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Righteous or Religious

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Proverbs 21:3
Doing what is right is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice.

God has always emphasized heart over religious practices. One's doctrinal beliefs are important but if the practice of those beliefs is not accompanied by actually doing what is right then that person's religion is worthless. To the Lord, goodness is always better than ceremony, and heart has more value than sacrifice. Religion can be external, but authentic goodness is internal, real, and always from the heart. If we offer the Lord religion without goodness He will have none of it.

Cain was rejected for this very reason. Abel offered his best, the “firstfruits” of His flock, and his offering was accepted. Cain simply brought something from his crop; Abel offered his best, while Cain's offering had no heart. The Lord rejected Cain's offering but told him if he would “do right”, his offering would be accepted. The Lord also said something to Cain that we all need to hear. The Lord informed Cain that it would be sinful to offer an unacceptable offering; a casual, lukewarm, offering is a sinful offering; just showing up is never acceptable. God looks upon the heart, and will accept an offering only when offered from a heart of genuine love.

Herein lies the problem. A religious rule, doctrine, practice, principle, or command can be observed with no heart at all. And, adding to the confusion, outward religion looks and feels like the real thing, the person complimenting himself thinking he has fully obeyed God. A person who is religious, but not righteous, does not understand the role of the heart. To them, serving God is about outward obedience. They see themselves as doing all the right things: they belong to the right church, they have the right doctrines, they have the right gifts, they have the right bible, they keep the commandments, etc..

The Apostle Paul, commissioned by the Holy Spirit went about establishing local congregations, choosing leaders, and laying out rules of conduct; clearly, churches are a good thing. There is nothing better than a socially aware local congregation, governed by biblical principles, and who give themselves to the Word of God and prayer. It would be wrong to imply that churches and their belief systems are the root of the problem, this is not what the Scripture is saying. Religious institutions are necessary and useful for the social and spiritual health of God's people. But we have to understand that religious institutions, and their doctrines, can become an idol; we can make them equal with God.

Unfortunately, people can, and do, worship their system rather than God; we can be faithful to the Church without being faithful to God. We can be religious without being good and we can confuse religious practices with loving God. We can do all the religious stuff thinking God is pleased by outward obedience. God will not be part of any system for He is the System. He does not endorse a particular denomination for the Body of Christ is the only Denomination. The only religion He accepts is the religion that causes a man to tell the truth, to love his wife, and to be kind to his children.

God will have no part of superficial religion. Proverbs 21:3 tells us that it is more acceptable to God for a person to do the right thing than to keep a religious commandment. If God has to choose between integrity and outward religion, God will choose integrity, every time. He demands truth in the "inward parts." Acting good without actually being good is following in the footsteps of Cain. Like Cain, a religious person is offended by the Lord's demand of the "firstfruits" of their life. A person who genuinely loves God rejoices in giving God his best. A person like Cain, when confronted, rather than correcting themselves, they respond with anger.

A thankful heart is a good heart, and a humble heart is willing to listen, to change, and to love God. A righteous person knows his favor with God has been purchased with blood; his religious practices flow from the heart, and he keeps the rules because he loves God. A righteous person knows, it is not the rules, but the Cross that has made him right with God. He knows, apart from the Cross, his works are as filthy rags. A righteous person, in order to please God, never trusts in a church, religious practices, or religious ceremonies. He knows righteousness is a gift, and rejoices in the grace of God. He approaches God with a good and thankful heart; he loves God for God has shown him mercy.

If you see that you have become religious rather than righteous, then take the time to have an honest, transparent, and heart-to-heart conversation with God. David when confronted with his sinfulness prayed, "create in me a clean heart and renew a right spirit within me." If we follow David's example then the Lord will hear our prayer and give us a good and right heart.

God bless you,

Jim

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Thank you,

Jim