A FORMULA FOR SPIRITUAL
SUCCESS OR DISASTER?
An Israelite man pondered his religious responsibilities. He listened to a prophet of God declare
that God was upset with Israel. It had been hundreds of years since the Israelites left Egypt. He
knew that he was religiously lax. Then and there he decided that he would learn his religious
responsibility, and when he did, he would do it.
- He said to himself, "It is time for me to be properly religious."
- "I don't want to upset God--it would be stupid to make God angry."
- "The adults who left Egypt angered God, and they died in the wilderness" (Numbers
- "In the wilderness, the Israelites angered God by worshipping the god Baal of Peor,
and twenty-four thousand people died" (Numbers 25:1-9).
- "When Korah led a rebellion against Moses, fourteen thousand seven hundred people
died from a plague that God sent" (Numbers 16:49).
- "It would be stupid to make God angry."
- "For some reason, offering animal sacrifices is a big thing to God."
- "I need to figure out the sacrificial system correctly."
- "Then I need to do what I am supposed to do, and do it the right way."
- So this Israelite man learned what sacrifices he was supposed to offer, when he was
supposed to offer them, and how he was supposed to offer them.
- He learned that all Israelites must offer sacrifices at one place only (Deuteronomy
- He learned that you must sacrifice only animals that you owned (Leviticus 1:2).
- He learned about burnt offering (Leviticus 1).
- He learned about grain offerings. (Leviticus 2).
- He learned about peace offerings (Leviticus 3).
- He learned about guilt offerings for unintentional sins (Leviticus 4).
- That was just the beginning--he carefully learned the whole sacrificial system.
- With conviction he said, "I figured it out! I know what animal to offer, when to
offer it, how to offer it, and where to offer it!"
- "Everything is covered, and God will be delighted because I am doing the right
- He said, "Now I can get on with life! Life is life, and business is business, and reality
is reality, and religion is religion."
- He had God figured out and religion covered.
- Now he could get on with life.
- And the godly prophet named Isaiah made an oral statement for God as the voice of God,
and this is what he said.
Isaiah 1:11-15 "What are your multiplied sacrifices to Me?" Says the Lord. "I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fed cattle; and I take no pleasure in the blood of bulls, lambs or goats. "When you come to appear before Me, who requires of you this trampling of My courts? "Bring your worthless offerings no longer, incense is an abomination to Me. New moon and sabbath, the calling of assemblies--I cannot endure iniquity and the solemn assembly. "I hate your new moon festivals and your appointed feasts, they have become a burden to Me; I am weary of bearing them."So when you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide My eyes from you; yes, even though you multiply prayers, I will not listen. Your hands are covered with blood.
(The New American Standard Bible, 1995 Update, La Habra, California: The Lockman Foundation, 1996.)
- And the Israelite said to God, "Wait a minute! I worked hard to understand Your
sacrificial system, and to understand it correctly."
- "I sacrifice exactly what You commanded exactly as You commanded."
- "The what, the when, the how, and the where are absolutely correct."
- "I am doing exactly what I am supposed to do."
- "You react to my religious deeds as though I am a godless person."
- And God said, "If you think that it is the smoke of burning animals that thrills Me, you
don't know Me any better than a person who has no god."
- "If you think worship is just a matter of doing right things, you don't understand
- "If you think that life is life and religion is religion, you don't understand Me or
anything that I have done."
- "If you believe that godliness can be reduced just to obeying my commands, you
know nothing about Who I am, what I have done, and what I am doing."
- "If that is what you think, your thinking is an insult."
- A man who believed in Christ was pondering his religious responsibilities.
- He just had listened to a godly person discuss how upset God must be over the evil
conditions in our society.
- It has been hundreds of years since Jesus died.
- He knew that religiously his life was lax.
- He decided then and there that he was going to figure out his religious responsibility
and do it.
- He said to himself, "I don't want to upset God or make Him angry."
- "I know that I will give an account of my life in judgment."
- "If I make God angry, He likely will condemn me to hell."
- "For some reason obedience and worship seem to be a big thing with God."
- "I need to figure out how to obey God and do the right things to worship."
- "Then I will do what I am supposed to do, and I will do it the right way."
- This believing man began an earnest study.
- He learned about declaring faith in Christ (Matthew 10:32).
- He learned about baptism (Romans 6:1-7).
- He learned that early Christians assembled weekly to worship (Acts 20:7).
