Going to church. Praying. Fasting. Reading the Bible. Giving offerings. Community outreach. Teaching a church group. Raising our hands during worship. All of these are things we as Christians do, but is God pleased with you doing them? On the surface, you’re quick reply is, “Of course!” However, there are many times we do these things that God is not pleased with us. Cain gave God an offering, the Pharisee prayed, Saul sacrificed, and many others in the Bible did what God asked.
What makes the difference is our purpose behind these actions. Are we sacrificing our time and energy to do the Christian things because we think it’ll make God happy and He’ll look favorably on us? We live in a “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch your back” kind of world. When we let that thinking creep into our Christianity, we end up having the form of Christianity without the power of it. This is not pleasing to God.
In Isaiah 58:3, God lets us know what He thinks about these empty actions. “‘We have fasted before you!’ they say. ‘Why aren’t you impressed? We have been very hard on ourselves, and you don’t even notice it!’ “I will tell you why!” I respond. “It’s because you are fasting to please yourselves. Even while you fast, you keep oppressing your workers” (NLT). It all boils down to the motive behind our actions. Are we doing these things out of love for God or to get the praise of others? To me, the answer to that is the difference between being religious and being a Christian.
A Christian seeks to bring glory to God through their actions. A religious person seeks to bring glory to themselves. They may impress others, but they are not impressing God. He looks at our heart and motives. That’s why Able had a better sacrifice and the prayer of the tax collector was heard. Their hearts were right with God. They weren’t seeking to impress others. Rituals aren’t what gets you into Heaven. It’s a repentant heart that seeks to honor God in all they do.
When we have the right motive behind our actions, God says in verse 8, “Then your salvation will come like the dawn, and your wounds will quickly heal. Your godliness will lead you forward, and the glory of the LORD will protect you from behind.” We can do the right things for the wrong reasons and it will not please God. He doesn’t want us to be religious. He wants us to be like Him. We are changed from the inside out, not the outside in. If you find you’re being religious instead of godly, ask God to give you a change of heart today. You’ll find being a Christian is a lot more fun and rewarding than being religious.