Stop Rolling Around in Poop
There is a kind of religiosity that is dangerous to us, that is destructive to our souls rather than constructive. Someone who was caught in such dangerous religiosity once said to Tim Hansel, “What confuses me is that I thought Christianity was supposed to set us free, instead of tying us up in new knots all the time with impossible expectations.”
In his letter to the Philippians, the apostle Paul had harsh words to say about those who were purveyors of such destructive religiosity that ties us up in knots: “Beware of the dogs; beware of the evil workers; beware of those who mutilate the flesh!” (Philippians 2:3)
Dangerous and destructive religiosity comes from the message that we are responsible for making God happy with us. It puts the burden on us to please God by jumping over certain hurdles or by attaining deep enough piety. It might require circumcision or some other religious deeds, or it might demand that we reach some moral standard. It puts and keeps the pressure on us to live up to what is demanded of us. With the pressure on us to live up to such a standard, we end up feeling squashed under the weights of self-condemnation, worthlessness and despair, for we know that we are not actually good enough to earn God’s favor.
When we believe that it is up to us to earn God’s approval, we live with a deep-down conviction that we are not good enough which then drives us to try harder and harder or to give up. We think to ourselves that it is only a matter of time before we are discovered as useless. We expect to be rejected when the truth about us is found out. Therefore, we put on masks, pretending to be better than we are, only leaving us more and more disconnected from our true selves and from genuine connections with others.
No wonder Paul describes the purveyors of such religiosity as “dogs” and as “evil workers.”
Paul was once a purveyor of such dangerous and destructive religiosity. He thought that he could earn God’s favor through the combinations of his lineage (“a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews”), his fulfillment of religious requirements (“circumcised on the eighth day”), his religious accomplishments (“as to the law, a Pharisee”), his zeal (“a persecutor of the church”), or his piety (“as to righteousness under the law, blameless”).
But on his way to Damascus one day, Paul had an encounter with the God of grace, and with that encounter he was able to see destructive religiosity for what it truly is. In Philippians 2:8, Paul uses the Greek word skubala to describe religiosity. Many Bibles translate skubala politely as “rubbish,” but the most literal translation is “dung” or “excrement.” Paul is saying that the religiosity he once strained and stressed over actually only amounts to a pile of poop. Those who purvey such dangerous religiosity are trying to sell us a load of “crap.” When they try to get us to embrace such religiosity, they are essentially trying to get us to roll around in feces.
Paul makes a better choice than religious poop, and he offers us a better choice than destructive religiosity. He offers us grace: the unmeritable love of God!
Brennan Manning writes, “The same love yesterday on Calvary, today in our hearts, and forever in heaven. Jesus crucified is not merely a heroic example to the church. He is the power and wisdom of God, his love capable of transforming our cowardly, distrustful hearts into hearts strong in the trust that they are loved. We do not have to do anything except let our unworthy, ungrateful selves be loved as we are. Trust happens! You will trust him to the degree that you know you are loved by him.” (Ruthless Trust, p. 178)
Such grace is truly something worth rolling around in!