January 17 - The Religious Spirit

The worship of Jehovah in the early days was quite simple: God told man to do something and man obeyed. What we do in worship might become rituals for subsequent generations but the more important point is the meaning behind these rituals or ways to worship. Jacob followed God’s instructions to move to Bethel, to live there and built an altar, to do house cleansing by removing all idols, earrings and to change their clothes.

There is, however, another type of ritual. They were not God-directed but done by man as an act of worship and memorial. The erecting of stone pillars by Jacob is an example. He erected a pillar when he was in Lutz and anointed it with oil. Now when the Lord appeared to him again there at Bethel, he erected another stone pillar. Later when Rachel passed away, he also erected a stone pillar in her memory. This is what some human traditions come from.

Either from God or from man, religious practices could easily degenerate into empty observances without the true meanings behind them. The true meaning for every religious form should be nothing other than the heart of God and how man respond to God, but what we usually call the religious spirit is just the opposite. It focuses on the form without the meaning, ignoring totally the heart and will of God. Thus the rituals might become sinful since they are done in total disregard to God’s will and heart. One could be worshiping and sinning at the same time!

In Isaiah’s time, the Lord abhorred the fasting of His people because they were doing injustice and unrighteousness while they fasted. The Pharisees in Jesus’ time kept the Sabbath but ignored mercy. They did not have an ounce of discernment because of their religious spirit blinding them to true worship. As a result, they did not discern the presence of the One who is greater than the temple; and they had no idea that human lives were more important than that of the animals. Jesus healed many right after His teaching to them shows that He is God and He treasures human lives. He values mercy over sacrifice. That is the heart of God and the meaning behind the Sabbath.

The only way to true worship is to respond to God’s heart and not to empty forms. Giving to God is not to twist His arms to your favor, it is not to bribe Him but to show your love to Him. Serving others is not just to prove that you have love but out of obedience to the Father. To pray is not just a religious exercise but an enjoyment of God’s presence. To sing religious songs is not to show off your voice but to give praise to the One who is worthy. When God is taken out of what you do, your worship is in vain and hypocritical. Are you sinning in worship and ministry?

Ps 10:11-15 Gen 35:1-36:43 Matt 12:1-21 Prov 3:21-26

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