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God's Alternative to Self-Confidence

Mr. Proud

by Dennis Pollock

America, and much of the world have been in a long-term love affair with the idea of self-confidence. There are a seemingly endless number of websites dedicated to this topic with articles like: “8 Ways to be More Confident,” “How to Achieve 100 Percent Self-confidence,” “25 Killer Actions to Boost Your Self-confidence,” “7 Days to Unstoppable Self-confidence,” and on and on ad nauseam. According to these gurus of success, the only thing between you and an amazing career, marriage, family, and social life is just a dab more self-confidence. And they are glad to share with you their prescription for how to obtain it.

At first glance, their assertion that self-confidence improves one’s chances at success in almost every area appears unquestionably true. Virtually all world class athletes approach their respective sport believing that they are gifted athletes and expecting to succeed. Whether it is the baseball player standing in the batter’s box looking for a fastball he can smash out of the ball park, or a nimble basketball player driving to the basket for a lay-up, athletes that reach a level of extremely high performance almost always put great confidence in their ability to succeed: to drain a three pointer, to smash a serve past their opponent, to strike a five iron shot straight to the pin, or to convert a sizzling grounder into an easy double-play.

But it is not only athletes who make use of self-confidence. Super salesmen are absolutely brimming with confidence. People who rise high on the corporate ladder are invariably confident men and women. Weak-willed, fearful, nervous types who constantly second-guess themselves will probably stay in the mailroom all their lives; you will never find them using the executive washroom.

No Confidence in the Flesh

This makes it rather strange when we consider just how thoroughly and absolutely the Scriptures condemn self-confidence, or to use the more Biblical name for it, self-trust. Let’s consider a few examples. The apostle Paul summarizes the Christian life and attitude in his epistle to the Philippians with these words:

For we are the circumcision (the covenant people of God), who worship God in the Spirit, rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh. (Philippians 3:3)

According to the inspired apostle, to be a Christian is to be a God-worshiper, a Christ-rejoicer, and one who places zero confidence in the flesh. We all understand about worshiping God and rejoicing in Jesus. But what does it mean to have no confidence in the flesh? And what exactly is the flesh? In simple terms, the flesh is the sum of everything that does not pertain to God, and that includes ourselves, when God is left out! Paul goes on to declare that if anyone should be able to trust in the flesh, it would be him. He was “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 3:5,6). In other words, Paul was the Jew of all Jews, and religious in the extreme. You couldn’t get any more Jewish, any more fanatically devoted to the Scriptures than he.

And yet he follows this up with: “But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord.” Paul is saying, “If anyone had the right to trust in themselves, in their achievements, in their own efforts, in their birthright, it would be me. But I fully recognize that I cannot, I dare not trust in myself.”

Of course what Paul is talking about here is not confidence in one’s ability to shoot a basketball, or head a major corporation, but confidence in one’s standing before our holy Creator. And here he declares that he does not trust in himself. If Paul, perhaps the most fanatically religious Jew in all Israel, could not trust in his own efforts and accomplishments, how much less dare we trust in our own puny little attempts at being good and living acceptably before God! People who go through their lives with the philosophy of: “I try to live by the golden rule,” and trust that God will accept them at the end are surely making a major mistake, according to the Scriptures.

Sentence of Death

In another passage of scripture, Paul describes passing through a place of great danger and conflict. For a time, it looked as though he wouldn’t survive, and he wrote these words:

We had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead… (2 Corinthians 1:9)

This is really incredible. Paul is telling us that God deliberately allowed and directed him into perilous and seemingly hopeless circumstances for one major reason – to cause him to lose every trace of self-trust and instead look directly to God as his only possible source of deliverance. Normally when we face troubles and difficulties, we go into our trouble-shooter mode. We brainstorm various strategies and solutions and then begin to apply them to our problems. And sometimes they work beautifully. There is nothing wrong with this. It is a normal process and we would be foolish not to do this when facing difficulties. But sometimes God allows us to fall into dangers so terrifying, so titanic, so entirely unmovable, that it would be laughable for us to try to come up with a “fix.” The horrible reality is that, unless God Almighty intervenes in our situation, there will be no good outcome. To use a little slang, “we are toast.” In such cases the Christian looks to his or her Heavenly Father and calls for deliverance. It is all we can do.

