On the block where I grew up – Mr. and Mrs. Cerrone had the meanest dog any of us had ever laid eyes on, – named Gee. Actually, very few of us even had seen this dog with our eyes, mostly we saw the dust clouds billowing from under the fence as the beast charged and snarled and scratched at the fence as any of us walked past it.
I delivered papers back in the day which meant that I had to ring the doorbell every week in order to collect my $3. And whenever I did I came in eye contact with Gee and I could tell he was sizing me up. He was measuring me – I just knew that the day would come when Gee would try to kill me.
Sure enough about four months later, as I was walking on broadway with my papers, and who should come walking around the corner but Mr. Cerrone, and by his side, was Gee. As we neared I cleared way to the right and Mr. Cerrone said, don’t be afraid Phil – come over here. Gee is all bark, no bite.
I didn’t want to but felt obliged to try to make peace with Gee. Maybe I had him all wrong. To be safe – I did remember that one day in English Class Mr. Patnode taught us for some strange reason that whenever we are petting an unknown dog we should pet him with our palms pointed up, and that way we can get our finger sout of the way should the dog bite our hand.
Gee apparently recognized my deft maneuver and countered by going under my hand and instead began gnawing on a rib. Stupid Mr. Patnode! You left me unprepared!
I bet if I asked just about all of us have a story about getting but by a dog? Out of curiosity, raise your hand if you have ever been bitten by a dog? No fun, right?
Well, this morning we are going to learn that religion is a mean dog. Religion is a mean dog that might appear friendly, but watch out! It’ll turn on you and if given a chance.
Big idea for this morning is: Be careful your faith doesn’t turn into a religion, because religion is a mean dog that wants to chew you up and spit you out.
We’ve been studying this letter in the NT called Philippians for a couple of months now and so far we’ve seen Paul writing a very encouraging letter – highly positive – you can tell he really loves these people.
But now as we turn to chapter 3 we are going to notice a change in the tone of Paul’s letter. Quite a bit firmer -almost harsh and the reason is because Paul wants his friends to beware of the mean dogs who are peddling religion. Be careful! Religion is a mean dog that will chew us up if given a chance.
He writes, Whatever happens, my dear brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord. I never get tired of telling you these things, and I do it to safeguard your faith.
2 Watch out for those dogs, those people who do evil, those mutilators who say you must be circumcised to be saved. 3 For we who worship by the Spirit of God are the ones who are truly circumcised. We rely on what Christ Jesus has done for us. We put no confidence in human effort…
So who are these dogs? These evil doers? These flesh mutilators?
Paul is referring here to a group of religious people who seemed to follow him everywhere he went. These people liked to follow Paul and after Paul left, they would sweep in and preach a different message about God – they would say – was Paul just here? Good – but he didn’t tell you everything.
See Paul’s message about Jesus was that Jesus was God in the flesh who came to make available to us the Kingdom of Heaven.
Let’s use this illustration to help us understand – let’s say my wallet represents your sin. Jesus came down to heaven and loved a perfect life. He willingly went to a cross on false up charges – and while on the cross Jesus took upon himself the sins of all who – by grace would place their faith in Jesus. And when he died Jesus buried our sins with him. Three days later – he rose again and left our sins in the grave – he rose again to life but our sins will never come back.
They are forever dead – which is great news because now there is nothing standing in our way of being able to have a new relationship with God. A fresh start with Him. Once our sins have been paid for, there is nothing inhibiting us from a friendship with God.
So now we can once again – like Adam and Eve in the Garden – walk with God every day back in the Kingdom of God – the Kingdom of heaven. Right now – today – the Lord is our shepherd. And therefore we lack nothing – we dread nothing – we are anxious about nothing.
