What is on your spiritual resume? What I mean by that is, what have you accomplished for God? What is your title in Church or a denomination? How much knowledge do you have? What degree do you have? How many books have you read? Who do you know so that when you share their name it makes you look good? How good are you at living out the rules? What mission’s trips have you been on? Paul would say, it’s all dog dung. Compared to being in a relationship with Christ, it’s all worthless. Is that stunning to hear? It’s only stunning if you believe those things matter compared to being in a life changing relationship with Jesus.
That’s what we talk about today. Paul tells us to avoid religion. Avoid that way of living where you puff yourself up. Avoid taking pride in your spiritual resume. Avoid this dead-end way of living where you muscle through life looking good to others while at the same time, ignoring Jesus and not inviting the Spirit of God into your life to change you on the inside.
We are in a series about choices. Remember the first choice? Make the choice to live clean and innocent lives. Remember what Sam said, that’s called holiness? Second choice, make the choice to hold firmly to the word of God. Remember how we went into the desert where Jesus was tempted? At the point of physical death, Jesus said the most amazing thing, “Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” Last week, third choice, you should rejoice and be glad. Sam asked, how did Paul live in a way that poured out his energy to help others, face death, and at the same time, be glad? For Paul it was simple, he did it because he gave his life to God. He poured everything out to bring honor to God.
Quick thought. In moments when I face constant struggle and am more frustrated or angry than glad, maybe I need to pray and give my life to God – again.
These are choices Paul tells us to make. These choices will define you over time. These choices will impact how you raise a family, how you love your spouse, how you go to work. These choices will determine how you live out Christianity. These are choices that the Spirit of God in you can empower you to make.
Let’s keep reading Philippians, Chapter 3.
1 And that’s about it, friends. Be glad in God! I don’t mind repeating what I have written in earlier letters, and I hope you don’t mind hearing it again. Better safe than sorry – so here goes. 2 Steer clear of the barking dogs, those religious busybodies, all bark and no bite. All they’re interested in is appearances – knife-happy circumcisers, I call them.
3-6 The real believers are the ones the Spirit of God leads to work away at this ministry, filling the air with Christ’s praise as we do it. We couldn’t carry this off by our own efforts, and we know it – even though we can list what many might think are impressive credentials. You know my pedigree: a legitimate birth, circumcised on the eighth day; an Israelite from the elite tribe of Benjamin; a strict and devout adherent to God’s law; a fiery defender of the purity of my religion, even to the point of persecuting the church; a meticulous observer of everything set down in God’s law Book.
7-9 The very credentials these people are waving around as something special, I’m tearing up and throwing out with the trash – along with everything else I used to take credit for. And why? Because of Christ. Yes, all the things I once thought were so important are gone from my life. Compared to the high privilege of knowing Christ Jesus as my Master, firsthand, everything I once thought I had going for me is insignificant- dog dung. I’ve dumped it all in the trash so that I could embrace Christ and be embraced by him. I didn’t want some petty, inferior brand of righteousness that comes from keeping a list of rules when I could get the robust kind that comes from trusting Christ – God’s righteousness.
10-11 I gave up all that inferior stuff so I could know Christ personally, experience his resurrection power, be a partner in his suffering, and go all the way with him to death itself. If there was any way to get in on the resurrection from the dead, I wanted to do it. MSG Philippians 3:1-11
Paul is giving us another choice to make. Avoid religion. What is religion? It’s when we become so prideful, we believe; I don’t need Jesus, I can muscle through today on my human effort. This way of living that looks good on the outside because I appear to follow all the rules while at the same time, I am not inviting the Spirit of God into my life to change me on the inside. This way of living that says, ‘Look at me, what I accomplished, what I am doing, what I know, my religious resume.’
Paul says, avoid religion. What did Jesus tell us? When Jesus came and walked on earth, He talked about religion too. This is how Jesus explains religion to the crowds.
