Alfred Place Baptist Church

3:2-3 Basic Christianity

Philippians 3:2&3 “Watch out for those dogs, those men who do evil, those mutilators of the flesh. 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”

We Christians actually make this claim, that the living God has given to us through Jesus Christ the joy that the whole world may also know. “Joy to the world; the Lord is come!” says a well known carol. People who are joined to Jesus Christ by faith are a rejoicing people. This is one of the more prominent themes of this epistle, and so books explaining this letter have been given titles like “Rejoice Always” (John Gwyn-Thomas), “The Life of Joy” and “The Life of Peace,” (Martyn Lloyd-Jones), “The Message of Philippians: Jesus our Joy” (J. Alec Motyer), “Joy in Jesus” (A. Donald Macleod). It is with such an exhortation to rejoice that this third chapter begins, and yet here in our text (which is the next verse) we are plunged into very different sentiments, strong words of warning and denunciation, “Watch out for those dogs.” Rejoice in the Lord, and watch out for those dogs. Two divine commands, both of which Christians must obey. We rejoice as we watch, and we watch as we rejoice.

Paul is talking about men and women made in the image of God, yet he has been inspired by the Spirit of Jesus Christ to say this about them, that they are dogs, “those men who do evil, those mutilators of the flesh.” The alarm bells in the original ring louder. The Greek says, blepete . . . blepete . . . blepete! So the Authorised Version translates it, “Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of the concision.”. There is the triple repetition of a word like ‘look out!’ in the original, and that has been maintained in the King James Version. “Beware . . . beware . . . beware!” or as the English Standard Version translates it, “Look out . . . look out . . . look out!” Paul is talking about heretics, and he is doing so in this context because their teaching destroyed the possibility of believers rejoicing. Watch out for such men who claim they can give you wonderful new joy. In fact they will destroy the joy you have. The first thing I want to say to you is this:

1. CHRISTIANS – HEED THIS COVENANT WARNING!

Like wasps to a jam pot, and wolves to the lambs of a flock so false teachers are drawn to a gospel church. The Saviour warned us of them in the Sermon on the Mount: “Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are raving wolves” (Matt. 7:15 A.V.). Paul warned the Ephesian elders that their church was bound to be a magnet for heretics: “know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock” (Acts 20:29). Paul loved this church a Philippi and to imagine it coming under the influence of false doctrine set off alarm bells – “Watch out! Beware! Look out!” he says. This threefold repetition are the blows of the gavel calling the church to attention.

It was inevitable that such people were going to come along to that church and settle into the congregation, and they would win the hearts and minds of some members. They looked like sheep, but in fact they were wolves. They would begin by picking off the more vulnerable Christians. They just ‘wanted to share’ with them, they said. They were going to tell them about the secret of true religion. “Do you want joy, real joy, wonderful joy?” they asked. They claimed they had the secret of the blessed life. They knew where men could get abundant life. In Philippi the immense doctrinal and ethical foundations of Christianity had been laid by the apostle. All the stringent moral requirements of Christian living had been set forth, and then the immeasurable grace of God sufficient for all that the Lord requires had been commended to them and known by every believer. Considering these themes every time we gather together is the heart of worshipping God. But these false teachers marginalised all of that claiming that that was not where the secret of rejoicing in the Lord was to be found. Think of that! It is like marginalising the person and work of Jesus Christ. But that is what every cult does, as does the whole sacerdotal system. “It is not enough to have the Lord Christ!” You need a cult’s teaching, or a bishop’s hand on your head, and then, the dogs say, you can have joy.

