I just heard a local pastor challenge his congregation about repentance. He brought a message from the Old Testament on how wicked Israel had become. In fact, they actually become worse than the ungodly nations around them:
Ezekiel 16:47 You not only followed their ways and copied their detestable practices, but in all your ways you soon became more depraved than they.
Being religious in the eyes of God is a tough place to be and here’s why.
We judge ourselves by how we do in following the rules, believing the principles, actively participating in social reform, and we especially think we are righteous when we influence others for a cause. If you want to see what Jesus thought of a religious life and how delusional it could get, read Matthew Chapter 23. That Chapter illustrates how religion competes with Him for the soul of a person. (Doing righteous things, appearing to be holy, and gaining influence with people on a spiritual basis.)
When Jesus addressed the religious people of His day, it was no different than when the Prophets addressed Israel in their day. The basis for knowing God is not being religious … it is being repentant before a Holy God. Real change only happens when the heart is exposed and repentance (turning away) takes place.
One of the world’s foremost apologists recently died. His reputation was built upon the ability to defend having faith in God through Jesus Christ and he trained people how to respond to a world without faith. His message was clear, concise, and challenging, and yet following his death, there were reports of misconduct that threaten to invalidate his message. It is difficult to know what happens in a person’s life who lives in a world of religious persuasion, yet falls short of their own teaching.
We have seen many high-profile Christian leaders fall in recent years, which is just another example of how hard it is to maintain a lifestyle of Christian living. Religious observance does not make you holy, and it often provides a cover for sinful behavior. The Catholic priest scandal is a good example of the cover religion can give which allows sin to go undetected until exposure happens. This is why it is important for all of us to pray for exposure, and we start with ourselves.
Religion always looks to outward causes for sin, yet, Jesus told us it always begins within. I have used this illustration before, but it is so applicable to this theme. Talk show host Dennis Prager talks about how the ideology of the right and left differ and how that difference explains how their political views are shaped. The left will say that man is good, and it is the environment that is bad. Change the environment and it will be good for everyone. The right says that man is not good, but bad. Change the man and you will change the environment. Totally different starting points for a worldview.
I believe Prager’s worldviews can also be used for the Christian culture as well. Much of our theology in the church today starts with changing the environment, rather than changing the person. Religion likes to change the outward results of society, and it can be best seen doing change. Jesus told the Pharisees in Matthew Chapter 23 that their starting point was outward, and God’s starting point was inward. This is the difference between religion and a relationship with God:
Matthew 23:25 Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.
Exposing the truth behind our religious practices and beliefs is hard work. It requires honesty and a desire to be right with God … no matter what. Once the Holy Spirit exposes something in your life that needs changing, repent and allow Him to guide you into truth.
Religion is not about God, but about you doing something for God. Relationship with God is a partnership with Him that changes your heart. Exposure is painful and it is hard work, but in the end, it will bring God deeper into your life.
Challenging the Culture with Truth … Larry Kutzler