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Devotional - The Spirit Of Religion In The Church

Discussion in 'Thoughts for Today' started by anthony wade, Jun 13, 2013.

  1. But there was a certain man named Ananias who, with his wife, Sapphira, sold some property. He brought part of the money to the apostles, claiming it was the full amount. With his wife’s consent, he kept the rest. – Acts 5: 1-2 (NLT)

    We speak often about the spirit of religiosity within the church today. In the 23rd chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, we see Jesus rebuking the religious leaders of His day. Within His admonitions we see the characteristics of this spirit of religion. It is a spirit that is not from God although it uses His name quite frequently. This spirit would try and carry over into the New Testament church as well; which we will see shortly. Going through the 23rd chapter of Matthew’s Gospel however will lay the proper foundation.

    “The teachers of religious law and the Pharisees are the official interpreters of the law of Moses.So practice and obey whatever they tell you, but don’t follow their example. For they don’t practice what they teach. They crush people with unbearable religious demands and never lift a finger to ease the burden. – Matthew 23: 2-4 (NLT)

    One of the recurring themes through the teachings of Jesus is against hypocrisy. When we realize that even today hypocrisy is the number one reason why the unsaved claim to not want to go to church, we understand why our Lord focused so prominently on it. That is what Jesus is saying here – they do not practice what they preach. I have seen Christians in the secular workforce absolutely destroy the witness for Christ. I have seen congregants at Bible believing churches treat new people like they have the plague. I have seen pastors preach consistently about things they clearly do not adhere to in their own lives or in the management of their church. The lost are spiritually blind beloved – not physically blind. They are looking for any reason to believe or not believe. Which do we give them? Which do our lives give them? I read a minister’s leaders article recently excusing poor behavior within a church because we are all human. Of course we are! But the article espoused the notion that we should love the imperfections. I couldn’t disagree more. If there is pettiness and unforgiveness in your church you should not love it in an attempt to embrace our collective humanity but rather seek to eradicate it to embrace our shared Spirit.

    “Everything they do is for show. On their arms they wear extra wide prayer boxes with Scripture verses inside, and they wear robes with extra long tassels.And they love to sit at the head table at banquets and in the seats of honor in the synagogues. They love to receive respectful greetings as they walk in the marketplaces, and to be called ‘Rabbi.’– Matthew 23: 5-7 (NLT)

    Everything they do is for show. The religious spirit is a very showy spirit. It demands the attention that is supposed to be paid to God. Sure the language may appear right. The religious spirit knows all the buzz words and uses them to make people feel as if what they are hearing is spiritual but at the heart is carnality. It is the same spirit from as far back as the Tower of Babel:

    Then they said, “Come, let’s build a great city for ourselves with a tower that reaches into the sky. This will make us famous and keep us from being scattered all over the world.” – Genesis 11: 4 (NLT)

    This will make us famous! How many of the churches across this land are more about the fame and fortune of the pastor than about the Gospel of Jesus Christ? How many Towers of Babel must we plant and call churches? Waterfalls in the lobby; millions of dollars spent.

    “What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you shut the door of the Kingdom of Heaven in people’s faces. You won’t go in yourselves, and you don’t let others enter either. – Matthew 23: 13 (NLT)

    Besides being hypocritical and showy, the religious spirit simply should know better. This charge from our Lord might be the most serious. The Pharisees and Scribes knew the truth but they preferred to hold onto the power they had on earth. They crucified the Messiah they claimed to be waiting for! When they saw the miracles they immediately dismissed them as not being from God because the teachings of Jesus stood to interrupt their religion. The religious spirit will do whatever it has to in order to survive.

    So from that time on, the Jewish leaders began to plot Jesus’ death. – John 11: 53 (NLT)

    What egregious act prompted this response from the religious leaders? What unspeakable act did Jesus commit that would drive the leaders to seek His death? This reaction came immediately following the raising of Lazarus from the dead! So in the face of the greatest miracle any of them could have ever witnessed in their lives, their reaction is to seek to kill the miracle worker. That is what the religious spirit will do when faced with a threat. David Wilkerson once said that the first response from false teachers is to cry legalist! But back to the thirteenth verse here we see the charge Jesus is leveling against them. They actually shut the door of heaven to those truly seeking. It is bad enough that a leader might choose the broad path to destruction but to then lead others down that same path is abominable. Yet how many hundreds of thousands of people sit in churches every Sunday thinking they are assured a salvation they do not possess? How many have been told to recite a two sentence prayer and voila! Welcome to the family of God! No discussion of their sin or their dire need to repent. No discussion of the blood. Paul Washer once said you cannot have a new relationship with God until you first have a new relationship with sin.

