GOSPEL FREES FROM RELIGIOUS RITES
The religious legalist actually promotes a quick fix for Christian growth. He feels that rules and regulations will guarantee the structured life that is in agreement with the behavioral pattern prescribed by law. Therefore, in order to guarantee obedience to law, the religious legalist prescribes codes and religious rites in order to marshal the believers’ lives into conformity with the traditionally accepted pattern of behavior that guarantees obedience to law. Law, therefore, takes second seat to the practice of the codes that are emphasized to make sure law is obeyed.
The same scenario exists today. Those who march according to the religious rites of a legal system of religion are thus judged to be “faithful” to a particular religious group by those who have set themselves up as judges and lawgivers of the group to make sure that the religious rites of the denominated religious heritage are performed. In religions that become legalistic in their behavior, the members are judged by those who have established and maintained the legal heritage by which all members must march. Thus, faith digresses to a behavioral system of religious rites that are established after a particular religious group. This is exactly what Jesus was confronting when He said to the Jews, “This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men” (Mk 7:6,7).
In the Galatian situation, the members of the body were being convinced to return to a system of religious slavery. Paul wrote to them, “But now after you have known God, or rather are known by God, how is it that you turn again to the weak and beggarly elements, to which you desire again to be in bondage?” (Gl 4:9).
Paul could not understand why they wanted to go back to a system of religious slavery from which they had escaped through their obedience to the gospel of freedom. They were allowing the judaizing teachers to regiment them again into conformity to legal religion in order to supposedly guarantee their salvation.
The problem was that the Galatians were not recognizing the legal trap into which they were going. They were being drawn into a religion where the heart could go unchecked as the believer legally enslaved himself after a system of obedience to outward religious ceremonies. This is what Jesus meant when He said, “Their heart is far from Me” (Mk 7:6).
The Jewish religious leaders during Jesus’ ministry expressed outward religiosity, but their religious acts were regimented behavioral actions that could be performed without any heart. They could keep the religious rites without checking their hearts. In one’s zeal to conform to the accepted regimentation of legal rites that have been established by the traditions of the fathers, one begins to ignore God in order to focus on strict obedience to the legal identity of a particular religious group. One’s mind is slowly changed from focusing on pleasing God to pleasing those who have set themselves up to be the guardians of the “truth.”
The religionist in this structure of religion moves from focusing on God to focusing on making sure his behavior is according to the leaders of the group who enforce the legal codes of identity of the group. The members of the group have a greater concern about being accepted by the group than allowing the gospel of Jesus to reflect their appreciation for the grace of God. Their motivation as a member of the group turns from God to doing those things that will make one accepted to the group leaders and group itself. In order not to be an outcast of the group, their motivation turns from God to upholding group heritage in order that they not be intimidated by others in the group. In the slow, and often unintentional change of focus, each member of the group gives up being motivated by the gospel of God’s grace.