And can I tell you – when paul writes that he never gets tired of telling people these things – I totally understand. i never get tired of telling people that Jesus has made it possible for anyone who is willing, to turn and stumble their way into the Kingdom of Heaven. It never gets old to inform people that there is an alternative way to live life – and it means being able to live life apart from fear, worry, dread of anykind. It’s the greatest message ever. And I look forward every Sunday – not only to hearing that message, but worshipping the God who made it possible.
Now – a fundamental aspect of this message is that Jesus has done all of the world to make it possible for us. It is by grace we have been saved from the default kingdom of darkness. We did nothing other than believe it to be true. There are no works involved.
it is fundamental – foundational – and firmly rooted in scripture – we have done nothing to deserve it. We have done nothing to earn this favor. Grace is getting what we don’t deserve. Mercy is not getting what we do deserve. And God has shown us both Grace and Mercy freely from his own storehouse of love and kindness.
This is the good news – what the bible calls the Gospel. So what is the message that these dogs preach? These Dogs – these evil doers – these mutilators of the flesh – they preach that what Jesus has done is not enough to rescue you and provide for you all you need to live a godly life.
Their message is that Jesus is not enough. There are conditions that need to be met. And in this particular situation – they were preaching that one needed to be circumcised. What is the significance of circumcision?
It’s an Old Testament custom that originated in Genesis chapter 17 – and it was done as an outward sign of an inward decision to be a follower of the one true God. Since it was done on the 8th day after a baby was born, it was really a symbol of the parents intent to raise their son to worship the one true God.
The bottom line was that it was an outward physical proof of one’s Jewishness. And so what these dogs – these evil doers, these mutilators of the flesh – were preaching – was that in order for one to be a follower of Jesus, they also needed to follow all of the religious customs and the hundreds of rules – that had grown up to choke the life out of Judaism. Judaism had turned into the ultimate religion – and religion will choke the life right out of you.
Religion and religionists are mean dogs. They are always even today lurking nearby looking to jam you into the meat grinder of their religion.
A number of years ago Christopher Hitchens wrote a book promoting atheism that became very popular entitled, “God is not great” – and the premise of the book is to show how religion stupid and has done terrible damage throughout history and should be discarded.
The subtitle of the book is, “How religion poisons everything.”
Are you surprised to see that Paul would actually agree with the sub title? Not the title of course. I’d say this passage we are reading today is Paul’s version – which would read God IS Great, but watch out for religionists. Because religion is a mean dog that wants to chew you up.
I admit this is a bit confusing. Maybe you are thinking, “Isn’t Christianity a religion?”
I’d say only in the sense that there is a system of thought behind it. There is a theology, a framework to help us understand how God operates. Jesus came to show us the Father. So we know what he is really like. And one reason he did it was because God had been hidden from so many by what had become the most religiony religion of them all – pharisaical judaism.
Jesus stepped into history right into the most religiony religion of them all – it had turned into a religion with more than 600 rules and regulations – to free us from it.
Jesus did not come to institute a new one of those. Far from it. I mean the bottom line for Jesus is that we love God with all of our heart and mind and soul. We trust his leadership and he changes us from the inside out. We trust, he leads. That’s Christianity.
Jesus came NOT to institute a religion but to make available an unencumbered walk with God. Jesus made available friendship with the creator.
For the skeptic in the room – you are, I’m sure, asking – what about the Old Testament? Isn’t the Old Testament a religious system? What else would you call it? Filled with sacrifices, and mandatory celebrations, and rules and regulations.
Wasn’t circumcision – the very issue at hand in these verses – mandated by God himself? Why is it that now Jesus doesn’t like it? Has God suddenly changed his mind?
Well, Right now – as followers of Jesus, we celebrate communion, and baptism. As a matter of fact, Jesus told us we should be doing these things. Why?
These two ordinances of the church were instituted as reminders. Tangible reminders of what Jesus has already done for us. They don’t add anything to the work of Jesus. Communion and Baptism point backward to the work that Jesus has done.
The Old Testament – pointed forward- to what Jesus WOULD SOMEDAY come and do.
