It seems like many (if not most) of us, like to take refuge in religious activities. We feel like we’re better people if we’re doing something pious. If we can just follow the right rules, pray the right formula, or chant the right words, we’ll be okay with God.
Unfortunately, as I understand Scripture, it seems the Lord is not very interested in religion. In fact, it seems as though the more religious people get, the less He likes it.
All the man-made rules may make us feel better about ourselves, but it’s the heart of the matter that makes the difference. Yet even after all these years, I continually catch myself setting up new rules to follow (at least I hope I catch myself). You’d think I’d learn to follow Jesus instead of a bunch of rules.
Rules are a little easier, though. They don’t move around like Jesus does. But then, why follow things that aren’t moving. They can’t take you anywhere.
Long ago, people approached the prophet Zechariah with a question for the Lord. They wanted to know if they should “mourn and fast in the fifth month” as they had for many years. The Lord answered with a couple questions of his own:
“When you fasted and mourned in the fifth and seventh months for the past seventy years, was it really for me that you fasted? And when you were eating and drinking, were you not just feasting for yourselves?”
The implication was that the people were basically doing these things merely to make themselves feel better. We somehow think we’ll be better off if we “pay our dues.” Follow the rules, give a nice offering, and go about business as usual.
The Lord then told Zechariah to pass on these words to the good folks:
“Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor. Do not plot evil against each other.”
Someone could say, “Well, those are just more rules!” Maybe. But there is a stark difference between going down a checklist of dos and don’ts as opposed to being a merciful, compassionate, and just person. In fact, one might sum it up as “doing versus being.”
It Becomes Personal
When we follow Christ, it becomes a very personal thing. We are transformed into what the apostle Paul calls “living sacrifices.” That, my friends, is a far cry from enumerating a heavenly spreadsheet of religious activities.
If we grow to become compassionate, we don’t have to be told what to do. Life will happen, and we will find ourselves doing benevolent activities. We will do them because they have become part of our nature.
An agenda of rules quickly becomes a dead religion. It’s very impersonal. Your relationship is with a worksheet rather than with people. I know from personal experience.
Having done both, I highly recommend Jesus. He’s a lot more fun than a spreadsheet.