Monday, January 12, 2009

Rites and wrongs....

This post ties in very well with Joel's study of last night....from a favourite of mine....Ray Stedman's devotional based on his teaching.

He replied, "Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: 'These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men" (Mark 7:6-7).

Those are insightful words. With our Lord's keen perceptiveness, He plunges right to the heart of the issue, When the Pharisees ask Him. "Why do your disciples not observe the traditions?" He points out to them, first of all, the effect that the observance of tradition has upon our lives. It produces hypocrites. "You hypocrites," He says. I am sometimes amazed as I read through the gospels at the bluntness of Jesus' language! In fact, Matthew's account tells us that the disciples said to Him afterward, "Do you realize that you offended those Pharisees?"

But notice what He is doing here. He is pointing out the result of traditional "worship." And He utilizes the word of the prophet Isaiah to show us what it is like. According to Isaiah, there is that which consists of right words but wrong attitudes. Everything outward is right, but inwardly the mind and heart are wrong. That, Jesus says, is hypocrisy--to look as if you are doing something religious and worshipful and God-related, but inside to have an entirely different attitude.

A few years ago, many of us were puzzled and offended when young people would say to us, in one way or another, "We don't want to come to church because churches are filled with hypocrites." Some of us could not understand what they meant. We knew there might be some churches that were filled with hypocrites, but not ours! We had honest difficulty with this. We could not see where there was any hypocrisy in a thoroughly Bible-centered, evangelical church such as ours. But what they were saying was this: "You use great words--wonderful words--but you don't really mean them. You talk about love, but you don't love. You talk about forgiveness, but you don't forgive. You talk about acceptance, but you don't accept." And they were right.

That is what tradition can do to us. It externalizes religion, makes it outward instead of inward. As long as we are fulfilling the prescribed outward form, we think we are acceptable before God. That is the terrible danger of tradition. This particular form that Isaiah mentions here--right words and wrong attitudes-is widespread among Christians. We all suffer from it at times, and we ought to recognize it and admit it. And it has resulted in what is probably the most deadly danger to the evangelistic message of the church--the self-righteousness of Christians--thinking that because we do things in the "right" way, and say the "right" words, and believe the "right" doctrines, we are thus pleasing to God.

Father, I confess the many, many times I have done the outward things with the inward heart far removed. Thank You that You know me, and You have already made provision for my forgiveness. Teach me to worship You in spirit and in truth.


Joel B. said...

I think it's true... the most "religious" people have no clue that they're the most hypocritical. I know I was that way, as I look back. At certain times I thought I had it all together and I didn't understand why people didn't like me! I thought I was their model Christian! The thing is, I had all the 'right' words, and outwardly I thought I had all the 'right' actions. But yeah, my focus was on self, and flesh, and not really on the Spirit.

Thank God He took my heads out of the clouds and planted me firmly back on the earth. My face in the dirt, to be exact. :) From there I could finally turn around and look up and see that all my outward words and behavior meant nothing if not coming from His life in me.

Pastor Terry said...

Great post on vain religion and the pitfalls of tradition!

Be blessed,
Terry Michaels
‘The preacher who hates religion and loves God’

Leonard said...

Thank you for truthfully sharing your journey.
Best to you

Leonard said...

Oh and confession dittos,,, and for me it's still a little cloudy sometimes,,, Thanks again.