Summary: Our relationship with God is a matter of the heart, not a matter of externals.

On Halloween this year I was on Facebook when I ran across this post from Christian singer Natalie Grant:

I've had many people over the years ask me if I "celebrate" Halloween. I don't celebrate evil. Or darkness. Or witches, ghosts and goblins. But I DO celebrate kids. And princesses. And fairies. And candy. Lots and lots of candy. And neighbors. And community. As children of the Light, why in the world would we hide in our houses on what is considered a "dark" day? And what other day of the year does your entire neighborhood show up at your doorstep? What good does it do to make sure all of the lights are out, trying to make a "stand" for righteousness while the neighbors turn and walk away? No - as a Jesus follower I will open my door wide, greet everyone with a smile and hand out the best candy possible. You don't have to agree with me. That's totally ok. We still both belong to Christ. Oh, and I forgot one other thing I celebrate...freedom in Christ WITHOUT the yoke of legalism. Let the candy collecting begin.

PS - read Romans 14

That particular post got me to thinking a lot about the topic I’d like to address this morning. Hopefully you’ll remember that last week we applied the words of Paul at the end of Romans chapter 2 to the religious rituals that are expressly given to us by God. In our case as followers of Jesus, we have been given two such rituals – baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

This morning we’re going to follow up on that discussion by addressing those religious rituals in which we engage that are not specifically given to us by God in His Word. As we touched on briefly last week, we actually do that much more than we might think. Certainly there are a lot of practices that are an important part of the lives of those who are followers of Jesus as well as those who would claim to be Christians. Even this gathering of worshippers here this morning could fit into that category. Each week, we sing songs, take an offering, have an “In the Bag” message for the children and listen to a sermon. And while there are certainly Biblical principles that guide what we do, the exact form of our gathering is not found anywhere in the Bible.

We also celebrate a number of holidays that could be considered to be religious rituals and which are not found anywhere in Scripture. Nowhere in the Bible are we commanded to observe a holiday to commemorate the birth of Jesus or the resurrection of Jesus. Even the idea of gathering for corporate worship on Sunday each week is not specifically decreed anywhere in the Scriptures. So when it comes to those kinds of rituals, there are two questions we must answer:

1. How do I decide whether or not to participate in these rituals?

2. If I do decide to participate, what principles should guide that participation?

Let’s begin with the first question:

1. How do I decide whether or not to participate in these rituals?

It seems like a good place to start would be to look at the life of Jesus. We know that Jesus certainly did, as we would expect, participate in those religious rituals that were specifically given by God. As a baby, He was circumcised when he was eight days old. And from His childhood, He and His family participated in the feasts that had been given to the Jews by God. In particular, the Passover feast plays an important role in Jesus’ life.

But we also know that He also participated in at least one ritual that was significant to the Jewish people that had not been given to them specifically by God:

At that time the Feast of Dedication took place at Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the colonnade of Solomon.

(John 10:22-23 ESV)

Most of us probably know the Feast of Dedication by its more commonly used name – Hanukkah. It is also known as the Festival of Lights. That particular holiday celebrated how a group of zealous Jews known as the Maccabees had retaken control of the temple from the Greek king Antiochus Epiphanes and had cleansed the temple after Antiochus had defiled it by sacrificing a pig on the altar.

Although God never commanded His people to celebrate that holiday, Jesus still chose to participate in its observance. And since we know that Jesus never sinned, we can conclude that there is certainly no blanket prohibition against participating in religious rituals that are not expressly given by God.

But at the same time, we also know that some of the holidays we observe as Christians as well as many of the traditions associated with those holidays have pagan roots.

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