Form or Faith?

In this present world of ours, we continually have forms to fill out or surveys to take where the responses we give are preprogrammed, for the most part. Basically, we have a list of choices to choose from, perhaps from drop-down menus, and we respond from those choices.

And, there is not much space or freedom to write whatever we want, or whatever comes to our minds. Everything is completely regulated according to a preset and predetermined pattern, and all we do is follow that pattern. Everything is by rote.

Well, it was much like that for the Jewish worshipers of old, too. They had many covenant regulations and rituals they had to follow to the letter, where they repeated the same routines over and over again. The priests regularly performed religious rituals in the temple. And, within the Most Holy Place, which housed the Ark of the Covenant of God, the high priests offered sacrifices for their own sins and for the sins of the people on a yearly basis.

According to this arrangement, gifts and sacrifices are offered that cannot perfect the conscience of the worshiper, but deal only with food and drink and various washings, regulations for the body imposed until the time of reformation. Hebrews 9:9-10 ESV

When Christ Appeared
Hebrews 9:11-14 ESV

But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.

Jesus Christ is God the Son who left his throne in heaven, came to earth, took on human flesh, suffered as we suffer, and was put to death on a cross, although he had done no wrong. But, it was God’s will that he should suffer in this way, for in his death he took upon himself the sins of the entire world. So, in his death he put our sins to death, and in his resurrection, he rose victorious over sin, hell, Satan and death, on our behalf.

Through God-given faith in Jesus Christ, which dies with him to sin, so that we can live with him to righteousness, we are forgiven our sins, delivered from slavery to sin, and set free to now walk (in lifestyle) according to the Spirit of God and no longer according to the flesh. We who believe in him are now his temple, and he now dwells within us in the person of the Holy Spirit, the third person of our triune God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

God’s people, his church, do not have to follow all those Old Covenant rules, regulations and rituals, which I am so thankful for. They were never able to save the people from their sins, anyway. Even under the Old Covenant they were saved by faith in God and in the promise of Christ who was then to come. So, following all those rituals did not result in changed hearts, in and of themselves. Only faith in Jesus Christ, expressing itself through repentance and obedience to God, can save us from our sins and give us the hope of eternal life with God.

Yet, there is a place in our lives for routines, and for developing good habits, but we are never saved by going through the motions of religious service. We can perform all we want, and even seem to be doing all the right things, but if all it is is performance, then it means nothing. If all it is is ritual and routine, but our hearts are far from God, then it means nothing. God is not impressed by our religious exercises. What he wants is our hearts on the altar of sacrifice, fully devoted to him.

Instead of just filling out forms and giving canned responses, he wants free-flowing conversation which comes from hearts committed to him. It is kind of like the difference between just filling out forms and writing a paper or a blog where we can dialogue our thoughts, feelings, and beliefs, etc. God doesn’t want our rituals. He wants our hearts on fire for him, worshiping him in truth with our lives, no longer walking in sin, but walking in holiness. He doesn’t want forms of worship. He wants true worship (Rom. 12:1-2).

With Better Sacrifices
Hebrews 9:23-28 ESV

Thus it was necessary for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these rites, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own, for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.

Ritual and routine are not sinful. We all have things we do by habit and by routine. These types of things help us to remain disciplined and on track so that we are able to get things done, and so we don’t become slothful. In other words, schedules can be a good thing, but they can be a bad thing, too, if following a schedule is so rigid that we are not free to follow our Lord and to be available for divine appointments with people.

But, if we are looking to please God just by following a set of rituals, then we should think again. Rituals are often more focused on externals, not on the attitudes of our hearts. We can appear to be religious by the rituals we perform, but if all we do is “perform” to look good in front of others, like the Pharisees did, then it is dead works of the flesh, which will never save anyone. It is like the difference between filling out forms with canned responses and having the freedom to write our own thoughts and feelings.

All that will ever save any of us is Jesus’ sacrifice of himself on that cross for our sins and our God-given faith in him, resulting in repentance and a walk of obedience to Christ – our walk in the Spirit. He is not looking for us to meet with him on a Sunday morning at a certain hour in a particular building called a “church.” He wants us to worship him 24/7 in spirit and in truth, listening to him speaking his words to our hearts, and then doing what he says, even if what he asks of us is not part of a recognized religious rite.

The bottom line in all of this is that rituals and routines and religious exercises are not what God is looking for from us. He wants our lives fully devoted to him, doing what he says, even if it is “outside the box” of what is regarded as normal religious activity. But, he will never ask us to do something “outside the box” of the godly principles set down in His Word, outside of His Will, contrary to scripture, or anything that is sinful. He just wants our hearts fully committed to him, willing to go with him wherever he sends us, and willing to do whatever it is he asks us to do.

And, one day, he is coming back for us to reward us for our lives of service to him, and we will be forever with our Lord. Amen!

This I Believe (The Creed)
Hillsong Worship

I believe in God our Father
I believe in Christ the Son
I believe in the Holy Spirit
Our God is three in one

I believe in You (Jesus)
I believe You rose again
I believe that Jesus Christ is Lord

We believe in love, Jesus

I believe in the resurrection
When Jesus comes again
That we will rise again
For I believe, in the name of Jesus

Saturday, June 2, 2018, 2:00 a.m. – Thank you, Jesus, for this teaching from Your Word. Help us to understand the difference between form and faith so that we are people of faith whose hearts belong to You.

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