Summary: We are incurably religious, thinking that if we use the right formulas, we will be acceptable to God. But God wants our personal involvement and our investment in understanding Him.
Our most persistent sin is that we are religious.
Of all the sins that men and women commit, of all the wrongheaded directions we take, of all the wayward wanderings on which we go, none is more persistent than this: that we are religious. As someone has put it, we are incurably religious.
Apparently there is no society so primitive that it does not invent some kind of religion, some kind of practice whereby people think they can be put in touch with divinity. And that, I am saying, is our deepest sin. Religion is our most persistent sin.
When the Bible, especially in the Old Testament, sets out to warn us against those things that weaken our relationship to God, it weighs in very heavily about idolatry; it speaks vigorously about the sin of religion. And some of' the prophets even picture God as saying that he will not accept our festivals, our Sabbaths, our sacrifices, our religion. Religion is our most persistent sin; and yet we are incurably religious.
You see, the heart and core of the issues I am going to get at here is that our God has made us for Himself. Our God has made us for a relationship with Him. He has created us for dynamic interpersonal relationship. But what do we do? We choose to cheapen that relationship by reducing it to a business transaction; we choose to step aside from God’s desire to love us and to reduce Him to rites and rituals and little duties. We want to get off cheap. That’s what religion is: out most persistent sin. We are incurably religious.
I suspect you are still mystified by what I am saying. We thought that we church folks were supposed to be religious; we thought that's what God expected ... that we would do our church thing and perform our routines every Sunday, right on schedule. Why is the pastor, whose livelihood comes from religious people, weighing in against religion?
Because our God has created us for relationship not for religion, for personal interaction, not for ritual routine. Because our God asks us for prayer, not for prayers; for love, not for legalisms; for worship, not for getting off cheap.
You're still mystified, aren't you? What exactly is the distinction we're looking at? And what does God want from me on Sunday morning if it isn't religious routines and rituals?
I invite you this morning to sit with me at a well in Samaria and to eavesdrop on a conversation, a few words between a woman with tremendous needs and a man who could supply all that need. Drop in with me and listen, and discover why religion is our most persistent sin. Discover with me what God wants on Sunday morning as we worship.
Here is Jesus, waiting at the well of Sychar in the region known as Samaria. He was thirsty. And so when the woman came to draw out water with her earthen jar, it seems natural enough that he would ask her, "Give me something to drink." Natural enough to us, maybe, but not to her. She was startled, because she could see that he was Jewish, of course she could see that he was male, and all that should have added up to a snobbish silence, not an afternoon's conversation about water.
But as the conversation went on, this Jew began to speak to her of living water, something which would quench her thirst forever, and then he spoke to her of her personal life, which was clearly in a shambles. But now it seems that the closer he got to her personally, the more she wanted to deflect the conversation to religion.
Jesus has just reminded her that she has been married and divorced some five times, and he has revealed that he knows that she is now somebody's live-in lover, and to get the conversation away from all of that, to get on to something more manageable, the woman begins to talk religion. Let's listen in: John 4:19-26
Can you begin to see why I would say that religion is our most persistent sin? You see that instead of dealing with her own life issues, the woman at the well wants to talk religion. Instead of moving forward to unburden her heart about all these failed marriages, she wants to talk about the right place to go to church. Instead of letting Jesus tackle the issue of her less-than-ideal living arrangements, she'd rather talk about who's right, the Jews or the Samaritans? Who has the better theology, the Baptists or the Methodists? Who reads the Bible better, the conservatives or the moderates and the liberals? Oh, listen, religion is our most persistent sin, because it tempts us away from what counts and to spin our wheels in little things. We'd rather major on minors than invest ourselves in relationship with the living God; and that is sin. That is getting off too cheap.