Living by the flesh is to put my trust and confidence in my own strength. Living by the Spirit is putting my trust and confidence in the Lord. There are many hypnotists in the world today that will put us in a trance and cause us to act in ways contrary to our true identity as saints, the children of a loving God. It’s interesting that the Jews often referred to gentiles as goyim, or dogs. In Philippians 3:2, Paul tells the believers to “look out for the dogs…” But his use of the term refers to those who would put you under the slavery of the religious rituals of Judaism. Because circumcision was the rite that identified Jews as the children of God, some insisted that all converts to Christianity had to be circumcised to be acceptable in the family of God. It was the same focus on “doing deeds” to win acceptance. But Paul says, “no, those who insist on such and such a ritual or such and such of a performance in order to be acceptable, are the dogs, not those of us who are living by grace through faith.” He says in verse 3, “For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh.”

Max Landers, in his commentary on this passage in Philippians tells a great story and makes a power application. He writes: “A number of years ago, I was in Mexico City, visiting the central square. This huge paved square is surrounded by grand buildings on three sides. On the fourth side is a great cathedral. I saw something on that visit which, I understand, is not all that unusual but which made a deep impression on me. A peasant woman was crawling across the great square, palms and knees being gouged by the ancient stones which pave the square. After she had crawled a while, she would stop, rise to her knees, pray a while, and then begin crawling a little farther. The slow painful crawl seemed to take forever as she tried to appease God through her self-inflicted suffering. I saw a similar sight in Guatemala. People brought gifts to the church and lay them on the altar. They knocked on the wood of the altar, trying to get God to notice them. They lit candles and poured wine as an offering, seeking to merit God’s favor.”

Max continues: “These incidents are sad examples of how far people will go to win God’s favor and earn his grace. Yet we often fall into similar bondages as we try to please God. We fear that if we get irregular in our Bible reading and prayer God will punish us. Or we feel that if we don’t give money to the church God will not bless us. Or we get into the performance trap in our efforts to be accepted by God. We volunteer for everything and never say no because we fear that God will not fully love and approve of us. If you have trouble believing that God accepts you, if you have difficulty resting in the fact that God loves you, if you feel you have to do something to earn acceptance in God’s eyes, then you have something in common with the woman in Mexico. You are crawling across painful, rocky, pavement, trying to earn God’s favor. These performances are a terrible burden because you can never know if you have done enough to appease him.”