1 Then Jesus said to the crowds, and to his disciples, 2 “You would think these Jewish leaders and these Pharisees were Moses, the way they keep making up so many laws! 3 And of course you should obey their every whim! It may be all right to do what they say, but above anything else, don’t follow their example. For they don’t do what they tell you to do. 4 They load you with impossible demands that they themselves don’t even try to keep. 5 Everything they do is done for show.”
Do you see how Paul and Jesus explain, religion is about appearances? Jesus then turns to the religious leaders and shares seven, what we call, ‘Woes.’ This is one of them.
25 “Woe to you, Pharisees, and you religious leaders – hypocrites! You are so careful to polish the outside of the cup, but the inside is foul with extortion and greed. 26 Blind Pharisees! First cleanse the inside of the cup, and then the whole cup will be clean.” TLB Matthew 23:1-4, 25-26
Do you see what Jesus was saying? Religion is looking good on the outside while at the same time, doing nothing about the junk on the inside. Jesus called them hypocrites.
On a personal note, I need to tell you as a leader, how I appear in public matters very little. What is more important is how I treat my family in private when no one is around. I believe one of the greatest goals you can have in life is living in a way that those closest to you like you more than those who don’t know you well. However, what are we tempted to do? Are we tempted to look really good to others while not caring about how we treat those closest to us?
The result of religion is the slow death of relationships because the love of God isn’t in the heart. Instead of love, there is jealousy, being judgy, critical, and cold. Over time, religion kills relationships. Relationships in a marriage, a family, a church, with God, and on and on. Why? Religion wears people out. Or I should say, the stuff in the heart like jealousy, being judgy, critical and cold wears people out.
What is interesting about religion is how good it looks. The religious person can appear to be a very good person, at first, because they do all the right things to make themselves look good to others. However, in the heart, the love and grace of God isn’t in there. It’s only about appearances. We call that being a hypocrite.
In Philippians 3, Paul is saying, whatever you do, avoid anyone who thinks like that or who lives like that. They are barking dogs, religious busy bodies. In the New Living Translation, it says, ‘Watch out for those dogs, those people who do evil, those mutilators who say you must be circumcised to be saved.’ Why the strong language? Because religious people only care about appearances. They aren’t concerned with what matters, a healthy heart.
As Paul continues to write, he does the most shocking thing. He begins to list all the things that make him look great. He shares his religious resume. And his religious resume is better and longer than anyone else’s. What does he say about his resume, all the things that make him look good to others? Everything listed that makes him look great is, dog dung. Are you shocked to know that’s in scripture? Does that offend you? Isn’t that naughty? Are we even allowed to talk like that? Maybe Paul did it to show how shocking religion is. Paul basically says, here are all my good points, who I know, what I accomplished, my knowledge, all the rules I lived up to, my mission’s trips, and everything I have accomplished, and I want you to know, it’s all dog dung compared to knowing Christ.
Paul said, I gladly throw all my success, ego, titles, accomplishments all away because it’s nonsense. My religious resume is worthless. What matters most, is my relationship with Jesus. I want to completely surrender my life to Jesus and rely on Jesus for my strength. I want to share in the suffering and death of Jesus. I want to get in on the mission of Jesus. Let’s just say it, that’s awesome. Wouldn’t it be great if all the Christian’s in North America lived like this? We dropped our titles, our egos, our accomplishments to share in the suffering to build and advance the local church – God’s kingdom?
Today, I want to share with you the secret about how to recognize and destroy any religion that might be in our hearts. Because after all, Paul taught, avoid religion. If you attend church or have been a Christian for a long time, religion is very hard to see in ourselves. It’s almost impossible. It is not normal to walk up to the mirror, look at ourselves and conclude, wow – I have religion in me.
We find this story in Luke 7.
36 One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to have dinner with him, so Jesus went to his home and sat down to eat. 37 When a certain immoral woman from that city heard he was eating there, she brought a beautiful alabaster jar filled with expensive perfume. 38 Then she knelt behind him at his feet, weeping. Her tears fell on his feet, and she wiped them off with her hair. Then she kept kissing his feet and putting perfume on them.
