There are two ways to be a religious idolater. Many voices throughout the history of the church have pointed this out. In our day, no one has been more analytical, adept, or accurate as Tim Keller at Redeemer Presbyterian in Manhattan. You should check him out and get your soul fed.
The first way to be an idolater is to be a religious rule keeper. Having just preached on Philippians 3.1-11, Paul certainly falls into this category before he came to know Christ. He said of himself that he was a Pharisee, a persecutor of the church, and found faultless before the righteousness of the law.
In short: he kept all the rules.
And what did it produce in him? Humility? Godly character? A desire for God and the things of God? No. But instead pride. Instead, sin upon sin. Instead, a desire for self-exaltation.
And that's what this kind of religion produces in us. Pride and self-reliance drive us to perform more and more and more. The only relationship with God we have is the one that is mediated by the actions we take, the mistakes we make, and our promises to do more and do better next time.
Strange, isn't it? We pride ourselves on doing good and doing right. We go to God with those things, standing before Him like a peacock strutting his stuff. But deep down, the question lingers as to whether or not we've done enough or done the right kind of enough that would make God happy (at best) or keep Him off our back for another week (at worst).
Pride. Fear. Symptoms of religious idolatry in the human heart. And bad news when those symptoms arise.
Because the truth is that you and I could never do enough or the right kind of enough to merit God's favor.
Earning our way into His presence and pleasure doesn't come by way of our "enough." It comes by way of Christ's declaration: "It is finished."
We don't live in relationship with God on the basis of our sacrifice. We live with Him on the basis of Christ's sacrifice.
Recognizing and reveling in this means pride goes away because we didn't do it. And fear goes away because it wasn't on the basis of our "enough" that we got in anyway. Lay down pride. Lay down fear. Embrace Christ. Enjoy God.
But that's just me thinking thoughts...