So what secret of true religion did certain gullible Philippians hear? I will tell you what those evil workers said. Are you ready? Promise not to laugh. It is so pathetic, but thousands of people in the early church succumbed to it. How can man become a rejoicing child of God? Here is the answer. By getting circumcised! Can you believe it? I tell you, multitudes did. Enter the thoroughly poised wolf dressed in designer sheep’s clothing, and radiating exactly that kind of presentational self assurance that many Christians felt they lacked. Behind the charming exterior there’s a steely conviction that they are totally correct and they must deliver this congregation from the error of their ways These men came and after some time ‘shared’ the transformation that had come into their lives after they had been circumcised, and changed their diet, and kept one extra holy day each week – the seventh – and the result was that some of their hearers ached to have their joy too. When they spoke to them of the new blessings that had come into their lives, the sense of the nearness of God, how they were bolder to witness, and had new power over sin – then every Christian wanted that as they still do today. “Be circumcised! Keep the rules about what believers should eat! Keep the seventh day of the week as well as the first! That is the secret of new life,” they said. “Isn’t this the way to become an heir of the covenant? Didn’t God himself tell us to do this? Do you want to put God first in your life or not?” It was not enough to have the Lord Jesus Christ as your prophet, priest and king, know full forgiveness and the indwelling of the Spirit, be under the word preached and meet around the Table – all that was not enough. There had to be this damned plus – the circumcision package – and then, it was claimed, the rivers of the Spirit would flow . . . God’s blessings would fall . . . revival would come . . . God would arise and his enemies be scattered. “Get circumcised!” Do you want to feel good about yourself? Get circumcised, and get your sons circumcised. Send for the butcher and his knife! Let the dogs bite and tear off. That was the incredible secret to the abundant Christian life that the false workers were teaching. And I tell you that thousands were affected, and an entire letter had to be written in the New Testament to save one congregation which had had the apostle as its pastor. The Galatian church had gone to the dogs.

Do we live in more enlightened days? Isn’t our world, in fact, full of men and women giving even more weird advice? They reject the Saviour and his Book, and so what have they got? Nancy Reagan had an astrologer who was regularly consulted before Cold War meetings. Our own Prime Minister’s wife has a little coterie of gurus, healers and dowsers. One of them said this week, “I believe I’ve helped the lame to walk, the barren to conceive and the sad to smile.” It is the prosperous, successful and admired people who lack for nothing who have become the advocates of such thinking. These are the people who say that the folk to be afraid of are Christian fundamentalists. These are the people who threaten to remove from Christian parents their children if Christians reserve the right to spank them. These people have “lifestyle consultants.” These people go to women who claim a direct channel to the spirit world. They speak to the dead! These are the people for whom the occasional acupuncture session, the crystal pendant, special diet and holistic deep-tissue massage are all nothing special, but who go on and smear themselves with soft fruit in Mexican rebirthing ceremonies. Their gurus claim that they possess the solution to general anxiety about money, children and the future. We are not talking about the demonstrable fruitcakes. We are talking about politicians and world leaders, about the Blairs and the Clintons. We are of course talking about the millionaire pop stars, Mick Jagger, Jerry Hall, Sting and Paul Simon who all have New Age advisers. When Meg Ryan and Dennis Quaid split up, they even fought a custody battle over theirs. The late Diana, Princess of Wales never attempted to hide her colossal appetite for therapies and treatments and ‘advice’ of every variety – from colonic irrigation specialists to feng shui counsellors and relays of astrologers One of the men she consulted on business matters, Joseph Sanders, remembers a party she gave at Kensington Palace for “600 therapists” all personally known to her. The Duchess of York used to travel to the terraced house of one Madame Vasso in order to sit beneath a blue pyramid and look into the future. All the role models for young people have succumbed to this – an English soccer coach, singers, actors and public figures, but now this movement has gone mainstream. These gurus promise that they can “access your inner glow” and “release your psychic energy.” This year the Bank of Scotland even sent its business clients a feng shui guide, full of tips about “channelling negative energy.”