39 When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know what kind of woman is touching him. She’s a sinner!”
40 Then Jesus answered his thoughts. “Simon,” he said to the Pharisee, “I have something to say to you.” “Go ahead, Teacher,” Simon replied.
41 Then Jesus told him this story: “A man loaned money to two people – 500 pieces of silver to one and 50 pieces to the other. 42 But neither of them could repay him, so he kindly forgave them both, canceling their debts. Who do you suppose loved him more after that?”
43 Simon answered, “I suppose the one for whom he canceled the larger debt.” “That’s right,” Jesus said.
44 Then he turned to the woman and said to Simon, “Look at this woman kneeling here. When I entered your home, you didn’t offer me water to wash the dust from my feet, but she has washed them with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You didn’t greet me with a kiss, but from the time I first came in, she has not stopped kissing my feet. 46 You neglected the courtesy of olive oil to anoint my head, but she has anointed my feet with rare perfume.
47 “I tell you, her sins – and they are many – have been forgiven, so she has shown me much love. But a person who is forgiven little shows only little love.” 48 Then Jesus said to the woman, “Your sins are forgiven.” NLT Luke 7:36-48
Do you see the connection in this story? The connection between being forgiven and gratitude?
The Pharisee, Simon, was a religious leader. He looked good. He viewed himself as a good person. He had statues in the community. He was someone who knew the rules and followed the rules. He viewed himself as someone worthy to be in God’s presence. He viewed himself as good and he viewed others as, well, not up to his level of goodness. It was easy for him to point the finger and label the woman as a sinner.
How did Simon the Pharisee treat Jesus? He basically ignored Jesus when Jesus entered his home. All the customs of that day to honor a guest, Simon ignores. Then again if you think about it, if you view yourself as amazing, then others would have to be less than amazing compared to you. It would make sense that you are comfortable treating others as less valuable – right? Probably as if they aren’t worthy of your respect. This story isn’t about someone who is a bad host. It’s a story about someone who was so filled with pride, they couldn’t respect or honor Jesus.
Do you see the connection in this story? The connection between being forgiven and being grateful?
The woman who washed Jesus’ feet lived in the town. She didn’t look good. She was labeled and known as an immoral woman. She knew who she was. She knew how the community saw her and labeled her. And because of that, she was broken and humble.
How did she treat Jesus? She couldn’t have worshipped Jesus more. Nothing could hold back how grateful she was. Imagine the risk she took walking into Simon’s home. She would have had to deal with the sneers, the criticism of the judgmental religious men. And she didn’t know how Jesus would respond to her. She risked everything to simply honor Jesus.
Do you see the connection in this story? The connection between being forgiven and gratitude?
We know how Simon the Pharisee treated Jesus. We know how the immoral woman treated Jesus. What I want to know is, how do you treat Jesus?
As you walk through life are you comfortable ignoring Jesus? Do the topics of Jesus, Church, and religion kinda bug you? They are things you try to stay away from if you can. Or do you walk through life feeling like you can’t love God enough? Do you walk through the day and think, I can’t believe God would take the time to think about me and love me – it’s almost too good to be true? Do you connect with what Jesus did for you – because of His death and resurrection, you are free from judgement, and when you believe in Jesus, you are given the Holy Spirit?
Do you see the connection? The connection between being forgiven and gratitude?
One of very clear ways you can see religion in your life is in how you treat Jesus. Are you like the immoral women who couldn’t worship Jesus more? Do you see and believe what Jesus has done for you? Are you grateful? Do you take the risk and serve and give and love?
Years ago, I went to lunch with someone who attended MRC. I was surprised when he began to talk because he had tears in his eyes. I asked him what was going on. He began to tell me that his family just got back from vacation. On vacation he took a walk on the beach with his wife. That walk he said, was the first time they walked, and she wasn’t drunk. He couldn’t put words to what Jesus was doing in their lives. From that day on, he started to give financially. Over the years, he couldn’t give more. He said, it was the one thing he could do, his part, his worship, to build MRC so that we could reach others.
