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Dr. Gillham on “The Flesh”

Here’s a classic teaching by Dr. Bill Gillham, author of Lifetime Guarantee, on “The Flesh.”  Enjoy…

In Philippians 3:3b-9, Paul describes his “flesh.” “… We… put no confidence in the flesh, although I myself might have confidence even in the flesh. If anyone else has a mind to put confidence in the flesh, I far more.” What does he mean when he uses the term “flesh”? The Bible is very clear on what he has reference to in verses 5-6: all the things which Saul generated and depended upon during his earthwalk prior to Saul’s being crucified in Christ and being resurrected the new man, Paul. Paul’s “flesh” is Saul’s old ways by which Saul generated and maintained his acceptance (love) from people and from himself (self-acceptance).

Can you picture Saul rising early in the morning, long before most of his peers, lighting a lamp and studying the Mosaic law? Can you see him “resting” in the fact that he had never made a slip in his life? It enabled him to feel good about himself, to accept himself, to respect himself. There were no skeletons in his closet for which he had to carry the shame, things in his past which were a blemish on his record which would cause him to be unable to respect himself. So far as he could judge he counted himself “blameless” with regard to the Law. He didn’t feel guilty. He understood perfectly well why God would accept someone such as he! He would, too, if he were God! After all, he was the best Pharisee of all…he performed better than any of them. He was the Heisman Trophy winner! These “darling things” were the key to his self-acceptance. How about you? How do you generate and maintain your self-acceptance, via the flesh or via the Spirit?

Can you also see Saul using these things to generate and maintain acceptance from the other Pharisees? Can you see him reciting the law without a mistake and see how envious some of the less capable or less diligent Pharisees would be of him? See them admire him and hear them marvel at his zeal and ability. Watch them jostle one another for a seat next to him in the public meeting so as to extract a little acceptance out of the crowd through “sitting by my good friend Saul.” Hear the younger, “aspiring-to-be-Pharisees” men discuss Saul over coffee cups. Can you hear their admiring statements? Do you hear them slightly embellish a tale when “once when they were with Saul” and he performed some marvelous act of wisdom or he successfully routed one of the Sadducees in a debate? Where is your source of acceptance? Do you rest in God’s acceptance of you or do you continually “milk” it out of people via the flesh?

Can you see how well Saul could generate and maintain not only acceptance from his peers, but how well he could accomplish the same result from himself! You see, a young man in Saul’s day didn’t “make it” with the peer structure by coaching the little league team, by becoming a member of the million dollar round table, or “Jaycee of the Year.” He made it by working his way up the Pharisaical ladder of success. Every culture in the world has a ladder you must climb if you want the acceptance it offers. Some of them require you to wear a bigger bone in your ear. Some are based on speed at coconut husking. Some are based on the right brand of three-piece suit with a house on the hill occupied by the prettiest wife in the block, etc. And whatever medium of exchange is required to extract the acceptance payoff from the culture is usually identical to the one required to milk acceptance out of one’s self.

The “new man” Paul is no longer Saul! Saul died in Christ! Paul was resurrected in Christ as a new creation. Two men do not exist. Paul can’t be created (“birthed”) unless Saul first dies! But, whatever programming Saul generated as the god-player when he was trying to get his need for love satisfied, has now become Paul’s “flesh,” his old ways. God says so in Philippians 3. I’m convinced these are programmed into Paul’s brain—not his mind. I believe this refers to his brain because it is part of Paul’s body, not his soul or spirit.

What does Paul say about his old ways of generating self-acceptance in verse 9? He says he has no more to do with “a righteousness of my own derived from the law.” What does that mean? To be declared righteous means to be declared “all right.” Saul declared himself to be “all right” based upon his performance of the law. Whose law? Saul thought it was God’s law, but it had become Saul’s Law (standard). And every culture has standards for acceptance. Every person has some. What are yours?

Paul chucked his! He swapped his old “righteousness” (I’m OK) for a “righteousness through faith in Christ, which comes from God on the basis of faith.” God declares all born again (new) people to be OK (righteous) in Christ! Are you now learning to accept yourself (declare yourself righteous) according to who you now are as a new creature in Christ or are you still employing the same techniques that the “other you” generated as a god-player prior to his execution? On what basis do you declare yourself “OK”?

Make no mistake about what I am about to say in this paragraph. Obviously our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ had no sin. He was not a descendant of Adam. But it was possible for someone else in His culture to “know Him according to the flesh.” (2 Cor. 5:16). Paul said he knew Him thus. What did he mean? I believe he meant that before he became Paul through regeneration, he knew Jesus through Saul’s perspective. Since Saul’s perspective was worldly and fleshly, here is how he probably “knew Jesus according to the flesh.” Jesus was Joseph’s son. He was uneducated and spoke the language of the ordinary people, using their colloquialisms and doubtless making Himself as “common.” He was a carpenter, probably an excellent one with a fine reputation. Saul had no doubt seen examples of His work and may have admired His craftsmanship, since he himself was a craftsman, a tentmaker, and probably an excellent one! He viewed Jesus as living an exemplary life and may have wondered why He didn’t strive to become a Pharisee, too. He “knew Jesus according to the flesh.”

But, Paul says in 2 Cor. 5:16-17 that he now knows better! He doesn’t view Jesus by those standards anymore, but through the reality of His true identity! He is the Son of God! And he further states that he knows no other people according to fleshly standards. He recognizes people by the state of their spirit! Lost people are pitiable and poor (no matter how many plaques they have on their wall) while saved people are new men! And these new men are now the “righteousness of God in Him.” We’re declared “OK,” gang (2 Cor. 5:21) by no less an authority than God Himself!

So, now that we see who we really are, we can begin to “life out” that identity with confidence. Our confidence is no longer in the flesh, but in Christ! Each of us can be confident in His life through us to live an overcoming life. Do you walk in your true identity, dear friend? Or do you still embrace the fleshly identity as if that were true? If you’re depending on that as “life,” you are leaning on the strength of the flesh, a broken reed that will pierce your hand. It will let you down when the crisis comes… And it surely will come because it is God’s plan to make you dependent on Him and not upon your flesh.

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