Much confusion centers around the phrase, confidence in the flesh. Having confidence in the flesh is condemned in scripture. This teaching will clarify and focus upon that term from Phil.3:2-6. As to all those who try to connect confidence in the flesh to obedience to God, their fallacy will be revealed by the following verse by verse examination. Paul wrote:
Watch out for those dogs, those men who do evil, those mutilators of the flesh. (Phil 3:2)
Certain men, called dogs, heavily stressed circumcision and the related to the place that it was taught as the means of salvation (Acts 15:1). They were known as the circumcision group (Gal. 2:12). Titus 1:10,11 reveal more about those same religious enemies of the gospel of grace:
For there are many rebellious people, mere talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision group. They must be silenced, because they are ruining whole households by teaching things they ought not to teach–and that for the sake of dishonest gain.
They are also the same dogs mentioned in the following verse showing they will be excluded from New Jerusalem (and will go to the lake of fire):
Outside are the dogs, those who practice magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood. (Rev 22:15)
The ongoing battle in Paul’s day on that topic was intense.
For it is we who are the circumcision, we who worship by the Spirit of God, who glory in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh– (Phil 3:3)
Phil. 3:3 is a concise explanation of a Christian on three points. We Christians:
- worship by the Spirit of God
- glory in Christ Jesus
- put no confidence in the flesh
The mention of putting no confidence in the flesh is obvious, but the meaning is not yet clear. However, the next couple of verses will explain it for us.
though I myself have reasons for such confidence. If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: (Phil 3:4)
Paul stated that he himself has reasons to have confidence in the flesh, if that was a good thing, which it isn’t (and Paul didn’t). Now he reveals the meaning of having confidence in the flesh from his own background:
The Meaning Of Confidence In The Flesh
circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless. (Phil 3:5,6)
To have confidence in the flesh is, therefore, strictly related to confidence in religious Jewish practices and being of the Hebrew descent, which is not relevant at all in our day. For Paul to have confidence in the flesh would mean he had confidence in being:
- circumcised on the eighth day
- of the people of Israel
- of the tribe of Benjamin
- a Hebrew of Hebrews
- a Pharisee
- persecuting the church
- with legalistic righteousness
That has nothing to do with simple obedience to God. Obeying Jesus and doing good, as followers of Jesus do, are not opposed by Paul or any other follower of Jesus anywhere – just the opposite (1 Cor. 7:19; Titus 3:8,14; etc.). In fact, Jesus gives eternal salvation only to those who obey him (Heb. 5:9). Again, that has no connection at all to having confidence in the flesh. Confidence in the flesh is related to trying to be justified by the law, which would cause Christians to fall from grace and lose their salvation (Gal. 5:2-4).