Withered tree“That we should not trust in ourselves” – according to Paul, this is one of God’s priorities for His children. Therefore, this must be a good thing, and the opposite, which is self-trust, or some version of self-confidence, must not be a good thing in the eyes of the Heavenly Father. The Scriptures are replete with this understanding in both the Old and New Testaments. In Proverbs we read, “He who trusts in his own heart is a fool” (Proverbs 28:26). Jeremiah writes, “Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength, whose heart departs from the LORD” (Jeremiah 17:5). The man who trusts in man is cursed, says Jeremiah. And who is the man in whom we so often trust? It is ourselves. We have the talent, we have the goods, we have what it takes. It sounds impressive, and may well impress others, but God says such a person is under heaven’s curse. To go through your life ignoring God, assuming you are big enough, smart enough, wise enough, talented enough, attractive enough, to assume that you are enough is to be cursed. And perhaps the greatest aspect of that curse is that God leaves you to yourself and your own resources. You will receive no grace, no answered prayers, no divine interventions, no mercies from heaven, and in the end, you will find that you were not enough after all – not nearly enough. Only Jesus Christ is enough!

Weak and Yet Strong

In yet another place Paul declares, “I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10). Why would it possibly be that weaknesses, problems, desperate needs, and persecutions make one strong in Christ? The answer is, once again, that they annihilate our self-trust and self-confidence, and force us to direct all our prayers and all our hope toward God. People in the throes of desperate circumstances are typically not going around saying, “I am the man, I can do it all, every day and in every way things are getting better and better for me,” and “Whatever I believe I can achieve.” Instead they are calling out to God, and declaring, “If you don’t intervene here, I am surely sunk!”

This brings us to a key point in understanding God’s view of self-confidence. The point is this: God’s alternative to self-confidence is not no-confidence. God does not want the basketball player beginning the game, thinking, “I’m sure we’ll lose tonight. I’ll probably play poorly and miss every shot.” He does not encourage the business owner to think, “I know my business will be a complete failure. I’ll probably be closing my doors within a year.” He does not require the speaker to walk up to the podium with the thought, “I will fail miserably with this presentation. I’ll be boring and dry, and everybody will no doubt fall asleep before I’m done.”

The alternative to self-confidence is not no-confidence. It is God-confidence and Christ-confidence. Confidence does indeed bring success in nearly every area of our lives. Fearful, doubtful, nervous men and women will never rise to the top, or even get to the middle of their profession. But the problem with self-confidence is that offends God and leads us into the delusion that should we succeed, we have done it on our own. The person with self-confidence may well succeed, but in the end their success will be worse for them than if they had failed. They will be reinforced to trust in themselves more and more, and eventually this will lead them into terrible places, worst of all being a permanent state of enmity and hardness toward God.

When Paul describes being in danger and says, “We had the sentence of death in ourselves that we should not trust in ourselves,” he does not leave it at that. Nor does he declare, “We were certain that we would all perish.” What he says is, “that we should not trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead.”  Paul had confidence, but his confidence was in God alone. Not in his own ability to trouble-shoot or escape or talk his way out of his situation. He was looking directly to God here, and God did not disappoint him. He was indeed delivered.

Without Me / Through Christ

In all we have been talking about, there are two Scriptural statements which must be weighed against each other, and which, when taken together, sum up the matter. First is Jesus’ declaration, “Without Me you can do nothing.” This seems quite odd. We all know of many highly successful businessmen, athletes, singers, movie stars, entrepreneurs, and others who have reached the very pinnacle of their profession without ever praying, ever attending church, or ever reading a single verse of Scripture. These people have made millions of dollars, influenced the world in a positive way (sometimes), and written books to help others achieve at least some of the success which they have obtained. Yet Jesus says that without Him, we can do nothing? Without a doubt, Jesus was talking about eternal matters. Of course you can make money, achieve fame, and have your face on the cover of a major magazine without following Jesus. But from the unique perspective of the Creator of the universe, all such activities are essentially worthless. They do not move people to follow Christ, they do not impart spiritual life, they do not inspire men and women to draw near to their God. They are, in fact, nothing.

The other statement we must consider is from Paul, who writes, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Here is the other side of the coin. This is not some nervous little man declaring, “I am nothing, I can do nothing, I’ll never amount to anything.” No, Paul has confidence. He knows he is an effective “master-builder” in the kingdom of God. He fully recognizes that when he comes to town preaching Christ, men and women receive eternal life, the sick are healed, and churches are established. But his enablement comes from the One who strengthens him, the Lord Jesus Christ.

The Bible declares, “Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think of anything as being from ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God” (2 Corinthians 3:5). In Christ we can walk into our offices every Monday, fully expecting to succeed. We can stand at the pulpit in church or in that women’s conference, assured that our words will be effective. We can relax and enjoy our marriage ceremony with confidence that our marriage will be blessed of God. Our confidence is in Jesus Christ, and we are among those blessed individuals who worship God in the Spirit, rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh.


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