- The origin of religion:
It was true that the Sinai covenant was continued active in Israel through the Israelites’ obedience to the Sinai law. However, and as all those who become ignorant of the law, the urge for self-justification became a part of the Jews’ religiosity once they set aside the purpose for which the Sinai law was originally given.
The Jews’ religious traditions, therefore, became absolutely necessary when they forgot the original purpose of the Sinai law, and often, the very statutes of the law. What statutes they did remember were surrounded with traditional orders of behavior in order that there be a guaranteed adherence to the Sinai law.
The same is true today in reference to the law of Christ. Many people today are as the Jews of old. In many cases, people today have also given up a knowledge of the word of God (See Hs 4:6). Since many people today have given up a knowledge of the New Testament word of Christ, but at the same time seek to remain religious, they have constructed all sorts of religious behavior in order to feel justified before God. Whether the Jews in the first century or Christians today, at least one very important lesson is learned from all this religious confusion. No matter what century in which we live, there are always those who have convinced themselves that they are right with God on the basis of performing their own religious traditions. Jesus saw this coming (Read Mt 7:21-23).
Many religious leaders today are no different than the religious leaders of Jesus’ day. For example, the religious leaders of the Jews sought to guarantee the keeping of the Sabbath law by surrounding the original Sabbath law with numerous amendments of the law. In order to honor the Sabbath, therefore, the Jewish religionists of the day imposed on the people their own self-justifying Sabbath behavior in order to guarantee that the Sabbath was strictly honored. For example, the “Sabbath-day journey,” which journey is found nowhere in the original Sinai law, was an imposed “law” that was to be obeyed in order to guarantee that one obeyed the Sabbath.
Today, the same is true in reference to the religiosity of many people. In order to be considered faithful, religious performances, especially surrounding the assemblies of each particular group, are orchestrated in order that all attendees walk away from the assembly feeling good, thinking that now after the “closing prayer,” they are justified before God.
- When the assembly of any group becomes the identity of the group, then the adherents should realize that they have established a religion that is identified by assemblies, not by their obedience and behavior of the gospel.
- 4. Attaching law to law:
The Jews of Jesus’ time were no different than ourselves in attaching self-imposed laws (religious rites and ceremonies) to the original law. However, the religious leaders of the Jews forgot, in reference to the Sabbath, that “the Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath” (Mk 2:27). Those who use law as a means of self-justification always view law as an avenue through which one can stand just before God. In other words, some Jews kept the Sabbath in order to maintain a salvational relationship with God. The keeping of the Sabbath, however, was meant to be a sign of their covenant with God, not a means by which they would justify themselves from sin (See Ex 31:13). The Sabbath was set aside as a day of rest for the people, not as a day of worship.
The self-righteous always view justification through law-keeping. In reference to ourselves today, many Christians keep certain rites and ceremonies on Sunday morning in order to be justified before God. We thus preach grace from the pulpits, but bring ourselves into the bondage of our own self-justification through obedience to a prescribed order of religious ceremonies. We must simply remember that we are already justified by grace before we show up on Sunday morning. In fact, we show up at the assembly because we are justified, not in order to be justified.
It is the same with the assortment of religious traditions that we witness today among so many religious groups throughout the world. It is supposed that obedience to all the religious rites and ceremonies of each particular religious group will deem the adherents justified before God. The rites and ceremonies are thus perpetuated in order to make the adherents feel that they are justified before God on the basis of their perfect obedience of the rites and ceremonies.
However, we must never forget that self-imposed human religious rites and ceremonies, even the keeping of God’s laws, can never profit as a means of self-justification. Law cannot be the answer for a consistent relationship with God simply because we are all law breakers (Rm 3:9-11). Though law is just, good and holy, it still reveals sin in our lives for which there is no human solution (Rm 7:12-14).
When we consider our particular religious rites and ceremonies, who will stand forth and be the judge as to which are right and which are questionable, if not contrary to the established identity of church. In the first century, the Jews had a religious police force of scribes and Pharisees whose job it was to maintain the legal order of religious behavior among the people. Today, it is certain that we have the same who “come out of Jerusalem” in order to make judgments concerning the teaching of John the Baptist.
- It is by God’s grace that we can live free of guilt because we know that we cannot keep His law perfectly.
Keeping all our religious rites and ceremonies may present before others a facade of religiosity, or even lead us into deceiving ourselves that we are righteous in obedience to law. Therefore, our religiosity in itself is of no benefit in reference to our justification. This is true simply because the Holy Spirit said it was true: “For by works of law no flesh will be justified” (Gl 2:16).
[Next in series: Articles 5,6]