What is my point? That it harms people? Of course it does. It is the world’s substitute for the gospel. It is its substitute for the God the Son. It is the substitute for the Bible. But my point is more focused than that; that if highly intelligent and successful people from 10 Downing Street to the Bank of Scotland are this gullible, then these are dangerous days for members of evangelical churches. It has never been simpler for the wolves to move into congregations and persuade people that their own opinions and beliefs are a revelation from the throne of the universe, and that their high feelings are the work of the Holy Spirit. It has never been easier for ‘personalities’ to be exalted and the meek to be disdained. It has never been more important for the church to heed those many warnings in the Bible that say, “Beware!” “Watch out!” “Look out!” If such a personality came into this congregation we would be amazed at the sensible members who swallowed their teaching and raved about it. When the Lord Jesus tells us not to judge he is not telling us it is wrong to keep an eye open for false teachers with false promises and false claims. Christ is not telling us, “Be gullible.” He is saying that we shouldn’t judge in a self-righteous way but evaluate everything in the light of divine revelation. What does Paul say?

i] Watch Out for those Dogs. In the book of Daniel we have pictures of great world powers setting out to destroy the people of God and their land. These cruel and rapacious tyrants have so perverted the image of God in which they are made that they have become like beasts. They are compared to a lion, and a bear, and a leopard, and one unspeakably ugly animal. The Lord Jesus compared the less powerful King Herod to a fox. These little heretics troubling the Christians of Philippi don’t have the power of tyrants, but there is the same perversion of God’s image in their activities. “Dogs!” says Paul. We know that Jews commonly referred to Gentiles outside the law as ‘dogs’ – Gentile dogs. So Paul is seizing on this word – which his Jewish enemies used to belittle uncircumcised Gentile converts – and he hurls it back at them with a vengeance. They are the ones who are despicable men with despicable deeds. Unclean, filthy, howling, snarling animals. The church’s enemies are like a pack of marauding scavenging dogs who will destroy and kill at any opportunity. They are pariahs, strong, savage and ugly. I was once walking back with Keith Underhill to his home in Nairobi around 10 pm. There are no street lights and Keith did not have a torch. Suddenly ahead of us in the total darkness we heard the sound of such a pack of snarling dogs running towards us. Such undomesticated animals prowl the garbage and rubbish thrown into the streets in the African night. It was quite a terrifying sound as they ran nearer, but Keith didn’t seem afraid, and that greatly cheered me. I stuck close to him, and these wild dogs ran up to us . . . and ran on past us. If they’d attacked, I’m afraid that we’d have been badly hurt. So too the church has been destroyed in the past century or two by false teachers who have come out of the darkness of the pit and intrude and destroy like unclean dogs.

ii] Watch Out for those Men who do Evil. What does Paul call them? ‘Evil workers.’ Because people work hard spreading their religious beliefs, and so show their sincerity, does that mean we throw our discernment away? In a democracy they have every legal and civil right to do so. But remember what the Lord Jesus said to the Pharisees, “You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are” (Matt. 23:13). See them in a storm-tossed boat on the Mediterranean risking their lives to make other people Pharisees. The Lord Jesus didn’t say that they had a lot to teach us about zeal and sincerity. They were making people sons of hell just like themselves. The apostle Paul did not deny that they were working hard for what they believed. So do the Islamic terrorists. So did the prophets of Baal. Sincerity alone is not enough. Knocking on doors and being out in all weathers is not enough. If it prevents people entering heaven it is wickedness, hard-working wickedness and sincere wickedness, but these men were doing evil, Paul said.

iii] Watch out for those who are Mutilators of the Flesh. That is a good paraphrase for the Authorised Version’s ‘the concision.’ They were the Mutilation Party. When they sat next to you in church and began to share their wonderful blessings they never said that they belonged to the Mutilation Party. When they knocked on your door they never said, “Hello. I belong to the Mutilation Party.” But they did. What we find here is a figure of speech called a ‘paronomasia’; this is a word that is similar in sound to another word but has a very different meaning. That can’t be captured in translation very well, but we have something like it in the words ‘concision’ – useless mutilation of the body, rather than ‘circumcision.’ The dogs thought they had achieved something spiritual, but they were mere butchers. They did nothing to sanctify the souls of men. They simply cut men’s bodies. One thinks of the obsession with body piercing that some people have today. Does it affect their values, and their hopes? Does it give them peace of conscience and forgiveness? It can’t, any more that a tattoo can regenerate a man. So Paul is as outspoken as he can be in warning the Philippians about these false teachers. They are not friends of salvation but agents of destruction. They don’t have the message of new joy; they mutilate joy. Then he gets to the heart of why he rejects them: they already have much more than these dogs are offering.