    “What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you cross land and sea to make one convert, and then you turn that person into twice the child of hellyou yourselves are! – Matthew 23: 15 (NLT)

    Along the same theme we see Jesus continue to dissect the spirit of religion. Here in verse 15 we see that the spirit of religion is not necessarily even aware of what it is that they do! The Pharisees certainly appeared to believe they were right in what they were doing. They were sincere. As my pastor likes to say however – you can be sincere and sincerely wrong. Not every false teacher or prophet is wearing a neon sign like Benny Hinn. Remember, a great many of them are wolves in sheep’s clothing – that means they have the appearance of sheep. Beloved – it is not about Joel Osteen, Rick Warren or Joseph Prince – it is about what they teach! We have churches throughout this land who genuinely seek to make disciples but the purpose driven model they use skips the part about genuine salvation. You can grow the church horizontally but without a vertical growth you are just ensuring more chairs will be needed on the deck of the Titanic.

    “Blind guides! What sorrow awaits you! For you say that it means nothing to swear ‘by God’s Temple,’ but that it is binding to swear ‘by the gold in the Temple.’ Blind fools! Which is more important—the gold or the Temple that makes the gold sacred? And you say that to swear ‘by the altar’ is not binding, but to swear ‘by the gifts on the altar’ is binding. How blind! For which is more important—the gift on the altar or the altar that makes the gift sacred? When you swear ‘by the altar,’ you are swearing by it and by everything on it. And when you swear ‘by the Temple,’ you are swearing by it and by God, who lives in it. And when you swear ‘by heaven,’ you are swearing by the throne of God and by God, who sits on the throne. – Matthew 23: 16-22 (NLT)

    The spirit of religion places its trust and value in the things of this world instead of the things of God. Here we see Jesus rebuking the Pharisees because they swore by the gold in the temple instead of the temple itself and the gifts on the altar instead of the altar. Because the religious spirit is hypocritical regarding God and prefers the showiness instead of the substance, it is only logical that it places value on the carnal instead of the spiritual. The religious spirit thinks that the Gospel is somehow ineffective to reach the next generation and therefore seeks to water it down and make it more palatable to draw people in. The result however is that the people are drawn into religion by man instead of true faith by the Holy Spirit. The religious spirit seeks to add human wisdom to the Word of God, chasing every new thought and doctrine.

    Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ. This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ. Then we will no longer be immature like children. We won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth. – Ephesians 4: 11-14 (NLT)

    This is the formula God set forth when the teaching and pastoring stays true to the faith and the Word of God. Then the people will mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ. The religious spirit however goes with every wind of new doctrine. The rationale might sound right – to reach as many for Christ as we can – but if at the heart you have compromised the Gospel, you are not reaching them with Christ; let alone for Christ. The result is people who do not grow into the full and complete standard of Christ and who are easily influenced by clever sounding lies.

    “What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are careful to tithe even the tiniest income from your herb gardens,but you ignore the more important aspects of the law—justice, mercy, and faith. You should tithe, yes, but do not neglect the more important things. Blind guides! You strain your water so you won’t accidentally swallow a gnat, but you swallow a camel!– Matthew 23: 23-24

    The religious spirit is overly focused on money. It misses the overall spirit in which God gives us parameters to live by. I have heard of churches demanding congregants sign covenant agreements even though there is no Biblical precedent. Demanding certain levels of giving or else they are stripped of their membership. Things you would never imagine Jesus doing or condoning. There may be the appearance of justice, mercy and faith but whatever works the religious spirit does – it is compelled to brag about them. The showy spirit of religion wants to be seen by others as doing “good.”

