21 Days of Prayer and Fasting: Day 4

Day 4: May 7, 2017: No Confidence in the Flesh

Philippians 3:2-6: Look out for those dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh.  For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh – though I myself have reasons for confidence in the flesh also.  If anyone else thinks he has reasons for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless

We must always be on guard against religious pride and self-confidence.  We must always be aware of the temptation to think that our family name, or our religious zeal, or our good works, are the basis of our good standing with God.

After encouraging the Christians in Philippi to rejoice in the Lord (3:1), Paul then proceeded to warn them against dangerous false teachers (the ‘dogs,’ ‘evildoers,’ and ‘mutilators’ of v. 2).  These false teachers were Jews who insisted that in order to be righteous before God, Gentiles had to convert to Judaism by being circumcised and becoming obedient to the Law of Moses.  Paul opposed this teaching as a distortion of the gospel of grace.

If anyone could ever have boasted of being righteous before God, it was Paul: His ancestry was perfect – he was a true Israelite and member of the tribe of Benjamin.  He had the covenant marker of circumcision in his flesh.  He was a well-educated Pharisee who knew the Law inside and out.  He was so zealous for the Jewish faith that he actively and violently persecuted the church of Jesus as a heretical and dangerous sect.  He was meticulous in his observance of the mandates of the Law and Jewish tradition.  At one time Paul thought that all of these achievements of his own were the basis of his righteousness.

Then Paul personally met Jesus (Acts 9) and discovered that he had been persecuting Israel’s Messiah.  Suddenly, Paul came to understand that all of his reasons for confidence in his own righteousness amounted to nothing: his Hebrew identity, his circumcision, his Pharisaic training, and his great zeal had not kept him from misinterpreting Israel’s Scriptures and from being a violent enemy of God’s Anointed One.  These realizations turned Paul’s world upside down and convinced him that no ethnic identity or religious works could make him righteous before God because at his core he was a proud and selfish and violent sinner.

We must have the same realization as Paul did.  Even if our family members have been devoted Christians and faithful church members for generations, that does not establish our righteousness before God.  Even if we have consistently attended church, read our Bibles, and given our tithes for many years, that does not establish our righteousness before God.  Even if we have shared the gospel and served the poor, that does not establish our righteousness before God.  Even if we have never committed adultery or murder and have always been a good neighbor, that does not establish our righteousness before God.  No, as followers of Jesus we know that our confidence before God does not come from ourselves but rather from whom Jesus is and what he has done for us.  As Paul wrote, “we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh…”

Take time now to place your trust in Jesus, and not yourself, once again.  This prayer can help you get started: “Lord, I confess that I am a sinner and that all of my righteousness is like dirty rags.  I do not place my confidence in myself, but rather in your Son Jesus Christ.  I know that my righteousness comes from him alone.  Protect me, Lord, from religious pride and self-confidence.  Help me always to trust in you for my salvation.  In Jesus name, Amen.”

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