2. CHRISTIANS – RECEIVE THIS COVENANT ASSURANCE!

“For it is we who are the circumcision” (v.3). What a challenge! The Jews said that they were the circumcision and the Gentiles were dogs. No, said Paul. We are the circumcision and the Judaizers are the dogs. We have seen that the word ‘dogs’ means destructive cruel beasts, so what does this claim mean, that we are the circumcision? Certainly it reminds us that circumcision was a covenant sign. God entered into a covenant with Noah and the whole of his posterity. “I will not destroy the world with a flood again,” he promised, and he put a sign in the heavens of that covenant of common grace, of God’s goodness to all men, in the rainbow arch. Then God narrowed down the focus of his love in another covenant to many favoured people in a vast redeeming promise. He confronted a man who lived in Ur called Abram, and he entered into a covenant with him: “I will be your God and you will be my people. Go to a land I have prepared for you, and through you all the nations of the earth will be blessed.” The sign of this covenant relationship was evidenced in Isaac’s circumcision, and then later, through the sacrifice of a ram, the life of Isaac was spared: Isaac was redeemed by the shedding of blood. Those become the basic elements in the covenant. Circumcision and redemptive love. God’s covenant people are in slavery in Egypt: “Let my people go to worship me!” says God to Pharaoh, and God sees to it that they are delivered at the first passover. The blood of the lamb sprinkled on the door gave the people in the house immunity. God protected and redeemed his people. That theme is taken up by the prophets. What a wonderful future of redemptive blessedness lies before the covenant people of God, they prophesied. A new everlasting covenant was announced. This was going to be established in the coming and especially the saving death of the Messiah.

Paul says, “We are the circumcision,” and he is claiming for himself and for the Philippian church the privilege of being heirs of this plan of God. But why didn’t Paul say, “We are the covenant?” Why did he say, “We are the circumcision?” What is the relation of the sign of circumcision to the covenant itself? Alec Motyer answers that very helpfully: “The key passage is Genesis 17, and the important point can be simply expressed. The covenant is God’s promise. He goes on oath in certain specific matters.
i] Abram is the recipient of the promise, and it is first personal: Abram becomes Abraham (verse 5), a vivid promise of regeneration or a new nature, for with the new name there is created a new man.
ii] Secondly, the promise is [inter]-national, a multitude of nations (verses 5b-6).
iii] Thirdly, it is spiritual, ‘to be God to you and to your descendants after you’ (verse 7).
iv] Fourthly, it is territorial, the ‘land of your sojournings’ (v.8);
v] Fifthly, by way of emphasizing the most important point, spiritual again, ‘and I will be their God’ (verse 8).

“But Genesis 17 also defines the covenant in a second way. We read in verse 10, ‘This is my covenant . . . you shall be circumcised.’ The covenant which is first (verses 4-8) a complex promise from God to a chosen man cannot suddenly change its nature. When, therefore, it is defined secondly (verses 10-14), in terms of a sign, it must still speak of a movement of grace from God to man. Circumcision symbolizes the application of the covenant promises to those individuals whom God has chosen to receive them. All this, Paul applies to himself, to his Philippians and to us when he says that ‘we are the circumcision’: we are the chosen recipients of the promises of God. (J. Alec Motyer, “The Message of Philippians,” Inter-Varsity Press, Leicester, 1984, p.149). We are the only circumcision there is. We are the only covenant people. We are the ones of whom the Lord says, “I am your God.” True circumcision is not a cutting of the flesh. It is circumcision of the heart, the removing of the powerful dominion of sin from within us. It is cut out of our lives entirely. Paul, the Philippians, the whole company of Christian people down the years, we are the chosen people of God, born of his Spirit, washed in Christ’s blood, given new hearts, heirs together and individually of the Lord’s purposes in grace. We can be sure of it, says Paul. This converted Jew is standing in solidarity (‘WE are’) with these converted Gentiles. God has put his personal seal of choice and ownership on us. We are the circumcision.

