Joy Manual: Religion

1. Religious people are dogs (Phil 3:1-3)

There is a difference between a Christian and a religious person. Jesus people understand that they are sinners and that they are saved by Jesus and that they live a new life of worship by the power of the Holy Spirit.

The result is humility and joy. Humility is knowing that I am not a good person, but Jesus is a good God.  Jesus pleases God the Father in my place, and now he saves me – gives me the Holy Spirit to empower me to live an obedient life so that now the pressure is off and I get to live a new life out of joy.

Religious people are "the dogs" – evil doers, mutilators of the flesh. These are very stark terms. They’re dangerous and they destroy everything.

Many of us have pets. We love our dogs. Our dogs are trained and they’re pleasant and nice. In that day, he was speaking of wild dogs who run free; they eat human corpses; they go to the toilet wherever they want; they chase people; they bite them; they breed openly in public; they’re disgusting; they’re wild, ravenous, unpleasant, dirty, defiled, mean dogs. That’s what he’s talking about. He says that religious people are like that. They’re violent. They’re mean. They bark. They’re scary. They bite. They hurt. They’re no fun at all.

Christianity gets wrongly thrown into the category of religion, and people criticise all religion. Atheists, like Sam Harris and such, who have risen up in recent years to talk about how horrible religion is, and Paul would agree with them.  Christianity is not a religion. It’s a humble, joyous new life with Jesus that has a different tone, a different motivation, a different salvation, and a different implication than religion.

Paul says that religious people essentially believe that Jesus helps us, but we need to help him. That Jesus isn’t enough to save us. He needs our participation and our salvation. As a result, it is not humble. It is proud. And subsequently, it is not joyous. It’s very angry and critical and mean. Can’t laugh, have much fun. Religious people are very self-absorbed, and as a result, they’re not very pleasant.

All we need is Jesus. And Jesus plus anything ruins everything.

2. Religion is rubbish (4-8)

You and I will all stand before God on that great Day of Judgment, and what Paul is saying is that in anticipation of that day, he lived a very devoted religious life, and his goal was to have a very good CV so that when he stood before God, he could show God his CV, and then he would expect that God would be pleased with him and allow him into heaven.

"Rubbish” is translated in some translations as refuse – that "religion is refuse". Others will call it filth – so "religion is filth". King James call it dung – so "religion is dung". The Message will call it dog dung. One calls it excrement. Just quoting the Bible. " Paul actually uses the "s" word. I won’t say it because my in-box can’t handle that much traffic. But "religion is" the "s" word.

Isaiah 64:6 says that our righteousness is as filthy rags. Because God has loved me through Jesus, I now have a new nature and a new power that can obey God."

The difference between religion and what we’ll call the gospel or the good news of Jesus Christ, religion is about me. The gospel is about Jesus. Religion says this – if I obey God’s rules, then he will love me. The gospel of Jesus says, “Because God has loved me through Jesus, I now have a new nature and a new power that can obey God."

a) Religious people hate to repent

They believe that they’re good and they believe that if you acknowledge their sin and they acknowledge their sin, you’re taking away their goodness, so they hate to repent.

They hate to say they’re sorry. They hate to tell the truth when they’ve done something wrong.

But the gospel of Jesus Christ allows humble repentance – say, "You know what? I sinned. I’m sorry. What I said was wrong. What I did was wrong. My motives, my deeds behind it, they weren’t good either. I ask your forgiveness, and I ask God’s forgiveness too. And I thank God that Jesus died on the cross to pay the penalty for that sin. And I’m glad that God forgives me, and I’m asking you to forgive me, and I’m asking Jesus to change me so I don’t keep doing that, because if my righteousness" – we’ll get into this in a moment – "is from Jesus and not me, I don’t lose anything when I repent."

b) Religion leads to an uncertainty about your standing before God.

When you die and stand before God, will you go to heaven or hell? Will you be his friend or his foe? And religion says, "I don’t know. I’m not sure. I’m not sure I’ve been good enough, tried hard enough. I’m not sure I’ve succeeded. I don’t know."

So there’s this anxiety that religion produces. The gospel of Jesus Christ provided certainty. 1 John say, "I write these things so you may know." Certainty. You have eternal life. "He who has the son, Jesus Christ, has life." There’s certainty. Not arrogance, but a comforting certainty regarding your standing before God if you belong to Jesus.

c) Religion results in either pride or despair

This means if you try really hard and you’re a good, religious, devoted, passionate person, you’re going to be very proud. "Look at me. I’m a good person." Like Paul says, "Here’s my CV. Here’s all the good things I did do, and here’s all the bad things I didn’t do."

Or it ends in despair. "I think it’s too late. I’ve already done the bad things." Or, "I tried to do the good things and I’m not very good at them. And I try not to do the bad things and I keep doing them. I’m stuck and I’m a sinner and I’m totally depressed and suicidal, and I think I’m going to hell, and I don’t have any joy and I don’t have any hope, because I can’t do it. Christianity’s too hard." 

The gospel of Jesus Christ ends in humble joy – two of the great themes of Philippians. He told us in Chapter 2 that Jesus enables us to be humble and joyful. Humble meaning, "I’m not saved because of what I do, but because of what he’s done, and I’m really, really happy, because God has loved me so well and he’s not given up on me and he’s still working on me, and he won’t reject me, leave me or forsake me."

3. Joyous relationship rather than religion (8-11)

““I want to know Christ – yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.”

Paul says it this way in verse 9. "To be found in him," – that is in Jesus – "not having a righteousness of my own" – not having any religion. He says that "I don’t intend to stand before God and talk about my religion and my righteousness and show him my CV and all the good things I did and all the bad things that I did not do."

The giving of the righteousness of Jesus to me changes everything.

Justification is where the righteousness of Jesus is given to you and makes you a Christian.

Sanctification is where after that event of being born again, becoming a Christian, your life begins to change. Your thinking and your desires and your heart and your mind and your will and your actions and your attitudes and your motivations, they change.

Paul explains this in verse 10 – "that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him" – that’s sanctification – "becoming like him," he says, "in his death."

"We become," Paul says elsewhere, "new creations." We start over. We’re different people. Not only that, a new power through the Holy Spirit. "

Not only do I have a new nature, I have a new series of desires and I have a new power through the Holy Spirit who is God at work in me.

The same power," he says elsewhere, "that rose Jesus from death, and by the power of the Holy Spirit, this gift righteousness keeps working itself out so now I have a strength and an ability to say ‘no’ to sin and ‘yes’ to God in a way that I hadn’t before.

My life begins to change. Now my mind changes because I have new insight as I read scripture and the Holy Spirit convicts me of sin and reveals to me the truth of the Bible.

And I have a new community. I have a church of which I’m a part, and I can join Bible studies and get to know people and pursue Christian friendships and have accountability and I’m not all by myself."

This is a life that results in passion and in purpose and in joy.

This is the only life that is worth living.