Introduction | Table of Contents | Chapter 2

Paul begins this passage by addressing the pride of Judaism which is represented by the phrases, "good showing in the flesh" and "boast in your flesh." The key to understanding this passage is found in Paul's specific use of the word flesh. He referred to his fellow Jews as "those who are my flesh" (Romans 11:14), "my countrymen according to the flesh" (Romans 9:3) and "Israel after the flesh" (1 Corinthians 10:18). As for boasting in the flesh he wrote, "Seeing that many boast according to the flesh, I also will boast . . . Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they the seed of Abraham? So am I" (2 Corinthians 11:18-22).

Here we have a clear example of boasting in the flesh. The Jews boasted in their natural heredity and in those things that made them unique, separate and superior to the rest of mankind. They wanted to make a good showing in the flesh. They bragged about being Hebrews, Israelites and the seed of Abraham. All this boasting was according to the flesh.

Paul wrote elsewhere, "I also might have confidence in the flesh. If anyone else thinks he may have confidence in the flesh, I more so: circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; concerning the law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the church; concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless" (Philippians 3:4-6 NKJV). Again, all of these things apply to natural linage and heredity. Paul went on to show that such things must be counted loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus. "I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ" (Philippians 3:7-8). Paul's pride in his national purity, perfect pedigree and his exalted status among his countrymen had to be counted as rubbish if he would gain Christ.

Paul did have a habit of boasting. He boasted in the cross of Christ. He gloried in the cross. What does the cross do that is so glorious? It kills. It crucifies. It terminates and saves by making room in us for the Son of God. The cross doesn't improve upon the old Adamic humanity. The cross doesn't make Jews into better Jews or Gentiles into better Gentiles; both are in Adam and that fleshly heredity has been crucified. The objective of the cross is an entirely new creation.

Jesus died on the cross to make one new humanity of the two, Jews and Gentiles, and tore down the wall that separated them (Ephesians 2:13-19). For this reason, circumcision and uncircumcision are dead issues. The preaching of the cross negates the preaching of circumcision. In Christ circumcision (being a Jew) counts for nothing and the same goes for uncircumcision (being a Gentile). In Christ, there are no Jews or Greeks to squabble over such things. In Him there is one new humanity that is free from the ethnic divisions that developed as a result of Adam's sin. This is the offense of the cross (Galatians 5:11) to those who insist on clinging to such things.

This is what stumbled the Jews. The cross would separate them from their Judaism and pride in law keeping. When I, Michael, was a boy I was a Cub Scout. My family moved about every two years, and just after I moved up in Cub Scouting, we moved to a new area where there were no Cub Scouts, just a Boy Scout troop. I soon found that my Cub Scout uniform and all its patches meant nothing among these boys. They were of a higher order. My uniqueness as an advanced Cub Scout meant nothing.

So also is Christ among us. His cross was to bring an end to the uniqueness of the Jews and silence their boasting. The resulting antagonism between the favored and therefore prideful Jew and the estranged and offended Gentile was destroyed by the cross, thus making peace. Jesus made peace between the two by abolishing the very thing that gave the Jew special status (the law of commandments contained in ordinances) in order that He could make in Himself one new humanity. ". . . that he (Jesus) might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby" (see Ephesians 2:15-16). This is a foundational aspect of the new creation rule.

This was a difficult concept for the early Jewish believers to understand. They had a hard time accepting God's verdict on their flesh because they believed that they were saved by virtue of their natural birth. When he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, John the Baptist immediately addressed their pride by calling them a generation of vipers and saying, "Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance, and do not think to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our father.' For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones" (Matthew 3:7-9).

Paul's question, "Well then, are we [Jews] superior and better off than they (the Gentiles)?" was rhetorical. Everything they had been taught by their culture and religion answered with a resounding, Yes! Paul's answer to this question was especially framed to confront this pride. "No, not at all . . . both Jews and Greeks (Gentiles), are under sin [held down by and subject to its power and control]. . . None is righteous . . . no not one. No one understands . . . no one seeks out God. All have turned aside; together they have gone wrong and have become unprofitable and worthless; no one does right, not even one!" (Romans 3:9-12 Amplified Bible - emphasis added). Jew and Gentile had long been united in sin, though divided by pride. They were both in Adam and together they had gone wrong. In that regard the Jew was no better off than the Gentile.

