I’m from a part of the USA known as the “Bible belt” (the Southeast). It is called this because about half of all people go to church on a regular basis. It is part of our culture. Filipinos have some things in common with “Bible belt” people. “Filipinos like to be religious,” one of my close Filipino friends observed. This is true—you cannot go anywhere here without seeing a church or a statue of Jesus (some of which are quite corny, like the one pictured here).
There are advantages and disadvantages to having a religious culture. The advantage is that people are more open to spiritual things. When people understand that God and the Bible are important, it is not so difficult to get them interested in Bible study.
We should also be aware, however, of the disadvantages. The disadvantage I’m referring to is the tendency to practice religion for religion’s sake. Sometimes we are guilty of just going through the motions or acting religious when we get near a church (as if God lives in the church building). We should realize that God is not impressed with religion. In fact, some of God’s most intense criticisms are about empty religion.
Read this passage from Isaiah:
When you come to worship me,
who asked you to parade through my courts with all your ceremony?
Stop bringing me your meaningless gifts;
the incense of your offerings disgusts me!
As for your celebrations of the new moon and the Sabbath
and your special days for fasting—
they are all sinful and false.
I want no more of your pious meetings.
I hate your new moon celebrations and your annual festivals.
They are a burden to me. I cannot stand them!
When you lift up your hands in prayer, I will not look.
Though you offer many prayers, I will not listen,
for your hands are covered with the blood of innocent victims.
God’s people were guilty of pretentious worship. They were doing the “right” steps, saying the “right” words, and even meeting on the “right” day. Their lives, however, were full of sin. They were living double lives. God saw this just as clearly as we can see a hand covered in blood. We know we cannot hide our sins from God, but sometimes we act like we can. God made an offer to his people. He wanted them to get real with Him and stop pretending:
“Come now, let’s settle this,”
says the Lord.
“Though your sins are like scarlet,
I will make them as white as snow.
Though they are red like crimson,
I will make them as white as wool.
God is not impressed with religious activity. Instead, He wants a real relationship with you and He wants to make real changes in your life. Think about your relationship with Him. Is it an authentic, obedient relationship, or are you just going through the motions of religion?
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