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Grace Notes

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IS YOUR RELIGION IN THE HOUSE OR IN THE HEART?
by Philip Owen

             Far too many people are satisfied with “house religion.”  They dress in their Sunday best, parade prominently into the church building on Sunday, sing the hymns loudly, place their offering in the plate, speak when congregational participation is encouraged, listen to the sermon and thank the preacher for the message—and promptly forget it all before the soles of their feet touch the church parking lot.  Throughout the week they seldom crack their Bibles, pray only when they find themselves in a jam, and generally live like most of the world around them—not engaging in criminal activity or participating in open sin, but simply applying themselves to getting ahead and living a comfortable life.  Come Sunday morning, they dress in their Sunday best, and . . .  This is “house religion,” a faith that begins and ends largely at the church door and does not really change or impact the life in any significant way.  It is external religion rather than worship from the heart.  God desires religion that comes from the heart.  We might address this truth in several ways, but certainly one of the most effect ways to do so is to cite passages from the Old Testament given during a time when God required a performance of certain external rites and an adherence to the external demands of the law.  During a time when God demanded the keeping of the law, was the mere external observation of this code enough to satisfy God?  The passages cited below, largely without comment, will answer that question.

                In one of the most familiar passages in the Old Testament, the prophet Samuel addressed an erring King Saul:  “Hath the Lord as great delight in burnt-offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord?  Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams” (I Sam. 15:22).  The Psalms reiterate this idea.  Speaking prophetically of Christ, Psalm Forty reveals that God has always desired service from an upright heart:  “Sacrifice and offering thou didst not desire; mine ears hast thou opened:  burnt offering and sin offering hast thou not required.  Then said I, Lo, I come:  in the volume of the book it is written of me, I delight to do thy will, O my God:  yea, thy law is within my heart” (40:6-8).  That was a psalm written by David; Asaph concurs in in fiftieth Psalm, quoting “the mighty God, even the Lord” (v. 1):  “will I eat the flesh of bulls, or drink the blood of goats?  Offer unto God thanksgiving; and pay thy vows unto the most High.  Whoso offereth praise glorifieth me:  and to him that ordereth his conversation aright will I shew the salvation of God” (vv. 13, 14, 23).  We quote David again:  “For thou desirest not sacrifice; else would I give it:  thou delightest not in burnt offering.  The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit:  a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise” (51:16, 17).  And again, “I will praise the name of God with a song, and will magnify him with thanksgiving.  This also shall please the Lord better than an ox or bullock that hath horns and hoofs [horns thus indicating the maturity and greater value of the animal]” (69:30, 31).  Though failing to adhere to these truths, Solomon, David’s son, echoed them.  “The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord:  but the prayer of the upright is his delight” (Pro. 15:8).  Far from mollifying the Lord, mere house religion offends Him to the point of “abomination.”  Solomon observes that “To do justice and judgment is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice” (Pro. 21:3). 

The prophets continue in a similar vein.  “To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me?  saith the Lord:  I am full of the burnt-offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts and I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of he goats.  When ye come to appear before me, who hath required this at your hand, to tread my courts?  Bring no more vain oblations; incense is an abomination unto me; the new moons and Sabbath, the calling of assemblies, I cannot away with [“endure”]; it is iniquity, even the solemn meeting” (Isa. 1:11-14).  Jeremiah follows Isaiah:  “For I [the Lord] spake not unto your fathers, nor commanded them in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, concerning burnt-offerings or sacrifices:  But this thing commanded I them, saying, Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and ye shall be my people:  and walk ye in all the ways that I have commanded you, that it may be well unto you” (7:22, 23).   Or Hosea, “Take with you words, and turn to the Lord:  say unto him, Take away all iniquity, and receive us graciously:  so will we render the calves of our lips,” (14:2) i.e., their acceptable sacrifice must be words of confession and thanksgiving from repentant hearts.  Finally, Amos quotes “the Lord God”:   “I hate, I despise your feast days, and I will not smell in your solemn assemblies.  Though ye offer me burnt-offerings and your meat-offerings, I will not accept them:  neither will I regard the peace-offerings of your fat beasts.  Take away from me the noise of thy songs; for I will not hear the melody of thy viols.  But let judgment [“justice”] run down as waters, and righteousness as a mighty stream” (5:21-24).

                These texts could be multiplied.  The point they all make is that God accepts only sincere heart religion, that is worship in accord with the truth and coming from a submitted will and an obedient heart.  House religion may deceive those around us, but not God, who looks on the heart.  Do our motives match our actions?  Is our religion intended to mask or to manifest what is really in our hearts?

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