Martin Luther, commenting on Galatians 2:14 said, “The truth of the Gospel is the principle article of all Christian doctrine. It is most necessary that we know this article well, teach it to others, and beat it into their heads continually." Well, let's beat it into our heads a little more, shall we?
Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things again is no trouble to me, and it is a safeguard for you. Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of the false circumcision; for we are the true circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh, although I myself might have confidence even in the flesh. If anyone else has a mind to put confidence in the flesh, I far more: circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless. But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.
(Philippians 3:1-11 NASB)
The foundational belief of all religion is that the only way to be justified in God's eyes is to earn it by doing your best and obeying the rules. So religious people make lists of things they will and will not do, and usually the items on these lists are just made up. They seek very hard to do what they should do and not do what they shouldn't do. They expect that on the day of judgment they will get to stand before God and share with him their resume. They say in effect, “God, here's my life. I did a good job. I think I deserve to be justified and allowed into heaven.” It's like they're applying for a job. God has 144 000 positions available in his company and there are six billion applicants so you'd better make sure your resume is top notch. You'd better look better, be better, have more experience, make a better impression, if you expect to get the job. That's religion.
In the first century, there existed a group of religious people, called the Judaizers, who insisted that Christians had to obey all the Mosaic ceremonial laws. They held that salvation was impossible without adherence to the rules of the Mosaic Covenant. The teaching of Judaizers insisting that Gentiles must first become Jews and obey all the Mosaic laws in order to be saved was abhorrent to Paul. It diverted Gentiles away from Christ into a covenant that could never save them.
So Paul in this chapter lists the resume he had before becoming a Christian. Paul thought that he could show God his resume and expect God to be pleased with him and allow him into heaven. The inclination of the sinful nature is to try to justify ourselves by what Paul calls “works of the law”. “Works of the law”, refers to when you try to make yourself good enough, for God. It's about you, not Jesus. It's about what you do, not him. It's about you cleaning yourself up and getting your life together, not him changing you from the inside out. This is when you try to be a devoutly religious person so that God will love you.
Paul recognized that the “righteousness” religion offered could only be an incomplete, superficial righteousness. As one theologian once put it, “You fail to understand the gravity of sin”. We are all sinners by nature and choice. Every part of us is effected by sin. Sin has corrupted our minds because we do not think God's thoughts. Our will is corrupt because we do not desire what God desires. Our emotions are corrupt. We all sin every day in thought, word, and deed, in omission and commission. In light of our sinful nature and resulting sinful actions, it would seem that the only thing we deserve to get on our day in God's proverbial courtroom is a guilty verdict. If God didn't judge us as anything but guilty he would cease to be a just and good God.
Paul says that all his religious life before Jesus was rubbish or dung. In God's eyes, it was disgusting. The alternative was Jesus. Paul now sees a distinction. He says that there is a difference between a Christian and a religious person.
This is the doctrine of Justification. This is the Gospel. Jesus became a man. He lived a perfect, holy and sinless life. He lived the life we should have lived. He died the death we should have died. On the cross Jesus died in our place for our sins. He bored God's wrath as a substitute for sinners. He became sin for us and bore all of our sins, past, present, and future. Three days later, he rose again, conquering Satan, sin, and death. God credits or imputes, Christ's lifelong record of perfect obedience to the person who trusts in him. God no longer thinks of us as a son of Adam, but he now sees us in Christ. God thinks of Christ's obedience as belonging to the believer, and therefore the believer stands before God, the divine judge, and is not declared as “guilty” but as “righteous”. Righteousness can't come from the law or our own works because all human beings sin, and therefore right standing before the Holy God is possible only through faith in Christ, who is the believer's righteousness before God.
Christians understand that they are sinner and are saved by Jesus. They live a new life of worship by the power of the Holy Spirit. There are two results of this. The first is humility. I don't have to save myself but Jesus is my saviour. The second is joy because the pressure is off of me to perform and make God happy. Instead Jesus pleases God the Father in my place. Now he saves me and gives me the Holy Spirit to enable me to live an obedient life. The pressure is off and I can live a life of joy.
