In me (that is, in my flesh) dwelleth no good thing. (Rom. 7:18 KJV)
Oh how often I get stark reminders of this reality! I know better than to trust in my own resources, but I do it anyway. And every time I do it, I end up in the same spiritual swamp…complete with noxious fumes and disgusting slime. Not to mention predators lurking to take a bite out of me at any moment.
Yes, I’m a believer (and yes, I believe that Romans 7 refers to a pre-conversion experience), but I am convinced that this statement is still true of believers as well.
In my flesh dwells no good thing.Do you know the feeling? That sinking in your gut when you realize you’ve “gone and done it again?” Do you know that whenever you try to walk in the flesh, the result is inevitably disastrous? Or do you still have confidence in the flesh? Do you still think you only need Christ to bail you out in emergencies, because you believe you’re doing fine on your own the rest of the time?
“For we are the circumcision” (i.e. we are those who are truly set apart for Christ), “who worship God in the Spirit, rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh” (Php 3:3).
So how is it that I keep putting confidence in the flesh again?
Oh, and by the way, notice the word “the” in Php 3:3. It doesn’t say, “My flesh,” it says, “The flesh.” Not only am I not to rest my hope on my own resources, but I’m not to rest it on any other human sources either.
Why? Partly because people will let me down, true. But that’s not the deepest reason. The stark reality is this: we either trust in flesh or in God. To the extent that we do one, we will not do the other.
Thus says the LORD: "Cursed is the man who trusts in man, and makes flesh his strength, whose heart departs from the LORD.”
So how do we know when we’re putting confidence in the flesh?
1. When the failures of the flesh steal our hope, our peace, or our joy.
Do your own failures make you feel hopeless? Do you lose your peace and joy when other people fail you? Do you get angry at yourself or others for not straightening up, not making the flesh better? I know I do, all the time. And that’s a sure sign that my hope was in the flesh.
Picture it this way. Suppose you were planning a pool party, and you invite lots of friends over for a fun day of swimming. The day of the party ends up being overcast and rainy, but that doesn’t dampen your plans one bit. Why? Because it’s an indoor pool. Since your hope didn’t depend on the weather, the weather couldn’t spoil anything for you.
By the same token, our hope, peace, and joy can’t be stolen when man’s abilities, efforts, or resources fail us…if our confidence was in God and not the flesh. People and circumstances can disappoint, grieve, and hurt us, but they can’t take away our God-given spiritual blessings in the process.
If the world didn’t give it to us, then the world can’t take it away.
2. We know we are putting confidence in the flesh when we focus on reforming the flesh rather than crucifying it.
The Bible does not teach us to reform our flesh, to improve it, to make it shape up and get right. No, what God tells us to do is crucify the flesh (Gal. 5:24), put it to death (Col. 3:5), consider it dead (Rom. 6:11), and refuse to “walk in it” (Gal. 5:16).
This doesn’t refer to destroying or abusing our bodies, as some ascetics and legalists do. The “flesh” referred to here is our sinful nature which pervades every part of our being.
Geese have a goosy nature that pervades their goosy flesh. It makes their bodies honk, swim, and fly south in the winter.
Dogs have a doggy nature that makes their doggy flesh bark, their doggy tails wag, and their doggy noses intrude in strange places.
Sinners have a sinful nature that makes their sinful flesh…well…sin. We aren’t defined as sinners because we commit sins. We commit sins because we have sinful natures. It’s who we are. It’s what we do.
Attempts at reformation are based on confidence. If you keep trying to reform an addict, it’s because you believe there’s some glimmer of hope. If you give up on them, it’s because all hope is gone (as far as you’re concerned.) In the same way, if we’re busy trying to reform our flesh, that means we’re still putting confidence in it. We ought to be putting nails in it (figuratively speaking, of course)!
I confess that, for most of my life, that sort of talk sounded like nonsense to me. Because I did not truly have the Spirit of God dwelling within me, I could make no sense of the notion of choosing to walk in Him rather than in the flesh. The flesh was all I had! To choose not to walk in it left me with a vacuum. You might as well tell me to walk in nothing at all. It just didn’t work.
But praise God, His Spirit now lives in me, and I have a choice I did not have before. My flesh has nothing good in it, and whenever I choose to walk in the flesh, I am instantly as miserable a sinner as I ever was. But I don’t have to walk in the flesh any more!
Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.
What a wonderful freedom! Why do I ever turn my back on it?
One of the hallmarks of a true believer is that they will not continue in sin (Rom. 6:2). They will sometimes fall, but they will miss their Beloved too much to stay in the muck. And their return to Him does not come as a result of self-reformation. It happens because of the genuine presence of the Holy Spirit of Christ who indwells them, and in Whom they can find their way (John 14:6).
3. We know we are putting confidence in the flesh when we feel prideful about anything.
Pride is giving the flesh more credit than it’s due. ‘Nuff said.
4. We know we are putting confidence in the flesh when we put people on pedestals.
Hero worship. Idolizing people. Believing that the perfect mate would make our lives perfect bliss. Believing that there’s someone on this planet we just can’t live without. Even idolizing the ideal “self” that we hope to become someday. It’s all confidence in the flesh.
Ever see someone so “in love” that they actually worship the other person? Ever been there yourself?
While it’s great to appreciate the good in others, it’s wrong to put our hope, our peace, our joy in their flesh. If there’s good in anyone, appreciate it and bless their Maker for it. Keep your hope, peace, and joy in Him, and they’ll be safe even when mere mortals let us down.
5. We know we are putting confidence in the flesh whenever we sin in any way.
The Spirit says, “Come to Christ to find the abundant life.” The flesh says, “Forget Christ. Pamper me with sin to find the abundant life.”
We’ll follow the one we have confidence in. Period.
In my flesh, and in yours, dwells no good thing.
But the Bible doesn’t always use the phrase “no good thing” in a negative way. Let’s close with the following promise:
There's no need to be discouraged about the "no good thing" of Rom. 7:18, when we have the “no good thing” of Ps. 84:11!
For the LORD God is a sun and shield; the LORD will give grace and glory; no good thing will He withhold from those who walk uprightly.
May we rest our confidence fully upon the One who is our sun, our shield, our grace, and our glory!