"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. 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.
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.
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.
I'm not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me. Friends, don't get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I've got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward—to Jesus. I'm off and running, and I'm not turning back." Philippians 3:2-14 (The Message)
I could write my own version of this. While I don't think I was very successful at living up to all my self-righteous standards as a legalist, I did try. And I do think that others viewed me as spiritual, godly, etc... So here's my take on the pedigree I've torn up and thrown in the garbage in exchange for the far more glorious life of enjoying intimacy with Jesus:
Born into a Christian family, attended church since a baby, passionately sang worship and praise to God as far back as I can remember, prayed for lost souls with many tears, shared what I thought was the gospel with many, fasted, kept a spiritual/prayer journal, served faithfully and sacrificially in the church, served others by providing free childcare, cooking meals, etc.., tithed and gave money beyond the 10%, read many many spiritual books, read and studied the Bible, confessed sins regularly to God and others, was sorry when I made a mistake or wasn't consistent in my spiritual disciplines and committed to being more faithful, tried to be humble and submissive to my husband, submitted willingly and joyfully to 'spiritual authority', was very careful about what I listened to, read, or watched in the way of media to make sure it was glorifying to God, worked at trying to grow in all the fruits of the Spirit, acknowledged weakness and failures and sought God sincerely to help me change and do/be more like Jesus.
ALL THESE THINGS I COUNT AS RUBBISH. ALL.
They gained me NOTHING! In fact, the more I did the more self-righteous I became. This self-righteousness alternatingly gave me the high of success and the low of condemnation and failure. And I was addicted to this cycle, couldn't feel godly or spiritual without it.
But I've given it all up and am more than satified with Jesus Christ who has given me his perfect righteousness and completely unearned! I don't need any of those things any more to make me righteous, more holy, more pleasing to God, even more mature. What I need, is initimacy with Jesus. End of story.
You see, all those things can be done on my own. And while I was doing them on my own, 'letting' God help me a little if he would, rather then deepening my intimacy with him I was actally distancing myself from him, cutting myself off from grace and nullifying faith. It makes me wonder...who was more distant from the Father, the prodigal or the older son? The prodigal seemed to have a better understanding of his father's character and love than his older and supposedly more faithful brother.
I've been the older brother but I don't want to be suspicious of my father anymore. I don't want to work for him as a slave, not revelling in his love or enjoying the benefits of sonship.
As for my list of good (more like dead) works, it becomes of no use to me anymore. Everything I was ever trying to gain I've found in Jesus.