something of value in them – and still finds it – and that this is why He has accepted them. Well, God could dismantle such thinking in ten minutes if He desired – but most often He doesn’t – He starts slowly. But many won’t yield to Him even then.
God never says that we must be down on ourselves in order to find the Truth. No. God simply says that if we find the Truth we will see ourselves as being empty. Again – this isn’t about jumping through religious hoops. It is about seeing and embracing the Truth. And that Truth is that man is utterly corrupt and UNTRUE to God. See that and you will begin putting your confidence in Jesus Christ, and not upon your self.
Part of what we do in our attempts to cover our nakedness before the Lord is to create of ourselves, and present to Him, a person who we think will win His approval. This includes works, but most often, it involves rationalizations, attitudes, and our own imagination. In our own imagination we often create of ourselves the person who, yes, we think God will like, but certainly the person WE LIKE. Of course, worldly people will say that this is good self-esteem. But really, it is nothing more than the flesh working on flesh and producing flesh.
Christians try to make their flesh behave like Christ. Our justification for doing this, we say, is that we are supposed to be obedient. But obedience isn’t the issue – the problem is that we base our confidence before the Lord on whether our flesh is behaving like Christ. We try to maintain a good attitude, or try to, "have faith," or try to do whatever we think is required, and when we succeed, we feel like the Lord is happy with us, and when we fail, we fall apart. But this kind of back and forth routine is proof that our faith is not upon Christ, but upon ourselves. Faith upon Christ never wavers because Christ never wavers.
Of course, none of this is conscious. We won’t deliberately put faith in ourselves instead of Christ. Really, the whole routine is the result of NOT seeing Christ – and of NOT seeing how empty we are. It is the result of natural thinking and of religious flesh doing what it does. This is why it is so vital to embrace the Truth when God brings it. The Truth will set us free from ourselves unto Christ.
Our confidence, as I mentioned earlier, is to be in Christ – but not merely in what He did for us – our confidence is to be in the Christ who is, right now, IN US. He is in us because of what He did for us. Note what Paul says about the Christ who is RIGHT NOW in us:
I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ lives in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me. (Gal 2:20)
But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God. (1 Cor 1:24)
But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption: That, according as it is written, He that glories, let him glory in the Lord. (1 Cor 1:30-31)
Whereunto I also labor, striving according to his working, which works in me mightily. (Col 1:29)
And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ's sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong. (2 Cor 12:9-10)
God does not have a thing called, "power," to give us. He gives us Christ who IS the power of God. Neither does God have a bucket of righteousness, or sanctification, to give us. No. He gives us Christ IN WHOM are all these realities. Christ in us possesses all that God has for us, and in Him alone is all that is acceptable unto God. So we are wasting our time trying to present to God anything out of ourselves. There IS nothing. Our faith for all of that is to be in the Christ who is one with our spirit.
This is precisely why there is no condemnation for those in Christ. If things depended on how my flesh responded to God, or upon how well my flesh was able to live up to the Truth, then condemnation would be upon us all the time – indeed, it is because we put our confidence in our flesh that condemnation is able to get to us. But our confidence is supposed to be in Christ – no matter how our flesh behaves.
Now, perhaps you think I’m giving license to sin. I’m not. In fact, license to sin is never the outcome of faith or confidence in Christ. Ever. Our confidence is to rest upon Christ whether we fail or whether we obey – yes, even when we OBEY our confidence is to be in Christ. Anything else and we are under the law.
Thus, if we sin or if we obey, we can say, "Christ in me is the same." I confess my sin and give Christ credit for any obedience. It is all about HIS righteousness and HIS life in me. It is never about whether my emotions functioned correctly, or my attitude was perfect, or whether I managed to make my flesh behave. It is about where my confidence and faith rest – regardless of my works.
Jesus Christ has won every victory there is to win, and He has made us complete before the Lord. This does not mean our flesh is complete. It means that the new man is complete. Thus, to the extent that our faith is upon Christ, we stand as He stands. And in God, Christ fully stands – He is the only begotten Son of God.
Faith connects us to Christ, and Christ is eternally connected to God. We are ONE with Him, and He is ONE with the Father. This is not a matter of mere theology. It is reality, and it is upon it that our faith rests.
Have we confidence in the flesh? Expect it to be smashed. Expect everything we might have used to commend ourselves to God to be exposed. But we will see that it was always worthless to begin with, and that as we are set free we will BE FOUND IN HIM – not having a righteousness of our own, but the righteousness which is by the faith of Jesus Christ. Faith IN Christ will always result in the faith OF Christ.