- When things get tough and you need a friend, who do you call?
- Who is the person you rely upon the most?
I’m asking you where you normally place your confidence. When trials come, difficulties are in front of you, and ongoing desires are unmet, who can you rely upon to make things happen? For most of us the answer is ourselves. At least it is for me. Nobody cares about me like me. I know what I need to do to get the things I want. No doubt I have more confidence in my flesh than anyone else’s flesh. Shall I prove it? Let me give you two examples.
Marriage – Historically, when Lucia was not performing according to my expectations, I would manipulate her to my way of thinking by getting angry at her. This was a recurring pattern in the early years of our marriage.
Anger is a manipulative tactic of a selfish person who demands his way regardless of how the other person feels or what God thinks about the tactic. Though I was not readily self-aware of what I was doing, there was no doubt I was placing my confidence in my flesh. I knew what to do to get what I wanted. I relied on flesh empowered strategies.
If you were to ask me if I was placing my confidence in my flesh by using anger as a manipulative tactic, I would probably have denied it. I did not give much thought to my actions. Though I was somewhat aware that what I was doing was wrong it was what I wanted that dominated my thinking.
You could say my actions were more instinctive than cognitive. Relying in the flesh is not something we have to think about; it is something we do. This is, in part, what makes it so dangerous. To premeditate sin is evil enough, but to be self-deceived is scary evil.
Parenting – Today, one of my most common and recurring sin patterns is with my children. The temptation to rely in my flesh in this area is not a leap in faith. I’m easily seduced to parent from a position of fear rather than trust. Where anger was my go-to tactic with my wife, it is fear that can control my thinking with my children. My tendency is to over-worry about their well-being.
With Lucia, I believed I could get what I wanted through anger. With my children anger does not work. The truth is, from a human perspective, I don’t know what will work, so I worry. When you’re unwilling to trust God and then realize you can’t rely on yourself, you are left with worry.
This is what functionally godless thinking Christians do when they have no confidence in their flesh. I want to have confidence in my flesh regarding my children, but I know I can’t make them righteous. So, rather than trusting the LORD, I worry.
My desire is for my children to love God and love others more than anything else (Matthew 22:36-40). Good so far. I don’t want them to be tripped up by sin or habituated in sin. My hope is they will be free from the things in our world, while serving the LORD with all their hearts, souls, and minds (Mark 12:30).
My recurring way of managing this parental outcome is to over-manage it, while not placing my confidence in the LORD. This is my battle. This is my fear. The recurring tension in my soul is whether to rely on myself or figure out how to rest on the LORD.
Paul used the language of confidence in the flesh when he thought about self-reliance. The word confidence is a synonym for faith, trust, or hope. Where we place our confidence is our belief system—the thing we trust the most when we’re looking for answers.
The world totally relies on themselves. They deny and reject God outright. Their thinking is futile, hardened, and depraved (Ephesians 4:17-19). They volitionally try to press God out of their lives (Romans 1:18-23).
Christians are not like this. We live in the tween. While we have trusted God for our salvation, we are in a daily battle of denying ourselves, taking up our cross, and making the diurnal death march to our own Calvary (Luke 9:23; Galatians 2:20).
Who do you primarily trust regarding your marriage? What about your children? Your career, your health, and even your relationship with God can fall prey to self-reliant distortions.
It’s the things we love too much or love wrongly that motivate us to rely on ourselves rather than the LORD. When our love for something becomes distorted because of self-serving desires we will try to control those things through manipulative means. Our desired outcome is more important to us than the methods we use to acquire the desired outcome.
- Do you ever cherish something so much that your over-zealous attempts to control it pollutes it?
- Do you have over-affection? Do you over-parent, over-worry, over-smother, or over-control?
World’s weakest man
Ladies and gentlemen, let me introduce you to the self-proclaimed world’s weakest man. Paul the apostle, according to his own self-estimation, had no rivals. He could go toe-to-toe with any man alive.
If anyone else thinks he has reason 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.
But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ.
In the world of reliance, there are two types of people: those who rely on God and those who rely on themselves. Those who default to relying on themselves do so because they can. They possess strengths, gifts, talents, and skills that compel them to live the life of self-reliance.
Self-reliant people will always rely on their strengths, never their weaknesses. It would be foolish for a self-reliant person to rely on his weaknesses, because that is the quickest way to not get what he wants. According to his world view the path to failure is through personal weakness.
Here is the blindside for the strong man: the greater his strengths, the more profound, powerful, and prolific are his weaknesses. Paul had a lot of strengths, which made him one of the weakest men who ever lived.