I was once in Jerusalem at the Garden Tomb. There is a little tree-covered amphitheatre there, birds chirrup and fly in the branches above you, services are held – especially on the Lord’s Day mornings. It is a quiet corner of Jerusalem, and there is a Christian souvenir shop. I saw a man come in and he picked up one or two of the books, and then he went up to the Christian who was serving behind the counter and he said to him, “Are you a Jew?” That is a loaded question. Was there going to be a confrontation here? Was this a Jewish militant, angry at Christian propaganda being disseminated in their city? Was the Christian behind the counter a converted Jew and so in this man’s eyes a renegade? I listened eagerly for the man’s reply, and I was not disappointed. This believer (who happened to be from America) answered by quoting to him these words of Paul in Romans 2:28 and 29, “A man is not a Jew if he is only one outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. No, a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a man’s praise is not from men, but from God.” It silenced the questioner and he said nothing more, and soon left the shop. We are promised by the Lord that he will help us to speak when we are confronted by a hostile world. Those sentiments of Paul as to the inward nature of true religion are what he is saying here in our text: “we are the circumcision” and there is none else.

3. CHRISTIANS – KNOW THESE MARKS OF COVENANT MEMBERSHIP!

How do you recognise those of the true circumcision? Three ways: “who worship by the Spirit of God, who glory in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh: (v.3). These are the marks that you are in a covenant relationship with God today, and that you now possess God’s promised blessings. There is, one, the experience of the indwelling Spirit; two, the right attitude to Jesus Christ, and three, a refusal to rely on yourself. There is this upward blessing – you worship by the Spirit of God. There is this outward testimony – you glory in Christ Jesus. There is this inward attitude – you have no confidence in the flesh.

i] We worship by the Spirit of God. Let us know with certainty that we really do! Let each of the new covenant people of God say at the end of this Lord’s Day – “today I worshipped by the Spirit of God.” Let us be confident of this. Let us not be browbeaten into thinking that again we tried, and again we failed, or that we did so half-heartedly and meanly – though we do acknowledge that none of us did this perfectly, as we do nothing perfectly. We are worshipping by the Spirit of God every Lord’s Day. Let us get this clear. Let us heed these important words: “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith” – is that true of us? We are trusting in Jesus Christ and God has declared us righteous in Christ and justified us? – “we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” because God has dealt with all of our sin and guilt on Golgotha. There is no impediment in our coming right into God’s presence in Jesus’ name. There is peace with a holy God – “through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God” (Roms. 5:1&2). Isn’t that the beautiful simplicity of New Testament worship? We need no temple, no priest, no holy place, and no heightened feelings – it doesn’t depend on them, pleasant and reassuring though they may be. We need the name of Jesus Christ to plead, our faith and hope in him alone. We come to God through the merits of the Redeemer and we adore him, and thank him, and confess our sins to him, and we intercede for ourselves and others in their need. That is worship. It can be personal – the Lord Jesus said, “Go to a secret place and close the door and pray to God.” It can be corporate as it was in Troas – “On the first day of the week we came together to break bread. Paul spoke to the people” (Acts 20:7). I assure you that now, as you hear these words and respond with thanks in your heart, that you are worshipping God by the Spirit of God. He is the one who has applied to you the redemption accomplished by Jesus Christ. He is the one has given you enlightenment in the gospel. He is the one who has given you strength to keep trusting in the Lord Jesus. If you are not worshipping by the Spirit of God then you are worshipping by the flesh and I believe better things than that of all of you who trust in Jesus. The youngest lamb in the flock of Christ can run into the presence of the Almighty God in heaven and cry to him, “Abba! Father!” The meanest slave in Rome, the prisoner in the deepest dungeon, the two or three who gather in Jesus’ name behind locked doors because of the cruel beasts in power who would destroy them – they all worship by the Spirit of God. When we take the book that is God-breathed, which was written of old by holy men borne along by the Spirit, which is the Spirit’s sword, and when I ask for the Spirit’s help in declaring that word we are worshipping by the Spirit of God.

