Steve’s Devotional – The Problem with Religion

By Steve Brown

Do you sometimes grow tired of religious people? Do you ever want to just grunt, scream and spit?

I know I do.

Sometimes I just want to say something shocking. And once that’s done, I’ll think, There, I did it and I’m glad! I try to stifle those feelings because, of course, no real Christian would even think such things. That is what I thought until I read Christ’s words in Matthew 6:1-8 and 16-18.

“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him…And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”

The fact is, you can always tell when someone is religious…but you can’t always tell when someone is a Christian. One of the most dangerous things we do in the church is to confuse sanctimony with saintliness. That is the problem Jesus addresses in Matthew 6.

So we need to be careful.

Watch out for religious exhibitionism.

Someone has said that true religion is what you do when no one sees.

Jesus makes the point that if you don’t do it privately, for God’s sake, don’t do it publicly. If you don’t believe it in your heart, for God’s sake, don’t do it in your life. If it isn’t real to you when you’re by yourself, for God’s sake, don’t say it is real when you’re with others. Sometimes the more the outward piety, the less the inward reality. That is why you have to watch those who say and do religious things.

Are you sometimes intimated by the religious folks who do so much religious stuff? They are always faithful, they memorize Scripture all the time, they talk only about God and they know the creeds backwards.

Watch out for religious words.

There is a direct correlation between the reality you know and the number of words you have to use to communicate that reality to others. The more words, the less the reality.

You should have heard all the religious clichés that surrounded my father on his deathbed. In contrast, the doctor who led him to Christ was very brief and very clear. He said, “Mr. Brown, you have cancer and three months to live. We’re going to have a prayer and then I’m going to tell you something more important than what I just told you.” They prayed and then in a very simple way that doctor led my father to Christ.

It takes many words to keep a sinking religious ship afloat. Most of us have a problem with keeping quiet…I know I do.

Are you sometimes intimidated by those who know so much and make it sound so complex?

Watch out for religious condemnation.

You can tell how guilty a person is by asking how guilty you feel in that person’s presence.

How surprising of God to sanctify the tears of the thief and judge the silent condemnation of the religious judge. How surprising of God, in the midst of proper worship, correct theology and strict Sabbath keeping, to simply leave the building.

Do you sometimes wonder if you’re the real thing because you get so much wrong and they point it out?

Watch out for religious solemnity.

Sometimes I get tickled at the seriousness of the church. If there weren’t a God, I would understand. But last time I checked, God was still there and had not, as yet, gone into a panic.

When Jesus is present, there is joy, freedom and release. Under the watchful eye of a sovereign God, we can rejoice in the laughter of the redeemed.

Do you ever get the giggles in the wrong place, are criticized and then question your salvation?

I’ve got some good news for you.

Jesus says twice, “They have their reward.” When people tell me that I’m spiritual, it often worries me. I would rather receive my reward from God than from them.

I have a friend who says that the difference between believers and unbelievers is that Christians know the rules and how to play the game. Therefore we can fake it better.

In Luke 18 Jesus told a story about a Pharisee who knew the rules. He went to the temple to pray and looked down on the tax collector who was also praying. The Pharisee rejoiced before God that he was not like the tax collector.

The Pharisee told God that he was not like other men. The Pharisee told God that he wasn’t an adulterer…and he wasn’t. The Pharisee told God that he wasn’t a tax collector who stole money from God’s people…and he wasn’t. The Pharisee told God that he fasted twice a week…and he did. The Pharisee told God that he tithed all of his possessions…and he did.

The tax collector, on the other hand, barely looked up. Instead, he pled for desperately needed mercy…and received it.

The rest of the story? When the Pharisee left the temple, the religious folks told him how much they appreciated his help in building the temple. After all, he was a benefactor. The religious folks went on to admire him for his fasting, praying, purity and commitment. As a result, the Pharisee felt good about himself.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t begrudge him.

According to Jesus, that’s all he got.

Time to Draw Away

Read Luke 18:9-14 & Romans 8

Are you intimidated by religious folks…so much so that you begin to doubt your salvation? Don’t let that happen. You belong to God. So rest and relax in his love, mercy and grace. It’s already yours.

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