The greater your strengths, the more vulnerable you become. The stronger you are, the greater the likelihood you are going to rely on yourself rather than omnipotent God. Self-reliance is the strategy of fools. This was the problem with the Pharisees. They totally relied on their strengths. Their gifts put them outside the grace of God–the only thing that could help them.
Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance. – Luke 5:31-31 (ESV)
The only way for a Pharisee to find favor from God would be to renounce all the good he had, fully empty himself of himself, and completely rest in the faithfulness of Christ alone. Paul decided to take this course of action.
Though he could go toe-to-toe with any Pharisee, he realized the most bankrupt position a person could ever find himself was self-confidence. He perceived and embraced the value of nothingness (Philippians 3:8).
If anyone had the opportunity to not trust Christ alone, through faith alone, it was Saul of Tarsus. But let’s not think we’re any different in attitude or action. His skill set was far superior than ours, but we are not unlike him.
The Adamic tendency in all of us is to rest in ourselves rather than in Christ. Our flesh is our closest friend and it is the one thing we are tempted to place our confidence.
The things we know we can do, those things we can accomplish, are our old familiar friends. To give up those things, while resting in the strength of almighty God is scary for the self-reliant soul. We have questions that leave us uneasy when we think about total reliance on the LORD.
- Will God come through for me?
- Will He give me what I want?
- Will my spouse be what I believe a spouse should be?
- Will my children follow Christ?
- How trustworthy is God?
How many of us go around saying, “For when I am weak then I am strong.” (cf. 2 Corinthians 12:10) To put full confidence in the LORD is to let go of my old familiar friend. Like a trapeze artist letting go of the hand that holds me while reaching out, anticipating another person to grab me.
- Self-reliance is finding security in what I can do.
- God-reliance is finding security in what He can do.
After Paul was regenerated, he began to realize how his personal gains and gifts were losses. Whatever he had accomplished through his flesh did not merit favor or power from God.
The way to deeper knowledge of God is through the lonely valleys of soul poverty and abnegation of all things. The blessed ones who possess the Kingdom are they who have repudiated every external thing and have rooted from their hearts all sense of possessing. They are “poor in spirit.”
They have reached an inward state paralleling the outward circumstances of the common beggar in the streets of Jerusalem; that is what the word “poor” as Christ used it actually means. These blessed poor are no longer slaves to the tyranny of things.
They have broken the yoke of the oppressor; and this they have done not by fighting but by surrendering. Though free from all sense of possessing, they yet possess all things. “Theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” – A. W. Tozer
You will never be satisfied in what you want until you want Christ more than anything else. What do you prize? What are the things you must have? There is only one prize that matters: worshipping by the Spirit, while resting in the total worth in Christ alone, and placing no confidence in the flesh.
For we are the real circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh. – Philippians 3:3 (ESV)
Call to action
You will know if you prize anything more than Christ by how you respond when you don’t get those things you want. When I yield to the temptation of wanting other things more than Christ, I’ve lost my way. This mental posture smothers the worth that I should find in Christ alone. What about you? Can you…
…count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ. – Philippians 3:8 (ESV)
You must take your soul to task right now. Are you willing to suffer the loss of all things if you can gain Christ? This is a life-altering, relationship-changing question.
Paul gave up everything he knew and everything he possessed because he perceived a greater treasure in Christ. He took everything in his gain column and placed it in his loss column.
I’m not saying you will never get what you want. I’m saying you must stop trying to get those things through self-reliant means. It could be the LORD will give you the desires of your heart.
The LORD gave me an amazing marriage when I stopped trying to manipulate my marriage through sinful means. I’m not sure if He will do this for you. I am sure you will not attain what you want through flesh-confident-strategies.
What are some ways in which you still rely on your flesh to accomplish the desires of your heart?
If you do not know the answer to that question, then I appeal to you to ask friends who are courageous enough to answer your query. I was not fully aware how I was using my manipulative strengths to accomplish what I wanted in my marriage. I needed a biblical friend to help me.
Sometimes it takes a nudge from a friend to rattle us loose from the things that have captured us (Galatians 6:1). We can be blinded by our strengths, never realizing how they are weakening us and our relationships. The LORD had to knock Paul down to get his attention (Acts 9:3-4).
I’m not suggesting anyone knock you down, but a loving wound may do you a lot of good, especially if you can’t see what you need to see (Proverbs 27:6). Is Christ your greatest treasure?