- He learned about communion (I Corinthians 11:23-29).
- He learned about singing (Colossians 3:16).
- He learned about praying (1 Timothy 2:1-4).
- He attempted to learn how the earliest Christians did these things.
- Finally, he was convicted that he knew the what, the when, the where, and the how.
- He thought to himself, "I have it all figured out! I know the what, the when, the
where, and the how!"
- "Everything is covered! And God will be delighted because I am doing the right
- He said with a sigh, "Since I have religion figured out, I can get on with life!"
- "I understand that life is life, business is business, reality is reality, and religion is
- "I figured God out and took care of religion; I can get on with life."
- But he did not hear God's voice speaking in Jesus' life, in Jesus' crucifixion, in Jesus'
resurrection, and in Christ's continuing work.
- If he could hear God speak of "his religion," God would say:
- "Your baptism means nothing to me; I wish you would quit taking communion; in
worship you act like a tourist in an ancient cathedral; your singing is meaningless; I am
sick of you pursuing an evil life and the habitual acts of worship at the same time. I
hate your Sunday assemblies; they are a burden to me. When you pray, I refuse to
listen. You actually believe that you can ignore your evil if you do the right things in
- Romans 6:15-23 What then? Shall we sin because we are not under the law, but
under grace? By no means! Don't you know that when you offer yourselves to
someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one whom you obey--whether
you are slave to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to
righteousness? But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you
wholeheartedly obeyed the form of teaching to which you were entrusted. You have
been set free from sin and become slaves to righteousness.
I put this in human terms because you are weak in your natural selves. Just as you
used to offer the parts of your body in slavery to impurity and to ever increasing
wickedness, so now offer them in slavery to righteousness leading to holiness. When
you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness. What benefit
did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result
in death! But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to
God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. For the wages
of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.
(New International Version.)
- And the baptized man said, "Wait a minute, God! I worked hard to understand
baptism and proper worship."
- "I do exactly what you command."
- "I am certain that the what, when, how, and where are absolutely correct."
- "I am doing exactly what I am supposed to do, but you act like I am a godless
- And God said, "You don't understand me any better than a godless pleasure seeker if
you think mere human acts elate me."
- "If you think that life is life and religion is religion, you don't understand Me or
anything I do."
- "If you think you can reduce godliness to obeying My commands, you don't know
Who I am, what I have done, or what I am doing."
- "You insult Me and My will."
- There was a man who wanted to find a fine wife.
- He romanced a beautiful, kind lady that he knew could be the wife he wanted.
- He spent time with her every possible opportunity; he called her every day; he sent her
thoughtful, loving notes.
- He shared his thoughts and his dreams with her; he opened himself to her; he could not
spend enough time with her.
- He told her how beautiful she was; he noticed everything she did; and he frequently
complimented her for her kindness and intelligence.
- And she agreed to marry him because she said in her heart, "He will always love me, and
care for me, and share himself with me."
- Two years after they married, he spoke to her infrequently, never called her unless he
wanted something, never wrote her, never shared his thoughts or his dreams, and rarely
spent time with her.
- He never told her she was pretty, never noticed anything she did, never complimented
- He paid the bills and paid for her things.
- She was miserable, lonely, depressed, and cried frequently.
- One day, with irritation and impatience, he asked, "What is wrong with you?"
- She said, "You deeply disappoint me because you never treat me like you treated me
before we married."
- With a disgusted, grim face, he demanded that she name each thing that he no longer
- As she named them, he made a list, and from the list he made a poster that he placed
on their bedroom wall.
- Each day he habitually did something on his "responsibility poster," but he did it
without love, or desire, or feeling.
- Each day, when he did something, he made a check mark on the poster.
- Each act insulted and humiliated her, and her love died.
God is never offended when the heart surrenders itself in faith, humility, and love. God is
insulted by loveless mechanical habits.
LORD, who shall abide in thy tabernacle? who shall dwell in thy holy hill? He that walketh uprightly, and worketh righteousness, and speaketh the truth in his heart. He that backbiteth not with his tongue, nor doeth evil to his neighbour, nor taketh up a reproach against his neighbour. In whose eyes a vile person is contemned; but he honoureth them that fear the LORD. He that sweareth to his own hurt, and changeth not. He that putteth not out his money to usury, nor taketh reward against the innocent. He that doeth these things shall never be moved.
(King James Version.)
West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
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