Some of you have never had an experience of being at a worship service abandoned by the Spirit of God. Let me describe one to you. I remember my friend Duncan at Westminster Seminary who was studying some modern theologians for his Master’s degree. He had gone down to the Unitarian Church in Philadelphia one Sunday morning to hear the infamous liberal writer Paul Tillich speaking. Duncan pulled a face at me when he got back from the service. How dead it had all been. What dryness! What coldness! What barrenness! Where was the gentle Dove? He had spread his wings and flown away grieved that the Word he had breathed out was not honoured, and that the Son whom the Spirit loves to glorify was being demeaned, and that those who were there did not have him indwelling them. They lacked a trust in the merits of the Lamb of Calvary – they hated what they called ‘blood theology’. Worshipping in the flesh is a reality.

So is lukewarm worship! Don’t you pray, “Kindle a flame of sacred love on the mean altar of my heart” whenever you come to God? You don’t take for granted that your orthodoxy alone is sufficient to give you an enjoyment of God. Grieve not the Spirit! Though we worship God by the Spirit each Sunday yet there are times when there is an elevation and intensification of the church’s worship. Is it not said of the early disciples at a time of persecution that they were “filled with joy, and with the Holy Ghost” (Acts 13:52)? Surely that is a description of an experiential reality, what Peter calls elsewhere a “joy unspeakable and full of glory” which God at times favours his people with as they draw near through the Spirit.

ii] We glory in Christ Jesus. That is the second mark of the true circumcision. We always return to the theme of the greatness of Jesus the anointed one. He is great as a teacher, great as a High Priest, great as the King of kings. He was great when he was born in Bethlehem, all the angels singing ‘Glory to God in the highest.’ He was great when he died on Golgotha. He was great when he rose, and great when he ascended. He will always be great. We boast about Christ, and we never stop. I was speaking last year at Reformed Seminary, and one of the students in their Charlotte campus is Frank Reich who was a famous professional football quarterback who played for the Buffalo Bills. He had come to know the Lord during a period of injury. A few years later he was playing for the Bills against the Houston Oilers in a crucial game. On his way to the game that morning he was listening to some Christian music and one song in particular touched him:

“In Christ alone I place my trust
And find my glory in the power of the cross.
In every victory let it be said of me
My source of strength, my source of hope
Is Christ alone.”

Frank wrote that down on a piece of paper before he left the car, and that afternoon he was in the game. His team was losing 35-3 and then there was a remarkable change of play. They rallied under his direction as quarter back and scored 35 consecutive points and won the game 41-38. It was tremendously exciting, watched all over the USA, and afterwards the reporters and cameras were interviewing the players of the winning side. Frank Reich was asked how he had engineered such a comeback. He pulled that piece of paper out of his pocket and said to them,

“In Christ alone I place my trust
And find my glory in the power of the cross.
In every victory let it be said of me
My source of strength, my source of hope
Is Christ alone.”

Christians all over the country expecting footballers’ cliches (“Um . . . it was a game of two halves . . .”)opened their ears at this unexpected testimony, and they gloried in Christ for saving Frank and giving him grace to speak like that. Of course there were many times when Frank has been on the losing side and sitting on the substitutes’ bench. I am not saying, “Own Christ as Lord and you’ll always win your games.” Many godly Christians fail exams and tests of all kinds. But what I am saying is that the characteristic of Christians is that winning or losing their boast is in Jesus Christ the Lord. They are buoyantly satisfied with him. They enthusiastically appreciate what he is, what he has done and what he teaches them week by week. Less than Christ would never satisfy them, and more is not desired, because more than all in him they find. He is their prophet and they are constantly learning from him. He is their priest and the blood of Jesus Christ God’s Son cleanses them from all sin. He is their Shepherd King, guiding, providing, protecting, working all things for their good. Little wonder they glory in him.

