“The Lord says: ‘These people come near to Me with their mouth and honor Me with their lips, but their hearts are far from Me. Their worship of Me is made up only of rules taught by men.’” Isaiah 29:13
Today I want to continue with the theme of worship: that we were freed from our sins to become the loving worshippers of God that we were created to be; that as new-made priests, we are to come before our God and learn to walk in His ways, being the living sacrifices that are pleasing and acceptable to Him; that coming before Him involves perpetually aligning our perspectives, priorities and practices to His by acting justly, loving mercy and walking humbly with Him; that the faith to do so comes from continually remembering Who He is and what He has done. I believe that worshipping God is our central and eternal purpose, from which all other purposes flow and without which, all other purposes are worthless.
We must come before the Lord! He is our life and purpose! Without Him, we are lost. Those who realize this truth fling themselves at His feet, heart and soul, and find their strength and joy. But there are many who only hear those words as a rule taught by people. They hear, “Come before the Lord” and interpret it to mean, “Go to church with regularity. Sing the songs that are played. Listen and take notes. Behave properly while at church. Improve your standing by doing extra credit: use the right ‘Christianese’ vocabulary, perform service for the church, give money, extend the singing and proper behavior to other venues.”
Please note that I do not condemn any of the above, but those activities do not constitute coming before the Lord. Jesus addressed the same issue with the regular churchgoers of His day. In Mark 7, while He was teaching His disciples about the life-giving God they were to come before, some very proper religious people asked Jesus (with one of those questions that is never asked to genuinely learn, but is merely a form of accusation) why His disciples weren’t obeying the rules.
Note: rules taught by men change as cultures changes. The rule the Pharisees were hot to enforce is not a big deal in churches today, but people have made new rules and get as offended as they did when the rules are not obeyed. In fact, I believe there is a correlation between the level of offense a person takes when observing another person’s failure to obey a rule and the distance of their heart from God.
Jesus’ first response to this was, “Isaiah was right!” and goes on to quote the verse I have copied at the beginning of this article. “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.” Mark 7:6 He continues, teaching His listeners that, for all of their rule keeping, none of the life of God flowed to transform them into His people, but instead, their religion became a justification for all manner of activity that was outright offensive to God.
Modifying external behavior does not change a person’s heart. Only God can do that. As a result, we cannot afford to come near to God with our lips, but let our hearts do whatever they will. Rule-keeping is not worship. Jesus pointed out that the real problems of evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly do not get cleansed by standing in church and singing worship songs, dressing properly or saying, ‘Praise the Lord’. These require the healing Presence of God who frees us from our sins by His blood – ALL THE TIME! We need to come before Him and stay before Him, with our whole hearts, so that His transforming life can cleanse and change us into the loving worshippers we are intended to be.