“For we are the circumcision, who worship God in the spirit, rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh.”
After contrasting legalism with the grace way of life in the first two statements, Paul turned to two ideas that amplify the phrase “worship God in the Spirit”:
Rejoice in Christ Jesus,
Have no confidence in the flesh.
“Rejoice in Christ Jesus”
The theme of rejoicing in the Lord never became tiresome to Paul. Celebrating Jesus’ person and work was a conspicuous characteristic of his dynamic life. Though he faced a mountain of trials and confronted significant problems, he never lost sight of the Lord.
The word “rejoice” means to speak loud, vaunt oneself, brag, or even boast, glory, or exult. This term is used both in a good and bad sense in the New Testament. Here it is used in the good sense.
The phrase “in Christ Jesus” indicates our position before God in Christ. It is our status in God’s eyes. Our status is the same as that of Jesus Christ. He is perfect righteousness, so we are perfect righteousness in our position (not in our experience) before God. This is a statement that counters legalism. Legalism tries to impress God by what man does. Grace accepts the provision of God by what Jesus Christ has done. These two viewpoints are radical opposites. The focal point of grace is Jesus Christ.
Our rejoicing has its focal point in Him, not in our ability to live up to God’s expectations.
Our boast is not in ourselves; it is in Jesus Christ and his work. The reason for the three “beware” of verse 2 is that the danger is in minimizing the work of Christ and maximizing the work of the believer. We do not “brag” about ourselves; we “brag” about Jesus Christ; we do not “glory” in ourselves, we “glory in Christ Jesus.”
“And have no confidence in the flesh”
The word for “no” is a strong term in Greek. Those who live by grace do not have an ounce of confidence in the flesh. Paul was not persuaded that the flesh could earn any credit in God’s eyes. Both his salvation and Christian walk were dependent upon the grace of God.
The “flesh” is our sin capacity. There is nothing in the flesh that can impress God. There is nothing intrinsically in us that God wants or can use. That isn’t easy to take. It injures our pride. We chafe because we believe somehow we can earn credit before God. We have the idea that God should be impressed that we are Christians and living the Christian life. No, the only person God is impressed with is Jesus Christ. That is why we “rejoice in Christ Jesus.” God places no higher value on a Christian’s “flesh” than on a non-Christian’s “flesh.” Paul began this verse with the words, “We are the circumcision.” The flesh has been circumcised positionally in Christ.
The flesh never gets better. It never improves. As well, our position in Christ never improves. Our standing before God in Christ is perfect from the moment we receive Christ. That is why we rejoice in Him. Even after years of godly living, the flesh is not one whit better than the day we became Christians. God can be glorified only by Christ Jesus.
God is always glorified by what Christ has done, not by what we have done.
We “rejoice in Christ Jesus” because God is glorified by what Christ did. Christians should have “no” confidence in the flesh. God did not say “little.” No, we are to have less than a little—we are to have none. God bypasses it totally. God gives us a new capacity, but He never improves the old one. He does not squirt perfume on the sin capacity, convert it, or refine it. So why should we be in the business of trying to improve the sin capacity? Our focus should not be on the flesh, but Jesus Christ and His work.
Contrary to much of today’s Christianity, which places so much emphasis upon “self-image” and “reaching your potential,” God declares that we are not to trust the flesh. On the contrary, we are to reach outside ourselves to trust in, put confidence in, lean upon, and rejoice in the Lord. Is self-improvement or the Lord your focal point?
We are not to rejoice in friends, for they prove untrue. We should not rejoice in good grades or business success because it is impossible to live an ideal life. As Paul’s life was filled with trouble, so every Christian will face many reversals. An orientation that expects perfection will find it only in Christ. All other pursuits of life drop away to those who are Christ oriented. We no longer need a flashlight in the midday sun.