Summary: It has been said that there are really only three ways to live in life. One is the way of the rebellious. The second is the way of the religious and the third is the way of the redeemed.
“The Problem with Being Good”
It has been said that there are really only three ways to live in life. One is the way of the rebellious. The second is the way of the religious and the third is the way of the redeemed. We see all three of these being played out in the parable of the prodigal son. A story Jesus told about two brothers. The younger brother was impatient. Both of them knew that their father was leaving an inheritance for them but the younger brother wanted his and he wanted it now. So he went to his father and asked him for his share of the estate. Took the money and ran. He ran as far away from home as he could and not only did he spend it all, he wasted it all. He practically threw it away. He is perhaps the single best example the Bible gives us of the way of the rebellious.
The older brother was the exact opposite. He stated home, worked hard and always seem to do what he was supposed to do. But he was not very happy. And he is an example of the way of the religious.
Now when I use the word religious I want you to understand how I am using it. Religion can be defined as man reaching up to God. For many this is what they believe they must do for God to be able to stay in his good graces. For many religion is all about following all the rules, carrying out certain rituals, going through the motions. It’s about works. They do all the right things but they do them for all the wrong reasons. They are fulfilling obligations but their heart is not in it. And that’s how it was with the older brother in this story. It probably will not surprise you that the older brother didn’t really like his younger brother. Perhaps not at all. That’s the way religious people can be-they can be smug and self-righteous and they often look down on people they think are not as good as they are.
Now in case you don’t know, both of these types, the rebellious and the religious-both are actually separated from God. When it comes to the rebellious types, what separates them from God is how bad they are. How sinful they are. When it comes to the religious types, what separates them from God is that they depend on their own goodness and works to put them in a relationship with God. The problem is how good they are or perhaps we should say how good they think they are.
The real issue of course is where we place our confidence. The way of the rebellious says “I don’t obey anyone’s rules, I have my own rules-I don’t need God to accept me”... The way of the religious says I will obey every rule and as a result I expect God to accept me... After all I’ve earned it. So both the rebellious and the religious place their confidence in themselves.
Paul puts himself forward as a prime example of this. It’s like he says you need me to illustrate this point to make it clearer? You need an object lesson. Look right here. I am the example.
Verse four. Paul says if anyone has a reason to be confident in the flesh-if anyone has a reason to think they are good enough-I have even more reasons. Then it’s like he says if anyone has a reason to brag I have even more reasons. And here they are.
• I was circumcised on the eighth day. Jews believed that if they were circumcised they were automatically in a relationship with God. This teaching goes all the way back into the OT book of Genesis. But if a man is going to be in a relationship with the father certainly more is required that a mark on the body. By the time we reach the OT book of Deuteronomy we have a fuller understanding of this as the writer makes it clear that it is our heart that actually must be changed. He says the Lord will change our hearts to make us love him more. In other words, he will remove the excess, the things that are unnecessary in order to please him.
• Next point in his argument. He was of the race of Israel. When Jacob encountered God in Genesis 32 he struggle with God’s purpose throughout the night-the Scripture says that he and God wrestled until daybreak. And Jacob said to God, I will not let go until you bless me. And it was because of his persistence that God gave him a new name-your name is no longer Jacob-your name is Israel. Paul claims that standing here.