What is religion?
It is “the belief in a god or in a group of gods. : an organized system of beliefs, ceremonies, and rules used to worship a god or a group of gods”(Webster’s dictionary). According to Wikipedia, “Many religions may have organized behaviours, clergy, a definition of what constitutes adherence or membership, holy places, and scriptures. The practice of a religion may also include rituals, sermons,…. prayer, music,….public service or other aspects of human culture.”
So what makes Christianity different from the hundreds of religions?
I daresay the difference is that Christianity is meant to be a relationship,not a religion. Sadly, for so many of us who profess to be Christians, our focus is on meetings, ceremonies, systems, the organization of the ‘church’, etc. and not on God Himself. Yet Jesus died to make it possible for us to have a real relationship with God, such that we can call Him ‘Father’ (Romans 8:15).
God is tired of religion!!!!
So what does He really want?
1. Worship in spirit and in truth: In an encounter with a Samaritan woman, Jesus made a statement which should cause anyone to stop and ponder. He revealed that the God of the entire Universe has something He is seeking and that is true worshippers who worship Him in spirit and in truth (Jn.4:23-24). You would imagine that with all the religiosity which abounded even in that time, God should have been happy with it. Well, He wasn’t. Don’t be deceived; things haven’t changed very much since then. Yes, millions of people claim to have answered an altar call and, as far as we and they are concerned, they are now saved and adopted into God’s family. However, the question remains: if a person does not realize he is a wretched sinner in desperate need of a Saviour, would merely walking to the front of the church and repeating some sentences make Him saved? Secondly, if that person is not truly saved and cannot appreciate what Jesus has done for Him, can He really worship Him in spirit (from His heart of hearts) and in truth?
2. The outside should reflect the inside: God looks beyond the surface – beyond our words and our actions – and looks right into our hearts (Isaiah 29:13; 1 Sam. 16:7b). Like the words of the beautiful song, ‘The Heart of Worship’, says:
“I’ll bring You more than a song
For a song in itself
Is not what You have required
You search much deeper within
Through the way things appear
You’re looking into my heart.”
At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what anybody else thinks about our ‘worship’. If it’s not acceptable to God, we have not worshipped at all.
What God wants to see on the INSIDE:
– A broken and contrite heart (Psalm 51:17): This is a heart that is described as ‘tender’ and ‘a heart of flesh’. It is not a heart that does not fall short, but rather a heart that is sensitive to God’s pleasure and displeasure and is quick to make amends when God is displeased; that seeks to please God. This was the kind of heart David had that made God describe him as a man after His heart despite his obvious weaknesses and failings.
– That we love Him with all our heart (emotions),soul (will) and mind (intellect): This is stated by Jesus to be the number one commandment which enables us carry out the second one of loving our neighbours. This is because if we do these two, we would be living as He wants us to, thus eliminating the need for laws upon laws of ‘taste not’ and ‘touch not’ (Colossians 2:20-23). The very fact that the body of Christ – the Church – is referred to as Christ’s bride and a glimpse of the romantic writings in Songs of Solomon should cause us to see that God is in love with us! Imagine the pain of being in love with someone and demonstrating your love for them just to have them scorn your love, dismiss it and relate in a distant manner with you. How much pain we must cause God who paid such a huge price to restore us to a loving relationship with Him. I find it amazing how many times His desire to have us love Him with all our heart, soul and mind is seen in the first few books of Moses, embedded in all the laws that at that time, was the only way to keep God’s children in a state that would not displease God and cause a division between Him and them. When a person discovers the depth (or a fraction of the depth) of God’s love for him/her, the natural response is to love in return. “We love Him, because He first loved us.” (1 John 4:19).
What God wants to be on the OUTSIDE:
Actions and words/songs of worship: When the inside is right, it is expected that it will be expressed on the outside. Now, when we lift our hands, sing songs, bow our knees, lie prostrate in expressing the worship that’s on the inside, it is acceptable and pleasing to God. We can’t say we worship on the inside but don’t express it on the outside.
Daily life choices that express worship: Romans 12:1-2 says,
“So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.”
I need not say more. God is more interested in how we live our daily lives than in what we do when we are at our ‘places of worship’. What makes our worship authentic (honest, true) is our daily lives offered to God. That means the different little and big choices/decisions we make daily reflect who or what we actually worship. When we make choices that glorify God even when painful to our ‘flesh’ (mind and body), those choices ascends to Him like a sweet-smelling fragrance of worship. It is the overflow of this true worship that should be expressed in our times of personal devotion or when we gather with other Christians on a Sunday morning or any other time. Anything short of this is not pleasing and acceptable to God.
So, are you worshipping in spirit and in truth? Are you choosing God in your home, at your job, in your business, in your relationships?