“Though I also might have confidence in the flesh. If anyone else thinks he may have confidence in the flesh, I more so.”
In this section of Philippians, Paul gave a stirring personal testimony. He used the perpendicular personal pronoun “I” 15 times. We find his testimony in Acts 9, 22, 26; 2 Corinthians 9; 2 Corinthians 11; and Romans 7. He was trying to clarify that this is the truth he not only learned, but he lived. He had gone down the road of legalism like no one else.
Paul turned to an autobiography to prove that he did not operate in the flesh. He listed a litany of accomplishments where he could have placed his confidence. For years that is precisely where Paul put his trust. Now that he had come to Christ, he viewed his religious career in legalism as a pile of dung! He threw his scrapbook on the manure pile! To him, the accomplishments of legalism smelled like garbage—or, even worse, like dung.
“Though I also might have confidence in the flesh”
To counteract the thought that maybe, just maybe, there is something in the flesh we can trust, Paul gave himself as an example. Before he became a Christian, he made great strides in legalism. If there ever was a legalist, he was one.
In the Christian life, we are often tempted to live within our thin spiritual resources. We lean on our prayer life as such, not on God. We take courage by our activities, not in God. We rely on the mechanics of our spiritual life rather than upon God. We renounce sin and make firm commitments of discipline and live in our strength. Anything and everything but God! We try ecstasy, asceticism, taboos, self-discipline—all to no avail. Paul tried all these. He had the opportunity to place confidence in them, but he gave the flesh a vote of no confidence.
“If anyone else thinks he may have confidence in the flesh, I more so”
Paul, above all, had pursued that approach to life. If anyone thinks that they impress God based on their religious record, they will not outpace Paul. He had an outstanding religious career.
Religion, legalism, and self-effort will all fail us.
We can only trust mutually exclusively in the provisions of Christ to live the Christian life. It is challenging for us to come to terms with the fact that God will not accept the works of the flesh. We revert to self-competence at the slightest bump in the road.
The most subtle form of legalism appears in our spiritual life. We think that if we pray more, witness to a significant number of people, or mechanically live the Spirit-filled life, we will succeed spiritually. Obviously, we cannot have a vibrant spiritual life without these means. But if we confuse means with the end, calamity can come to our Christian life. Morality is not the same as spirituality. Morality is man-oriented. Spirituality is God-oriented. How would you describe your Christian experience? Is it oriented to religion, legalism? Or is it dependent upon the provisions of God?