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. (MSG)
The key difference between Christianity and other faiths is that those other religions tend to stress our need to clamber up a ladder of merit or ritual in order to be right with God. Christianity stresses the fact that God came down such a ladder in the person of Jesus and invites us to trust in the goodness of Jesus and not our own goodness. We rely on the perfect goodness of Jesus rather than on our own imperfect goodness.
Before he met Jesus, Paul practised a religion whereby he could boast about his pedigree. As if that pleased God. Now he realises none of that ultimately matters. It doesn’t mean religious rituals and traditions are worthless. It just means they in themselves can’t bring us into God’s family. Ticking all the boxes still leaves us short of the perfect goodness needed to relate to God. Only Jesus provides that for us.
God is not that bothered about what denomination we claim or what our family tree looks like. He wants us to meet with other believers, to read the Bible, to pray, to do good. But even ticking all those good boxes won’t get us eternal life. Only helpless trust in the grace and mercy of Jesus will do that. It is the only box we truly need to have ticked.