“For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh…” (Philippians 3:3, ESV)
Historic, biblical Christianity teaches us several key truths regarding the relationship between humankind and God…
- God is the Creator of all- which means that God created
- As Creator of all, God is the sovereign Lord of all- which means that you are accountable to
- God is perfect in all His ways, and His law demands perfection- which means that if you are to stand in right relationship with Him, you must meet that perfect demand.
- All humans are desperately imperfect and sinful- which means that on your own, you have no standing before Him.
- Jesus Christ is the perfect substitute sacrifice for all sin- which means that when you put your faith in Him, you can stand before God accepted as eternally righteous.
These are bedrock biblical truths, agreed upon by orthodox Christians for centuries- at least in theory. Chances are, if you come from a reasonably conservative theological background, you’re nodding your head in affirmation right now.
The problem is, when it comes to the way we practice our faith in the ins and outs of everyday life, many of us are prone to leave these convictions behind. In their place, we plant our “confidence” before God- to use Paul’s word- not in Jesus and His work, but in ourselves and in our work. In short, we put our “confidence in the flesh.” Even if the theology in our heads would claim otherwise, the practice of our hands, feet, and (especially) our mouths shows this is so.
So how can you assess if you’ve fallen into this all-too-common trap? What are the signs that your confidence before God is mis-placed in yourself and your efforts? Here are four to watch out for…
- You ride a “roller coaster” of pride and shame. Jesus, being “in very nature God,” and as a result perfectly righteous, never changes. He doesn’t have “good days” and “off days” spiritually. We, on the other hand, do– to put it mildly. If you find that your strong days give birth to a swell of prideful self-righteousness, while your bad days send you sinking in a storm of shame, then you may be guilty here.
Note that I’m not talking about the natural (and healthy) ebb and flow of the joy of obedience and the “godly sorrow” of disobedience, but something beyond this- something that leaves you in a near-constant state of spiritual and emotional disorientation that questions God’s love and approval.
- You feel a compulsion to “prove yourself” spiritually. If you find yourself with a constant need to rehearse your “spiritual resume” of religious activity for yourself and others, you may be in trouble here. God has not called you to impress anyone- not even Him (as if that were really possible)- but simply to trust and humbly obey. The simplest acts of obedience done in faith are far more spiritually significant than the most impressive things done without it.
- You are quick to condemn. Note that this can be condemnation directed inward toward yourself or outward toward others. If God Himself doesn’t condemn you (or anyone who is in Christ) in the midst of struggle, who are you to take up that responsibility? If you get a jolt of spiritual energy from judging others’ struggles, repent now and ask God to give you a fresh understanding of the grace you’ve received in Jesus.
- You- not Jesus- are the hero of your faith story. Here’s a simple but helpful exercise for the next week- Observe and examine your language when talking about your faith, and evaluate how much time you spend talking about yourself versus talking about Jesus. If your language is peppered constantly with, “I overcame this,” “I succeeded in this,” or even “I failed at this,” you need to watch out.
Certainly you and I have an important part in the process of spiritual transformation, but the power we ultimately need to please God isn’t found in us, but in God Himself. He- not you and me- is the Hero of our story. The heart that puts it confidence in Him is filled with praise, thanksgiving, and evident reliance on Him.
Pastor and author Timothy Keller has said that the person who really grasps the grace of God is both humble and confident, while the one who is trusting himself is simultaneously prideful and insecure. Take some time this week to consider where you are placing your “confidence” to stand before God. Get off the “roller coaster” of self-centered pride and shame, and anchor yourself in the perfect righteousness of Jesus and the unchanging grace of the Father. It will fuel your faithfulness like nothing else can.