The apostle spoke to the Galatians “Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” (3:3) .This word shows us that the flesh is capable of doing good.
In Philippians 3:3 the apostle mentioned “confidence in the flesh.” “Confidence” in the original text is “belief.” He said that he himself did not “believe in the flesh.” The greatest work of the flesh is self-confidence! Since one thinks he is able, he does not need to trust in the Holy Spirit. Christ crucified is the wisdom of God, but a believer trusts in his own wisdom. He can read the Bible, preach the Bible, hear the Word, and believe in the Word; however, all of these are done through the power of his own mind, and he does not think that he absolutely must ask for the Holy Spirit to teach him. Many people believe they have received all the truth, even though what they have is something which they have received from others and from their own searching and what they have is more of man than of God! Furthermore, they do not have a teachable heart that is willing to wait on God and to let Him reveal His truth in His light.
Self-confidence and self-reliance are the nature of the good works of the flesh. “Dependence” on God is something the flesh cannot have. The flesh is too impatient to tolerate the delay of being dependent. The flesh can never depend on God as long as it feels it has the strength. Even in a time of hopelessness, the flesh is still busy planning, trying to think of a way out. The flesh never has the sense of utter helplessness. If the believers want to understand the works of the flesh, there is no other need than to put the flesh to the test. Anything that does not issue from waiting on God is of the flesh. Anything that can be produced and done without depending on the Holy Spirit issues forth from the flesh. Anything that one can decide according to one’s own will and for which one does not need to seek God’s will is of the flesh.
Whenever one’s heart does not have a sense of utter helplessness and a need for complete dependence on the Lord, one’s doings are the works of the flesh. However, this does not mean that all these things are wicked or improper. No matter how good they are or how godly they are–even reading the Bible, praying, worshiping, and preaching–if they are not done in complete dependence on the Holy Spirit, then they issue forth from the flesh. As long as the flesh is allowed to live and is given the opportunity to be active, it is willing to do anything, even submit to God! In all the works of the flesh, however good they may be. “I” is always a big factor, the only difference being that sometimes it is hidden and other times it is manifested. The flesh never acknowledges its own weakness and uselessness.
I found this passage from The Spiritual Man by Watchman Nee very convicting. It helped me understand that the flesh doesn’t only beget sin but also righteousness (aka self-righteousness). The Bible refers to the word “flesh” as the corrupted nature or life–the soul and the body. I am guilty of having depended on my own strength and believing that my righteous deeds would be pleasing to God when in fact they are vain. I thought, growing up, that going to church on Sundays and reading one Bible verse a day would be sufficient for me, when in fact I was spiritually bankrupt. Jesus said in Matthew 4:4 “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.'” Romans 8:8 also says, “those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” The Bible states that God’s purpose is that the believers would be completely free of the old man/creation and enter completely into the new creation. We are to be crucified with Christ and put to death our flesh daily. If there is no death, there is no resurrection. Everyday, the Lord reveals something in me that I need to die to, whether it be selfish ambition, the way I spend my money, time, or the way I treat others. I find that the more I seek God and the closer I get to Him, the more evident my flesh becomes, thus leading me to humility and repentance. It hurts letting my faulty flesh become exposed before God. After all, the flesh battles against the spirit and vise versa. God’s plan in our lives is to mold us and shape us into the image of His Son (Jeremiah 18:1-11). This is why the Lord wants us to come before Him as we are (fleshly) so that we do not have to change on our own strength. God creates that change within us. He gave me a new heart and a new spirit (Ezekiel 36:26). Therefore, I come into agreement with David’s prayer in the following Psalm:
Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life. Psalm 139: 23-24.