Summary: What matters is not what religion you are or cleaning up your act. What matters is your relationship with Christ.
Religion, Reformation, or Relationship
Traditionally, on New Year’s Day, many people make resolutions. About 85% of those made are for some form of self-improvement. While most of those who make resolutions are sincere, only 8% ever achieve their goal. How many times have you heard someone say they are going to change only to remain the same or even become more entrenched in some habit, sin, or vice. Man thinks that religion or reformation is what is needed when the reality is that what is needed is a relationship.
I. Religion without true righteousness
A. In Matthew 12, Jesus Christ is having a discourse with the Pharisees dealing with their rejection of Him and their reliance on tradition and religion to make them acceptable to both God and men. This self-righteous attitude was commented on by Christ in Matthew 23.
B. Matthew 23:25-28 “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess. Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchers, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men's bones, and of all uncleanness. Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.”
C. John MacArthur says of the Pharisees, “The Pharisees were classic moralists. There was no other group in existence at the time that was more committed to ethics, standards, principles of life, and morals than the Pharisees. They lived by a complex and demanding ethical moral code. Laws existed for everything, and their life was utterly and totally circumscribed by a mass of legislation and morality.” - copied
D. This attitude of the self-sufficiency of religiosity is seen in the prayer of the Pharisee in Luke 18.
E. Luke 18:10-12 “Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess.”
F. Matthew 5:20 “For I say unto you, that except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.”
G. Multitudes of kind, honest, sincere religious church members, when they come to the end of life’s journey, will awaken to the fact that they have missed heaven because they were trusting in church not Christ.
H. Matthew 7:21-23 “Not everyone that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? And in thy name, have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you, depart from me, ye that work iniquity.”
I. A man's religion will not carry him to Heaven. Good works, no matter how plentiful, will not outweigh one's sin debt. – John R Rice.
J. A relationship with God cannot be found through religion. In fact, religion is the biggest roadblock to seeking a relationship with God. Religion is simply Man trying to reach out to God by doing something that he thinks will please God. “If I can do enough, say enough, pray enough, give enough, sacrifice enough perhaps God will show me favor”. Every religion is based upon this “works theology”.
II. Reformation without transformation
A. Matthew 12:43-45 “When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walketh through dry places, seeking rest, and findeth none. Then he saith, I will return into my house from whence I came out; and when he is come, he findeth it empty, swept, and garnished. Then goeth he, and taketh with himself seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter in and dwell there: and the last state of that man is worse than the first. Even so shall it be also unto this wicked generation.”
B. Here was a man that had been possessed was battling life’s dominating sins and resolved to change through self-reformation. Here was a man who attempted to clean up his act (swept) and put his life in order (garnished). The result was all he did was create a vacuum in his heart (empty) and no one can exist with such a spiritual vacuum within them. Whenever there is such a vacuum it must and will be filled by something. That is why changing behavior is never enough. Changing behavior without changing your deepest desires and belief is mere behavior modification. What this man and all men need is a changed heart. There will never be lasting or true change without a changed heart. Understand that the heart is central to life – physically, emotionally and spiritually. The heart of the problem is the heart.