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Christian Experience

Mark Best

For we are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh.

(Phil. 3:3)

This verse seems to set out in a concise way Christian experience. Paul was in prison and therefore in bad circumstances, and yet, able to overcome. The reason quite simply is that he had his eye on Christ, and was in liberty by the Spirit for occupation with Divine things.

There are four short statements in the verse which allow us to see how Paul could be victorious in his circumstance. The first is 'we are the circumcision'; the second, 'which worship God in the Spirit.' Thirdly, 'and rejoice in Christ Jesus;' and fourthly, 'have no confidence in the flesh.' It is worth noting that Paul says, 'We.' That is, he is speaking of that which is common (or should be) to all Christians. This is in marked contrast to Romans 7:7-24, where everything centres on 'me.'

The first and last statements agree, as do the central two. That is, we are the circumcision, having no confidence in the flesh; we rejoice rather in Christ Jesus, being free by the Spirit for Divine enjoyment. Having no confidence in the flesh is the result of the awareness of the true character of the flesh. God sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh (Rom. 8:3). That is, when successive periods of trial on man had been made through Old Testament history, and men religious, cultured and political had crucified the Lord Jesus, God's well beloved Son (for the superscription on the Cross was in Hebrew, Greek and Latin), God there condemned sinful flesh once and for all. God would instruct us that we should align our estimate of flesh with His, and agree by passing the same judgement of condemnation upon it.

Just how long it takes a Christian to reach this depends on how soon he is brought to learn the total depravity of the flesh, and yet realise that God has given power over it.  Thus in Romans 8, there is occupation with Christ instead of my wretched self, and what is more, I prefer Christ to myself. 'O wretched man that I am!' (Rom. 7:24) is the complete opposite to 'We . rejoice in Christ Jesus.' I can find nothing to condemn in Him. In Christ there is only perfection, and when I know that by Divine grace I am of His order, then I see for myself that, 'There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus' (Rom. 8:1).  When I appreciate my being in Christ, I am delivered  from my wretched self. Not that I have delivered myself, of course: God's power has done it (Rom. 1:16).  I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. The death of Christ has opened up the way for me, as having been by His death cleared from all that was offensive to God, to enter into the order of things of which Christ risen is Head. My old life is ended, the life I now have is that of the risen Man, and its power is 'the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus,' a power to have 'made me free from the law of sin and of death' (Rom. 8: 2).

Romans 7 seems to be the New Testament counterpart of Deuteronomy 8:2 where Jehovah describes how He had used the wilderness as the means to prove the children of Israel: 'To know what was in thine heart, whether thou wouldest keep His commandments, or no.' Their true character came out (Num. 21). There we see how God taught them the lesson that they were under the control of sin having come in through the serpent's bite (Gen. 3). They were of the race of the fallen man, but 'as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up.' (John 3:14). Thus man's state (not his sins merely) has been judged at the Cross such that life, eternal life, is in the Second Man now beyond death (see John 3:15).  The love of God was the motive (John 3:16). The believer enters into true Christian experience when he learns that God has judged his 'old nature' and that Christ is his life (Col. 3:4). As it was only after the brazen serpent that Israel set forward (Num. 21:10), then the Christian only advances in true Christian liberty once he sees Jesus lifted up, and, having looked, lives, truly lives, that is, as a Christian in the power of Christ's life by the Holy Spirit.  While Romans 7 may be the is experience of a Christian, it is not really true Christian experience: that comes in Romans 8; but the way to it is through Romans 7.

Thus 'we are the circumcision.' That is, we have cut the flesh off. We have no confidence in it because it cannot produce anything for God to take pleasure in, and we have been brought in our experience to that point where we have to judge it too.  We are 'to beware of the concision.' That is, we are not to be drawn aside in seeking to control or improve the flesh.  Rather than use the knife to cut out only some things we estimate (wrongly) to be our bad points, we unsparingly set to and cut off the whole of the flesh as having judged that 'in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing.'

When flesh is set aside, then the Spirit may move in us unhindered, and the service of God be taken up in the Spirit's power. Now, the Greek word for 'worship' in Phil. 3:3 has the force of Divine service. Such service doubtless includes worship, but it would comprise also our presentation wholly to the service of God. It would be the continuation of that set forth in Romans 12:1 & 2. Whether Philippians 3:3 means service by the Spirit of God or the service of God by the Spirit makes little material difference. Divine service cannot be taken up in the energy of the flesh: it must be in the power of the Holy Spirit.

'And rejoice in Christ Jesus.' This is in stark contrast to 'O wretched man that I am!' The eye is now off self and fixed on Christ. Christ fills the vision; Christ occupies the mind. Paul had only one Object and Purpose for his existence: Christ was his life. All else was worthless, and that included himself. Indeed, he would not even think of himself. It is not a case, on having passed through Rom. 7, of having 'reached it'; rather he was set free to move forward in an ever increasing appreciation of Christ: 'That I may know Him.' And every further revelation of the Lord's glory brings fresh cause for rejoicing. This is Christian experience indeed: to 'worship God in the Spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus.'

That Paul was able to prove the reality of these things in the testing circumstance of  his confinement in prison is a challenge to us all. Indeed, he encourages us in this very epistle to 'Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice.' May we be helped, even in present difficulties, to find our contentment, strength and joy in Christ.