Of all the sins mentioned in the Bible, God comes down on sham religion the hardest. You may recall the story of the adulteress brought before Jesus by the Pharisees. Though Jesus did not condone her behavior, it was her self-righteous accusers that got their hands slapped. We see this time and again in scripture. In the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector a crook leaves the altar justified while the pious Pharisee is exposed as a hypocrite. Of course, Jesus shared this parable to make a point, but he also told this same group of religious wannabes, “The tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you.” (Mat. 21:31) If that’s not an eye-opener, check out what God had to say to ancient Israel about their religious routines:
“Hear the word of the LORD, you rulers of Sodom; give ear to the law of our God, you people of Gomorrah: “To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices to Me?” Says the LORD. “I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fed cattle. I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs or goats. “When you come to appear before Me, who has required this from your hand, to trample My courts? Bring no more futile sacrifices; incense is an abomination to Me. The New Moons, the Sabbaths, and the calling of assemblies– I cannot endure iniquity and the sacred meeting. Your New Moons and your appointed feasts my soul hates; they are a trouble to Me, I am weary of bearing them. When you spread out your hands, I will hide My eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not hear. Your hands are full of blood.” (Isaiah 1:10-15)
Quite the hammer, isn’t it? While ancient Israel had a whole lot of religion going for them, God wasn’t impressed. Their sacrifices were a slap in the face. They were no longer meaningful.
Perhaps one of the most convicting statements against sham religion is found in Revelation 2, in the letter to the church of Ephesus.
“I know your works, your labor, your patience, and that you cannot bear those who are evil. And you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars; and you have persevered and have patience, and have labored for My name’s sake and have not become weary.” Revelation 2:2-3
Suppose you received a letter from the Lord and it opened up with the words, “I know your works.” Would you feel good about it? Or would you think, “Uh-oh, I’m busted!” On the surface, it sounds like the Ephesians had it together. They were going through all the correct motions, like an unstoppable, well-oiled machine. But listen to our Lord’s complaint,
“Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love.” Revelation 2:4
They may have impressed one another with all their church activity, but they failed to please their God. Why? Their hearts just weren’t into it. The passion was gone. The flame had flickered out. They had abandoned their first love. Take the love out of Christianity and all you are left with is hum-drum religion. Hear what Jesus told these busy bodies:
“Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place– unless you repent.” Revelation 2:5
Jesus wanted no part in their meaningless ritual. He warned them that if they didn’t repent – He would pull out.
Sadly, churches can exist without our Lord’s lampstand. What’s even sadder is, those involved scarcely realize it. They are too busy with programs, chasing after new church fads and resurrecting old traditions that have no place in the house of God. Consequently, there is no light. You just won’t find Jesus at the center of anything they do. Our Lord’s lampstand is replaced by smoke and mirrors. These fellowships have an appearance of being alive, they are active, but they are dead.
There is no offering we can bring unto God, no sacrifice He will delight in, if He does not first have our heart. King David learned this the hard way as we see in the following Psalm:
“For You do not desire sacrifice, or else I would give it; you do not delight in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart– these, O God, You will not despise.” Psalm 51:16-17
God wants our heart not religious activity. He desires a personal relationship with His people, not empty tradition. The greatest pursuit of the Christian journey is to know Him more. If this is not the chief desire of our heart, all we are left with is worthless religion. We must ask ourselves the very question God posed to ancient Israel, “To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices to Me?” (Is. 1:10) Do you have a good answer? May we serve Him because we love Him.
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Wednesday Evening at 7:00
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Calvary Chapel of Austin Church
1601 Pecan St., Pflugerville, TX 78660