Why Does Paul Call Religion “rubbish”?

Philippians 3:7-11 – But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

The thirst for self-improvement is insatiable. It seems like everyone is working on something to create a better version of themselves.


The Bible reveals that God is righteous, created us to be righteous and, by choosing sin, we’ve become unrighteous. Every healthy person knows their faults, flaws, and failures all too well. Something in us longs to regain righteousness and so we seek ways to feel righteous. This is not just a religious issue. This is a human issue. For this reason, people will pursue most any social, political, moral, or spiritual cause with religious zeal.

When you boil down every philosophy, spirituality, and religion, you are basically left with two options. One is works righteousness. The other is gift righteousness. Here’s how they compare:

My Works Righteousness                         God’s Gift Righteousness
It’s all about me                                            It’s all about Jesus
What I do                                                       What God does
I make myself better                                    God makes me new
I cannot be wrong or fail                             I can be wrong and fail
Weak people need grace                           All people need grace
Independent spirit                                       Dependent spirit
Our tribe is superior                                    Only Jesus is superior
I’m never sure I’m good enough                I’m sure Jesus is good enough
Ends in cheerless pride or despair            Ends in cheerful joy

In works righteousness, we keep a record of our good performance and count it as gaining righteousness. To embrace gift righteousness from Jesus Christ’s perfect performance, we must move everything we had in the profit column into the loss column.

This is how Paul became a Christian. As a religious person as zealously committed to his way of life as any jihadist, Paul traded all he had accomplished and amassed for Jesus Christ. After spending thirty years as a Christian, he looks back on his religious past and calls it “rubbish”. This is a very strong word that various English Bibles translate as “garbage”, “dung”, “sewer trash”, “filth”, “worthless trash”, “dog dung”, “refuse”, “pile of waste” and “turds”. God does not often use strong language, but when He does, He uses it carefully, strategically, and forcefully. God uses good words for good things and bad words for bad things and so should we, which is why Christians prefer the term “murder” over “choice” on the issue of killing unborn babies.

Yes, getting circumcised or baptized, speaking in tongues while you get water baptized by immersion, and tithing off your gross income are all good things but not saving things. Only Jesus saves. As Paul says, even if you lose your status, reputation, friends, family, safety, money, freedom, and health, you’ve more than made up for it in having Jesus Christ.

What have you lost in exchange for gaining Christ?

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