    “Watch out! Don’t do your good deeds publicly, to be admired by others, for you will lose the reward from your Father in heaven. – Matthew 6: 1 (NLT)

    As we come to the end of the rebuke from Jesus we see the final attribute of the religious spirit is desire to appear better than they really are. Whitewashed tombs beloved. How many churches today are essentially whitewashed tombs? Carefully cleaned and crafted on the outside. The most beautiful buildings. The most talented choir. The best trained musicians and singers; who cares if they actually are saved anyway? Fancy pews and designer carpets. Slick salesmen behind the pulpit and slicker marketing men behind the scenes. All to put up the illusion of appearing righteous.

    “What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are so careful to clean the outside of the cup and the dish, but inside you are filthy—full of greed and self-indulgence! You blind Pharisee! First wash the inside of the cup and the dish,and then the outside will become clean, too.“What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs—beautiful on the outside but filled on the inside with dead people’s bones and all sorts of impurity. Outwardly you look like righteous people, but inwardly your hearts are filled with hypocrisy and lawlessness. – Matthew 23: 25-28 (NLT)

    Appearance over the heart. Flash over substance. Music raised to ear shattering levels to create an emotional response that can be passed off as spiritual. Droning worship music filled with man centered adoration reinforcing the poor theology imparted from the pulpit. Whitewashed tombs beloved. Filled with the bones of dead men; who fancy themselves as alive. The true spirit of religion is a dead spirit. It is centered on hypocrisy and showiness. At its core however it has the keys to the gates of heaven but makes them available to no one. It protects itself at all costs and may even be completely oblivious to what it is doing. It has its logic based squarely in this world and not on the things of God. It values the things of this world over the things of God. The result is that it follows whatever the trend of the week is. You want to draw circles in the sand? Sure, go right ahead! The religious spirit can be overly focused on money and in the end is always about appearing righteous instead of seeking righteousness.

    You should know this, Timothy, that in the last days there will be very difficult times. For people will love only themselves and their money. They will be boastful and proud, scoffing at God, disobedient to their parents, and ungrateful. They will consider nothing sacred. They will be unloving and unforgiving; they will slander others and have no self-control. They will be cruel and hate what is good. They will betray their friends, be reckless, be puffed up with pride, and love pleasure rather than God. They will act religious, but they will reject the power that could make them godly. Stay away from people like that! – 2Timothy 3: 1-5 (NLT)

    This warning is from the Apostle Paul to his protégé Timothy and it sums up well the religious spirit we have been discussing today. Acting religious but denying the power that could make them Godly. Stay away from people like that! That power it is found only in our weakness. We can only gain God’s true power by giving up our own. The spirit of religion is always about control and power. The Pharisees refused to give it up to the point that they killed the very Savior they claimed to be waiting for. Today that spirit will refuse to concede any of the earthly power it possesses still.

    This leads us to the key verses for today. From the story of Ananias and Sapphira, who represent the first religious spirit in the newly founded church. I have heard this story be misused and misinterpreted too often. It has absolutely nothing to do with tithing and money. It has to do with having a religious spirit. A spirit that tried to look better than they really were. This couple wanted to appear more righteous than they were really willing to be. They did not have to give a dime to the Apostles. Peter even says that the money was theirs to do with what they wanted. It was that they chose to present it as a gift, held back part for themselves and lied that they had given it all. They wanted to be like the “super spiritual” people we always see in churches today. Appearance over reality. Flash over substance. The Pharisees laid the blueprint down and even though Jesus spoke often about the folly of their religious spirit, Ananias and Sapphira still tried to infiltrate the early church with it as well. But God was having none of it:

    Then Peter said, “Ananias, why have you let Satan fill your heart? You lied to the Holy Spirit, and you kept some of the money for yourself. The property was yours to sell or not sell, as you wished. And after selling it, the money was also yours to give away. How could you do a thing like this? You weren’t lying to us but to God!”As soon as Ananias heard these words, he fell to the floor and died. Everyone who heard about it was terrified. Then some young men got up, wrapped him in a sheet, and took him out and buried him. – Acts 5: 3-6 (NLT)

    Sapphira would also die the same way. Many commentators believe that God did this because of the fragility of the early church. A warning was sent out. Be real or face the wrath of God. Over the centuries however, the religious spirit still managed to find its way in. We need to realize today that the warnings from Jesus still need to be taken very seriously. Religion is merely an appearance. We need more than that to take hold of the power that could make us Godly.

    Reverend Anthony Wade – June 13, 2013

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