A couple of years ago, I set out on my first solo camping trip. After a long day of hiking, I finally arrived at my campsite, a quiet beach surrounded by mountains and the vast ocean. Awestruck by the scenery, I went on a walk after setting up my tent.
I was so captivated by the scenery that I failed to process the barking of dogs in the distance. I soon found myself running as fast as I could away from a chasing pack of dogs that clearly carried malicious intent.
I had lived in the safety of the suburbs for most of my life, and in the past when I heard dogs barking, I could be sure that they were behind a fence and that I was in no danger of being attacked.
As a result, I’d become desensitized to the blood-curdling primal roar of a dog. That day, as I strolled along the beach, oblivious to the warning signs of an animal about to strike, I’d casually ignored the barking and inadvertently prompted the pack of dogs to defend their territory.
In his letter to the Philippians, Paul also writes about dogs, except these are metaphorical dogs—false teachers who are pressuring the Philippian church to find a righteousness apart from faith in Christ.
The false teachers taught that it wasn’t enough for the Philippians simply to trust Jesus Christ to be made right with God, but that they needed to take up Jewish religious customs—such as circumcision—as well. We can see this in verse 2 when Paul refers to “mutilators of the flesh,” and also in verse 3 where Paul reassures the Philippians that they are the “true circumcision” (NASB).
As we’ll see in the rest of Philippians 3, faith in Jesus Christ is all that is required for a Christian to be pronounced righteous—or right with God. In fact, Paul tells us that one of the hallmarks of a true Christian is that we “put no confidence in the flesh” when it comes to our righteousness (v. 3). However, throughout my journey as a Christian I have found that I must constantly fight the temptation to do just that.
While we may not be tempted to get circumcised or abide by Jewish eating customs, we are often tempted to put our confidence in our works. As we get more involved in church, for example, or become more disciplined about our daily devotions, it can be easy to fall into the trap of thinking that these are the things through which we earn our right to stand before God.
There are warning signs along the way. It often starts with a small thought, perhaps borne out of recognition from peers after a great Bible study session, and we begin to take pride in our own work or “insights”. But when we don’t deal with these thoughts, we run the risk of becoming calloused and desensitized to the consequences of these thoughts. Slowly, we allow these thoughts more and more space and time. Like my experience that day on the beach, we don’t process the early warning signs. Before we know it, we’ve done the opposite of what Paul is warning us against in Philippians—we’ve put our confidence in our own flesh.
Two dog bites on the bum later, the beach no longer seemed so serene. The following day, as I hiked back out to civilization, I was sure to keep my ears pricked for any sounds of dogs.
Similarly, as Christians, we ought to look out for times when our confidence drifts away from Christ and onto our own works. We need to arrest those thoughts when they come, and continue to look to Christ and what He has already accomplished on the cross. Nothing we could do in this lifetime can ever supersede that.
—By Andrew Koay, Australia
Questions for reflection
- Are there any achievements or acts you have misplaced your confidence in for your salvation? List them down.
- Bring your list before God and ask Him to help you place your confidence in the finished work of Christ instead.
- What are some practical actions you can take to safeguard your faith against false teachings?