KASUMIGAOKA （BAPTISM SERVICE）
SERMON: “Put No Confidence in the Flesh” 「人間的なものを頼みにしない私たち」
Last week we read Philippians 3:7-14 as our responsive reading, but we did not look closely at what Paul is saying here. There is a connection between the experience of David, which we have been studying recently, the words of Jesus in His sermon on the mount, and the claim of the apostle Paul in this passage. David had faithfully pursued the goal that God had given to him, because, unlike King Saul, David was “a man after God’s own heart.” Jesus had said, “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.” And Paul had declared to the Philippians that his one great goal in life was to know and to follow Christ faithfully. In each case, we see a single-minded focus on attaining the goal of God’s kingdom.
How are we trying to reach the goal that God has set before us? Even the great apostle Paul said, “Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:13-14). This is a subject and a goal that too many Christians overlook. For too many of us, the goal of God’s kingdom is just one of many different goals we are seeking in life. We want to be healthy and try to strengthen our bodies. We take great care to beautify our appearance with clothing and make-up. We study how to save and invest our money, so that we will be rich. We work hard at our jobs so that we may advance our positions. We work hard improve our skills at our favorite hobbies. But do we really devote ourselves to the goal that Paul is talking about? Do we even know how to reach that goal? There are many distractions in the world around us, so it is hard to focus our attention on attaining the most important goal of all: the kingdom of God! Let’s listen carefully to what Paul tells us here. Paul says in verses 1-7 that there are not only distractions, but a deadly danger besetting Christians. This great danger is that we will “put confidence in the flesh.” This is what I want to think about this morning. Paul says that “we are the true circumcision [that is, the true covenant people of God], we who serve God by His Spirit, who boast in Christ Jesus”—we “who put no confidence in the flesh” (v.3). True Christians will put no confidence in the flesh, Paul says.
II. WHY CHRISTIANS SHOULD NOT PUT CONFIDENCE IN THE FLESH
First, let’s consider why Paul says it is dangerous to put any confidence in the flesh. If you put confidence in the flesh, you will not have the joy of salvation that is in Christ alone. In v. 1 he writes, “Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord!” Where do you look for joy in life? Many people are surprised to learn that those who have attained the pinnacle of “success” in life—celebrities, sports heroes, political leaders, wealthy businessmen, etc.—are often not very happy! Wealth and fame do not bring any lasting joy. Nevertheless, many people continue to work hard to attain those worldly goals. They have no idea of the joy that God has set before us in Jesus Christ. Paul says to the church in Philippi, “Rejoice in the Lord!” Do not set your heart on enjoying the passing pleasures of this world. God has promised something much better for those who are seeking His kingdom! Remember Moses, who “chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin. He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward” (Heb. 11:25-26). And remember Jesus Christ. “For the joy set before Him He endured the cross, scorning its shame” (Heb. 12:2). Where are you looking for happiness and joy? If you are seeking joy only in the things of this life, you will never know the joy that is in Christ Jesus.
There is real danger in putting your confidence in the flesh. Christians are daily beset by this temptation. “Beware of the dogs,” Paul says; “beware of the evil workers; beware of the false circumcision!” Paul is not referring to Jews, but to some members of the Christian church who had the sign of circumcision in their flesh, but whose hearts had not been thoroughly changed by the gospel of Jesus Christ. Paul called them “evil workers,” because they interfered with true Christians who were seeking the kingdom of God and setting their hope upon the Lord Jesus Christ alone. In Paul’s day, some Jews thought that the sign of circumcision in their flesh was a guarantee that they would enter God’s kingdom, regardless of how they lived. Other Jews taught that circumcision was one of many rules and traditions that a Jew must observe, in order to enter God’s kingdom. But actually, neither idea was correct! From the beginning, becoming one of God’s covenant people did not mean merely getting a religious “sign” or keeping some religious ceremonies. Moses had written about this long ago, in Deut. 10:12, 16: “And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all His ways and love Him, and to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul.” . . . “Circumcise then your heart, and stiffen your neck no more.” (cf. Dt. 30:6) You see, God wants your heart, your soul, and your mind! What He requires is a commitment of your heart to love Him and to serve Him always, not just a few trivial sacrifices or offerings now and then. However, many Jews had “put confidence in the flesh”; that is, they believed that they had a special “right” to receive God’s kingdom. They believed that the kingdom of God belonged to them, because of their circumcision and because of their religious traditions. Even when they heard the gospel and entered the Christian church, some of those Jews did not put off that old way of thinking! They were impressed with the moral teaching of Jesus, but they thought they could add “faith in Jesus” to their list of moral accomplishments. I think that is what Paul is talking about when he refers to some who “put confidence in the flesh.” They were Jews who pretended to be Christians. Paul warns his faithful Christian friends in Philippi, “Beware” of those who put confidence in the flesh. They have no more spiritual consciousness than the “dogs” that roam the streets! Don’t be misled by them, “for we are the true circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and boast in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh.”