Horatius Bonar explains:

"The Jew, educated under the most perfect of laws, and in the most favorable circumstances, was the best type of humanity, - of civilized, polished, educated humanity; the best specimen of the first Adam's sons; yet God's testimony concerning him is that he is "under sin," that he has gone astray, and that he has "come short of the glory of God." (God's Way Of Peace)

The Jews refused to accept God's judgment on their flesh and their traditions, resulting in the emergence of "Judaizers," who worked hard to safeguard their Jewish heritage by adapting Christianity to it. Because they believed that becoming a Jew made you righteous and good, they couldn't believe that God would save the world without first making everyone into Jews. They bewitched new believers by compelling them to be circumcised and keep the law. Like their predecessors the Pharisees, they saw themselves as guides to the blind and a light to those who are in darkness (see Romans 2:17-19). The idea that God in Christ had made Jew and Gentile into one new race was preposterous to them.

Least we unfairly criticize the Judaizers we should consider the fact that the Jewish apostles also struggled with this. In fact, it is clear from the record that it took quite some time before those in Jerusalem could see and wholeheartedly embrace the new creation with no distinction between Jew and Greek. Years went by before they gained any significant level of freedom from this sectarian pride.

To prepare Peter to do what was unthinkable for a Jew (enter the house of a Gentile), God gave him a vision of a sheet coming down from heaven containing ceremonially unclean animals. Then a voice commanded him, "Rise, Peter; kill, and eat." Peter flatly refused, saying, "Not so, Lord!" Have you ever noticed what an oxymoron it is to tell Jesus NO and then call Him "Lord"? Yet, we modern Christians do it all the time by not yeidling to the authority of His Spirit. After Peter refused to obey, he boasted that he had never eaten anything common or unclean. The voice answered, "What God has made clean, do not call common." This was repeated three times. God was showing Peter that he was still viewing the Gentiles according to the dictates of Jewish society and tradition. Peter walked with Jesus for three years and his ethnic sectarianism still kept him from seeing the complete redemption and salvation of all mankind. Peter could not move redemptively toward the Gentiles while he viewed them as common and unclean. It took a vision and a voice from heaven to persuade this Jew to enter the house of a Gentile.

We know that God continued to deal with Peter in this matter (see Galatians chapter 2) and that later he was a powerful advocate for the Gentiles at what is now called "the Jerusalem council." He stood in the midst of his fellow Jews and asked, "Now therefore, why do you test God by putting a yoke on the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear?" Then he concluded with a statement of belief that revealed how far the Lord had brought him. "But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved in the same manner as they" (Acts 15:10-11 NKJV). Here is the root of it. Peter clearly stated that Jew and Gentile must be saved in the same manner, by faith in Jesus Christ and the work of the cross.

Peter had learned that circumcision and uncircumcision were nothing. All things had become new and the old was passed away. Paul wrote, "And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles through faith, preached before the gospel unto Abraham, saying, 'In you shall all nations be blessed'" (Galatians 3:8 KJ2000). The old estranged creation in Adam consisting of Jew and Gentile has passed away and a new creation has come. A crucifixion and a resurrection took place, a passing from one world to another. Nothing of the old creation can be carried over into the new. The cross is the death of it.

The only thing that matters is a new creation. This is the New Creation Rule. The peace and mercy of God rest upon those who walk according to it.

"Walk according to this rule"

According to Thayer, the definition of rule in our text is:

1) a rod or straight piece of rounded wood to which any thing is fastened to keep it straight

So Paul exhorts us to walk (stoicheo), "keep step with," this rule. In this instance stoicheo speaks of the adjusting and aligning stick that keeps believers properly related to God and each other. We must live in the reality of the new creation and relate to God and others according to it.

Thayer's dictionary goes on to say of this word kanon, "a definitely bounded or fixed space within the limits of which one's power of influence is confined." In the new creation we are inside the new boundaries that enclose the heavenly Jerusalem. We are consumed with the One that Father has set forth as our model of what His sons should be. He has become our All in all. He is the kanon we are tied to so that we will grow along side Him.

If you are in Christ, you were crucified to the world. You are dead to sin (Romans 6). You are dead to the law and you are dead to your old self (Romans 7). You are dead to everything of the old creation. Old things have passed away. You are dead to religion, which operates by the rudimentary principles of the world. But Paul did not only say "old things have passed away," but he continued by saying, "behold all things are become new." You were buried with Christ (in baptism) and raised in power. You are alive unto God. You have ascended and are seated with Christ in heavenly places, viewing things from a heavenly perspective. All things have become new! According to Paul, those who walk by the new creation rule are the Israel of God. They are the true circumcision, who worship God in the Spirit, rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh (see Philippians 3:3).

When Nicodemus sought out Jesus by night, He brought that old Pharisee up short in his tracks by telling him that everything he represented was of no spiritual value. Jesus said, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit." Elsewhere Paul put it this way, "I tell you this, brethren: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable" (1 Corinthians 15:50 RSVA). God is Spirit and they who worship Him and want to be in His kingdom must walk in the Spirit and the truth of the cross of Christ as it conforms us into heavenly beings.

Introduction | Table of Contents | Chapter 2

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