How do you treat Jesus? Are you like Simon the Pharisee, comfortable ignoring Jesus? Maybe you are reserved, almost bothered by the topics of Jesus, God, and church? Maybe the kind of gratitude the woman had seems too much, too risky, too public? Are you the traditional South-Central Pa Christian – super reserved, don’t get too involved, too passionate, too anything?
Beware, one of the ways to recognize religion in your heart is connected with how grateful you are to Jesus.
If we see religion in us what do we do? If we see that our gratitude is little, what do we do?
Think about this story for a second. In the community, what was the difference between Simon and the woman? Everything. One had prestige; one lost her good name. One had the right connections; one had all the wrong connections. One looked very impressive, the other, not so much. They were both labeled, and they looked very different.
Spiritually, what was the difference between Simon and the woman? Absolutely nothing. They both needed Jesus’ forgiveness. They both came up short of God’s standards. They both were 100% dependent on Jesus.
Why couldn’t Simon see that? Religion. Religion is filled with pride, and it blinds our ability to see our need of God. It makes us feel like we are better than we really are. We become arrogant and think, ‘I don’t need Jesus, I can muscle through the day on my strength.’ We look at our strength, our knowledge, who we know, our titles, our accomplishments. We make sure we look good to others while at the same time we ignore our true heart condition. We end up treating Jesus like that odd relative you try to stay away from at family get-togethers.
Why was the woman able to see her need of Jesus? She had no religion in her. She was able to see her true condition and her true need of Jesus. She wasn’t arrogant, was she? She was broken. She couldn’t believe Jesus forgave her. She was so grateful. She was so kind. She was so aware of what Jesus did for her. Jesus was almost too good to be true.
If we see religion in us, what do we do? How do we destroy religion inside of us? We must get to the end of ourselves and see our need of Jesus. We must come to the end of ourselves and realize, I have nothing to bring to God. We have no ability to walk through the day with love needed and a pure heart needed without Jesus. It’s true we can walk through the day, pay our bills, mow our lawns, and get the kids to sports fields on our own effort. However, we can’t do any of that with the love needed and a pure heart needed without Jesus.
Paul would say, your religious resume, that list of how incredible you are to others, your ability to do life without God, it’s all dog dung compared to knowing Christ.
Do you see the connection? The connection between being forgiven and gratitude?
How do you spot religion in your heart? It’s found in how we treat Jesus day to day. Your gratitude.
What do you do about it? We get to the end of ourselves and see our need of Jesus. Destroy our pride.
He’s [God is] a fiercely jealous lover. And what he gives in love is far better than anything else you’ll find. It’s common knowledge that “God goes against the willful proud; God gives grace to the willing humble.” MSG James 4:6
Same verse, different translation.
“God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” NIV
Do you see why Paul says, avoid religion?
Do you see why Paul says, steer clear of the barking dogs, those religious busybodies?
Do you see why Paul says, the very credentials these people are waving around as something special, I’m tearing up and throwing out with the trash?
Do you see why Paul says, I gave up all that inferior stuff so I could know Christ personally, experience his resurrection power, be a partner in his suffering, and go all the way with him to death itself?
Do you see the connection? The connection between being forgiven and being grateful?
How do you know if religion is in your heart? Answer this question, how do you treat Jesus? How grateful are you?
If there is religion, what do you do? Come to the end of yourself, realize your need of Jesus. Destroy your pride and arrogance.
I want to ask you a few more questions.
What do you focus on most, what others think about you or the true condition of your heart?
What would those who are closest to you say about how you treat them?
Outside of a job interview, are you comfortable puffing yourself up to make yourself look good?
How do you treat Jesus day to day? What do you think that reveals about you?
Are you filled with gratitude that leads you to give, serve, and help build the local church?
Are you trying to control everything? Doing the least possible in life and the local church?
Are you doing the heart work needed privately to be a healthy Christian?
Are you taking short cuts? That means you make sure you look good to others publicly but privately you heart is still disconnected from Jesus?