The Spirit and the Flesh
"Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?" (Galatians 3:3)
"We are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh. Though I might also have confidence in the flesh." (Philippians 3:3-4)
The "flesh" is the name by which Scripture designates our fallen nature - soul and body. The soul at creation was placed between the spiritual and the worldly to guide them into that perfect union which would result in man attaining his destiny, a spiritual body.
When the soul yielded to the temptation of the senses, it broke away from the rule of the Spirit and came under the power of the body - it became flesh. And now the flesh is not only without the Spirit, but even hostile to it: "the flesh lusteth against the Spirit" (Galatians 5:17).
In this antagonism of the flesh to the Spirit, there are two sides. On one hand, the flesh lusts against the Spirit by committing sin and transgressing God's law. On the other hand, its hostility to the Spirit is shown no less in its seeking to serve God and do His will. In yielding to the flesh, the soul sought itself instead of seeking God, to whom the Spirit linked it. Selfishness prevailed over God's will. Selfishness became its ruling principle.
This spirit of self is so subtle and mighty in sinning against God that, even when the soul learns to serve God, it still asserts its power and refuses to let the Spirit lead alone. In its efforts to be religious, it is still the great enemy that hinders and quenches the Spirit. This deceitfulness of the flesh often causes the same problem Paul found among the Galatians: "Having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?" The surrender to the Spirit must be complete, and maintained by waiting on Him in dependence and humility. If this is not done, then what the Spirit has begun very quickly passes over into confidence in the flesh.
The remarkable thing in that when the flesh seeks to serve God, it becomes the strength of sin. The Pharisees, with their self-righteousness and carnal religion, fell into pride and selfishness, and became the servants of sin. The works of the flesh were so manifest among the Galatians that they were in danger of devouring one another.
This is satan's most crafty device for keeping souls in bondage - inciting them to a religion in the flesh. He knows that the power of the flesh can never please God or conquer sin. He knows that, in due time, the flesh that has gained supremacy over the Spirit in the service of God will assert and maintain that same supremacy in the service of sin.
It is only where the Spirit truly has the entire rule in the life of worship that He will have the power to lead in the life of practical obedience. If I am to deny self in communicating with men, to conquer selfishness and temper, I must first learn to deny self in communicating with God. The soul, the seat of self, must learn to bow to the Spirit where God dwells.
The contrast between the worship in the Spirit and the trusting in the flesh is beautifully expressed in Paul's description of the true circumcision - the circumcision of the heart - whose praise is not of men but of God: "Which worship God in the Spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh" (Philippians 3:3). Placing Christ Jesus in the center, Paul marks on one hand the great danger of worship, and on the other hand the safeguard by which its full enjoyment is secured. Confidence in the flesh is the one thing above all others that does not render glory to Christ Jesus. Worship by the Spirit is the one thing that alone can make it indeed life and truth. May the Spirit reveal to us what it is thus to glory in Christ Jesus!
All history and experience teach us that there is a glorying in Christ Jesus that is accompanied by much confidence in the flesh. This was true with the Galatians. The teachers whom Paul opposed so earnestly were all preachers of Christ and His Cross. They preached as those who had the beginnings of God's Spirit, but they had allowed their own wisdom and their own thoughts to say what the cross meant. They had reconciled the cross to a religion which was legal and carnal.
The mistake of the Galatian church is repeated to this day even in the churches that are most confidently assured that they are free from Galatian error. Just notice how often the doctrine of justification by faith is spoken of as if that were the chief teaching of the Galatian epistle. The doctrine of the Holy Spirit's indwelling, as received by faith and our walking by the Spirit, is hardly mentioned.
No Confidence In the Flesh
Christ crucified is the wisdom of God. The confidence in the flesh, in connection with the glorying in Christ, is seen in confidence in its own wisdom. Scripture is studied, preached, heard, and believed in the power of the natural mind with little insistence upon the absolute need for the Spirit's personal teaching. It is seen in the absolute confidence with which men know that they have the truth, though they have it far more from human than divine teaching. It is seen in the absence of that teachable attitude that waits for God to reveal His truth in His own light.
Christ, through the Holy Spirit, is not only the wisdom but the power of God. The confidence in the flesh, along with much glorying in Christ Jesus, is to be seen and felt in much of the work of the Christian church. Human effort and arrangement take a much larger place than the waiting on the power that comes from on high.
Much unsuccessful effort can be traced to this one evil that is found in the larger ecclesiastical organizations, in individual churches, and in the inner life of Christians. There is no lack of acknowledging Christ, His person and work, as our only hope. There is no lack of giving Him the glory. And yet, so much confidence in the flesh makes the results ineffective.