Contrast that with the religion I know best, that of the Watchtower Organization. The Organization essentially believers that Jesus helps us but we also need to help him. He isn't enough to save us, we need to do something as well. He needs us to participate and contribute to our own salvation. As a result it isn't humble, it's proud. It isn't joyous, but very angry, critical, and mean. Religious people are very self absorbed and often times not very pleasant.
What Paul now has as a Christian is not just better, more preferable or a better alternative, but his former religious works are worthless, despicable, disgusting, in comparison to it. As long as I trusted my own religious works, I could never have been saved. Once I was saved, they no longer meant anything to me because I saw the surpassing worth of Jesus, and everything else seemed like nothing in comparison. Paul valued a relationship with Christ so much that he was willing to sacrifice everything in order to obtain it.
The problem with religion, including the Watchtower brand, is this: it leads to either pride or despair. Pride meaning, “I feel like I did enough.” This is nothing but self righteousness because you look at other people and assume God loves them less then you because your performance is superior. Despair meaning, “I don't feel like I did enough. I don't measure up.” Religion never leads to hope, joy, confidence, or peace. The assumption is that you need to do something so that God will love you.
Paul said he wanted to know Christ. This knowledge isn't not only knowing intellectual facts about Jesus. This isn't what the Society calls “accurate knowledge”. “Knowing” is not “taking in knowledge” as the New World Translation says. “Adam knew Eve” and they had a child. John MacArthur says that “knowing” here “is equivalent to shared life with Christ.” This is an intimate, continuous and personal relationship.
The true people of God are those who “worship in the Spirit of God”. They “glory in Christ Jesus” and “put no confidence in the flesh”. The Reformer from Geneva, John Calvin commenting on this phrase, “confidence in the flesh”, says that it, “includes everything of an external kind in which an individual is prepared to boast or to express it in fewer words: everything that is outside of Christ” The Watchtower never sees the sufficiency of Jesus. It's believe in Jesus and be part of the Organization. Believe in Jesus and go to all the meetings. Believe in Jesus and get baptized. Believe in Jesus and use the divine name Jehovah. Believe in Jesus and go in service. Believe in Jesus and prepare for meetings. Believe in Jesus and comment at meetings. Believe in Jesus and do all these things better then you did before.
In the Watchtower, it's all about the individual, it's all about me. The gospel is about Jesus. The Watchtower says if I obey their rules then God might 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. The Watchtower sees good people and bad people and God loves the good people and hates the bad people. The gospel sees everyone as bad. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” There are bad people and Jesus. The Watchtower says it's about what I do. The gospel is about what Jesus has done. Under the Watchtower I end up trusting my own works. The gospel allows me to rest in the finished work of Christ. The Watchtower give you nothing but uncertainty in your standing with God. “Will I be in the new system or destroyed at Armageddon? Am I God's friend or foe? I don't know. I'm not sure. I'm not sure I've done enough or tried hard enough.” The gospel of Jesus provides assurance and certainty. “These things are written that you may know you have eternal life.” “He who has the son has life.”
Paul says that religion destroys everything. It's not Jesus PLUS anything; it's Jesus ONLY! Jesus is all we need. Jesus is all we have. Jesus plus anything ruins everything. “Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to the cross I cling; naked, come to thee for dress; helpless, look to thee for grace; foul, I to thy fountain fly; wash me, Savior, or I die." "My faith is built on nothing less, then Jesus blood and righteousness. I will not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Jesus name.”
Dear Christian, have you messed up this week? Perhaps you didn't live as much of a Christian life as you should have. You didn't perform. I hope I brought good news to you today. “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. ” (Romans 8:1 NASB) “You are not your own for you have been bought with a price.” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20 NASB) “For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:6 NASB) You didn't become a Christian because you followed a list of rules, or because of your performance. “Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? ” (Galatians 3:3 NASB) You are a Christian because Christ has sought you. He has come after you. He who would not give up on you. He made satisfaction for your sins. He is here now among us and is here to carry you one step closer towards being more like him. Hopefully you will be able to confess with Paul, “The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed, and will bring me safely to His heavenly kingdom; to Him be the glory forever and ever. Amen. ” (2 Timothy 4:18 NASB)