There is a book of Watchman Nee that I have not read, and I do not truly recommend it because it is deficient in its views of sanctification, but it has a memorable title of three words: “Sit, Walk, Stand.” Nee starts with the abiding status of every believer seated in Christ in glory, and so we are safe and kept by him. Then he goes on to the daily walk of every believer, that we have an ongoing growing relationship with Christ, that we walk with him. Then he talks of the strong stand of every believer in our evil days, clothed with all the armour of God and fighting the good fight of faith for Christ. Sit – our security in Christ. Walk – our fellowship with Christ. Stand – our fighting for Christ. The Christian’s life revolves around Christ. Before the world, whenever we are given the opportunity, and even when no one’s eyes are on us we glory in the anointed Jesus.

iii] We have no confidence in the flesh. The ‘flesh’ means the principle of remaining and indwelling sin. It is the animal energy of our inner life out of which all our outer conduct flows. A lady from Llanystumdwy in North Wales was in France last month. She was staying in a hotel and the porter took her up to her room. He happened to say to her, “I’m a Rastafarian.” “What’s happened to your dreadlocks, then?” she said. He paused and turned to face her. “Here in France,” he said, “they don’t like to see porters with strange hair, but it doesn’t matter because I grow them in my heart.” So Rastafarianism, like every way of life, is first a matter of the heart. The signs of a strange false religion were not on his head, but they were encouraged in his heart, and boasted of to others. That is the flesh. All sinful conduct is first of all a matter of the inner life.

The flesh is what a person is apart from the grace of Christ. It is remaining sin in the Christian, and he battles with it. Without Christ all that a person has is the flesh. It is moulded by such influences as upbringing, natural qualities and talents, the Christian religion, traditions, culture, family life and education. So without Christ I could be a brilliant scientist, or a musician, or an excellent nurse, or even an ethicist specialising in analysing human conduct, but all the while my life is structured by the flesh alone. The flesh is on the one hand mean and wretched, but on the other the flesh is also noble and self sacrificing – think of those non-Christian firemen who laid down their lives in the destruction of the Twin Towers in New York. It is the flesh of someone made in the image and likeness of God. By itself the flesh can only display single-minded opposition to Jesus’ lordship over our lives whether we are Christian or not. The flesh wars against the Spirit of Jesus Christ. It is my flesh, and I myself – poor child of the earth – do battle with my Saviour. That is me, just as my love of Jesus and my obedience to him is also me. The good that I would do I don’t do and the evil I wouldn’t do I find myself doing. That is me. But God also gives me victory through my Lord Jesus Christ. That is also me. So I have no confidence at all in anything that is not part of the fruits of Christ’s salvation. Christ and him alone is all my glory.

You cannot have confidence in Christ and confidence in the flesh at the same time. You have to make a choice. There must be a separation from serving the flesh to serving Christ. There was a young man from Frinton who professed to be converted, and yet he kept wearing a particular kind of leather jacket which had on it the logo of a heavy rock group known to be deep into sexual deviation and the occult. He wore the jacket and he played the group’s records. He had the confidence that he could follow those with a devious anti-Christian outlook, and at the same time trust in Jesus. So the minister wouldn’t baptize him while he was still devoted to that group. That boy was showing a confidence in the flesh which was impeding his growth in the purity and holiness of the Lord Jesus Christ. There was a contradiction between what he was wearing and his claim to be walking in the Spirit of God. His minister said to him, “Would you invite the Lord Jesus Christ to put on and wear that leather jacket with that logo on it? No.” Of course, mixing with those people and speaking to them is something else Yes, we may do that if we are holy enough men. The Saviour did that, but actually wearing that logo? No. Unpick it, remove it and destroy it! Burn those records! In fact that young man did ultimately get rid of that jacket and those records and was baptized. Now he is putting less confidence in the flesh.

These then are the marks of covenant membership – worshipping by the Spirit, glorying in Christ Jesus, and putting no confidence in the flesh.

15th December 2002 GEOFF THOMAS