Jesus himself said this in Matthew 5:17
“Don’t misunderstand why I have come. I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to accomplish their purpose.
So – for example. The Old Testament had sacrifices – and if you were to read the book of Leviticus it’s filled with the command to bring spotless sacrifices to the temple. And day after day these lambs were sacrificed as substitutes for the owners and the owners family who brought them, until everything changed one day – when John the Baptist looks across the Jordan and sees Jesus and says, “Look! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” John 1:29
The Old Testament had priests that interceded for the people. Hebrews 4:14-16 tells us that Jesus is our great high priest and that, through faith in him we can boldly approach the throne of Grace.
The Old Testament had a temple – the place where God lives. 1 Corinthians 3:16 says Don’t you realize that all of you together are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God lives in you?
Just as Communion points backward to what Jesus accomplished, the Old Testament system that God set up with the Israelites was meant to point forward to the coming of Jesus, the one who satisfied the requirements of the law.
But by the time Jesus was born, this system had been completely overrun by religionists. These profession class of religionists called the Pharisees had taken what God had put in place and they added more and more regulations and laws. And what had happened was that instead of making God available, these rules and regulations closed the door for so many people who knew they could never measure up.
And that’s what religion does – it sets up a system of very clear lines in order to identify who is in and who is out. And truthfully in most religions- some are in and most are left out.
We talked about the change in Paul’s tone – Jesus also changed his tone – normally loving and kind – there are times in the NT when he speaks stern and sobering words – and they are almost always directed toward religionists – these experts in God who made it difficult for others to access him – 13 “What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you shut the door of the Kingdom of Heaven in people’s faces. You won’t go in yourselves, and you don’t let others enter either. Matthew 23
Religion and religionists – they shut the door to the Kingdom of Heaven – the very door Jesus willingly paid such a high price to throw open to us. This is why religionists are mean dogs – because religion will always chew you up.
Now let’s compare a life devoted to religion, versus a life devoted to Jesus. First let’s look at a life devoted to religion.
1. A life devoted to religion leads to anxiety.
Here’s why. Ultimately a life that is devoted to religion is set up to follow all the rules in order to get God to like you. When do you know you’ve accomplished that?
I remember standing at a Christian music festival one time and I was approached by a Christian religionist. And they asked me – are you a Christian? Yes, leave me alone. Have you been baptized? Yes! Move along… bother somebody else!
Well, were you baptized specifically for the remission of sins? “What are you talking about?” Well, unless while you were under the water, the pastor used the words, for the remission of sins, then it doesn’t count. You are not saved.
Classic Religionist – see religionists have this image of God sitting in heaven just looking for a reason to keep you out. Religionists have this image of God being the kind of person who can barely stand you, and relishes the opportunity to keep you out of his presence. and if it takes a technicality to do it, then so be it.
I mean, what if my head wasn’t all the way in to water? What if the pastor fumbled the words while I was under there? I couldn’t hear him? What if the pastor had a speech impediment, like the guy from the Princess bride! I baptize you, for the wemission of sins?”
Is God sitting in heaven going – nope! I don’t know what wemission?
This person was a religion expert – looking for a chance to throw me into the meat grinder of religion where you will get chewed up with anxiety. Watch out for em! Jesus didn’t come to earth to die on a cross in order to bust us with a big buzzer and trap door at the gates of heaven due to a spiritual technicality.
A life devoted to religion will lead to a life of uncertainty – anxiously hoping they have cracked the code in order to be accepted by God.
2. A life devoted to religion leads to pride.
Guess what? What happens if you do crack the code? I’ve done it. I’ve done it! And you haven’t. Me – You – see the difference? This is what the Pharisees were all about.
The most obvious example of this is found in Luke 18. 9 Then Jesus told this story to some who had great confidence in their own righteousness and scorned everyone else: 10 “Two men went to the Temple to pray. One was a Pharisee, and the other was a despised tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed this prayer: ‘I thank you, God, that I am not like other people—cheaters, sinners, adulterers. I’m certainly not like that tax collector! 12 I fast twice a week, and I give you a tenth of my income.’