Paul sounds harsh in his evaluation of those “pretend Christians.” But we should remember that he was speaking from his experience, for he himself had once been one of those “evil workers.” Paul had once put all his confidence in his own righteousness as an earnest Jew, circumcised in his flesh, but not in his heart. But after his heart had been changed by the Spirit of God, Paul did not want anyone else to make the terrible mistake he had made in his youth. “If anyone else has a mind to put confidence in the flesh, I far more,” he says in v. 4. Paul himself had the sign of circumcision from infancy; he grew up as an earnest member of his Jewish community. He learned to follow the Law of Moses as a zealous Pharisee. If anyone could “boast in the flesh”; if anyone could be justified by works of the law, Paul was that man. But then, one day, something happened. Paul met the Lord Jesus, and all of his self-confidence vanished! From that point on, Paul was a new man! He later wrote in 2 Cor. 5:16-18, “Therefore from now on we recognize no man according to the flesh. . . . if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.” From Christ Paul learned how futile all his human accomplishments really were. All of those things in which he had once placed so much confident hope were totally “worthless!” They were not only worth nothing, they were a “loss”—that is, a “minus” rather than a “plus.” Putting any confidence in the flesh, Paul says, is a “loss” because that kind of confidence is an obstacle to trusting completely` in Christ Jesus.
We should be able to say the same thing that Paul says. “But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” (vv. 7-8a) What things have been of greatest value to you? Do you take pride in your moral character? Your family’s reputation? Your comfortable home? Your wealth? Your school? The company you work for? Your nation or your race? You see, any of these things becomes a stumbling block to real faith, when you put confidence in it, rather than in Christ. That is what Paul is saying here. Jesus had said, “You cannot serve God and Mammon [that is “riches”].” God will not share us with any idol. He will not accept only a part of our heart! He demands our whole-hearted faith and love. If your goal in life is to become rich and live a life of ease, then you cannot serve God. This may sound severe, but it is what the Lord Jesus Himself said very clearly and unmistakably. In fact, when a rich young Jewish leader came to Jesus and asked Him how he could “inherit eternal life,” Jesus challenged him. He said, “One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess, and give it to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me” (Mark 10:7-21). Not everyone has to give away all his wealth to be a Christian. But if you put confidence in money, it will be an idol. Whatever stands in the way of knowing Christ more fully, following Him more obediently, loving Him more deeply, or rejoicing in Him more completely, must be thrown away. It has no value to you, if you are seeking the kingdom of God! If I cannot rely on my wealth or my wisdom or my abilities, what can I rely on? You can rely on Christ! You can put your confidence in Him. In fact, it is only through our faith in Christ that any of us will enter into the kingdom of God. Paul says, “I want to know Christ!” “What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ.”
At the beginning of this message, I said we should focus on seeking the kingdom of God. Paul tells us how to do this. First, we must learn to rejoice in Christ our Lord. We must find our greatest joy in His approval, not in the approval or recognition we receive from our jobs, our schools, our community, or our family! Second, we must put our confidence in what Christ has accomplished for us, not in what we hope to accomplish for Him. As Paul says, we must seek, not “a righteousness of my own that comes from the law,” but an entirely different, perfect righteousness–“the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith.” We must “boast in Christ Jesus,” and “put no confidence in the flesh.” You might say, “Isn’t this just the first step in becoming a Christian—believing in Jesus?” That is true. Believing in Jesus is the beginning of the Christian life, but it is also the middle, and the final goal. Living by faith is what seeking God’s kingdom means. It means actively putting your trust in Jesus Christ and His righteousness, rather than in your own wisdom and success. Finally, Paul says in v. 10, “I want to know Christ–the power of His resurrection and participation in His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.” That was Paul’s goal: to commit himself one hundred percent into the care and service of Jesus Christ, because only Christ has the power of resurrection. Only Christ could give him life. “Forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead,” Paul says, “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” That is what it means to seek the kingdom of God. The more we trust Christ and obey Him, the more we will experience the absolute security of His Presence and power. It is the power of Christ’s resurrection that gives us courage to face suffering for His sake. It is confidence in our resurrected Lord that enables us to obey Him, when the wisdom of the world tells us to follow “common sense” instead. So what about you? Are you seeking first the kingdom of God? Let me ask it in another way: To whom are you entrusting your life? Jesus is able to protect you now, and He can bring you safely into God’s eternal kingdom! Who else can do that? Can your boss? Or your teacher? Or your friends? Will they stand by your side and bring you safely into God’s eternal kingdom? Whom will you trust? Whom will you serve?