Christ is the wisdom and the power of God. The root of all trust in our own strength is trust in our own wisdom, the idea that we know how to serve God because we have His Word. This wisdom of man, in his accepting God's Word, is the greatest danger of the church. Man's wisdom is the secret and most subtle form in which we are led to perfect in the flesh what was begun in the Spirit.
Our only safety is the Holy Spirit. The path of safety is a great willingness to be taught by Him and a holy fear of walking after the flesh in the least thing. It is a loving surrender in everything to the obedience to which Christ promises the Spirit. Along with all this, it is the living faith that the Spirit will, in divine power, possess our life and live it for us.
There are many, striving earnestly for a life in the fullness of consecration and the fullness of blessing, who will find here the secret of failure. One of my first purposes and most earnest prayers in writing this book has been to help those people.
Perhaps the fullness of Jesus was opened up to them in a sermon or speech, in a book or conversation or private prayer with the possibility of a holy life in Him. The believer then felt it was all so beautiful and so simple that nothing could keep it back any longer. And perhaps, as he accepted what was seen to be so sure and so near, he entered into an enjoyment and experienced a power before unknown.
But it did not last. There was a worm at its root. The search for the reason for this was vain. Frequently, the only possible answer was that the surrender was not entire, or faith's acceptance not perfect. And yet, the believer felt sure that he was ready to give up all. He longed to let Jesus have all and to trust Him for all.
Listen to the blessed teaching of God's Word. It was the confidence in the flesh that spoiled your glorying in Christ Jesus. It was self doing what the Spirit alone can do: It was the soul taking the lead, in the hope that the Spirit would consent to its efforts, instead of trusting the Holy Spirit to lead and do all. It was following Jesus without the denial of self. This was the secret trouble.
Come and listen to Paul as he tells of the only safeguard against this danger: "We are the circumcision, which worship God in the Spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh." Here are the two elements of spiritual worship. The Spirit exalts Jesus and abases the flesh. If we want to truly glory in Jesus and have Him glorified in us, we must simply learn what this worship of God by the Spirit is.
Let us try to fully realize that there are two life-giving principles of man's life. In most Christians, there is a mixed life, yielding now to the one and then to the other. God's will is that we never walk after the flesh. He wants us to walk after the Spirit. Let us accept God's will. The Holy Spirit has been given to bring our life into conformity with it. May God show us how the Holy Spirit can become a new life in us, revealing Christ as our life. Then, we can say, it is no longer I that live, "but Christ liveth in me" (Galatians 2:20).
Glory In Jesus
I can only repeat, once again, the purpose of this whole book - glory in Christ Jesus. Glory in Him as the glorified One who baptizes with the Holy Spirit. In great simplicity and restfulness, believe in Him as having given His own Spirit within you. Believe in that gift. Believe in the Holy Spirit dwelling within you. Accept this as the secret of the life of Christ in you. The Holy Spirit is dwelling in the hidden recesses of your spirit. Meditate on it. Believe Jesus and His Word concerning it until your soul bows with holy fear and awe before God under the glory of this truth: the Holy Spirit of God is indeed dwelling in me.
Yield yourself to His leading. We have seen that leading is not just in the mind or thoughts but in life and attitude. Yield yourself to God to be guided by the Holy Spirit in all your conduct. He is promised to those who love Jesus and obey Him. Do not be afraid to say He knows that you do love and do obey Him with your whole heart. Remember, then, what the one central object of His coming was: to restore the departed Lord Jesus to His disciples.
I cannot glory in a distant Jesus from whom I am separated. When I try to do it, it is a thing of effort, and I must have the help of the flesh to do it. I can only truly glory in a present Saviour, whom the Holy Spirit glorifies and reveals in His glory within me. As He does this, the flesh is abased and kept in its place of crucifixion as an accursed thing. As He does it, the deeds of the flesh are made to die. Then my whole religion will be: having no confidence in the flesh, glorying in Christ Jesus, and worshiping by the Spirit of God.
Having begun in the Spirit, continue, go on, persevere in the Spirit. Beware of, for one single moment, continuing or perfecting the work of the Spirit in the flesh. Let "no confidence in the flesh" be your battle cry. Let a deep distrust of the flesh and fear of grieving the Spirit by walking after the flesh keep you very low and humble before God. Ask God for the Spirit of revelation that you may see how Jesus is all and does all. The Holy Spirit will indeed take the place of your life, and Jesus will be enthroned as the keep, guide, and life of your soul.