Useless Religion

Bible Focus: Jeremiah 1-7

This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD: "Stand in the gate of the house of the LORD and there call out this word: ‘Hear the word of the LORD, all you people of Judah who enter through these gates to worship the LORD. This is what the LORD of Armies, the God of Israel, says: Correct your ways and your actions, and I will allow you to live in this place. Do not trust deceitful words, chanting, "This is the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD."
"'Do you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, burn incense to Baal, and follow other gods that you have not known? Then do you come and stand before me in this house that bears my name and say, “We are rescued, so we can continue doing all these detestable acts”?
Jeremiah 7:1-4,9-10 CSB

I grew up in a family that regularly attended a Baptist church. I went to Sunday School, Sunday morning worship, Sunday evening worship, Vacation Bible School, Wednesday night church activities, youth Bible studies, youth camps, and mission trips.

I conservatively estimate that before I turned eighteen, I spent more than 6,000 hours in these Christian activities. During that time, I heard at least 1,500 sermons, participated in at least 2,000 Bible lessons, sung Christian songs at least 10,000 times, and bowed my head for at least 5,000 prayers.

None of those numbers are unusual or remarkable for those of us who grew up going to church. Plenty of other kids were just as faithful to church as I was. Some of us grew up and realized that we wanted to keep following God as adults.

But others who grew up in church found that they didn’t truly believe in the God of the Bible. Some decided to quit pretending and stopped going to church. Others kept attending church, but their hearts weren’t set on following God. For them, church attendance was a means to help them appease their conscience, please others, or gain some other kind of personal benefit.

Church involvement can definitely point us to God and help us grow in our faith in Christ. But church involvement, by itself, cannot produce a trust in God. Countless hours of church activities are ultimately useless if we don’t combine them with a genuine faith in Jesus.

Church involvement, by itself, cannot produce a trust in God.

For hundreds of years, the nation of Israel had been split into the two kingdoms of Israel and Judah. Both kingdoms had been unfaithful to God with their worship of idols. Israel had turned away from God almost entirely. When Israel repeatedly refused to turn back to God, he finally sent the enemy nation of Assyria to conquer Israel and scatter the people far away from their land.

Judah fared somewhat better, and at times the people of Judah seemed to truly forsake their idols and pursue God instead. But even though they usually kept up the appearance of worshiping God, their hearts kept pulling them back into idolatry. Years after the fall of Israel, God told the prophet Jeremiah to proclaim that Judah, too, would fall.

Then the LORD said to me, "Disaster will be poured out from the north on all who live in the land. Indeed, I am about to summon all the clans and kingdoms of the north."
This is the LORD's declaration. They will come, and each king will set up his throne at the entrance to Jerusalem's gates. They will attack all her surrounding walls and all the other cities of Judah.
"I will pronounce my judgments against them for all the evil they did when they abandoned me to burn incense to other gods and to worship the works of their own hands."
Jeremiah 1:14-16 CSB

God’s judgment on Judah was not a knee-jerk reaction. Generation after generation had hardened their hearts toward God and resisted his patient instruction. While they still paid lip service to the one true God, they were devoted to other so-called gods that allowed them to pursue their own sinful desires.

God still wanted the best for his people. Again and again, God urged them to turn back to him with all their heart. Few people responded. Even though God was the only one who could truly satisfy them, they were determined to go their own way.

Therefore, I will bring a case against you again. This is the LORD's declaration. I will bring a case against your children's children. Cross over to the coasts of Cyprus and take a look. Send someone to Kedar and consider carefully; see if there has ever been anything like this: Has a nation ever exchanged its gods? (But they were not gods!) Yet my people have exchanged their Glory for useless idols. 
Be appalled at this, heavens; be shocked and utterly desolated! This is the LORD's declaration. For my people have committed a double evil: They have abandoned me, the fountain of living water, and dug cisterns for themselves--cracked cisterns that cannot hold water.
Jeremiah 2:9-13 CSB

Those of us who attend church need to take a warning from Judah. The sin in our hearts always tries to turn us away from God and trust in our own way. Just because we put ourselves in close proximity to the church doesn’t mean we will be close to God. We may sing about Jesus, hear a message from the Bible, and even say Amen, but that won’t change our heart.

But here’s the good news. When we sincerely turn to Jesus, admit our sin, and trust in him as our Lord and God, then he radically changes the core of our heart. Even though we’ll be far from perfect, we’ll have an enduring desire to love God, trust God, and obey him. We’ll want to be part of a church that believes the Bible and teaches people to follow Jesus. And along the way, as Jesus shows us our sin, we’ll keep turning back to him and trusting in his forgiveness as he leads us in the ways of righteousness.

Featured image from Jocelyn Allen on Unsplash.

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3 thoughts on “Useless Religion

  1. So true! Quiet time with the Lord and reflecting on all the kept promises He has made personally produce trust in Him. This grows your faith too.

  2. Thanks, Jeff. I am currently writing a study of Jeremiah, so I’m always interested to see what other people are saying about him.

  3. Thank you for your clear, solid teaching and for including the relevant scriptures.

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