13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance and dared not even lift his eyes to heaven as he prayed. Instead, he beat his chest in sorrow, saying, ‘O God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner.’ 14 I tell you, this sinner, not the Pharisee, returned home justified before God.”
See this tax collector? This is what it means to turn and stumble your way into the Kingdom of heaven. It is a humble acknowledgement – that I have done nothing to deserve God’s grace and mercy, other than to humbly receive it.
So – here’s where we have to be careful – be on guard – because one can turn this into a law – by the way. A religionist can take this and turn it into a law, right? Shackle you with this? How? You can’t be saved unless you pray this way. You have to look down, and be sorrowful, and beat your chest and pray these exact words, and – Nailed it!
3. A life devoted to religion leads to judgmentalism.
These evil dogs, the mutilators of the flesh – they walked into Philippi and said, you gotta get your act together. Religionists preach, “Clean up your act” if you ever want to be right with God. Clean up your act.
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!”
The religionist preaches – you gotta clean up your act before God will accept you. So this Pharisee was thinking to himself – this woman is out – and I am in. And the shock of shockers is to hear Jesus explain that the basis for entry into the Kingdom of heaven is NOT moral behavior, but faith in Jesus.
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.”
49 The men at the table said among themselves, “Who is this man, that he goes around forgiving sins?”
50 And Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
It didn’t take too many instances of Jesus doing this kind of thing – of Jesus telling these professional religionists, like he told the Pharisees in Matthew 21:31, “I tell you the truth, corrupt tax collectors and prostitutes will get into the Kingdom of God before you do.”
And you know what happened? The Pharisees got together and decided – it’s time to kill Jesus. Jesus was killed by religionists. These dogs – these evil doers – these mutilators of Jesus’ flesh. Is there any wonder why Paul feels so strongly – that he reminds his church – watch out that you don’t end up being shackled by religion.
A life devoted to religion leads to anxiety, pride and judgementalism.
In contrast, a life devoted to Jesus leads to humility.
How humbling to realize that Jesus laid down his life for you. You personally. Jesus looked at you and said, I will lay down my life, because you are worth it to me.
He didn’t say that he we were worthy of it – there’s a difference. But we were worth all the pain that he went through to him. Because he created us, he loves you, he wants to walk with you this day, this life – in this lifetime. He wants to be your good shepherd, leading and governing the days of your life.
We gather together on a 98 degree Sunday because we are humbled by the thought, and we want to worship the one who treats us with such dignity and grace.
And 2. A life devoted to Jesus leads to joy.
Joy because we are able to live a life free from worry – we know that whatever happens to us, we never walk alone. We need not live a life of grasping and fighting and one upping others, we do not need to live our life trying to out do or out gun or outmanuever others.
Instead, no matter our circumstances, we find the joy of walking this day with a God so personal, so loving, so generous, so kind… We live our lives with confidence and security and joy.
We are in the process of being transformed from the inside out. We are set free from the futility of ‘outside in’ religion – it leads only to emptiness and despair.
Where are you today? Are you trapped by religion? Have you submitted your life to a religion that promised you what it could never deliver?
Jesus is available – the kingdom of heaven is available upon request – today can be the day you leave the poison of religion behind and become a follower of Jesus. Simply receive what he has done for you. Accept the gift he wants to give you – the forgiveness of sins, a fresh start with God – the invitation to become a different kind of human being – all of this made available by grace through faith in Jesus.
It is wildly available, even to you, this very moment. As I pray, you pray to God yourself. Like the Tax collector in Jesus story, humble yourself, admit your need for a savior, invite him to wisely shepherd your life, and you will be rescued from the kingdom of darkness and transferred us into the Kingdom of God’s dear Son, Jesus.